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Handshakes not Handcuffs Handshakes not Handcuffs
Proposals for Co-operative Alternatives to the European Union
by Edited by Lionel Bell. £6.99
Paperback, 96pp
An easy-to-read collection of proposals for co-operative arrangements between European countries, showing alternatives to the integration of the European Union. Selected to demonstrate the depth of reasoned opposition to the EU, Bell has picked carefully from a wide source of literature to include amongst others Peter Shore, Lord Owen, Richard Body, Bill Cash MP and Georges Berthu MEP.
[eurofacts (Vol 7 No 13) – 19th April 2002]

Eurofacts has seen a lively correspondence recently over the alternatives to European Union. Euro-realists are urged for tactical reasons to be able to put forward positive viable alternatives to the process alleged by europhiles to be "inevitable": European Union. Europhiles - with some justification - say that euro-realists are always being "negative", though of course there's nothing negative about declining to jump out of a third floor window or to commit national suicide.

Lionel Bell and TEAM ("The European Alliance of EU-Critical Movements") have done the cause, the country - indeed, the whole continent - a service in putting together this collection of thirteen essays on constructive alternatives to the "Union" currently on offer.

Concern about the way the EU is developing is not just a British obsession; neither is it confined to the fifteen existing EU members. Europe-wide disquiet and apprehension manifest themselves in Handshakes not Handcuffs through the inclusion, alongside contributions from the UK, of essays by French, Swiss and Czech writers.

Most of the authors are present or former members of the British and other parliaments: for example, Sir Richard Body, Bill Cash, Lord (David) Owen, Lord (Peter) Shore. They, like Lionel Bell, himself, and Sir Oliver Wright, a distinguished former diplomat, have thought long and hard about "Europe" and published extensively on it. Many of the essays and papers in this short book have been reviewed in eurofacts. They are characterised by lucidity, pragmatism, political maturity, integrity and, above all, by their constructiveness.

Common themes run through the various contributions. First, the perilous emasculation of democracy integral to the process of "European construction". It is just arguable whether the destruction of democracy is a conscious and deliberate aim of the designersof EU: but it is arguable that its destruction is the result. Whatever replaces the current EU must restore national democracy - which, as General de Gaulle pointed out, is national sovereignty - to its former pre-eminent position. As Sir Oliver Wright puts it: "Only the democratic nation state has the means to prevent the abuse of power…by dismissing the government in office. To err is human, but only the nation state has the means to remedy past mistakes by installing an alternative government to do so".

Another common theme is that the world is changing, becoming more "networked", more interconnected, with more diffusion of power and authority. Ergo, the cumbersome centralising bureaucratic superstructure of the EU is at least half a century out of date, incapable of running anything, let alone the variegated collection of peoples who happen to inhabit this end of the Eurasian land mass. In the 21st Century, to paraphrase David Trimble, there is no question to which European Union can possibly be the answer.

Sir Richard Body, Lionel Bell and Nigel Spearing point out that, once the supranational EU is dismantled, well-tried old-established smoothly-functioning pan-European inter-governmental structures already exist, allowing the people of Europe to co-operate in whatever fields they wish to. They include the Council of Europe (1949) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (1947) - both, as it were, over-shadowed by the cuckoo in the nest that is the EU, but both continuing to operate inter-governmentally across a range of areas. (Another inter-governmental institution, not mentioned in the book, is the 1949 NATO Treaty whose economic articles also provide a wholly-adequate framework for European and Transatlantic economic co-operation.) In his conclusions, Lionel Bell explores these ideas in some detail.

So this is a book to read and enjoy, and to give or recommend to those who still think there's no alternative to the EU. Even better: this is a most attractive book, beautifully designed and produced, with a cover cartoon perfectly illustrating its title: Handshakes not Handcuffs.

the june press