The Europhiles are not the future, Mr Obama
Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Most US Presidents share the common American view that Europe will naturally evolve into a United States of Europe

William Rees-Mogg

It begins to look as though the real presidential election in the United States may have been the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Senator Clinton's passionate fight for the nomination will still be remembered in a generation's time. As a result, Senator Obama, having defeated Mrs Clinton, looks almost unbeatable in the presidential race itself.
 
Of course, unexpected upsets happen in elections. No US presidential election becomes a certainty until the Electoral College has voted. But the McCain campaign, though refreshingly decent and rational, has attracted little attention. Americans admire John McCain as a war hero, but that is not enough. He seems cast to play the role of Pompey to Obama's Julius Caesar. The Fates, having taken their decision, are reluctant to change the cast list.
 
That makes Mr Obama's visit to the Middle East, Afghanistan and Europe particularly important. He is being treated as virtually the President-elect. He will inevitably form first impressions that may remain with him in his years of power. There will be foreign statesmen who impress him, and others who do not. He will make his own judgment of the prospect of success in Afghanistan and Iraq. He will better understand that the problems of the Middle East and Europe are more complex than they had seemed in the briefing rooms of Washington.
 
Most US Presidents start with a preconception about Europe. They usually share the common American view that Europe is destined to follow American constitutional development, and will become the United States of Europe. The European nations will progressively transfer power to the EU and the European Court of Justice, just as the individual states transferred their sovereignty to the federal government and the Supreme Court of the United States.
 
Over time, most Presidents come to see the limitations of this view. They have to recognise that such a Europe would not be a particularly reliable partner for the US. They come to understand the serious cultural hostilities to the US, particularly in France. They are taught by events - as in Afghanistan - that Britain is the only European power that can be relied on as an ally which possesses significant military capacity.
 
In his visits to European countries, Mr Obama will meet very few critics of this federal concept of European development. He is not likely to meet many Eurosceptics, though, in David Cameron, he will meet a party leader opposed to the federalist Lisbon treaty, and, in Gordon Brown, a Prime Minister who as Chancellor blocked Britain joining the euro. But in general he will meet Europhiles who are unlikely to tell him of the true hostility to this European project among the European voters.
 
American policy towards European integration should be based on the principles of the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Americans should not help European bureaucrats to impose on us a European constitution that they would not dream of accepting for themselves. Thomas Jefferson, an over-ardent advocate of the French Revolution, even during the Terror, defined the American Constitution in terms of liberty and democracy.
 
The EU admits to a democratic deficit which has not been made good by the Constitutional treaty or by the Lisbon treaty. The essential facts that Mr Obama needs to know are that the Constitutional treaty was rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands, that the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty, with much the same content, and that the British have been refused a referendum on the Lisbon treaty despite manifesto promises at the last general election. Eighty per cent of British voters want a referendum; the British feel cheated by their Government.
 
The Lisbon treaty is the one European constitutional proposal still on the table. Since the Irish voted "no", it has been kept alive on the pretext that the Irish - the only nation to have had a referendum - can be forced to change their minds. Despite the pressure from Nicolas Sarkozy of France, that is unlikely to happen, if only because of the timing. The French are already in their six-month term in the chair of the EU. President Sarkozy only has until the end of this year to make the Irish change their vote. France will be succeeded in January by the Czech Republic, which is relatively Eurosceptic, and has neither the will nor the power to change the Irish vote.
 
Next June will see European elections, in which Declan Ganley, the man who organised the successful Irish "no" campaign, is considering running 400 candidates as a Europe-wide referendum against the Lisbon treaty. In May 2010, there will probably be a British general election, in which the Conservative Party will be committed to a British referendum on Lisbon, if European ratification is not complete. Britain is a big European power and will almost certainly vote "no".
 
No one can know how events can develop. It is not necessary, or desirable, for Mr Obama to take an immediate view. The constitution for Europe is a matter for Europeans, as the Eurosceptics argue. Yet it is important that the senator should not take the wrong view. It would be a serious mistake for the US to base its policy on the expectation that the Lisbon treaty will in the end be ratified; there is at least an even chance that it never will be. Or it might disrupt Europe's vulnerable unity.
 
The next President of the United States may have to deal with the Europe of Brussels or with the Europe of the Nations. He may have to deal with a looser Europe or with a core of European countries moving to an exclusive federation, led by France and Germany. He might even receive a proposal for a European free trade area to join Nafta. He should keep an open mind and open options on these European issues.

William Rees-Mogg is a columnist of The Times

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