There’s a scene in “Yes, Minister” where Sir Humphrey outlines why Britain supports the expansion of the (then) EEC. It’s very simple, he says. The more countries that are in it, the more arguments that can be stirred up. The EEC can be turned into a complete pig’s breakfast.
As ever with “Yes, Minister”, there’s more than a grain of truth. It is becoming more and more difficult, if not actually impossible, for the EU to agree on meaningful, effective actions on any of the issues that actually matter.
On top of it all, we have the exasperating British who have developed a nervous tic every time they see something with a blue flag on it. We now have the surreal situation where any sincere attempt to make something work within the European Union involves the British government desperately trying to sound unhappy about it, for the benefit of the editor of The Daily Mail. Something perfectly reasonable to the Brits suddenly becomes a problem if it’s associated with the EU. Almost every statement by a British minister about the EU is apologetic, or talking about restrictions, or blocking.
We can’t go on like this. Nor do we need to. Despite their differences of recent years, both the French and the Germans still recognise that Franco-German cooperation is the key to European unity. Without it, nothing else happens.
We must also recognise that together, France and Germany have a population of 145 million people, a seat on the United Nations, a nuclear submarine fleet, and would be the de facto second richest country in the world.
Rather than constantly try to maneuver the herd of cats that the EU has become, is it time for France and Germany to go back to basics? To draft a new treaty creating a Franco-German Federation within the EU? I’m not talking about the abolition of the two states, which is not a realistic or desirable proposition. But instead a confederation with pooled defence spending, common borders (and border police) and refuge policies, and a shared Federal council with two co-presidents?
Such an arrangement, free from the Tower of Endless Babble, would at least allow joint policies to once again have the backing of the overwhelming major force in the region, and could act as an engine to restart integration, but without the slowest-ship-in-the-convoy approach that has dominated European Union politics. The rest of Europe initially wouldn’t be happy, but the deal would be clear: the federation is open to anybody who wishes to join, under its rules, and anyway France and Germany would still be members of the EU, only working as one and therefore vastly bigger than any other member state.
The British would go hysterical, of course, but since the Fiscal Treaty we now know that Britain can be sidetracked with little consequence, given they’re so poisoned by their own insecurity and doubts about their national identity.