Jim Dougal: Why I can no longer sell Europe to the British

A lost referendum and withdrawal from the EU is now a possibility, by default
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Last week I resigned from my job as Head of the European Commission in the United Kingdom, because convincing people in the UK to tolerate, let alone love, Europe, in present circumstances is an impossible task.

The bureaucracy in the Commission is stifling. The organisation has not yet come to terms with the fall of the Santer Commission five years ago. Staff are more interested in watching their backs than moving ahead. I came to the Commission as a former broadcaster with, I hope, a skill in communications. However I spent two years in London pushing paper around my desk, generally the same pieces of paper recirculated, dealing with rules which appeared more to impede communication than facilitate it.

Yet the Commission has taken on responsibility for selling Europe throughout the Union. It should not hold this responsibility. Its own rules, regulations and bureaucracy are too cumbersome for it to be effective. It talks about the need to communicate with "le grand public" of Europe. There is of course no such thing. There are now 25 publics and perhaps many more. How many different publics are there in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alone?

It should be the Government's job to present its European enterprise to its people. That it has neglected this role is reflected in the numbers of people in the UK who actually believe that the European Union will have an anthem praising the EU "motherland". Or that the Commission is insisting that kilts worn by men in Scotland must be classed as "women's wear"; or that when you climb a mountain the landscape must, by European edict, be littered with signs telling you that you are high up. And why does a great proportion of the UK population believe this nonsense? Because they have been told so by much of the media and some politicians. Two and three quarter million people voted for the United Kingdom Independence Party. Many of them believe it.

But it is not good enough for those who, for one reason or another, have failed to sell the European ideal, to blame this failure on the eurosceptic press and the Euromyth industry. Those who hate the very thought of any European integration have an open goal because nobody challenges them. The pro-European lobby must get out of its permanently defensive and reactive mode. It must have credible leaders and a credible voice.

A lost referendum and eventual withdrawal from the EU is now a possibility, by default. If our Government wants to be at the heart of Europe, to be decision-makers, it must take the initiative, and it should be on the offensive now. It has, after all, signed up to any European legislation adopted in this country. British ministers should have the guts to explain why to the people. And they must initiate the debate. It cannot and will not be done by outsiders.

How could a Brussels Commission spokesman, as he did, extrapolate from the pathetic European election turnout that the people wanted the European Parliament to have more power? To most British people, Brussels is not just unaccountable but remote. The heart of the European Union might as well be a million miles away. Last week the European heads of government appointed the Portuguese Prime Minister, José Manuel Durão Barrosa, to be the next President of the Commission. I have no doubt Mr Barrosa is an able politician. But few people outside Portugal had heard of him before the day his name was announced. How could a PR consultant sell this appointment as a wonderful step forward to the British public? It is nonsense to say the decision was reached by consensus. This is lowest common denominator politics.

It is this kind of spectacle which has given Europe a bad name, and the same thing happened on the last two occasions with the appointments of Romano Prodi and Jacques Santer. The big countries could not agree on any other candidates because they essentially want a weak, manipulable Commission.

It has been suggested that the next college of commissioners should get out more. They should come and sell Europe to the UK. This would be a disaster. Believe me they will not understand the UK and the UK will not understand them. This is not xenophobia. It is a fact of life. I've watched them try, and with few notable exceptions it does not work. Only the committed turn out to listen.

As the current Commission was approaching the last six months of its term, three commissioners returned to jobs in their own countries. The outgoing president, Mr Prodi, was preoccupied with Italian politics. What kind of leadership is this?

If it is to represent the people, the EU must work more at intergovernmental level with member states co-operating in areas where their national sovereign interests dictate. What is wrong with opting out on important issues? We do it already with the euro and open borders.

As a new Commission is established, EU governments should ensure that Brussels is there to serve the member states, not promote its own agenda. That's what governments are elected to do. In Tony Blair, we have a Prime Minister who understands Europe. It is time his government took the lead. Soon it will be too late.