At the climax of the Battle of Waterloo Napoleon’s Imperial Guard tried to force the road to Brussels. The Brigade of Guards was waiting in ambush. “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!” Wellington thundered. Immediately the Guards emerged from the long grass and fired volley after volley into the Old Guard until for the first time it broke and ran. The Battle of Waterloo was won and Brussels was saved. It is time again for Britain to save Brussels…from itself.

Throughout Europe’s long and turbulent history the English/British have always been the guarantor of Europe’s stability. The British have stepped in at critical moments of crisis either to prevent an overweening neighbour from dominating the Old Continent or to prevent the worst excesses of an unhinged ideology. It is a mark of Britain’s decline and the lack of leadership at the top of power in London that David Cameron and his team have been reduced to talking about the Eurozone crisis as if a) it is ‘nuffing to do with us, guv’; b) something to be swept under London’s increasingly threadbare political carpet; and/or c) wailing like some latter day Cassandras from the rapidly eroding margins.


The bottom-line is this; as Europe’s second or third largest economy, biggest financial market and Europe’s most capable military power it is precisely at this moment of existential crisis for the EU that Britain must show its traditional genius for pragmatic leadership…or leave the EU. That is effectively the choice on offer to London. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’.

Britain still has real political and popular influence over here but it is fast waning. My Dutch neighbours are puzzled by Britain’s impotence, and not a little offended by it. Where is the country that twice in the last century saved Europeans from servitude? The village in which I live was liberated by a huge British-led army that swept through here in 1944. Much of the democratic shape of modern Europe is down to Britain’s leadership. People are again looking to Britain and Britain is failing them.

The good news is that Britain has not had such an opportunity to lead for at least a generation. For my Dutch neighbours it is precisely because Britain is not in the Euro that Britain should lead. People all around me are suddenly volunteering the belief that Britain was right after all – the Euro as conceived back in the 1990s simply does not work and never will. And yet, more or much more Brussels seem to be the options on the table and the Dutch, that most European of nations, have no appetite for more Brussels.

Britain thus needs a plan to return the EU from whence it came; to enable Europe’s democratic nation-states to influence better together today’s hyper-competitive world under the leadership of Europe’s democratic nation-states. The mantra? More cooperation, less integration.

Britain’s plan would re-assert national sovereignty over key areas of European policy and strategy. To that end Prime Minister Cameron should first join Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy to stabilise the immediate crisis, even if that costs money. In return Cameron must insist on the repatriatriation of key areas of policy, such as social, labour, foreign and security policy – even if that means a new treaty. He should move decisively to end ever closer political union, i.e. more political integration, and insist that the European Commission’s powers of decision-making be returned to the European Council – where the will of the member-states is enacted. The European Commission should be reduced to a much smaller enabling body with its powers of policy initiation removed.

The size and cost of all European institutions should be reviewed so that the damaging confusion over ‘competence’ is brought to a rapid end. Many of the meaningless but expensive posts and structures created by the Lisbon Treaty should be scrapped; such as the European President and the European Foreign Minister and the hopelessly Byzantine European External Action Service (EEAS). The European Parliament should be reformed and reduced in size so that real politicians, i.e. national parliamentarians, rotate through a much smaller consultative institution that sits solely in Brussels. The pretentions for the EU to have a separate legal and political identity on the international stage should also be scrapped. Finally, Britain should agree to a revised monetary union for those who a) want it; and b) agree to fiscal harmonisation but insist that ALL EU member-states have a say over the running of such a union.

If not the unelected Euro-fanatics could well win the day in the name of short-term expediency. That will mean an even more unaccountable, ‘communitarian’ Brussels. In time, it will also mean more national sovereignty will vanish down a Brussels black hole and thus be lost to incompetence and secrecy. It will certainly mean that any pretence to a link between European power and the European people will vanish leading to a ‘Europe’ run by faceless Eurocrats overseen by toothless and meaningless institutions dangerously far distant from the ordinary citizen.

What gives Britain the right? As one of my Dutch neighbours said to me, “We could not understand when the Euro was created why you British did not want to join. Now we do and you were right, just as you were right about the Constitutional Treaty and European defence”. This crisis is too important for Britain to stand aside. London must lead the EU or leave it.

Now Britain! Now’s your time!

Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.