It as much the talk of the finalité of the EU as that of a European federation that disturbs British politicians. The notion that, on some distant horizon, an `end-state' of perfect integration exists simply carries little cogency in the British discussion. It seems too abstract, too speculative, and, hence, not a productive area of debate. This reluctance to engage with a debate that is much more popular in continental Europe is, of course, partly a result of the difficult history of British policy towards the EU. However, it also crucially reflects deep patterns of British political culture. Ask a British politician what they think the finalité of the devolution process now under way within the UK is and they will be similarly puzzled and reluctant to answer, unless they come from one of the parties seeking outright independence for Scotland or (less commonly) Wales. The more usual answer is `let's see how things develop.'
It is increasingly recognised among British policy-makers that this `wait-and-see' attitude is a disadvantage in European circles, since it is so quickly elided with a preference for disengagement. Hence, one can now hear voices calling for the British to enter this EU debate more energetically and positively. Evolving British policy is, however, likely to be strongly influenced by an organic approach to institutional reforms and by a preference for substance to determine form. Thus, the British are still more inclined to focus on the questions of `what is the EU really for?' or `where does EU solidarity really helps us towards better policy outcomes?.'
On these more substantive questions current British thinking has become rather strongly supportive of EU policy extension in a significant number of significant policy domains. These can be grouped under a number of headings.
a) Market regulation and `flanking policies'. The British government is likely to hold to the single market as a cornerstone of the EU edifice, for both the current and the future enlarged membership. It will be reluctant to envisage any weakening of the single market (i.e., no support here for `closer co-operation'), but, where possible, it will tend to favour regulation with a lighter touch. British policy-makers tend to take a `narrowish' view of the flanking policies that are a necessary corollary of the single market. Hence, the British preference in this area is likely to favour consolidation.
b) The `new European economy'. There is likely to be strong British support for a vigorous development of the Lisbon strategy. Indeed, one can already observe a sense of ownership of this new strategy on the part of the British policy-makers involved-here, indeed, they believe themselves to be in the vanguard (sic.) of a new development in the EU, one which can be described as marking `a new paradigm' in EU policy-making around the `benchmarking' and `best practice' approaches. The British also believe that this offers a more promising approach to the European `social' agenda. What the Lisbon strategy will add up to in practice is another matter-views on this are divided across the EU. But three particular points about it should be noted. First, it is explicitly permissive in encouraging national or local experimentation rather than imposing a single blueprint. Second, it is an elastic formula which could rather easily admit candidate countries into the circle of comparisons sooner rather than later. Third, it depends on an institutional mode of `seminar-style' governance, rather than on explicit decision-rules or assignments of policy competences.
c) EMU. For the moment, this remains the Achilles' heel of the current government's European policy. Although most members of the Cabinet favour entry into the single currency regime, subject to various conditions, politically the government remains reluctant to put the issue to the electorate. As long as this remains so, there is not much scope for British speculation about how to reinforce EMU, a key subject for many of those who are fearful about how to maintain the momentum of integration in EMU countries.
d) Foreign and defence policy. In contrast, in this policy field, the British are among the strongest and most engaged advocates of developing a `grown-up' collective policy. The sense of ownership is very strong, and there is a formidable list of specific goals to be achieved, as indicated by the Helsinki European Council of December 1999. The worry on the British side is about which of the other EU members-or candidates-will, in practice, be able to deliver the commitments required of them (troops, equipment, and resources) for the Helsinki goals to be achieved. Moreover, there is British concern about how easy it will prove in practice to deploy the intended European autonomous capability in specific situations. In this field, the concern is much less with institutional procedures than with hard evidence of commitments, although the British are more willing than many other EU governments to acknowledge that they are already accustomed to a form of `supranationalism' (herewithin the NATO context).
e) Justice and home affairs. This is an area of EU policy which reveals a sea-change in British involvement. For various reasons, the British Conservative government got into tangle over JHA. On the one hand, there was strong resistance to some of the `rules-led' efforts at policy integration, especially as regards the operation of border controls. On the other hand, for functional reasons, British policy-makers and agencies were keenly interested in practical co-operation. When the JHA issues were being discussed in the Amsterdam IGC, a then very new and still nervous British Labour government took what it believed to be the prudent-and available-opt-out via the special protocol on Schengen. Earlier this year, this opt-out was almost entirely reversed, as the British were admitted to most of the Schengen regime (after some difficulties with the Spanish arising from a bi-lateral dispute over Gibraltar). Thus, British energies have been released to join actively in the development of JHA, including in areas where the British can lay some claim to having benchmarks worth emulating by other EU partners. There is likely to be strong British support for a further intensification of collective EU measures, for example, to handle the problems of transnational crime, a subject repeatedly cited as a priority for further integration by EU maximalists.
f) Other policy areas. On other issues, the British are likely to take a `case-by-case' approach. On environmental policy, for example, the current government is open to an intensification of EU measures and targets, where the EU level seems appropriate, i.e., subject to subsidiarity criteria. In many of the other additional policy areas currently being cited as ones for EU action-the mixed bag of education, culture, tourism, public health and so forth, British thinking is likely to be subsidiarity defined. Thus, few of these areas are likely to emerge as strongly favoured by the British for EU regime-building.
g) The EU budget. As Börzel and Risse point out, a `real' federation usually has a `real' budget. Given the history of British controversy over the Community budget, this is not an obvious object of British enthusiasm. If, however, one thinks about an EU budget oriented at supporting collective EU responsibilities, then an area in which there would be a strong case for an expanded EU financial role is in relation to external responsibilities. This is a subject that has had less attention than it deserves, and one in which the British might consider more engagement. However, this would be thinkable only if, and when, the EU institutions can radically improve their poor record of programme management.
All in all, therefore, the current British government is much more open than its predecessors to the vigorous development of the EU and, in particular, to strengthening EU policy regimes in important areas. These include several articulated as targets by those who seek to reinvigorate the momentum of integration in the current debate. Foreign, security and defence policy is of special importance because the British are necessary partners in this domain. The development of JHA is becoming another such priority area for the British, a policy area which some British policy-makers liken in scale and scope to the 1992 project. As for the core issues of economic integration, the British are firmly engaged in the consolidation of the single market and in the search for European responses to the new economy. The EMU is a singular exception. Beyond these core issues the British tend to be less persuaded of the case for intensified policy integration.
The British have become more relaxed on many of the issues of institutional and constitutional debate in the EU. Indeed, some thought is being given to specific ideas for institutional enhancement. The British are, in principle, keen supporters of non-treaty reform, a task which, as far as the Commission is concerned, has fallen to Neil Kinnock to pursue. In terms of the proposals made by Joschka Fischer and others, however, the British might wonder whether the constitutional blueprint approach is the most appropriate one (for taking forward the big policy issues currently on the EU agenda). It is not obvious that grand designs make for best institutional practice across the particular core policy areas that seem to be in most urgent need of development. On the contrary, there may be a case for constructive experimentation with different features across the three domains of economic integration, foreign and defence policy, and JHA. Similarly, given the scale of the endeavour required in each of these areas, now might not be the best moment to include other policy areas for the sake of it, especially since these might well provoke resistance from more locally rooted politicians across the Member States.
But does the prospect of further enlargement make such an approach seem complacent, or too dismissive of the alleged dysfunctions in the current EU of Fifteen? The EMU is, in a sense, well protected by the Maastricht rules of eligibility for inclusion in the single currency regime, and we already have working experience of late-comers undergoing technical appraisal and peer review. As commented above, the Lisbon strategy is more open to wide and diverse participation than orthodox EU policies and thus does not seem to pose great problems. As for foreign and defence policy, given that there are EU candidate countries which are already full members of NATO, while some EU members are not, the bigger problem seems instead to be about how to manage the relationship between NATO and the EU. Meanwhile, as a number of commentators and practitioners are beginning to observe, and as was cogently argued by the EUI group chaired by Giuliano Amato, the JHA field is one in which bridges urgently need to be built to associate candidate countries with the regime being developed by the EU. Policy reinforcement may be less vulnerable to enlargement than is often argued, and a constitution-driven reform process may bring disappointing rewards in terms of policy reinforcement.
The underlying issue facing the EU is whether or not organic development, often marked by ambiguities and lack of clarity, is preferable to a tidier constitutional design which would sort out the ambiguities and assert a political finalité, but leave less room for policy experimentation.