By seizing the Crimea, Russia has threatened the international community

Aaron Ellis

As the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine escalated over the weekend, many in the West showed an embarrassing lack of character. Seemingly contemptuous of its international obligations, a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council seized the territory of another country, justifying its actions on the same grounds as Hitler when he demanded the Sudetenland. Rather than appreciate the potential awfulness of the crisis and summon up their courage, however, Westerners reacted to it parochially and with snark.

“It’s Europe’s problem, let them sort it out,” declared many Americans, “we don’t have any interests there”, whereas various Western Europeans commented that, “We cannot be dragged into a war because of Russophobes in the East.” Those on the right of the political spectrum in both Britain and the United States blamed the supposedly ‘weak’ President Obama. Sajid Javid, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, claimed that there is ‘a direct link’ between Ed Miliband’s opposition to intervening in Syria last summer and Moscow’s actions now, making the Labour leader unfit to be Prime Minister. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Who gives a shit about all this? Russia is invading Ukraine.

The Allies fought a world war for, and built an international system on the principle that states must not be allowed to forcibly redraw their borders – no matter how much the people in the annexed territories ‘like’ their occupiers. We enshrined it in the UN Charter: ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity…of any state’. The system that was created by the Allies (Russia amongst them) was designed to help countries find “the surer ways of preserving peace”, as Margaret Thatcher once said, ways enabling “the peoples of each sovereign state to lead their lives as they choose within established borders.”

When President Putin seized the Crimea, Ukraine became a vital interest of Britain, the United States, the European Union, and indeed anyone else interested in maintaining world peace. Mr. Putin’s actions struck at the foundation of a global order that has, in his own words, ‘underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.’ We simply cannot allow the challenge to go unpunished.

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The Camino de Santiago offers an insight into the European debate

Matthew Plummer

The Camino de Santiago is the historic pilgrimage route across northern Spain, and as a cultural melting pot it had the misfortune of being dramatised as a ghastly film, packed with characters you’d normally walk a long way to escape.

Fortunately the reality is much better, and when I walked the 650 miles from Lourdes to Finisterre this summer the sole person I consciously avoided was an American college kid who sauntered along singing at the top of his voice while emitting a powerful body odour. That he was dressed only in boxer shorts with feathers in his dreadlocks didn’t help matters.

Nonetheless it’s the people who make the Camino a lifetime experience, and offering some wonderful insights into the differences in mentalities across Europe and further afield. I spent the first week plodding across the Pyrenean foothills in endless rain, without seeing a single soul walking west. Company came in the form of random encounters with the locals, particularly around meals. A priest from India at the Bétharram Monastery wanted to talk about the great batsmen his country had produced as we drank broth while sat on the long benches of the refectory, with the other monks completely confused until we moved on rugby. And the waiter at one of the bistros who resignedly acknowledged that the French way of life was doomed, which seemed pretty reasonable given that most shops seemed only to be open for a couple of hours in the morning, and with local farms still almost pre-industrial in their miniature form.

On the morning of my third day the butcher in Arundy attached a large scallop shell (the traditional symbol of pilgrims en route to Santiago) to my pack, and from then onwards every boulangerie was a chance to warm up and talk to the intrigued locals – although saying I was walking to Santiago felt fraudulent given that Galicia was still a fair few mountain ranges – and 1000km – away.

So making it to the popular starting point of St. Jean Pied-de-Port after a week on the road was a bit of a relief. Passing through the town’s fortified Porte St. Jacques I was met by a cacophony of languages, frenzied unwrapping of new equipment and nervous anticipation of the first major challenge of the main Camino – following Napoleon’s steep route over the Pyrenees. The sharp early morning climb wasn’t brutal enough to stop the wild hand gestures and emotional outpourings of the girl from California. Nor did it stifle conversation with the chain smoking chap from Stuttgart, who didn’t understand that a ‘C’ in GCSE German meant my grasp of his language was limited to menus and the occasional war film, and constructing sentences with ‘potato salad’ and ‘hands up’ didn’t seem conducive to the spirit of the walk, or European harmony.

The route itself is inherently cultural rather than deeply scenic, but that’s part of the joy of traversing a large country – you take the rough with the smooth. The back streets of Spain’s isolated villages revealed some of the Iberian Peninsula’s desperate poverty, interspersed with stonkingly beautiful towns – medieval Viana, where Cesare Borgia is buried, was particularly pretty. Dormitories ranged from charmless municipal accommodation to the isolated medieval pilgrims’ hostels where Mass was celebrated by candlelight. And of course the mountains of Galicia were spectacular, more than making up for the afternoon spent walking past Burgos airport and countless hours of trudging along roadside footpaths.

Hours of conversation with my fellow pilgrims (very few of them British) as we passed though countless settlements also hammered home some important cultural differences. Dutch incredulity at Spain’s lavish yet half-built motorways that intersected our route. The abundance of hairdressers in the smallest of French villages, and American bewilderment at poor European service. The spectacular mountain settlement of La Faba was run by a German confraternity, and for the first time in weeks I enjoyed a clean shower that worked, with immaculate bunks and a laundry service, my thanks for which were met with a blank “What else did you expect? We are German!”

There were – of course – frequent sightings of flagpoles flying the gold stars of the European Union. I pointed out to my Spanish companion that this enthusiasm would be unthinkable in England, much to his surprise. “Really? Surely we’re all brothers?” he asked. “Aren’t you proud of Europe in the UK?” I felt awful breaking it to him that back in Blighty the EU is seen as a cousin at best – the sort you hear very little from during the year, before agonising about deleting from the family Christmas card list.

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The Conservative Party needs a radical European vision

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David Cowan

The Conservatives’ European policy is settled. If David Cameron wins a majority at the next General Election, his government will hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union by 2017. Who knows what luck the Prime Minister will have with his rengotiation strategy, or how it will play out when Tories are campaigning against each other over whether or not we are better off out. Your guess is as good as mine. But Labour and the Liberal Democrats are on the back foot, and the grassroots love Mr. Cameron - well, dislike him less - for it.

But there is one thing people, especially Europhobes, have tended not to think seriously about. What if the British people vote to stay in the EU? Most Better Off Out-ers just assume that given the chance they will vote to leave. What if they don’t? We would be stuck with the status quo of ‘ever closer union’. The Europhobic right would totally collapse. UKIP would lose their raison d’etre. Britain’s membership of the EU would be ‘case closed’ for decades, much like it was after the 1975 referendum.Where would this leave the Conservative Party?

For so many years the Conservatives have been defined by a strong hostility towards the EU which has on occasion come close to borderline hysteria. Memories of Winston Churchill’s speeches in favour of a ‘United Europe’ (though his own view of Britain’s role in such an entity is still somewhat ambiguous), the Conservatives’ key role in shaping many fundamental European institutions, are now just an old, jaded memory which has failed to capture the imagination of a new generation of Conservatives.

This has left the Party very ill-prepared for the eventuality of the British people rejecting withdrawal from the EU. So far the Tory case for staying in the EU has been negative and timid in that the emphasis has been on reclaiming powers and reversing changes rather than improving and reforming institutional structures. If we want to be in a solid position should the Eurosceptic argument be defeated at the ballot box then they must have a positive vision for Britain’s future in Europe.

What would such a vision look like? The key principles at its heart must be economic and political liberty. A positive Conservative vision for EU reform has to fight for a less regulated, protectionist, subsidised, and taxed single market which can compete in the global economy and credibly champion global free trade as the best means of raising the most deprived countries in the world out of poverty. Complementing this would be a serious overhaul of EU structures based on a more decentralised and democratic model which allows competition and innovation to flourish through the people, instead of stagnation and decline as has been the case under the current centralised and bureaucratic model.

If the Conservatives can help forge a new EU which is a community of nations instead of a grandiose federal project, then it can be a more effective force for the pursuit of global peace and prosperity by demonstrating that moderate multilateral means can successfully deliver liberal ends.

It has become abundantly clear that the status quo will not do and ‘ever closer union’ towards a bureaucratic super-state does not bear thinking about. If the British people choose to reject the idea of leaving the EU then the Conservatives must be ready to face the challenge of reforming the EU towards a more liberal, decentralised, and democratic model. But this can only be done when Conservatives are ready to speak out and propose a radical European vision for the 21st century.

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De Gaulle was right to veto Britain’s EEC membership

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Thomas Kingston

On 14th January 1963, President Charles de Gaulle of held a press conference in Paris and for the first time said “Non!”to Britain’s accession to the EEC.

De Gaulle is a much maligned figure on this side of the Channel. The British side of my family spoke of him as quite ungrateful; repaying the crucial political and military support this country gave him in the Second World War by repeatedly vetoing our EEC membership applications. For the French side, however, he was a patriot, and his vetoes were done for the good of France. Having come to admire De Gaulle and his politics, it’s my belief that he might have been doing what was actually best for Britain.

The EEC then consisted of only six countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherland – all of which had been savaged by the Second World War. We had rejected the offer to join its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, several years before, but now Prime Minister Harold Macmillan saw membership as vital to our future position in the world.

At the press conference, De Gaulle was asked by a journalist to explain France’s position towards Britain’s entry and “the political evolution of Europe.” The president recognised that the British would be reluctant to lose some of its preferences regarding trade with the Commonwealth and this would not only pose problem for the United Kingdom, but also for other Member States:

England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions.

Though seemingly just describing our national character, De Gaulle also explained his opposition to our entry: If the British economy depended on the Commonwealth and the United States for much of its trade, what benefits would be gained for the EEC if the United Kingdom was admitted? It would be impossible for Member States to rival Commonwealth prices, never mind provide the range of products it offered. 

De Gaulle hit the proverbial nail on the head a few seconds later:

[T]he question…[is] whether Great Britain can now place herself like the Continent and with it inside a tariff which is genuinely common, to renounce all Commonwealth preferences, to cease any pretence that her agriculture be privileged, and, more than that, to treat her engagements with other countries of the free trade area as null and void — that question is the whole question.

This is important to the current European debate, for although the Commonwealth preferences are gone, and our agriculture integrated with the CAP, and our trade with non-members conducted through the European Union, all of this was given begrudgingly. Right from the start, we were set to have an unpleasant time in Europe.

It’s been suggested that Germany only ever agreed to partner with France because of war guilt; in my opinion, it’s more likely that Britain was only admitted to the EEC because of other member’s guilt rather than a genuine belief that the country would seamlessly become part of the Common Market. After De Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969, our path was no longer blocked by that behemoth of reality and pragmatism, and thus Edward Heath was free to lead us with romantic idealism into membership in 1973. In the referendum that followed two years later, the pro-Europeans were convinced that it could only be won if loss of sovereignty was played down – a worrying avoidance of reality that has no doubt contributed to the awkward situation in which we find ourselves today.  

Europhobes blame the EU for everything that is wrong with country, arguing that somehow we were lured by promises of free trade and then – SNAP! – we were caught in the trap of tariff-free, cross-border happiness. Obviously this wasn’t the case. The idea of a federal Europe was there all along, but it was downplayed because it clashed with the insular nature of the British people – a fact that De Gaulle recognised. The EU is criticised for being anti-British, when in fact they have simply been putting forward policies and legislation that suits the majority of the Member States, all of which share a continental mindset. We have not taken well to this and have been struggling as a result – another issue foreseen by De Gaulle.

I don’t believe the situation was ever fully explained to the British people; I don’t believe enough reforms were enacted to ensure compatibility with Europe (if compatibility was even possible in the first place). We need to stop blaming the EU for everything and recognise that radical changes will be needed on both sides of the Channel if our relationship is to work.

And we should also probably apologise to Charles de Gaulle…

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Britain ‘pivots’ to Asia on a Japanese-made hinge

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Louis Reynolds

At first glance the twin trade and cooperation agreements signed by William Hague and His Excellency Keiichi Hayashi in London last week were a positive yet unremarkable contribution to the Coalition’s ambitions regarding the expansion of Britain’s international trade relations and the promotion of Britain’s defence industry. In actual fact, the new pact represents a broader fulfilment of the Government’s strategic vision.

The basic substance of these agreements in itself, while ground-breaking, is rather reserved. The UK-Japan Defence Equipment Coordination Framework will facilitate joint research projects within the defence industry, while the Information Security Agreement outlines the rules regarding the sharing of classified information necessitated by the cooperation effort. Initial collaboration efforts will centre on chemical, biological and radiological protective equipment, with engagement expanding to anti-air defences and similar projects at a later date.  

While this Anglo-Japanese agreement is important in simple economic terms, in the manner of previous large-scale Coalition trade agreements such as those arranged with China, or India, it crucially also has specific value in and of itself. The collaborative potential for two nations with such exceptional high-tech industrial bases and pioneering technological expertise is extensive, and the pact has the added attraction of relative exclusivity; the United Kingdom is now Japan’s only defence research and development partner with the exception of the United States.

Furthermore, the agreements fulfil a significant part of Hague’s vision, as set out in his July 2010 speech Britain’s Prosperity in a Networked World,of an increased focus on new, tailored partnerships with a broader range of global powers. This is in turn part of the Coalition’s divergence from Britain’s previous (perhaps antiquated) foreign policy set around traditional alliances. Cameron and Hague are seeking to establish Britain as an innovative power capable of diplomatic flexibility in a multi-polar world.

Considered in the context of the UK’s recent activities in the Far East - her opposition to the removal of the EU arms embargo on China, Cameron’s tour of other Asian states, her expressed desire to see an augmentation of the military capabilities of China’s neighbours and finally the ‘Vietnam-UK Plan of Action - it would require little imagination to view these latest agreements with Japan as part of a broad attempt to increase Britain’s profile as a power-player in Asia.

Yet while these agreements are indicative of important cultural shifts in British foreign policy – shifts away from traditional alliances, away from Imperial baggage and away from a Eurocentric understanding of foreign policy – it is important to maintain perspective. Britain is not in a position to directly influence trends and events in Asia. Reduced military power, economic ailments and the continued decline of comparative European power in general limits Britain’s capability to act independently in such a critical region so far from home, in terms of hard or soft power. Yet Britain has unique strengths and capabilities and remains a powerful international actor as well as a highly desirable ally. For Britain to make best use of the opportunities of Asia in the twenty-first century, it is necessary that she applies her distinctive skills within the context of cooperation with other powers.

Earlier this year I attended the last foreign speech given by Leon Panetta, then United States Secretary of Defence. The address largely focused on the necessity of an American ‘pivot towards Asia’, and framed the European Union as a potential senior partner in such a strategy. Panetta’s argument was greeted with a degree of scepticism – the EU and foreign policy can occasionally seem to be incompatible concepts – but his logic seems clearer today than it did in January. The lack of reference to the United Kingdom as an independent power was prominent in Panetta’s speech, as was the firm focus on Britain’s role within the EU - perhaps more a reflection of changes in the international order than any significant British decline. This Government seems to understand the new reality too; Hague mentioned the European Union twelve times in his Britain in Asia speech last week.

These latest Anglo-Japanese agreements therefore represent much more than an innovative response to economic concerns, though Britain’s economic motivations are prominent in her foreign policy. For the United Kingdom they represent a positive reaction to broader shifts in international political dynamics. For the Coalition these developments demonstrate a positive and proactive attitude to changes which Britain must embrace, and which, if handled correctly, could stand to make Britain stronger.



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Europe is worth fighting for - maybe not this Europe, but a better Europe is at least worth a try

Nik Darlington 10.30am

This evening the annual Macmillan Lecture is being delivered in Parliament by Damian Green, police minister and TRG vice-president.

Mr Green will state the unequivocal Conservative case for the EU, rejecting clarion calls for an immediate exit yet insisting that the British people are overdue their say on our membership. Giving the Prime Minister his strongest backing, Mr Green will make the case for allowing negotiations to proceed and for an improved settlement to be put to the British people.

Of course, the British people have every right to reject EU membership even then. Conservatives sympathetic to the EU today are not blindly uncritical. Without democratic consent the EU is but a hollow bureaucratic shell. Indeed, a shell that in this day and age looks increasingly like a fossil.

There is a case to be made for the EU, but it has to be made on Conservative principles of free trade and democracy. It is on precisely those principles that the EU’s biggest critics have assumed to abandon the field. Europe is worth fighting for. Maybe not this Europe as it stands (or falls), but a better Europe is at least worth a stab.

All right-thinking Eurosceptics need to get behind David Cameron’s EU negotiations

James Reekie 9.00am

The European Union’s unresolved constitutional status, and the sticking plaster approach of the Lisbon Treaty means that we need some new thinking in order to resolve our qualms over Europe. The Prime Minister can provide this.

Like most people on the centre-right, I am sceptical of increasing European powers. I don’t believe the UK should be outside of the EU, but I do think that Europe needs to change. That is why I welcomed David Cameron’s pledge to renegotiate our place in Europe and put the results of those negotiations to the British people in a referendum. Mr Cameron is providing important leadership in Europe by examining as part of this exercise those parts of the EU that are fundamentally incompatible with not only British values but also those of other Member States. It means that the European political classes will at least begin the debate by asking ‘What powers and competences need to be returned?’ rather than ’ How much state sovereignty can we take from Member States?’. The former question being the one which the British public have been rightfully asking for years.

The slow creep of European power cannot be simply blamed on the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’ or on the European institutions, for on every European Treaty we find the tacit endorsement of Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Secretaries in what has become a shameless acquiescence in the diminution of parliamentary sovereignty - if not in a theoretical sense then at least in a practical one.

David Cameron has demonstrated that he is no friend of this approach and finally at last, we have a leader in Europe who is actually willing to provide a robust alternative to the ‘integration will solve it’ mantra of the federalists.

However, simply moaning and groaning about Europe won’t solve the problem for us eurosceptics. We must call for a constitutional settlement that reigns in and defines in clear terms the powers and limitations of the European Union and its institutions. There does exist a reasonable approach to the European Union which satisfies our ambitions for free trade and co-operation that does not rely on full blown integration or withdrawal.

Eurosceptics need to take a much more coherent and holistic approach to the EU constitutional debate.

Firstly, by recognising that from its early conception until now the European Union has in fact developed along a distinctly British constitutional tradition. This type of constitutional evolution has made Britain’s constitution distinctive in its flexibility and contributed to our many successes within a state context but it is no remedy for a supranational entity such as the European Union. Of course in a legal and political order such as the European Union this was always going to lead to a constitutional crisis, especially considering there is the sovereignty of member states constitutional traditions to consider.

Secondly, by recognising that our alternative is the one sought by the vast majority of people. The former treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe contained articles on a European flag, anthem and various other nonsensical provisions in order to attempt to garner some sense of constitutional patriotism from citizens of member states, which was completely out of step with the vast majority of the European public. There is little clamour for a federal Europe. So let’s argue for an abandonment of pie in the sky symbolism and advocate a focus on solid constitutional reform.

We hear far too much nowadays of European human rights legislation or the next nanny-state measure to come through Brussels. This leads us to forget the fundamental reason why the European Union exists.

The common market in principle is good for business and good for trade within Europe and internationally. In fact, it is the principles of this common market that may just save us from the absurdity of minimum pricing for alcohol. The common market is not without its faults but the law makers and political leaders of Europe must appreciate that the fundamental premise of the European Union is a Common Market. It is time we got back to something that looks like one.

Thirdly, we need to recognise the European Union for what it is. It isn’t a state and we don’t want it to become a state. I often hear those across the political spectrum talk of the European democratic deficit. Of course the democratic deficit is still far too large but we must also appreciate that if we do not want Europe to become a state we must stop holding it to standards we expect from nation states. We must see it as a unique order which we are responsible for shaping and not leave the left to determine the future of the European Union.

Therefore, governments must also take some responsibility for constitutional collisions when they arise. Often constitutional compatibility issues can be resolved well beforehand but they often lack the political will or courage by both the EU and national parliaments to be tackled head on.

So what next for our relationship with Europe? Depending on the process followed in determining any future treaty, Mr Cameron must ultimately ensure that he plays his full part in leading and maintaining a coalition of centre-right reformists, but most of all he must also ensure that prominent eurosceptics from across Europe are playing their full part in the debate. There has been some interesting thinking about what the process could look like in order to ensure democratic legitimacy for a European constitution which has been decidedly lacking in any.

So far, David Cameron has led the way admirably. Firstly for promising a referendum and secondly for promising a renegotiated settlement to be put forward in that referendum. It’s time for all right-thinking eurosceptics to get on board and shape a European Union settlement that is democratically and constitutionally legitimate.

James Reekie is the Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party

Robert Buckland states the reformist case for Britain’s being at the heart of Europe

Nik Darlington 4.20pm

TRG vice-president Robert Buckland had an article on ConservativeHome yesterday, in which he argued forcefully for Britain’s role at the head of the European table.

Robert rattled off a list of British achievements in Europe that really ought to be better known and understood: reform of the CFP, for instance, despite coming up against seemingly implacable entrenched interests.

Moreover, Robert claims, it is largely because Britain is so much more influential in Europe than we oft imagine, that David Cameron’s historic Bloomberg speech was received with such seriousness around the EU.

"Chancellor Merkel…has some sympathy with our reformist aims; without her support, the budget cut would not have been achieved. She realises that the EU must be more efficient and competitive. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, shares our desire to see some powers repatriated to the Member States… Alexander Stubb, Foreign Minister of Finland, recognises that there has already been a lot of differentiation within the EU. He understands that an identikit EU is not the be-all and end-all to the European project."

Underpinning Mr Cameron’s bold statement last month is, I believe, a profound ambition to recast the European Union in its entirety and for the benefit of all its members - including Britain. European leaders have taken notice.

Finally, Robert sets out a case for remaining at the heart of Europe, and a case we shall hear a lot more of as the date of an in-out referendum approaches.

"History has surely taught us that we must stay at the heart of Europe precisely so that we can reform it. Whether we like it or not, our fortunes are intricately linked with those of the continent. Instead of shouting from the sidelines, Britain is taking its place again at the head of the table, helping the EU to face up to its many problems."

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