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Jonathan Delaney: How British rejection of the European Security and Defence Policy could lead to fundamental reform of the European Union

Jonathan Delaney is a Professor of International Relations and 20th Century History at Montgomery College, Maryland, and worked within the Veterans Coalition for the McCain-Palin campaign. He is also a former adviser to Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Let us begin by assuming a Conservative Party victory in the coming General Election – hardly an incredible leap of faith given Labour’s spectacular and ongoing meltdown. Comprehensive disillusionment with Labour’s failed experimentations will afford the Tories a remarkable opportunity to change fundamentally many aspects of the United Kingdom (and not for the first time, either). The Tories are preparing meticulously, determined not to waste the political capital they will possess in the event of a sizeable victory.

Many issues will demand instant action, not least of all our – hush, don’t say it too loudly around the Conservative Party – relationship with the European Union. At this point, many of you will be steeling yourselves for the inevitable barrage of platitudes that this could finally be the moment to shift the EU in a direction more palatable to the UK.

Bear with me, though, because this time it could well be true.

Many options are open to the Tories but there is one policy choice that is guaranteed to have a seismic impact in Brussels. Imagine that the first policy announced by the Tories is the complete withdrawal of all of our support for the misguided European Security & Defence Policy (ESDP).

Thatcher’s handbag slamming would seem trivial by comparison. At a stroke, we would mortally wound one of the EU’s most ill conceived and fiercely protected policies. More so than perhaps any other EU initiative, ESDP is an unfolding disaster, an unnecessary vanity project as the EU seeks to acquire for itself the characteristics of statehood. Geoffrey Van Orden MEP fights a largely solitary battle against EU encroachments in the defence sphere and knows all that is worth knowing on the issue (and which I will not repeat here).

The threat of reprisals from fervent Europhiliacs would be swift, but would amount to nothing substantial. The EU cannot erect trade barriers against us, prohibited as they are by the WTO. In any case, the UK is a more important market for the EU than vice-versa. Having not joined the euro, we could not be bounced by political manipulations of the ECB’s interest rates. Diplomatic estrangement would be pointless – name the last time that our foreign policy counted on (please excuse the contradiction) firm European backing? Finally, most European countries could not support NATO any less than they currently do, so the danger or retaliation within NATO is minimal.

This will not be achieved, however, by the Conservative Party’s current policy.  Ending our sclerotic relationship with the EPP-ED and setting up our own truly conservative Political Group is doubtless a welcome first step, but it will not radically change the EU’s modus operandi.

We will still be outnumbered overwhelmingly in the European Parliament by those devoted to empowering the EU, not to mention that the engine of EU integration – the European Commission – will continue to spew out harmonizing directives regardless. Attempting to effect change in the EU through the Parliament is a lost cause from the outset – how can the least influential institution hope to prevail against the all-powerful Commission?

As a statement of intent, this would be unmistakable. Smothering this fledgling policy, and the concomitant rejuvenation of NATO, is a worthy enough aim by itself, but it has a wider significance. The combination of a new Political Group and withdrawal from ESDP would signal the end of business as usual and expose the craven promises of others leaders who promote change, then fall into the mainstream of EU groupthink. Such a determined stand would form the non-negotiable basis from which to pursue the return of additional powers to Westminster.

Who knows, it could even spur other European countries into finally voicing their own desire to repatriate powers to national governments. And what would other EU Member States prefer: a Conservative Party that takes office willing to renegotiate our EU relationship cordially or one that refuses all offers of talk and demands secession?

Europhiliacs everywhere, think carefully before answering that question.


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