I have to admit that I am struggling with this blog, between offering a balanced spread of stories on EU and related issues in general, and the need to pursue more focused coverage of the defence/foreign policies that we have been following.
Looking at the problem in the round, however, I am coming to the conclusion that we are close to the end game in the battle over European integration, with the "colleagues" perilously close to winning the match, without anyone even realising it. In this particular post, therefore, I want to address this issue and seek the views of our readers on matters which will become apparent through this piece.
Returning to this issue, in terms of my rather bald statement that we are entering the "end game", readers may rightly feel it contradicts earlier assessments published on this blog. Variously, we have argued that the European Union has reached the limits of integration and – with the failure of the constitution - politically, the construct is dying on its feet. It is only a matter of time, we have suggested, before the whole thing collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions.
That, actually, still probably remains the case. History is littered with the wreckage of grandiose political constructs, but there is nothing to say that that the collapse of the EU will come soon or suddenly. More crucially, in the time available to it, it continues to grow and expand its powers, as does its capacity to cause enormous harm, and damage to UK interests.
Taking that on board, one has to understand that there are two separate models of European integration at work, each with their own advocates, their own power bases and their own agendas. As they interact with each other, we see a confusing interplay of events, which is difficult to interpret and, at any one stage, can attract different conclusions.
Cutting to the chase, though, the two different models can usefully be described – if approximately – by the horrendous labels of "neo-functionalism" and "intergovernmentalism". Both have as their end point the political integration of Europe – effectively a United States of Europe - but each rely on different methodology and have as their end point fundamentally different structures and ideas as to the division of power.
The first of the two, the "neo-functional" model, embodies the "Monnet method" approach, relying on step-by-step economic integration gradually to ensnare the nation states by the classic process of engrenage, thereby bringing them into the maw of a single economic entity that then assumes a political dimensions, emerging as the government of Europe. Crucially, at the heart of this construct is the Commission, comprised of appointed technocrats ruling as benign Platonic guardians, protecting the interests of all the peoples of Europe.
The second, "intergovernmental" model differs in that crucial respect in that, while the objectives are exactly the same, the ruling body is a cabal made up from the leaders of the member states. This, in the current institutional structure of the European Union is the European Council, which sees itself as the heir to the mantle of the "government of Europe" and would prefer to treat the Commission as its civil service, subordinate to it in all material respects.
This is what so few people understand about the European Union – that there are two competing models. There are two separate institutions which aspire to the Crown. They are not complementary parts of the whole, but rivals, competitors which – unseen and unrecognised by most of the world – are fighting out a deadly battle for dominance.
What so few people also understand is that the failure of the constitution represented a massive defeat for "neo-functionalism" and, by default, a victory for "intergovernmentalism", the nature of which is only beginning to become apparent. What it did not represent was a defeat for European integration, which proceeds apace.
To understand this, one has to appreciate that we have been here before. It was in 1952 that a European constitution was formally proposed as the framework for a European Political Community (EPC) which, in turn, was to provide the political structure for a European Defence Community employing its own European Army.
If nothing else, this reminds us that the core ambition of the integrationalists was always to develop what is now called a "European defence identity", under a broader political umbrella. That had as its main aim the projection of a European common foreign policy and through that the re-creation of a new European empire in its own right. This remains the core ambition – the rest is detail, a means to that end.
That the EPC was rejected by the French Assembly in 1954 was a major defeat for Monnet and his supporters, which led to a change of tactics and a reversion to the step-by-step "neo-functionalist" approach which had been pioneered in the European Coal and Steel Community. In effect, by going for the EPC, Monnet over-reached himself and the subsequent Treaty of Rome was a more cautious return to the original plan.
While the overall effect of the rejection of the EPC, therefore, was to delay the timetable, it did nothing to sate the appetites of the integrationalists, whose plan re-emerged in the run-up to the Maastricht Treaty when the hope was that the then Community would emerge as a full-blown European Union, complete with a foreign and defence policy along the lines envisaged back in 1952.
However, the member states were not yet (or at all) willing to surrender that amount of power to the Commission and what emerged was an unholy compromise of a three-part treaty comprising three "pillars", the first constructed on the "neo-functionalist" model and the other two – foreign policy and "security", and justice and home affairs – on intergovernmental lines.
Ever since Maastricht, the Commission and its allies have been seeking to demolish this structure and bring all the components into a unified whole, increase their control of the elements. This process is known in Community jargon as "collapsing the pillars". That was what the constitution was really all about. That the Commission and its allies failed is now history, but that has not deterred them trying to salvage their plans. They will continue to do that – and have so far failed - because that is what they must. Their very survival depends on it.
Nevertheless, that has not stopped many commentators – ourselves included in the earlier stages before the process became clearer – claiming that the "European Union" was attempting (and in some cases succeeding) to implement the constitution, without ratification. But, as we tried to point out in an earlier post, that is not what is actually happening.
The trouble is, of course, that the two institutions, the Commission and the European Council, are variously described in short-hand terms, as "Brussels" or the European Union, the latter often as "European Union leaders", which obscures the nature of the battle going on, and fatally undermines attempts better to understand the dynamics of integration.
What is actually happening, though, is something very different. The "intergovernmental" cabal in the European Union are flexing their muscles, introducing elements which were in the constitution – and some which predated it – but in many ways freezing out the Commission and keeping the power within the ambit of the European Council and participating member state leaders.
In this sense, within the EU, all the prime ministers and heads of state (that participate in EU affairs) have two separate and distinct roles. In one, they act in their familiar domestic capacities but, as members of the European Council, they are in effect cabinet members of the putative government of Europe. And it is there that many of the decisions concerning the high-level issues of defence and foreign affairs are made, to be implemented by the self-same "cabinet members" using their own domestic resources.
This does make the process of integration very difficult to understand. The popular perception is of "Brussels" forcing unwilling member states to do its bidding, whereas in the sphere of "high politics" it is the "double-hatted" cabinet members of the European Council using the resources of their own countries in the service of European integration and the projection of European Union power. In the UK, therefore, we may have a prime minister in Blair but, as a member of the European Council, he has a higher loyalty to a different, superior government.
Now, in respect of the UK, the understanding is doubly complicated by the perception that Blair serves two masters, the European Union and the United States in the persona of George W. Bush. In fact, in the light of the Iraqi adventure, probably more people see Blair as Bush's "poodle" than as a servant of the European Council.
Here, though, the perception is almost certainly wrong, not least because Blair – apart from the then perceived domestic advantages of joining in the second Gulf War – has continued a traditional foreign office line. This holds that a close association with the US somehow strengthens the UK's influence in the European Union. Although this strategy has spectacularly backfired on this occasion, that is the perversity of the Iraqi adventure.
When it comes to dealing with the current counterinsurgency in Iraq, however, the equation has changed in an important respect. Whatever enthusiasm Blair may have had originally has evaporated. Although he is maintaining troops in southern Iraq, it is clear that this is a token presence which is performing very little useful service in the prosecution of Bush's "war on terror". In effect, Blair is paying lip-service to the US-led coalition, while looking for the first available opportunity to make a dignified exit.
Whatever the words, this is evident from the facts on the ground. The prosecution of the campaign in Iraq requires new types of equipment, different force structures and tactics, all of which require huge expense. The US is making this investment but Blair is simply unwilling to commit anything of what is needed.
This is because such resources as he has available are already committed to the European defence identity and, in particular, to equipping the British component of the European Rapid Reaction Force. And, so different are the equipment, force structures and tactics being devised for the ERRF that they will be useless for dealing with anything else but the nebulous "peacekeeping" tasks for which the force is designated.
The eventual retreat from Iraq by the British, therefore, will also mark a retreat from the US-led coalition and a move more fully into the "intergovernmental" structure of the European Union, where Blair's (or his successor's) foreign and defence policy will be increasingly defined by his colleagues in the European Council "cabinet".
At this point, with or without the EU constitution, the UK will be almost completely absorbed into the political European Union, which will be acting as a "superstate" in all but name. And so entrenched will be the systems and so integrated will be our armed forces and other structures that extraction will be virtually impossible.
Therein lies the point of this post. Although we have referred to Bush's "war on terror", the broader campaign is to achieve the spread of democracy – which is the ultimate aim of the occupation of Iraq. The EU, on the other hand, it committed to a policy of "stability". It is not particularly interested in democracy. It is not a democracy itself, so why should it care?
Thus, we have a choice between "democracy" and "stability", the choice between supporting – and occasionally leading – campaigns and initiatives alongside the United States and its allies, or supporting the foreign policy initiatives of the European Union and its allies. And, as it stands, we are sliding towards the latter, in a contest between two incompatible world visions.
If we are to reverse this, the litmus test is actually Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. While the cries are for a rushed withdrawal of troops – as soon as can be arranged – the truth is that installing democracy in Iraq is a long-term task which will require a commitment for decades rather than years. As importantly, it requires massive investment and all that goes with it to conduct an effective counter-insurgency campaign, rather than the tokenism in which we are currently engaged.
By that measure, as I see it, one of the most crucial issues of the day – and the means by which further political integration into the European Union can be avoided – is to pursue a campaign for a more active, effective and longer-term engagement in Iraq, staying there until we have a fully-functioning, liberal democracy. This is not only in the interests of democracy, but in the interests of the United Kingdom itself. Therefore, Iraq, in my view, is not only the crucible of a new democracy, it could also be the salvation of the UK as an independent, democratic nation. On the other hand, a retreat from Iraq is a de facto retreat into "Europe".
So convinced am I of that thesis that I am moving – with my colleague – towards focusing this blog more towards to "high politics" end of the spectrum, with more analytical and discursive posts, and fewer routine news items on EU and general politics. It is that on which readers comments would be welcome.