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 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery rumours: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
Eleven members of same family hospitalised after eating deadly pufferfish
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Phone-hacking: The Piers Morgan connection - Mirror admits some stories during Morgan's tenure may have been obtained by illegal means
Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year
£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...
£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...