Tuesday, May 31, 2005
On Point

Dennis McShane, former Minister of Europe, does not appear to have fallen away from the limelight completely, given his recent appearance on Question Time and his subsequent interview for UPI. Cheerleading for Europe with Dimbleby will not tax anyone, but McShane provided some more interesting comments that may cast some light on the current thinking about Europe within the Blair administration, or what backbenchers have to say if they wish to be considered for the next reshuffle.

From the first, McShane makes a point of viewing the French referendum in the faint tones of a realist who accepts a verdict of imprisonment. It is a counsel of acceptance and stoicism, of truth-telling and endeavour; that infamous stranger to the truth, Blairite candour:

"Britain will hold a referendum if there is a treaty to hold a referendum on," MacShane said. "But a French Non means the new Treaty of Rome cannot be ratified. It was always a mistake to call a Treaty a constitution. But a constitution needs the confidence of the people and powerful, united leadership. Europe lacks confidence and effective leadership today so it was not a propitious time to hold plebiscites on the new Treaty. There may be some who hope this Treaty can be made to fly but it would be an insult to France and her citizens to say the Treaty they reject will continue on as a dead man walking. We will have to begin again."

The critique proffered is interesting, since it borrows and begs arguments from the Eurosceptics, in order to incorporate them into pro-EU swaddling. McShane recognises the hostility with which the smaller countries attacked the removal of their representation on the Commission and yet, defends the existing Constitution as a "coherent response" to the problems of the European Union. However, the Constitutional answer (to a question that none of Europe's electorates ever asked) was found wanting. The leaders of Europe could not inspire their voters and the European economy was ruined by:

"... wrong decisions by the European Commission with its obsession on over-regulation and by the failure of the European Central Bank to respond to the economic standstill," MacShane said. "Political-constitutional advances have to be based on economic and social confidence. "

The Eurosceptic critique of the project needs to respond to the flanking movement of pro-Europeans like McShane, who borrow the ideas in order to promote different conclusions. Like some grinning, drooling revenant, that refuses to die, unlike the rest of the reactionaries that pass for social democrats these days, the Third Way has been resurrected as an unlikely combination of welfarism, market economics and environmentalism to provide a new moral backbone for coercion in the name of the public good.

"The answer will not be found by the gentlemen of Brussels but by the willingness of political actors in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Britain and the rest of Europe to rethink out-of-date 20th century economic and social ideology. We need a new 3-way historic compromise between economy, society and environment. Unfortunately we only hear the shrill protectionism and rejectionism of those who know how to say No to the future rather than work collaboratively to build a new Europe."

"I hope this shock will force pro-Europeans to unite and defeat the reactionary forces of the left and right who have unleashed a politics of fear in place of the hope all Europeans need," McShane added.

It is too early to tell if this forms an altered vision of Europe, one that may appeal to moderates and one nation Tories. By acknowledging its current failures, McShane's arguments may provide a pleasing lure for those who argue that the European Union can be reformed. As such, the Eurosceptic movement needs to counter conservatives and reformers within the EU, forcefully argueing that such approaches will prove inferior to the development of a free-trading area in the North Atlantic.


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