Rifkind brings Paris students the gospel of Euro-scepticism

The campaign by Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, to bring a mildly Euro-sceptic gospel to ordinary Europeans swept in and out of Paris yesterday. After a successful trip to Stockholm, and a difficult trip to Bonn, his bandwagon was politely received in France.

The French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, belatedly discovered he had two other engagements, but no one wanted to make too much of that. In any case, Mr Rifkind's mission is precisely not to talk to governments but to talk to people: to explain that Britain is not the anti-European ogre imagined on the Continent; and to ask the people of Europe whether they really understand, and approve, of the federalising European policies espoused in their name.

He was given a reasonable hearing but two questions stood out: why had he waited until so late in the European argument; and why had he waited until most intelligent French people had discounted his government's chances of shaping that debate for much longer?

Mr Rifkind gave a policy speech last night to the principal French foreign- affairs think- tank, the Institut Francais de Relations Internationales, in which he said Britain was against unthinking European "integration" but favoured more and more co-operation. The symbolic centrepiece of the visit, however, was a question-and-answer session with students at the Institut d'Etudes Politique, or Science-Po, the premier French college of political science.

Mr Rifkind put on a good show but several questioners could not resist teasing him. What would Britain's policy on Europe be in, say, three months? He took it all in good part and, like a good politician, repeated his core message in answer to every question.

The core message was this: Europe is not America; the United States has a single national identity, language and culture which can sustain single, federal institutions; Europe does not. Europe has many different cultures and identities. We want to keep it that way. You cannot have cultural identity without self-government. Britain does not want to roll back the supra-national institutions and policies which exist in Europe.

But it does question whether other European Union governments and peoples have thought through the federalising policies now on the table. If economic policy, immigration policy, justice policy are surrendered to Brussels, what will be left to national governments, which remain the only ones directly accountable to the people?

Mr Rifkind was heard politely and not often directly challenged. A sprinkling of British and German students in the audience asked the most aggressive questions. Was the EU shambles in Bosnia not an example of the price Europe was paying for not having a more federal foreign policy, one British student asked.

Several students, questioned afterwards, found the exercise refreshing. "He was very clear and quite persuasive," said David Michel, a third-year student. "I had not considered enough before this question of which policies should be European and which not." Was he pro-European? "Yes, that is, until I spent some time at the European Parliament. Now I'm more pragmatic."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high