European integration: Britain and EU close to point of no return
20 September 2012
José Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy, and now a group of 11 foreign ministers: everyone in the EU seems to be proposing greater integration as a way out of the crisis. But Britain continues to stand apart and the divide may soon become unbridgeable, writes The Guardian’s Europe editor.
There's no knowing how and where it will all end. But it is clear with every week that passes in Europe's biggest crisis that Britain and the rest of the EU are heading in starkly different directions. Minds concentrated by almost three years of euro crisis, Berlin for months has been demanding to reopen the EU treaties to facilitate a big pooling or surrender of – depending on your point of view – national sovereignty to facilitate a federalised eurozone, with what amounts to a core European government of an expanding 17 countries that would take on prerogatives over tax-and-spend powers. Britain is well out of that. Last week the European commission signed up to the German blueprint, while unveiling problematic EU legislation making the European Central Bank the policeman of the eurozone banking sector. Britain will have no part of that, either. On Tuesday the German foreign ministry extended the federalising economic policy-making to foreign and defence, along with 10 other EU foreign ministries carefully chosen to reflect the non-UK EU mainstream – small countries, big countries, single currency members and those outside the euro, core western states and newer east European countries. The likelihood is that the 11-country consensus will swell into a majority among the EU's 27. Britain also stands apart from this. The 11 include Germany and France, the big ones, plus Italy, Spain and Poland – after Britain the biggest EU countries. In short, Britain's isolation becomes more fixed, while the cross-Channel gap widens to become less than bridgeable. More in sorrow than in anger. There is ample support and sympathy for Britain's role in Europe, for the quality of its contribution in foreign, security and defence policy, for its pragmatic liberalism, its role in upholding the freedoms of the single market, its anti-protectionist instincts, the relative quality of its shrinking army of eurocrats.