Rifkind brings Paris students the gospel of Euro-scepticism
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."
- 1 Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
- 3 Tube strike: This pedestrian-friendly map tells you the time it takes to walk between stations
- 4 Pamplona Running of the Bulls 2015: Three men gored and 10 hospitalised on first day of festival
- 5 Sarah Jessica Parker explains why she is not a feminist: 'It's not just about women now'
Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
Greece debt crisis: Greek future in the euro slips into deeper uncertainty as Alexis Tsipras arrives at emergency talks without a written plan
Man soars over Calgary after tying 110 balloons filled with helium to his lawn chair for PR stunt, gets arrested for mischief
Tube strike: This pedestrian-friendly map tells you the time it takes to walk between stations
Pamplona Running of the Bulls 2015: Three men gored and 10 hospitalised on first day of festival
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...