Britain and Europe

TitleBritain and Europe
Publication TypeElőadás / Presentation
AuthorsHegedűs, István
Full Text

- Comments to the presentation of Mr Denis McShane, Minister for Europe at the Central European University, Budapest, 2 March 2005 -

1. About the British government. The message of the presentation by Mr McShane sounds very encouraging: the British government strongly believes in a potential positive outcome of the referendum about the European Constitution in the United Kingdom. The risky strategy shows a strong belief in leadership and a hope in a rational dialogue with the citizens on complex issues as well as a deep respect to democratic partisan competition - even in an often hostile, eurosceptical environment. Nevertheless, it is more than a pity that we are not yet at the stage of a common European development when an all-European decision of the European citizenry about the constitution would become obligatory in each of the member states.
2. About Britain. Britain is a special case. Certainly, all member states are special cases. But as far as I understand we do not find such an aggressive anti-European press, mostly the tabloids, in any other member states. And The Economist also gave a red card to the Constitution. This speaks not only about the media: there are historical and geographical reasons why so many Brits feel so reluctantly European today. As a Hungarian, I do not want to give a lecture to you on British history - let me simply quote the title of a speech given by Chris Patten, then European Commissionaire a year ago: “The existential question - will Britain ever ‘actually’ join the EU?”
3. About political tactics. Mr Richard Corbett, MEP, Labour Party, placed some very convincing arguments in easy English language against eurosceptical rumours on his own web site. Still, when talking about foreign policy, he argues that this area will belong to the member states and that is very right so. Let me cite another British politician: Mr. Denis McShane, Minister for Europe wrote in the Financial Times on June 16, 2003, after distancing himself from unilateral national diplomacies that “the federalist vision of a single EU foreign policy, implemented by a central bureaucracy without the consent of all governments, is neither realistic nor desirable”. What was especially surprising to me was the expression not “desirable” in an article published by a pro-European politician. (Maybe the Liberal Democrats would not agree or have not agreed with the Minister at this point.) Moreover, the notion of the Constitutional Treaty is used not only - or not at all - because of a cautious legalistic approach to the essence of the document in Britain, but as the consequence of many defensive manoeuvres of the pro-European elites there. Exactly how it happens in the case of the otherwise innocent term “federalism”.
4. About pragmatism. The Minister mentioned the importance of the Lisbon Strategy and its implications to our everyday life. He argued that these effects would be emphasised in a communication campaign before the referendum on the Constitution in Britain. This idea reminded me the salience of material benefits stressed by many pro-European politicians in the candidate countries before their accessions, just a decade after the rebirth of liberal political thoughts in Central and Eastern Europe when communism collapsed. Today, at least in this country, the total lack of value-driven grand intellectual debates on EU issues might be astonishing for foreigners - sorry, I mean other non-Hungarian European citizens. Eventually, the gap between elite and popular perceptions about the EU seems to be quite thin when decoding the PR messages of Hungarian political parties, especially the rhetoric of the major right wing political group, as well as the logic of issue framing on EU issues and an often negative stereotyping of the media about the old member states. Nowadays, the dominant image of the EU as such - without any understanding of the different roles of the European institutions in the decision-making process even after a central communication campaign in 2003 and a partisan competition at the first Hungarian European elections in 2004 - has become a well-grown milking cow. And not only amongst the farmers, who are demonstrating on the streets of Budapest right now.
5. About party politics and the Constitution. In all of our societies inside the European Union, anti-Europeanism, soft and hard euroscepticism are often linked with nationalism and anti-globalistic attitudes. In 2004, we could observe a crystallisation of party politics on EU matters in many member states, like Britain or Poland, with the outcome of a huge majority of pro-European political forces in the European Parliament. Here, I would like to add to the benefits of the Constitution that it could strengthen the partisan cleavages inside the European Parliament. Paradoxically, whilst the media covered the political “scandal” and the struggles on the proposed members of the new European Commission, the socialist, liberal and conservative citizens in the member states might have realised: “we are not alone” in Europe. A stronger European-wide partisan political arena is under construction. This important part of the accelerated Europeanisation process might help in the daily efforts of pro-European politicians both in the old and new member states.