France, Italy, and Britain Re-think Their Future In Europe

Until now, Italian, French, and British attitudes toward the European Union have been completely distinct and completely predictable.

The Italians have been unconditional, enthusiastic supporters of the integration process - the more the better. The French have revelled in their privileged position at the EU's heart, and have been determined to hang on to their privileges, starting with the benefits they derive from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The British, meanwhile, have always been classic reluctant member - always late, always unwillingly dragged along in the wake of the front-runners, but seldom offering alternative proposals. Today, however, these stereotypes are breaking down.

In Italy, the right-wing coalition government led by Silvio Berlusconi has taken a lurch away from Italy's traditional enthusiasm for Europe, inciting Renato Ruggiero, its pro-European foreign minister, to resign. In France, two prominent Socialists recently published proposals calling for a re-think of traditional French attitudes towards the EU, including a re-think of the farm policy. In Britain, the government may be poised to propose the creation of a UN-type Security Council for Europe which would ride above the existing Brussels institutions and which be headed (no surprise) by Britain, France and Germany.

At one level, these events are nationally-specific and coincidental. Berlusconi's right-wing coalition is dependent on support from the right-wing, xenophobic Northern Alliance and post-fascist National Alliance parties; so some Euro-sceptic rhetoric is to be expected. In France, the forthcoming Presidential elections will pit Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin against the Gaullist incumbent, Jacques Chirac; so it is urgent for the Socialists to up-date their European thinking. In Britain, the idea of a European Security Council looks like a repeat of traditional reflexes: the British do not like the process of political integration in Europe, and repeatedly imagine that they can persuade other members that an inter-governmental system is better. They keep saying: ``The argument is going our way.'' But it isn't.