Thursday, 27 November 2003

Will Blair really stick to his guns?


Well, that must have been the briefest entente cordiale in Anglo-French history. Photo ops, guards of honour and adorable pics of Leo notwithstanding, this would seem to be the last chance for Jacques Chirac.

No more messing on this constitution business, says Tony Blair. Or at least, that’s what his spokesman says that he says. Either climb down on EU powers over tax, foreign and defence policy or we pull the plug on the whole show. No concessions, no constitution. Got it?

Yeah, right. What odds would you like to give me that this Government will actually veto the next step in the establishment of the European Union of Mr Blair’s dreams? What all this bluster and brinkmanship suggests to me is that we are about to have a replay of John Major’s Maastricht strategy: make lots of ineffectual threatening noises to satisfy the home audience, emerge from “tough” negotiations to declare a British victory, and then sign on the dotted – thereby locking the country into irretrievable losses of democratic control over its own government.

It is, of course, hugely flattering to Michael Howard and his revitalised Conservative Party that Mr Blair feels obliged to put on this show. The sight of the Tories cracking their knuckles on the sidelines makes it politically very unwise not to pretend that you are resisting EU homogenisation, and thus defending national sovereignty, in a muscular way. For some reason, which Blairites find utterly inexplicable, this nationhood thing plays very big even in the Labour heartlands, whose denizens seem to have a bizarre antipathy to being governed by the French and Germans.

And then there is Gordon, who has decided that EU economic policy is inimical to the “enterprise economy”. Quite what the Chancellor understands by “enterprise” remains an unfathomable mystery, since his entire tenure in office has been dedicated to snuffing it out. When he accuses the EU of producing “wasteful red tape”, British business must blink in collective disbelief. The Brownite project has consisted of nothing less than importing precisely the kind of social democratic employment policies and public spending programmes that are now stultifying the economies of Old Europe.

But I suppose that Mr Brown would, at least, prefer to preside over this process himself. If anybody is going to bankrupt Britain, it is going to be him, not a bunch of Brussels Eurocrats.

This is a moment of real personal crisis for Mr Blair. There have been two visions that have dominated his premiership. The original one was to take Britain into an emergent Europe, founded on social democratic principles. On one level, I am sure, he sees this in the most idealistic terms: putting to rest once and for all the terrible ancient hatreds and establishing a pan-European concorde combining prosperity with what he understands as “social justice”.

As a useful by-product, he sees the establishment of this new entity putting the Tories out of business forever, since anything other than consensual democratic socialism would be effectively impossible.

But his other big idea – which has been in the ascendant for the past two years – is to join with America in the war on terror. In this guise, he can see clearly that the EU – or, more specifically, the Old Europe of Mr Chirac – is purblind, selfish and arrogant.

The French and the Germans are so obsessed with their own historical tragedies and their national shame over the events of the past century, that they fail to see the true global danger of this one. So infinitely relieved are they that the European nightmare is ended, and so narcissistic are they as to believe that a peaceful Europe must equal a peaceful world, that they cannot see the threat of Islamic terrorism for what it is.

While they smugly elaborate their protectionist economic policy, and reduce their defence expenditure so as to afford even more government-sponsored “social justice”, the Europeans ignore the immediate threat to their values and their survival. While they bicker about the best way to distribute the fruits of prosperity and the advantages of open societies, a homicidal menace stalks them in the hope of destroying both.

They seem unaware that all that modern European thought and political culture has achieved is now under systematic assault. The force that is attacking it is nihilistic to a degree that makes it almost incomprehensible to its enemies. Even the terrifying Cold War, which for a time seemed to threaten nuclear holocaust, was somehow intelligible to the European mind.

It centred on an argument between two philosophies – modern capitalism and communism – both of which were products of the Enlightenment. The dispute was about how it was best to live: what sort of government and social arrangement makes for a better life for the greatest number of people?

Frightening as the potential was for mutual destruction, the essence of the disagreement was still tractable. You could hope to persuade your enemy that he was mistaken and win him over to your side. (As indeed often happened – which is why the world contained so many ex-communists.)

Now we are up against an enemy who says (as al-Qa’eda did last week), “You’re engaged in a war with people who love death as much as you love life”, who sees life as valueless except as preparation for a glorious death. What this movement believes, and what it wants, are completely alien to European thought, both in its classical humanist roots and its Judaeo-Christian religious values (from which the true beliefs of Islam are descended).

If ever there was a clear-cut battle against the forces of darkness, this is it. But Old Europeans are much too self-absorbed to see this and Mr Blair seems unable to convince them of it.

Janet Daley

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph.