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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
What next for Europe?
John Simpson
By John Simpson
BBC world affairs editor

It was 30 years ago almost to the day. Britain was soon to vote in its referendum about membership of what was then the European Economic Community, and I was a BBC correspondent based in Brussels.

A French man looks at EU constitution posters
The United States of Europe is dead in the water

Across the table from me at an unfeasibly expensive restaurant ludicrously called Comme Chez Soi ("Just like being at home"), sat a visiting grandee from the British Foreign Office.

He was so superb, I was worried about my table manners.

"So if we vote yes," I asked him, "what sort of Europe will it turn out to be?"

He adjusted the position of his knife and fork, and outlined the future for me with a remarkable accuracy.

It was, he explained, a race.

The original six EEC members - France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries - would want to deepen the links between the member countries, to the point where they became a single super-state.

Super-state

The French, who would otherwise have disliked that as much as the British, agreed because they assumed they would control it.

Britain, by contrast, wanted to broaden the European Community and bring in more members.

The bigger the Community, the harder it would be to turn it into a super-state.

So the race was between the deepening process and the broadening process.

The Union can still run its own affairs perfectly well, even if it is a little cumbersome

"I think the broadeners will win," he concluded. "But only just."

Of course, as we sat there at Comme Chez Soi, not even the Foreign Office mandarin guessed that the broadening process would eventually include nations which then were buried deep behind the Iron Curtain.

But the British gladly welcomed every potential member.

In 1976, when Greece threw off the regime of the colonels, it immediately applied for European membership.

Most of the existing members were appalled: Greece had no land border with any other members, it had little experience of real democracy, it was poorer even than Ireland, and it trailed with its age-long quarrel with Turkey.

But it was European and it was newly democratic, so it met the membership criteria.

And it had one quiet ally inside the Community: Britain.

The more difficult Greece was to assimilate, the slower the deepening process would be.

It wasn't a particularly noble approach, compared with the forgiveness and reconciliation which Frenchmen like Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann showed towards Germany at the end of the third catastrophic war between their countries in 70 years.

Broadening

The Franco-German alliance is one of the best and most miraculous things that have happened in modern times.

But Monnet wanted to go further and create a "United States of Europe", with a single government and a single parliament.

Sometimes it seemed a real possibility, but now that France has voted decisively against the notion, and the Netherlands seems certain to do the same, the United States of Europe is dead in the water.

The entire project, noble though it was, was much too "de haut en bas", as the French say - handed down to the hoi polloi by idealists who knew the direction Europe should take, and weren't prepared to take no for an answer.

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, didn't quite say the other day that if the French voted against the EU constitution they would have to vote again until they got it right, but it sounded like it.

One reason why France voted "No" was a stubborn dislike of being ordered around by politicians and bureaucrats.

So my lunch companion 30 years ago was right: broadening has beaten deepening.

If the broadening had gone more slowly, then bringing in countries from Eastern Europe wouldn't have been such a shock.

Now, with 25 countries and 455 million people to govern, it simply isn't enough to spatchcock together a bunch of rules at short notice.

French newspapers announcing no result
French voters don't want to be ordered around by politicians

If former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing had been a little less grand, and a little more aware of the way ordinary people think, he might have made sure his team did a better job of it.

So where do we go from here?

Well, we still have a reasonably effective set of rules for dealing with 25 member-states.

It's called the Treaty of Nice, and it came into force in February 2003.

The Union can still run its own affairs perfectly well, even if it is a little cumbersome.

And what will happen by 2035?

Europe will include Turkey by then, and probably most of the other remaining countries bordering the Mediterranean as well.

Russia may even be a member.

The European Union, with a population of around 900 million, will be competing with the new economic powers, India and China, each with populations well over a billion, as well as a trading bloc in the Americas.

Unless, of course, some disaster happens; predicting the future is a mug's game, after all.

Yet partly because of the events of this week, I think we can be pretty certain of one thing: the grand idea of a United States of Europe, with a single government and a single capital city, is finished.


Your comments

The French have rejected many things with this referendum but they have not rejected European integration
E Cameron, Brussels, Belgium
As always John Simpson writes with great insight, however I am not convinced that his final assessment is correct. The construction of Europe has always been like a pendulum swinging one way and then the other - periods of stagnation followed by times of quite dynamic progress. Don't forget when the French rejected the European Defence Community in 1954 analysts thought that European integration was doomed. Three years later the EEC was born. The French have rejected many things with this referendum but they have not rejected European integration.
E Cameron, Brussels, Belgium

Hurrah for the people of Europe! They see what their elitist leaders do not; that each European nation is a separate and sovereign cultural entity with its own rules, ideas, and ways. The super state idea of the ivory-tower thinkers is not reality to those who live, work, and sweat to earn their livings. They are proud of their nations and do not want to see the "giant melting pot" engulf their continent!
Wade, Plano, Tx. USA

I disagree with Mr. Simpson. If one thing is certain, it is that the EU won't embrace Northern African countries. And one of the reasons of France's "No" vote was opposition to Turkey's membership. This referendum has not changed things so drastically, the truth is that European integration is unstoppable. The disagreement is how to do it. But it will be much more than a free market. Not a single government and a single capital city, but a confederation with different levels of power, European, national and regional.
Daniel, Barcelona, Spain

It is an oft-repeated joke that Britain joined the EC to prevent it from turning into a super-state. One can hardly imagine the Iron Lady allowing us to take the first steps down that path unless she had a clear vision for Britain's role. So far it seems the strategy has succeeded. Broadening of the alliance has prevented control from solidifying in the Euro heartland, and France has just shown that it now believes it will never dominate Europe.
Iain Howe, Amsterdam, Netherlands

It's an idea whose time will come
David, County Durham
Sunday's vote notwithstanding, the EU is a remarkable achievement. The idea of European nations forming an ever closer union caught my imagination as a 17 year old 6th former almost 40 years ago, and it's an idea whose time will come, though perhaps not in my lifetime.
David, County Durham

John's article, in line with the mentioned proven prediction of 30 years ago, rings true. Whilst it cannot be in doubt that Europe will need to combine its strength and resources in the years to come, I cannot see the individuality of its main component countries ever allowing `the United States of Europe' single government to materialise. Far better for a robust trading unit of 25 plus members to prepare to meet the economic onslaught from India and China. Well done to John for once again calling it `as it is'.
Fred Wilkes, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

A brilliantly concise and clear commentary on the current and probably future situation. I never appreciated until now what foresight some of our Foreign Office mandarins possessed.
Roy Bookman, London, England

I am pro-Europe - I live in Spain, my wife is Spanish and our children already speak three languages (they are 2 and 4), but my vision of Europe is a free trade area, not a single political entity. The nations are too old to be squashed together in a committee decided fudge of one size fits all.
David Bell, Mahon, Menorca, Spain

The basic edifice of the EU will suffer from French short-sightedness on this matter
Arti Shukla, New Delhi, India
From whatever I have read on your website as well as Mr Simpson's article, it seems that the French rejection has stemmed more out of their dislike of their own government. They have rejected their government's high handed approach and have not really seemed to have thought of this as a vote for any bigger a cause. The basic edifice of the EU will suffer from French short-sightedness on this matter.
Arti Shukla, New Delhi, India

Great insight into the development of the EU. The story about your dinner 30 years ago was very enlightening. Thanks
Mark, Oakville, Canada

One of the biggest reasons why I left the UK was to do with the movement towards a "United States of Europe". It seemed to me that our country had fought two world wars to prevent just such an occurrence. And yet, here we were, going into the same thing with our eyes wide shut! For the first time in my life, I am saying: "Thank God for the French!"
Gordon Clifford, Andover, NY, USA

I partly disagree with JS. I don't think that the (now doomed to failure) constitution has anything to do with the visions of US of Europe. It above all remains a trade-oriented document, which - as JS points out - is weak on the level of governance, rights etc. Its dismissal will mean not much more than a need to sit down and figure out a better institutionalised modus operandi for a new Europe, and think of ways of selling it to the people in a manner more engaging, informed and thoughtful than it is now being done.
Mike, London




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