Beyond ambivalence: a vision of Europe

The British Prime Minister has vowed to negotiate a ‘new settlement’ on Britain and the EU.  In a debate on Europe with Sir Menzies Campbell, Nigel Farage and Peter Oborne, organised by the Cantor Index in the City of London on January 9, David Blunkett, Labour MP and former British Home Secretary (2001 – 2004) outlined his vision.

Let us face it, what is now the United Kingdom has always had an ambivalent relationship with Europe.  In fact an ambivalent relationship with the rest of the world, as a trading nation that developed an empire from a relatively small group of islands off the coast of Northern Europe!

What has been strange about post-war relationships has been the failure of the UK to build on those historic and valued relationships within Greater Europe, which would have served to counter weight the developing relationship of Germany and France and their increasing hegemony over the developing European Union.

Even more bewildering in terms of failed Foreign Policy was the inadequate response of both government and British business and investment to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This after all was an opportunity (which Germany reunited was all too eager to take), to reach out both politically and economically to central and Eastern Europe.

And here is the rub.  The concentration on a perspective from western Europe, natural during the Cold War and the aftermath of the Second World War conflict, changed dramatically with the desire of the newly freed countries seeking to assert both their independence and their connectivity to Europe.  For both peaceful security and economic prosperity inevitably has changed the fulcrum of both the European Union and the dynamic of geo-politics.

Berlin is of course a stones throw from Poland and with massive investment as well as new political ties, Germany is offering a hand of friendship to those with whom they see a much greater affinity than for instance their fractious relationship with the sea board fringe of Greece, Portugal and even Spain.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is of course from East Germany.  It is not just the fellow feeling she has for those who suffered under Communism but a state of mind and an attitude which fits well with the emerging economies, and with the history of Germany and the terror of returning to the instability and therefore vulnerability of the Weimer Republic.

To understand this is to appreciate both why Angela Merkel and the German elite take the attitude they do towards a particular form of monetary and fiscal rectitude, and at the same time play to their strengths in terms of the undoubted economic influence they naturally (because it is natural) seek to assert.

The so-called fiscal pact is a symbol rather than a rational and logical outcome of this subliminal hegemony.  Appropriate for Germany but not for a pluralistic approach to the challenge of the global meltdown, recession and the negative growth in so many other European economies.

All the more reason therefore why Britain should have been developing not only good relations with Scandinavia, the Netherlands (and whilst President Sarkozy who was an anglophile was in the Presidency, with France) but also with our natural ally Poland, and those Poland (as a very large European country) influences.

The challenge now for the United Kingdom is to seek allies in countering the ever-growing if politically benign intentions to create a European Union that embodies German economic and hence political thinking.

In or out of the Euro?

In or out of full European Union membership, Britain is entirely subject to decisions taken by other powerful nations, and where they are able to do so, embodied and therefore embedded in the policy of the European Union.

Quite simply, as Norwegian politicians will tell you from a very small country outside the Union but economically tied into and dependent on it, in such circumstances influence flows one way!

That is why we need to adopt an entirely different strategy towards Europe as a whole and the European Union in particular.  Not to simply accept the direction taken by Germany.  Not to have to seek in the foreseeable future, membership of the Euro with all the neo-conservative orthodoxy of economic policy this entails, but something different.

Alliances which although now weakened, can still be renewed and therefore strengthened.  A positive approach to breaking down the awful bureaucracy which so bedevils the operation of the European Commission and the view the UK have of the European Union.  And, a much clearer but positive policy towards what is sensibly pan-European and that which is rightly the business not just of national governments but of decentralised decision making and participative democracy.

We are in essence on the cusp of whether the European Union staggers on with the precepts of a bygone era (bound into rather than learning from its history) or whether Britain working with those who can be persuaded to join common cause, offers real leadership for the future.

Globalisation is here to stay.  The growth of the new economies of China, India, Indonesia and Brazil, and yes The Russian Federation, as well as our often ambiguous relationships with the United States, make it essential that we understand and participate in, those geo-political changes which require political, economic, population and cultural clout, in the real world of today. 

That is the challenge for the United Kingdom.

 

About the author

David Blunkett is Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside. He was Britain's Home Secretary from 2001 to 2004.