Reaching for the “Single European Sky”

Bomb attacks are good news for the Euro-centralisers. They make it possible to push through policies which, in normal times would be highly contentious: the integration of criminal justice, the European Arrest Warrant, the harmonisation of immigration rules, a European public prosecution service (Eurojust), an operational role for the EU police force (Europol). All these things can now be presented to the public as “anti-terrorism measures” – and, of course, no politician wants to appear soft on terrorism. As the Liberal leader in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, tastelessly put it: “Osama bin Laden has done more for European integration than anyone since Jacques Delors”.

The bombers, we keep being told, do not recognise national boundaries. Look at Hamdi Issac, wanted in connection with the bomb attempt on the London Underground, now in Rome and resisting extradition. Look at Rachid Ramda, whom the French have been seeking to bring to trial since the terrorist attack on the Saint Michel metro station in 1995, but who has managed to remain in London for ten years, fighting off repeated deportation attempts. Surely, say the Euro-enthusiasts, no sane person could object to a common EU approach if it meant bringing such men to justice.

There is a logical flaw, a false premise, in this argument. It assumes that, without the EU, nations would not work together. But this is demonstrably not the case. Sovereign states have recognised for centuries that they have a common interest in fighting crime. They have evolved some highly sophisticated mechanisms for doing so: extradition treaties, the enforcement of foreign court orders, the recognition of time spent in each other’s prisons, police collaboration through Interpol. They achieved these things without needing EU directives or supra-national bureaucracies to tell them what to do. And, in doing so, they created a global, rather than continental, alliance against crime. The EU, by contrast, while insisting on a European Arrest Warrant within its own borders, simultaneously forbids the extradition of terrorist suspects to US states where they might face the death penalty.

One hears again and again in Brussels the argument that, if something is international in its scope, it must be brought under EU jurisdiction. If fish swim across borders, there must be a Common Fisheries Policy. If people open foreign bank accounts to avoid tax, there must be a Common Fiscal Policy. If aeroplanes fly from country to country, there must be a Single European Sky (yes, it’s really called that).

But it is worth noting that non-EU countries manage all these issues through bilateral and multi-lateral treaties and, indeed, that independent states have a rather better record of successful co-operation than has the EU. Consider, or example, the way in which the international postal network works. You pay for a stamp in your home country, yet you can be reasonably sure that your letter will be delivered to any address in the world. And here’s the amazing thing: the system operates without any standing bureaucracy or international supervision, and has done so since the mid-Nineteenth Century. Can you think of a single EU policy that has been half so successful?

To the true believers in European unity, of course, such arguments are irrelevant. They are not especially interested in the pragmatic advantages of collaboration. For them, the amalgamation of Europe’s states is an end in itself. Indeed, most of the harmonisation currently taking place in the fields of counter-terrorism and policing was proposed in the late 1990s, long before the attacks in New York, Bali, Madrid or London. But, as Graham Watson ghoulishly implies, those attacks made the agenda acceptable to public opinion. So now, instead of collaboration among national police and security services, we shall be placing our security in the hands of the same bungling Eurocrats who have brought us the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. No one really believes that doing so will make us any safer; but, in the current climate, no one likes to say so.

This article was first published in the German newspaper Die Welt on 6 August 2005