We had Boris quoting Julius Caesar. He might have tried another quote, this time Cassius to Brutus:
‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat.’
Only we’re not. The European tide is turning in our direction, and what do we do – we hide in the sand dunes.
The politics of the Tory party mean that departing Europe (and, yes, I mean Europe, not just the EU) at precisely the wrong time. We’ve not been the only country drawing back from a federalist agenda. In Germany they’re having the same debate but not as yet with the same foolish consequences. Take Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, as an example. ‘Originally a European federalist in favour of an ever-close union (he) has concluded that the referendum signifies that Europe will not stomach yet more centralisation.’ (The Economist.) In Schauble’s own words, ‘Now is not the time for visions.’
On the other side of the argument we have members of the German SPD, Angela Merkel’s coalition partners, who want to push harder for closer integration: the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, argues for ‘refounding Europe.’
The debate illustrates how much Germany is pivotal to the debates about Europe’s future. It would have been Merkel and Cameron, Germany and the U.K., pushing for a wiser, less hands-on, less intrusive Europe, and yet a Europe that took forward the European ideals of openness and cooperation.
Schauble would like to see Europe concentrate on a few problems, and solve them – good examples would be the refugee crisis, or a Europe-wide energy grid. And if the commission fails to act ‘we must take control and solve problems among our governments’, an inter-governmental not a supra-governmental approach’, moving power from the Commission to the Council of Ministers. (See The Economist’s Charlemagne column.)
This is the process we should have been a part of, working with Germany, putting federalist ambitions out to grass. Instead we have two characters, Fox and Davis, who’ve survived on the fringes of British politics for a few years, pushed into the limelight to negotiate an exit from an organisation that it’s transparently in our interests to be a part of.
The best outcome will be that we negotiate something pretty close to what we have now. But in the meantime we’ll have lost the opportunity to influence the EU, and we’re all the poorer for that.