What Exactly is ‘Governing in the National Interest’?

Posted on December 30, 2011

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From a Guest Blogger: We have yet to see what will be the ultimate results of David Cameron’s veto earlier this month. Rhetorically he has certainly scored a hit with a majority of the British people. Even many of those opposed to Cameron’s decision have not gone so far as to declare that the Prime Minister did the wrong thing. Instead they have confined themselves to the assertion that what he did does not matter and that the new treaty will very likely impose the very tax Cameron’s veto was intended to prevent.

With only four week’s worth of hindsight to guide us, there is still reason to think that either position, or indeed both of them, may be correct. Benedict Brogan, writing in the Telegraph, observed that Cameron gave the nation a moment of catharsis, which seems to sum things up better than most accounts. Even if the Prime Minister’s refusal to enter into negotiations for a treaty that would very likely harm the City of London ends up as no more than rhetorical posturing his move has allowed many Britons to breathe a sigh of relief, albeit mild. At the very least the truth of the British people’s most widely held view of the European Union has now been acknowledged.

The dust raised by Cameron’s withdrawal from European discussions on how to secure the future of the Eurozone has settled to pose an interesting question, one highlighted by Nick Clegg’s absence from the House of Commons when the Prime Minister was delivering his report. After his initial support for Cameron’s decision it seems the ideological force of the Liberal Democrat core convictions has asserted itself bringing Clegg to make yet another ‘hard decision’ and toe his own party’s line on European relations.

Will National Interests be Able to Survive in a European Federal Republic?

With all the doubts about what the veto meant and evident strains on the integrity of the coalition it is perhaps a good moment to reflect on what ‘governing in the national interest’ actually means. In a rapidly changing world the argument in favour of increased integration of EU nations has been the promise of peace and prosperity combined.

‘Together we are stronger’ is prima facie and broadly speaking true, but there is also here an implicit assertion that ‘national characters’ must take a back seat while the interests of the wider continent are put above patriotic concerns. Undoubtedly prosperity and peace are (as everywhere) in Britain’s national interest but it is sobering to think that, if and when the Euro crisis is solved, we move full-throttle towards European federation there may be no more nation states left in whose interest anyone might govern. It can hardly be said to be in the national interest for a state so to dilute its identity and capacity for self-government that it be reduced to little more than a regional administrative convenience. Regrettably, this may already be the future for Greece, and perhaps for Italy, too.

It would be a sad day if national prosperity and national identity became values mutually opposed to one other. Losing one’s cultural identity is in a way like losing part of one’s self. Indeed, as the Euro continues to struggle through successive difficulties the Euro-sceptic project is no longer seen as quite so rabid and ‘foam-flecked’ as Europhiles would have us believe. It would be nice to hope that national characters may yet play a role in future negotiations, and that we may all learn to accept that the Germans are not like the Greeks who in turn are not like the Irish who are not like the English.

Readers of a Europhile persuasion may sense an implied suggestion that Britain should be afforded special consideration as if our national identity were somehow more valuable than those of other countries. Nothing could be further from the point. Mutual co-operation is without doubt the best course for nation states to pursue, but the goal must never be absorption of many nation-states into one ‘super-state’ – however materially profitable this may be thought likely to be. Each and every country in Europe needs special consideration, and their peoples likewise. Without this any super-state will be the fantasy of bureaucrats and politicos, an abstraction from national identity in the name of an increasingly unaccountable and dubious ‘greater good’.

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