April Showers Down Europe Books

There seems to be a new book on the EU and its problems, future or lack thereof published nearly every week.

I review 4 of such books for Tribune which for reasons of space only carried one of them.

 

Book Review Tribune

 

The Europe Dilemma. Europe and the Drama of EU Integration by Roger Liddle, IB Tauris/Policy Network  £14.99

 

The Uncertain Legacy of Crisis. European Foreign Policy Faces the Future by Richard Youngs, Carnegie £9.99

 

Our Europe, Not Theirs by Julian Priestly and Glyn Ford (eds), Lawrence and Wishart, £13.99

 

Is the EU Doomed?  By Jan Zielonka, Polity Press, £9.99

 

Like April showers books on Europe are falling fast. As with the Irish Question or Free Trade or Catholic Emancipation in previous eras the Europe question today dominates British politics. It will do so until the 2015 election settles the question of whether we have an In-Out Referendum as promised in 2017 by David Cameron. Or whether such a referendum has to await a new Treaty as Ed Miliband, with more courage than his predecessors, has pledged.

But even if PM Miliband puts off a referendum he can have no illusion that a Ukipised Tory Party under Boris Johnson plus our rabidly Europhobe off-shore owned press will resile from clamouring for a referendum.

Thus Europe remains hardwired into British politics. Nick Clegg proved what a disastrously incompetent politician he is when Nigel Farage comprehensively out-debated the LibDem public school kid over two successive Wednesdays on BBC2.

Is Labour  wise tactically to say, see and hear no Europe? At some stage a new generation of Labour leaders will have to come out from under the duvet and think, write and speak on Europe.

These four books are helpful guides to that processing of rebooting Labour’s thinking on Europe.

Roger Liddle has written an important, revealing contemporary history book on how the Blair government handled Europe. No-one is better placed than Liddle who sat in No 10 sandwiched between the pro-EU Blair and the more cautious Gordon Brown. As Peter Mandelson’s amanuensis and former SDP member Liddle understands the complex relationships between the incoming Labour leaders in 1997 and how central the EU question was to all of them.

He nails one myth. Keen as he might have been to take Britain into the Euro, Tony Blair’s hands were tied by his election pledge to hold a referendum. Whatever his own inclination a referendum on joining the Euro in 1998 or 1999 would have been impossible to win and a mammoth diversion from Blair’s work in Northern Ireland, getting economic growth going and repairing Britain’s social fabric.

The 5 economic tests and the opposition from the Euro-cautious if not hostile Treasury made no difference to the fundamental brake on swapping the pound for the Euro – namely the pledge to hold a plebiscite. Such a referendum would have brought the Tories back to life, split Labour which was far less united on Europe than people realized and destroyed the love-in with the Sun and Daily Mail that Blair and his spin machine had engineered.

Richard Youngs is a Madrid based British academic with the best insights into EU foreign policy of anyone in Europe. At Prime Ministers Question in the current Parliament, Cameron never has to face questions on international issues. The British political and media elites have given up on foreign affairs.

The most successful British-born foreign policy player in recent times has been Cathy Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. On Iran, on Serbia and Kosovo, on liberating Ukraine from the corrupt murdering Yanukovich regime and on building up a foreign policy team from scratch Ashton has been scorned by the know-nothings of the London press but has far more real-time foreign policy achievements in her ledger than the disinterested William Hague.

In May, voters here and in 27 other EU member states can elect a new European Parliament. Scorned by many and far from perfect the EP now has power of co-decision that can make a real difference. Labour’s Sir Julian Priestly was Secretary-General of the EP and Glynn Ford was one of the most imaginative leaders of Labour MEPs. They have brought together a number of intelligent essays on why Europe needs a new deal after the long years of right-wing austerity politics. Labour has an excellent team of MEP candidates and the Party of European Socialists, under the leadership of the thoughtful Bulgarian , Sergei Stanishev, with his perfect English and sense of modern social democratic possibilities is a growing force.

An Oxford professor asks the question: ‘Is the EU Doomed?’ No. But his book shows how Eurodefeatism and Eurodespair now pervades Britain.

By contrast in Italy, in France, even in Germany there is a growing realization that a new EU is needed. Only in England do we refuse to accept the EU is here to stay. We can quit Europe as Ukip and many Tory MPs want. We can stay. But what we cannot do is continue to huddle under the duvet and hope the Europe question will just go away and does not need to be answered.

 

Denis MacShane is the former Europe Minister

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