A quarter century on, who has reaped the benefits of the European dream?

'Our influence is at its lowest point ever': 25 years in Europe

It is 25 years since the signature of the British Treaty of Accession to the European Community, now called the EU.

As it happens, this was one of the rather rare moments in the chequered history of our relations with the EU when I was not physically present.

But I was very much there in spirit, having worked with Sir Pierson Dixon, the leader of the official delegation under Ted Heath in the first Brussels negotiations, and bitterly resented de Gaulle's veto in 1963.

During the 1960s I had become wholly convinced that British membership of the EC was essential for Britain and important for Europe.

So the signature of the Accession Treaty was a wonderful moment for me, followed within a couple of months by a call from the Foreign Office to tell me to return from Washington and become head of the (then only) European Integration Department in the Foreign Office. Since then the EU has been part of my life - Under-Secretary in charge of "re-negotiation of the terms of entry" under Jim Callaghan as Foreign Secretary; Deputy-Secretary in charge of Europe and Economic Affairs when the European Monetary System was created in 1978-79; Permanent Representative in Brussels under Margaret Thatcher (1979-85), when we solved the British budget problem after five years' negotiation and launched the campaign for the Single Market; Chairman of the City's European Committee (1988-93) and originator of the British government's "hard-ecu" plan in 1990; and now, finally, Labour's Special Envoy on Enlargement.

We have had our successful moments - the two-to-one vote in the 1975 referendum, the huge and permanent refund of our excessive net contribution to the EU budget agreed at Fontainebleau in 1984, and above all, the launching of the Single Market at Margaret Thatcher's initiative with the Treaty amendments agreed at Luxembourg in 1985 in the Single European Act.

But alas, ever since John Major declared in 1992 - no doubt he meant it - that Britain's place must be at the heart of Europe, we have been sliding steadily on to the periphery.

Here we find ourselves in 1997, after 25 years of membership, with less understanding of the issues than we had 20 years ago.

The people of this country have been told by the so-called Euro-sceptics for the last five years that Germany and France are about to create a "federation", a government of the United States of Europe, which will result in Britain being abolished. A majority of them seem to believe this nonsense. I can assure readers that there are no Frenchmen who want to abolish France!

The Maastricht treaty of 1992 is responsible for much of this. It is incomprehensible. It lays down a very high-risk and rushed route to Monetary Union - a route, incidentally, which it may yet prove impractical for the EU to follow.

Though I may be being a little unfair, I blame John Major to some extent even for Maastricht. If he had not been so intent on securing opt-outs from EMU and the Social Chapters he could have deployed his persuasive and negotiating skills to improving the substance.

Things have now got even worse. Having negligently allowed the BSE crisis to happen, the Cabinet, terrified by the Euro-sceptics, tried "non-cooperation" ie, vetoing things we were in favour of.

Not surprisingly, this did not work. We have also taken an ideological and negative line in the IGC designed to prepare for enlargement.

The consequence of thus appeasing our ill-informed Euro-sceptics has thus been to reduce our influence to the lowest point ever. It is time for a fresh start.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Production / Manufacturing Operative

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading garage door manufacturer are curr...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software / Solution Sales

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a thri...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific