Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer


Possible Futures for the European Union: A British Reaction *

Helen Wallace

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This paper is a part of contributions to the Jean Monnet Working Paper
No.7/00, Symposium: Responses to Joschka Fischer

In his speech in Berlin in May 2000, Joschka Fischer commented that he had `an eye on our friends in the United Kingdom, because I know that the term `federation' irritates many Britons'. He might have added that his focus on the finalité of the European Union (EU) also baffles most Britons. This short essay tries to set the new debate that Fischer provoked on possible futures for the EU in the context of developing thinking in the UK about European policy. In particular, it looks at two related issues: the discussion about the ultimate shape of European integration, and the debate within the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) 2000 on proposals for `closer co-operation'. Both issues have to be seen against the back-drop of the continuing enlargement of the EU.

The British come to this with two contradictory starting points, and with a still tense debate in domestic politics on core issues of European integration. The two contradictory starting points are: first, a pragmatic (and quite commonsensical) notion that European ventures should match horses to courses; and, second, a fear of exclusion from the inner circle of the European governments which count.

On the one hand, it has been a consistent thread of British policy to encourage co-operation in Europe by and with the countries that were relevant to any given task. Thus, in particular, the British have consistently been key players in European defence co-operation since the Second World War, actively and extensively engaged in the NATO alliance and in other circles of defence collaboration, including willingly engaged-in active military deployment. In a plethora of other settings, successive British governments have been engaged in co-operation when this made sense in pragmatic terms or in terms of critical British interests, and-crucially-when it was judged that co-operation with other European partners would lead to value-added outcomes in terms of public policy.

On the other hand, British governments have been repeatedly concerned that other European governments would run ahead with co-operative and integrationist adventures that would leave the UK on the margins. Their fears have repeatedly been well-founded. On many issues and at many moments over the past fifty years or so, the British have discovered that, whatever the British reservations might be, others have been willing to proceed with intensified integration. The net result of these two starting points is that on the courses where the British horse was able to run, the British have been important players, while on other courses there has been no British runner-economic and monetary union (EMU) is the obvious case in point.

1 * The British Labour Government's policy on the longer term development of the EU was set by Prime Minister Blair on 6 October 2000. This speech was deliberately delivered in Warsaw to signal the strategic emphasis on enlargement. This new statement of British policy was intended as a major contribution to the debate launched by Joschka Fischer.


© Helen Wallace 2000


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