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A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union
by Rodney Leach. £14.99
Paperback, 249pp
The 4th update of this highly informative and necessary encyclopedia. A complete alphabetic gazetteer to all the people and institutions of Europe written with wry wit and elegance.
Reviewer Ian Milne

[eurofacts (Vol 10 No 5&6) – 17th December 2004]

First published in 1998, this encyclopedia is the fourth edition and second major revision. If anyone can make the EU less confusing and obfuscatory, it is Mr Leach. He writes simply, fluently and concisely, conveying as much in short paragraphs as others do in complicated essays. Of very few encyclopedias can it be said that they are fun to read: but Mr Leach’s is certainly that, because he approaches his task in a spirit of amused, humorous tolerance. He is scrupulously fair in his descriptions, analyses and conclusions, so that europhiles and eurosceptics alike can read this excellent book for pleasure as well as instruction.

Some of the entries are short, indeed, Johnsonian: for example “Communautaire: In the spirit of the Community, that is, integrationist”. Others - for example on the Schengen Agreement or NATO or Qualified Majority Voting or Sovereignty - are longer; masterly accounts of complex subjects. Mr Leach's brief (five page) introduction, summarising the evolution of the EU from its inception, is one of the most acute and perceptive essays on the subject that this reviewer has ever read.

The text is leavened with pertinent quotations from, amongst others, Bismarck, de Gaulle, John Major and Ribbentrop, and completed with appendices, the first of which is a valuable chronology of the EC/EU from 1945 onwards. This is an essential guide for those who need to have a source and reference book to hand on the leviathan that is the EU. As David Owen, the former Foreign Secretary, quoted on the back cover, says: this book is “a masterpiece of wry and elegant lucidity”.

Reviewer Professor Tim Congdon CBE

[eurofacts (Vol 3 No 19) – 17th July 1998]

(This was a review of the 1st edition). Rodney Leach's Concise Encyclopedia of the EU is necessary. It defines a huge number of expressions that have been spawned over the last 30 years by European integration. No one doubts that the EU is important. By extension, no one can dispute that its many manifestations need to be explained and understood. But, as Leach notes, "even experts are baffled by the similarity of different institutions' names, the plethora of acronyms and initials, the changing titles and numbering of the Treaties".

The integrationist programme has accelerated so markedly in the 1990s that a dictionary of the EU is long overdue. It could have been dry, factual and straightforward, and it would still have served a useful purpose. However, Leach has gone well beyond this. As with the first Dictionary of the English Language by Dr Johnson in 1746, Leach's Encyclopedia is lively, entertaining and argumentative. Its definitions do not pretend to be mere statements of identification and description; instead they are trenchant accounts of the people, events and institutions that have made the EU of today.

Leach does not attempt to hide his disillusion with parts of the integrationist project. In the preface he outlines two competing visions of Europe. The first is a "would-be federation" which is to culminate in political union, whereas the second is "of allies voluntarily co-operating and imposing only those common laws necessary to achieve common ends". This second vision "bases its moral and legal position on the sanctity of the will of the people and the belief that democracies will never fight each other". The first vision is federal and bureaucratic; it comes closer to fulfilment the more that power is centralized, and that laws and regulations are harmonized across Europe. By contrast, the second vision endorses the autonomy of Europe's nation states, respects their separate constitutional arrangements and would establish uniform structures and procedures only where these enjoy the consent of Europe's different peoples.

Leach favours the cooperative and democratic vision of Europe, but he believes that - at present - he is on the losing side. In his words, the federalists and bureaucrats have "won the upper hand", not because of the merits of their case than because of "the forethought and subtlety of the Common Market's architects". In particular, Jean Monnet is credited with the clever tactic of incrementalism, of never going backwards but always adding small, ratchet-like steps on the path to union.

Leach's descriptions of the federalist cast of characters are elegant and cynical. Kohl's political longevity is attributed in part to his "indefatigability in behind-the-scenes bargaining"; the small compliment is mixed with the beautifully-worded barb (Delors in his formative years was "intelligent and metaphysically inclined"); and the distance is mocked between politicians' stated intentions and their personal ambitions (Mitterrand's "declining years were spent trying to create a legend of his own life", but he "will be chiefly remembered for his political adroitness and his calculated devotion to the Franco-German relationship").

Leach has carried off a remarkable feat. There can be few dictionaries where the flow of words has such momentum that the reader enjoys reading successive entries. However, is this the ideal format for the task at hand? The debate about the competing visions of Europe, and so about the detailed processes of European integration, is fundamental to the British way of life and indeed to the way of life of all Europeans. Where issues of such gravity are at stake, no matter how delightfully the writing itself may be, something more continuously argued is needed than pithy explanations, historical summaries and character sketches.

As his article on the Single European Act shows, Leach knows where the crucial step towards federalism was taken. By the mid-1980s the European Community had become "bogged down by trivial disagreements". The accession of the UK, Denmark, Ireland and Greece, and the absorption of Spain and Portugal, had made it difficult to take trade liberalization much further, because every nation had a veto on matters it deemed vital to itself. The SEA changed the position radically. It extended the scope of the Community from trade to a host of other areas. More importantly, it introduced qualified majority voting. The combination of QMV and the virtual legislative status of the Council of Ministers has dramatically eroded the power of national parliaments. If Thatcher had resisted the SEA, the large-scale moves to European federation over the last decade could not have occurred. Ironically, Thatcher was a strong supporter of the single market and - at the time – saw little danger in the SEA.

Leach's Europe is much to be welcomed. The EU's institutions and laws are constantly changing; they need to be up-dated, explained and defined at regular intervals. Leach is to be commended for doing it in such a stylish and witty way. Federalists will be annoyed by the author's analyses. For the rest of us his Encyclopedia will be a source of entertainment, a mine of information and an arsenal of weaponry for years to come.

Professor Tim Congdon is an economist and Managing Director of Lombard

Street Research.

the june press