Had an invitation to go to the launch of a new political report at lunchtime today – so look away if politics sends you to sleep.
The Henry Jackson Society was hosting the event in London, although the report was actually commissioned by the StockholmÂ Network andÂ FundacionÂ FAES and is on the topic of their vision for the future of the European Union.
A few speeches and questions and a copy of the report to read over the next few evenings in bed.
In general, the report argues for a more Atlantist approach to Europe, with more awareness of the European presence on the global stage. It was said that too much of the EU’s recent history has been devoted to working out “who” the EU is striving to become, and not enough of the “doing“, which is a thought I tend to agree with. Too many meetings and not enough action – although that is an inevitable result of the way the European Commission is structured at the moment.
However when – or is that if – Europe does get out of its current economic malaise, then it must start to step up on the global stage and start to take increased responsibilities within the planet. The EU is a global economic superpower, and with that power comes responsibilities.
Here, I detected a tension in the report as the organisations behind it are generally against further political convergence within the EU – and yet for the EU to speak on a global stage it needs to have a single voice. That means a single foreign policy – which very few countries are likely to sign up to in the near future.
Lord Trimble knitted a proverbial flag in his speech, and especially mentioned the pointlessness of several upcoming grand summits, when the agreements the leaders will all sign up to aren’t even ready yet. He made a good point though that too much of recent economic debate has been about the wrong things – that credit derivatives etc are not inherently wrong, only the lack of visibility about them was the problem. Probably the first politician I have heard who has spoken sense on the issue!
Former Spanish Prime Minister, JosÃ©Â MariaÂ Aznar can speak English vastly better than I can speak Spanish, but it was still a bit difficult to follow his prepared speech. That said, he made an interesting insight in that a lot of people see European integration as a goal in its own right – an almost stand alone policy which should be followed regardless.
His argument is that the European Commission (and Parliament) should be tools for the individual nations to use to enhance their economic and political collaborations – but that it shouldn’t be driving the agenda for political merging of nations into a federal state.
He certainly spoke at length about his concerns that moves towards a single European country would lead to strife in the long term as cultures are subordinated to a European identity. Although he didn’t mention it, the report foreword talks about Europe as a Christian society and that must be preserved. Here, I disagree. While I agree that you cannot ignore the Christian heritage of the European states, I am not so wedded to it that I believe it should mandate the future as well. We should be open minded to new cultural influences, both religious and secular and take the best from all of them.
I suspect the former Prime Minister’s own social views are to the fore here, as he was certainly not socially progressive when in power. Notable within the report was that European should welcome people of all genders, religions, colours, etc – but no mention of sexuality. That seemed a shame as it seems to me that sexual identity is probably the last big social reform that most countries will have to face over the next few generations.
The overall tone of the report and the speeches though was one I can tend to agree with – that we need stronger economic links between the European nations, but that political and cultural links should be slowed down, or in some areas, maybe reversed.
Instinctively, I am not a huge fan of national borders and nationalist sovereignty, but equally I dislike the way the EU is trying to push through abolition of the borders as part of a “grand plan”. My experience is that grand plans usually end up as a disaster and we would be better off with small simple steps when trying to forge those closer links.
In the long term, I feel that the European Union will need to boost some aspects of political union, but more at a management level – such as sharing military technology, where the EU is currently wasting a fortune in maintaining individual armies and production facilities. Energy security is also another area where closer EU cooperation is vital. The idea that Germany or France can keep their energy markets isolated from the rest of Europe is, frankly dangerous to the rest of the Europe.
Such technical trade agreements though do not need political union between the countries. Mobile phones, CDs, motor cars etc work all around the world – and that didn’t require political unions to be created – just trade and technical agreements.
We are moving to a world with vast trading blocks – ASEAN in Asia, Mercosur in Latin America, NAFTA in Nth America, and even talk of trade groups in East Africa and possibly continent-wide. In that future, a form of European Union will be vital to ensure European countries can compete at a global level and negotiate at a trade-block level.
I’ll enjoy reading the report – even though I already know I will disagree with a sizeable chunk of it. Then again, those are often the best sorts of reports to read – the ones that challenge your opinions on an issue.