Sinister European perversity or world's new hope?
The correction article the Financial Times would not print
by David Heilbron Price © 20010426
                                                                                                                                                           Your comments
In an article entitled ‘The greatest perversity of the European Union,’ (FT 26 April 2001), the economist, Sir Samuel Brittan warns about a ‘threat’ coming from the European Union. He says it is an aspect of the European Union more sinister-- horror of horrors-- than the single currency. In his view, this threat is the acquis communautaire. That is the 'community heritage' or patrimony, the sum total of European Community law. It is a bad, bad thing, he says. Why? Because it represents 'the rachet (sic) process of European integration' that commits member states to accept all previous and future centralising measures.

In his analysis, he says he is quoting from an unnamed 'reference book.' What is the threat? First of all it is necessary to look at the facts. Is it true or is it just a matter of 'Give a dog a bad name ...'

As for centralising ratchets, it is evidently NOT true. The European Community was founded by the Schuman Declaration on 9 May 1950. Robert Schuman, the then French Foreign Minister, called for the beginning of a new form of organisation for Europe. He said we should start with a European Coal and Steel Community. Great Britain, at first, chose to stay out, bad-mouthing it. In contrast, six continental countries, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy seized the opportunity with both hands.

Within a record short period, using totally different methods from the usual diplomatic conference, they had forged a treaty. The subsequent document, known as the Treaty of Paris, was signed just fifty years ago, on 18 April 1951. The following year it came into force after ratification in all the parliaments of the Six.

This was the first block of acquis communautaire known in history. Does this mean that all future European member states will have to sign this treaty? They would, -- if Sir Samuel Brittan's reference book on ratchets was correct.

The answer, however, is emphatically No. The Treaty of Paris disappears from existence next year. Why? because it was designed that way. According to article 97 of the founding treaty of the European Community, it was only concluded 'for a period of fifty years from its coming into force.'

What does this show? Simply, that the states of the present European Union have the power to change and modify any existing piece of legislation. This is a major advance on any federal system. The powers of competence within the European Community system always stay with the nation states.

The European system has, in contradiction to some unfounded opinion, strengthened the nation state. Before the Community was created, it was received wisdom that European states were condemned to permanent decline, or worse. Many people predicted another war between the states, once they had recovered sufficiently from world war two.

In contrast, the Community has had a remarkable effect of making democracies more accountable, in fact, more democratic. Only after it joined the Community did Great Britain show the means and self discipline for its own recovery. Membership helped arrest a trend and reverse the prevailing prognosis of the time that the country would become Europe's basket case. Published think tank reports and secret government forecasts said the same thing: decline. The comparison with the continental countries was already stark. Instead, upon entry, the competitive example within the European Community became a major motivation to increase competitiveness and to have a currency that was not in perpetual decay.

I recall a Swedish businessman, in those days, who when he got up in the morning, always told his money manager to sell Sterling. When asked why, he replied, 'I've been selling Sterling for every morning now for eleven years and so far I have not been proved wrong!'.

Britain's membership into the Community changed all that. Schuman called this joint self-discipline, Community solidarity. It is based on the principle that together Europeans can create something that is greater than the sum of the parts.

The European Community (as distinct from the European Union) is a democracy of democratic governments. The European Commission forms a permanent arbitration body but is not able to make decisions. It only proposes. The governments decide.

Thus there is no fixed legislation, in the long term, at all. No one can predict that a certain regulation will be on the books in ten years' time. The member states can decide to replace or rescind it. Some regulations have already lost their bite. There is no great force in a regulation that deals with defining the colour of car headlamps. The French no longer see the need to protect their national car manufacturers by requiring yellow beams on imported cars.

The vast majority of the Common Agricultural Programme, created from the time when Gaullist, non-communautaire 'package deals' were the vogue, will eventually have to give way to the real preservation of our agricultural sector and our natural heritage. Nothing defective is permanent.

What have been the other results? Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, those former inflationary sink-holes, now proudly boast a monetary discipline equal to that of the Bundesbank in the heady, postwar days of the German economic miracle. Britain has never had a better pound.

How has the European Community achieved this remarkable transformation for its peoples? Do we need a European constitution? Sir Samuel seems at a loss to find a name for the EU's political identity. Is it a federation? Is it a confederation? Is it dangerous?

The simple answer was given by Robert Schuman: it is none of the above. It is a new form of institution midway between two classical forms of inter-state structure. In this the powers remain with the nation states but a new sense of purpose, discipline and solidarity is created, based on the best values of European civilisation. These involve tolerance within the frame of a common law. In the Community system, the law is a totally new type: mini-international law. It differs from wish-list international law in that it really works. It is called supranational law. Yet this only applies in specific sectors, clearly defined by the member states' governments themselves. In other areas, the states have unrestricted liberty, as always. That’s why, famously, Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State, couldn’t find a single European telephone number to call for a European policy position.

However, the strength of the European system comes mainly from the reinforced solidarity and mutual understanding of its peoples and governments. This preserves our different cultures and traditions and underscores the need for fair-play within the whole EU area.

Fifty years ago Robert Schuman spoke of a new type of structure that would make war between the member states, 'not only unthinkable but materially impossible.' Was this a vague wish, a public relations tactic or an early form of spin-doctoring?

Judge for yourself. Last year the original Six chalked up a remarkable record, little signalled by our politicians. The territory of the original Community experienced the longest period of peace in its entire written history of more than two thousand years. Was it a sudden outbreak of common sense against all previous European experience, while all around other states were still resorting to bloodshed?

One key element in this remarkable peace record is that pesky acquis communautaire. It is these advantageous European laws and our new, beneficial, prosperity-enhancing traditions that Sir Samuel calls a 'sinister ... perversity.' My response to Mr Brittan is: Please give us some more of it. Please spread it around too to newly democratised countries freed from the yoke of Soviet communism. This is the record of our new European destiny. Let it shine!


David Heilbron Price runs the Schuman Project and the website, He is author of numerous works about the life, action and philosophy of Robert Schuman including 'Russia and the danger for the European Union', 'Schuman and the Yugoslav crisis' and 'Robert Schuman, trail-blazer for world peace'. © DHP 20010426


Back to Welcome page