“So I stand here, proud to be British and proud to be European, representing a country that does not see itself as an island adrift from Europe, but as a country at the centre of Europe, not in Europe’s slip-stream but in Europe’s mainstream.”
Thus spoke UK prime minister Gordon Brown to the European Parliament on 24 March 2009.
Recent UK polls show very little recognition of a country where the population sees itself as in Europe’s mainstream or desiring to become part of it.
Even if Brown equated country and government, the statement is far from convincing.
The UK government (not least Brown himself) has fought an ongoing battle to thwart or limit treaty reform aimed at making the European Union more effective, democratic and solidary, and British government representatives miss few opportunities to hamper progress during daily Council work.
Currently the United Kingdom has opt-outs from two crucial areas of EU policy: the Schengen agreement abolishing border controls and the third stage of economic and monetary union (the euro).
Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the British opt-outs would be extended to two new areas: the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
In each case the United Kingdom belongs to a fraction of EU member states outside the common framework (although only 16 have made it into the Eurozone as yet).
If Brown rejects the idea of his country being in the slip-stream of Europe, how about describing it as forming a counter-current to progress?