Editorial from Irish Political Review, October 2002

Europe: Yes
Nice: NO!

The European referendum this year has the same purpose that it had last year: to change the structure of the European Union so that East European states can be admitted to membership on terms which are inferior to those of the existing members. The proposed change is not a necessary precondition of admitting new members. If the object were enlargement, new members might be admitted to the existing structure, as equals. But the object is change and enlargement is the excuse.

Change, purportedly to facilitate enlargement, and then further change, on the grounds that it is made necessary as a consequence of enlargement, and eventually the disappearance of the European Union as an entity which bears any substantial resemblance to the development projected by the Treaty of Rome—that is the British plan for Europe. That is what Margaret Thatcher set in motion fifteen years ago and, since Thatcherism took on its New Labour form five years ago, no power in Europe seems capable of resisting it.

Europe escaped from Britain in the 1950s by means of Christian Democracy, a form of politics and culture on which Britain could get no grasp. Against British expectations, the European venture was successful. Britain then applied for membership in order to stop it. That was in the days of De Gaulle and Adenauer, both of whom knew from painful experience what the invariable British interest in Europe was. De Gaulle, in rejecting Britain’s application, explained that it was because Britain’s interest lay elsewhere. Britain was an “insular and maritime” state. He did not need to explain that its object with regard to Europe was to keep it weak and divided. A later generation of European statesmen admitted Britain at a moment when it was led by a genuine European, Ted Heath. But the Labour Opposition of the time was strongly against Brutish participation in European politics, on the grounds that Europe was an obstacle to the development of Socialism. Two years later Heath was ousted from the Tory leadership by Thatcher and the anti-European movement within Europe was launched. British Socialism collapsed under Thatcherite pressure. Labour became New Labour, and its complaint about Europe today is that it is retarding the development of Capitalism. Kim Howells, who was a socialist ideologue in Arthur Scargell’s strike in the mid-eighties, evolved into the New Labour Minister for Competition. His task was to get rid of the substantial traces of Socialism that were preserved by Christian Democracy in Europe.

De Gaulle’s veto on Britain was not an expression of prejudice. Different states have different objective interests. The British interest ceased to be European over four centuries ago. Its interest today, as at any time since the rupture of the mid-16th century, lies in keeping Europe weak in order to maximise its own power and freedom in the world.

The Irish interest with regard to Europe, objectively considered, is the contrary of the British interest. Ireland could only flourish in conjunction with a strong Europe. And yet the Irish Government has in recent years become an appendage of Britain in European affairs.

One of the avenues of British ideological influence on Irish affairs is the mistitled Irish Sovereignty Movement founded by Raymond Crotty and Anthony Coughlan. Crotty, in an article published in the London Times, appealed to the British ruling class to resume its historic function of guiding Irish affairs. The call was heeded. And, on the day that Britain had to pull out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, Coughlan declared exultingly on Radio Eireann that it proved that “you can’t buck the market”.

Coughlan’s position on Europe derives from that of the defunct Soviet Union, by way of the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain, by way of the late Desmond Greaves and the Connolly Association. A recent pronouncement of his is that the EU is a project for creating the Fourth Reich, a statement that accords with the origin of his position. What he is against is not the proposed change to the EU, but the EU per se. (We recall the campaign against Irish entry in which he played a leading part. The slogan of that campaign was that European influence in Ireland would be like a second coming of Cromwell.)

Fortunately a movement against the Nice project has emerged which is not a movement against the European project as conceived by its founders. It centres on the Greens, who have become something more coherent in Ireland than they are in most other places. If the browbeating and intimidation of the electorate by Government and Opposition fails again to produce a Yes vote, we can see nothing but good coming of it, in Ireland or in Europe.

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