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Europe, Nationhood and Democracy

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October, 2012, two days before the third EU summit that year, called in response to Ireland rejecting by referendum the Treaty of Brussels eventually signed by
23 European Union member states, and weeks after Greece finally
reintroduced the Drachma, David Cameron outlines the position
of the British Government in a speech in Krakow

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address you in this great city, situated in the geographical heart of Europe. It reminds us, as my predecessor so memorably remarked a generation ago, just a year before Poland finally won its freedom, that '[W]e must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain, people who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities.' As Mrs Thatcher emphasized, Europe is more than any one political manifestation. European civilization is perhaps the greatest expression of the human spirit. Europe is Chopin, Leonardo, Velázquez, Beethoven, Shakespeare and Goethe. Europe is Plato, Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Hayek and Isaiah Berlin. But Europe is also Richelieu, Ferenc Rakoczi, Garibaldi and Marshall Pilsudski: heroes and nation builders who helped forge the political expression of our continent.

And it is on that European identity that I wish to address you today. For European culture is not only expressed through painting, music, architecture, poetry and the language of ideas, magnificent though they are. Europe's culture is defined by its Nations. It is a continent of Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards and Poles: a patchwork of nations, some ancient, some modern, some revived from linguistic and cultural roots almost lost; but all holding the loyalty and affinity of their peoples. This is no new invention of the Enlightenment, as Eric Hobsbawn and others would have it. Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) spoke in 1458 of the national traits of Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Danes and Swedes.* The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, was an expression of the emerging unified sense of national identity in England; the Declaration of Abroath of 1320, that of Scotland. As an Anglo-Scot, I [David Cameron] well appreciate the complex relationship between nationhood and statehood within, as well as without, the United Kingdom. We are perhaps uniquely placed to warn our neighbours of the slow, gradual and difficult process of forging a nation even on one island with such close ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious ties.

Nowhere is this ancient legacy of nationhood seen more starkly than in the Parliamentary assemblies of Europe. The Cortes of Leon, the earliest predecessor of the Cortes of Spain before its unification in the 15th century, dates from 1180 - a century before Simon de Montfort established the first Parliament of England. The Althing of Iceland was founded in 930 - almost a thousand years before that nation finally achieved its independence. Across Europe, Diets, Estates General, Sejms and Parliaments were called by Monarchs to express the will of their peoples. The cry of the Founding Fathers of the United States could not have been made by a people derived from any other continent: the ultimate achievement of democracy may be recent but the principle of 'no taxation without representation' is one that strikes at the heart of European identity.

The context of this link between taxation and representation is particularly important, demonstrating as it does the third element necessary in a democratic settlement: that of belonging. Ultimately, the Americans decided that they no longer belonged to the British nation and established their own. Representation in Westminster would not have been good enough: without feeling a shared sense of nationhood with Britain the presence of their representatives in Parliament would not have made its decisions legitimate in America. This is why the European Parliament can never be an adequate expression of the democratic will. There is apathy across Europe in elections to this forum not because it is seen to be powerless but because it is not the body at which any nation of Europe wishes decisions to be made. If the French or Germans considered themselves part of a European nation, there would be as much enthusiasm in European elections as in elections for the Assemblée Nationale or the Bundestag. There isn't because they never have.

For across Europe, its peoples have been speaking, desperate to be heard. Wherever any nation already within the EU has been asked in a referendum whether it supports further European integration, its answer has always been no. It is deeply sad that I must add that the exception to this rule is where that nation's democratic will is ignored and it is required to vote again - as Ireland and Denmark have both found to their cost. Yet, and it saddens me to say this, it would appear that the will of the people matters little to the architects of European integration. The idea of integration is one hatched at the heart of Europe that takes little account of the will of its peoples.

When Britain refused to be a signatory to the Treaty of Brussels last year, I was accused of isolating Britain; of cutting it adrift from its neighbours and trading partners. Believe me, I had no intention of doing so. Indeed, until that point I thought that Britain perhaps still could persuade the European Union not to embark upon a project designed to defend the indefensible: the idea that a currency, monetary and fiscal union of economies as diverse as Greece and Germany could ever be maintained by the interference of the centre in national budgets. The Fiscal Union is not merely unsustainable - as the events of September [2012] have shown. It is a deeply undemocratic exercise aimed at bending the will of the nations of Europe to its governors at its centre. It is the wrong answer to the devastation that has been caused - as we in Britain and others had warned again and again - by a failed experiment in binding divergent economies and nations together. It is a reaction of pride, not humility; a failure to recognise the impossibility of creating a United States of Europe without leading the nations at the margins of Europe into penury - as Greece has found to its cost.

We in the United Kingdom have learnt since 1992 that fixed currencies were not a means of imposing financial discipline but a straightjacket imposing currency valuations and interest rates unsuited to a country's particular economic conditions. Our experience is by no means unique. In the five years after the Argentinian Pesso floated against the dollar in 2001, its economy grew by 50 percent, making it the fastest growing economy in the western hemisphere. The comparison with the experience of Greece and Ireland, weighed down by over-valued currencies and interest rates wholly unsuited to their economic conditions, is particularly striking.

Ireland's latest attempt to put a break on deeper integration gives Europe - yet again - an opportunity to reflect on the fact that its attempts to create one European economy are doomed to failure; not merely because of the hugely divergent economic conditions across the continent, but because the nations of Europe refuse to be made one. Europe should learn from its history that the failure to respect national identity, far from leading to a united Europe, leads to bitterness and division. It is time that the leaders of European nations spoke for their people. It is time for a different Europe. A Europe that respects its peoples' wills.

A Europe of Nations.

* Hastings, Adrian: 'The Construction of Nationhood', Cambridge, 1997, p 119