Sunday, February 15, 2004
Repatriation used to be a dirty word

In the 1970s, repatriation was a tried and tested term used to describe a policy of sending immigrants back to their country of origin. The term was associated with the National Front and Enoch Powell. The term is about to come back into vogue, describing something completely different - the reassertion of national control over subjects that had been ceded to Brussels.

Michael Howard made a clever and interesting speech before the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Foundation) to a CDU/CSU audience on the Tory approach to Europe. This speech has been reported as a softening of their Eurosceptic approach to the European Union and as a turn away from the opposition to European integration. Well spun, as they say to Shane Warne.

Howard's quick brushstrokes painted an uncompetitive European Union where centralisation and regulation had led to needless unemployment and declining productivity in comparison to the United States. His advocacy of a Europe of nation states with their particular histories, cultures and traditions was linked to his reported 'new wave' Eurorealism:

You are understandably sick of constant British vetoes. And shall I tell you something? So am I.

Howard then sets out his wonderful answer to the problem of British vetoes: remodel the institutions of the European Union to conform with conservative party policy through the adoption of variable geometry. He supports the repatriation of those policy areas which cause friction between Britain and the European Union: the common fisheries policy, the common agricultural policy, and overseas aid.

Let us be clear here. Howard is promoting a radical policy. He is the first party leader for a generation to adopt as policy the reversal of ceding powers to Europe and couch it in terms that do not smack of scepticism or withdrawal. He is essentially demanding the weakening of European Union law:

The kind of approach I am suggesting should also enable adjustments to be made to the acquis communautaire. Where it is clear that policies can be more effectively implemented on a national basis the European Union should be prepared to recognise this. Proposals to achieve national control in such circumstances should be treated on their merits and not automatically rejected as an affront to the European ideal.

Not so much adjustments as a radical restructuring of the ideological premises upon which European law is passed.

Howard recognises that his vision for Europe will not be adopted by the other Member States through voluntary choice. If the Tories are elected and set out their negotiating stall demanding variable geometry, then other countries may fall into the trap of refusing every request that the British government makes, on the grounds that it undermines European unity. The British electorate are not going to place European unity above the interests of British fishermen, farmers or other groups.

Howard has placed a very public trap for all continental politicians who fear a Tory government. A positive and encouraging speech for Eurosceptics, as the EU is not able to respond with the flexibility that Howard has stated he desires. If Member States do not accede to his requests and allow Britain a semi-detached position within the European Union, then the only alternatives may be expulsion or withdrawal.

(22.30, 15th February 2004)


Post a Comment

Blog Archive