Philip Stephens

Nobodies in charge

The EU’s president and foreign minister are both duds. Eurosceptics should rejoice

The EU’s president and foreign minister are both duds. Eurosceptics should rejoice

What puzzles me is that my Eurosceptic friends are not dancing in the streets outside the Brussels Berlaymont. Those of us who still think that, for all its undoubted irritations, the European Union is fundamentally a good thing have been weeping into our Gueuze. The sceptics have won. Why aren’t they popping the champagne?

A couple of years ago sceptics feared (and Europhiles more ardent than I hoped) that the Lisbon Treaty would prove a slipway to federalism. After all, the Union would get a president and foreign minister. Brussels would throw open its doors in capitals across the world. The redoubtable Bill Cash had denounced the treaty as a constitution in all but name. David Cameron would soon be excoriated by Tory backbenchers for reneging on the promise of a referendum.

And now? Well, instead of mighty superstate, Europe is a pretty feeble mess. The single currency may yet fracture under the strain of the debt crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. A modest influx of immigrants in the wake of the Arab Spring has seen governments tear up the Schengen agreement on open borders and reimpose frontier controls.

Germany has preferred the company of Russia and China to that of Britain and France in opposing intervention in Libya. So much for a European foreign policy. Solidarity, that favourite word of the founding fathers, has been banished from the European lexicon. Sovereignty has taken its place.

The Union’s freshly minted president is a softly spoken and multilingual Belgian called Herman Van Rompuy. By all accounts, he is an intelligent and cultured politician. He winds down by writing Japanese haiku poems. As a former Belgian prime minister, he has had ample practice in reconciling the irreconcilable.

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