The choice of “British Europeans in the European Parliament” as the topic for the first issue was an inevitable, if poignant one, in that this first issue coincides with publication of the 9th edition of “The European Parliament”, a book rightly hailed as an “instant classic” when it first appeared in 1990. For more than a quarter of a century a small team of British authors has laboured on updating this book: when Richard Corbett, Francis Jacobs and Michael Shackleton started work, Germany was not united, it was an EU of 12, the Soviet Union still existed, and the world wide web still lay around the corner. The value of the book has been recognised by the support given by colleagues in the Parliament of all nationalities and indeed by successive presidents of the Parliament.

The European Parliament, 9th Edition Book Cover

The European Parliament: the new edition, just published, is the 9th in a sequence going back more than a quarter-century.

As this and many other books bear witness, the British contribution to the literature on the Parliament, as indeed to the other EU institutions, has been unrivalled. And, as the articles in this magazine demonstrate, the British contribution to the powers and working life of the Parliament has likewise been considerable. But herein lies the special poignancy of this moment. “Brexit”, Prime Minister Theresa May has told us, “means Brexit”. And, whatever the detail of that, one thing that is not on the agenda is the continuing participation of the British in the EU institutions, including the Parliament the British have done so much to build and chronicle. This disengagement from the institutions is the very core of Brexit; all else is but detail. Nobody has understood better than the British the key importance of institutions – and not least the Parliament – in the European construction. British democracy had been built on the power of Parliament and no British constitutionalist would doubt the famous words of Jean Monnet that “nothing is possible without men, but nothing is lasting without institutions”.

The British historian AJP Taylor once wrote that “In 1914 Europe was a single civilised community, more so than even at the height of the Roman empire. A man could travel across the length and breadth of the Continent without a passport until he reached the frontiers of Russia and the Ottoman empire. He could settle in a foreign country for work or leisure without legal formalities except, occasionally, some health requirements.” Nor were these merely theoretical opportunities: more people immigrated to Britain in the decade up to 1914 than in any period since. And yet all this “single market” unravelled in a few weeks. Unless we count it that half the crowned heads of Europe were related to each other, there were no political institutions that bound Europe together. That “single civilised community” was built on sand. Though it is scarcely mentioned in the debates about Brexit, it is ultimately the British disengagement from the institutions that is the greatest tragedy of the situation – and the greatest challenge to the rest of Europe. And so this issue is both a celebration of British involvement in one of those institutions and, it has to be said, a moment for regret and reflection.

 

Editor: Eliot Scott-Faulkner