Copyright 2001 The Press Association Limited
September 24, 2001, Monday 09:48 PM Eastern Time
EU SPURRED TO NEW LEVELS OF CO-OPERATION
By Geoff Meade, European editor PA News, in Brussels
Nothing unites like adversity, and the tragedy of the terror attacks in America is pushing the European Union into new levels of co-operation which will dismay British eurosceptics.
The sheer scale of the atrocities and their global political and economic fall-out mean speeding up the normally slow pace of co-operation in crucial areas of irreversible integration, including home affairs, foreign policy and defence.
All three are totems of sovereignty for eurosceptics - but now the drive to "harmonise" in such crucial areas is spurred by the new urgency to crack down on terrorism and increase security across Europe.
That makes it harder for the eurosceptics to press home the traditional charge that the UK is being press-ganged into a "United States of Europe" by conniving federalists who want to centralise political and economic control in Brussels on ideological grounds.
There is no more glaring example than the Government's unexpected announcement that the introduction of compulsory identity cards is now under very serious consideration in Britain.
Eurosceptics have always seen ID cards as a continental quirk which should stay on the other side of the Channel, and as an infringement of civil liberties.
But in Brussels ID cards have been seen for years as an obvious security aid in a border-free Europe in which citizens of the member states are supposed to be able to move unhindered across EU borders.
Britain has been urged for years to adopt them, but successive UK governments have said there is no question of imposing ID cards, and equally no question of giving up security checks at national borders, as the euro-idealists wished.
Now, in the wake of the increased terrorist threat, the EU's open borders policy is seriously in question, and at the same time the UK is thinking of introducing ID cards.
Meanwhile the EU is showing genuine signs of closer integration to combat crime and terrorism, and to step up its embryonic common foreign and security policy.
And, in the wake of the terrorist shock reverberating around the world, eurosceptics are hard-pressed to complain on the usual grounds of relentless federalism.
In the current climate, they cannot even seize on the very real divisions within the EU over the depth of practical commitment the EU should display in supporting President Bush and his "war on terrorism".
And the fact is that the scale of unity mustered at an emergency EU summit in Brussels last Friday was greater than any had expected.
EU finance ministers, too, found a new sense of accord and urgency this weekend over breaking banking confidentiality and tracking illicit finances from crime and terrorism.
As Home Secretary David Blunkett commented in Brussels last week, the European Commission has rarely moved so fast as it did in completing work on its new anti-terrorism proposals. And ministers agreed the outline within 24 hours, instead of 24 weeks, with little of the usual argy-bargy.
There are grumbles about national constitutional problems in introducing new EU-wide arrest warrants and doing away with complex extradition procedures but the grumbles are not coming from Britain.
Narrow national British interests are, as never before in the EU, giving way to a sense of commonality which, the eurosceptics know, will be hard to break once the current crisis is perceived to be over.