Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another generation...

I see that the former President of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Gaston Thorn has died.

A business minded Liberal, in many ways he represented many good things about the drive for European Integration. Doubtless the Anti-Europeans will describe him as precisely the kind of Euro-fanatic that seeks to destroy the nation states of Europe.

However, as his obituary makes clear, he was a very proud patriot for his own country- fighting so strongly for the national idea of Luxembourg against the Nazis that he put his own life on the line, and indeed ended up in a German concentration camp.

His generation did not see the European Union as a way of ending Luxembourgish, or any other European national identity, but rather as a tool to serve the ultimate national interest. Partly this was by reducing the risk of future war, and though I see that Lepidus has already decried this (and Chris at DK would probably choke!), that certainly was a major influence on the thinking of the founders of the EU.

Yet even at the time, and increasingly since, the idea of economic integration was one that served the national interest by providing a greater economic space than the national economy alone, and therefore more attractive opportunities for all Europeans.

Gaston Thorn understood that greater prosperity serves the nation far better than greater poverty, and he worked for practical, functional policies that would help to provide it. "Three time Luxembourgish", he knew that co-operation based on the rule of law and the free market would bring far more benefits to his country and to all of Europe than going it alone ever could.

This kind of pragmatic nationalism is precisely the approach that I would like to see the United Kingdom develop: a robust defence of our values and identity is not the same as the hostility, generally based on ignorance, that UKIP or the extremists in the Conservative Party would prefer. This mildly jingoistic "foreigner bashing" is not in our national interest, indeed it is contrary to our national interest- as Gaston Thorn knew all along.

The European Union is far from perfect; major reforms are clearly needed. However, in the eyes of other EU members, the UK never seems to be satisfied, even when we win virtually all the concessions that we seek in negotiations.

We might gain even more, if we were less prickly partners. That really would be serving the national interest.


Anonymous said...

?! Au contraire Consul I never said that such a thing played no role in the thinking of certain individuals, I merely expressed my view that in actuality peace in Europe had very little to with the EU. As I pointed out the favouritism and factionalism of various EU states with all of the various warring parties in the Balkans shows this clearly


Cicero said...

Well, of course that is a matter of oppinion- but to be honest, I think you are confusing the issue. The purpose was to make warfare impossible amongst the EU member states, and that has been so successful, that we take it as a given.

Yugoslavia was quite a different construct- a Communist and oppressive state that, as it began to reform, unleashed forces that the dictatorship had kept down (but which it had in some cases actually created).

At the time there were many- including Douglas Hurd- who argued emphatically that Yugoslavia was absolutely none of the EU's business (I have written elsewhere about what I regard as Britain's shameful role in Bosnia). The Major Government resolutely refused to permit the armed intervention that the Germans, for example, were pleading for.

In the end NATO force was used because Clinton personally got involved and the British had no hang ups about European military force, as long as the US was involved.