OLD habits die hard. So it proved with David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, after his mini-victory at last week’s European Union summit in Brussels. Bounding energetically to the press-conference lectern after two gruelling days of talks over the terms of Britain’s EU membership, Mr Cameron opened his post-summit remarks not by trumpeting the emergency brake on euro-zone integration he had just secured, nor by crowing over his success in denying benefits to EU migrant workers. Instead, he highlighted the carve-out he had won for Britain from the EU treaty commitment to “ever-closer union”, a golden oldie that has infuriated British Eurosceptics for decades.
Like a vestigial piece of junk DNA in the genome, this phrase has survived every change to the EU treaties, exerting no influence on its host today but providing a window to its past. The ambition of fostering “ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe,” inserted into the preamble of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the EU’s founding document, speaks to the post-war need for reconciliation in a scarred continent. Its deliberate ambiguity—defining a journey, not a destination—is well suited to a club that prefers debating the scope of its power to exercising it. Defending the phrase is the last test of the classical Euro-federalist.
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