Join me in a little thought experiment. For several months now, Tony Blair has been insisting that the European constitution would be a defeat for Euro-federalism. Within hours of appending his name to it, he announced that, far from creating a superstate, the constitution was about ‘sovereign nation-states co-operating together’.
Let us play along with the Prime Minister for a moment. Let us imagine that he really has seen off the Euro-zealots and protected the supremacy of national governments. What, in these circumstances, might we reasonably expect the constitution to contain?
First, there would be a proper division of powers. The EU would be confined to cross-border matters, while what one might call ‘behind border’ issues would devolve back to the member states. Brussels would continue to have a role in such areas as international trade, environmental pollution, and elements of aviation. But the nations would retrieve control over swaths of policy now within EU competence: agriculture, fisheries, social policy, immigration, defence, together with all aspects of industrial relations, employment law and indirect taxation which are not truly necessary for the functioning of the single market.
This is not to say, of course, that countries would be prevented from adopting common initiatives in these areas. But no longer would sceptical states be dragged à contrec