The European Union is unique. The voluntary sharing of sovereignty bet-ween nation states is un-precedented in modern history. It is the proof that inter-governmentalism and supranationalism are not irreconcilable. If there are crises, like the painful ratification of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992-93, well that's nothing new in the Community's history, proclaims Des-mond Dinan.
His book is a tour de force grounded in the politics of the EU's big players as seen from a chair at the George Mason University in Washington. Its achievement is to discuss the European Union in terms which will be recognisable to the specialists, and to politics' anonymous practitioners: the readers of newspapers, watchers of teledocumentaries, holders of burgundy-coloured passports, workers for or beneficiaries of SOCRATES or LEONARDO, farmers who think about both the CAP and the single monetary system, and the ladies of Abertillery who, thanks to EC structural funds, have got money for community activities the British government denied them.
In other words it is a book with a concrete link between the citizen of the different EU Member States and a complementary EU. But out of range of the daily deafening of the Westminster hype it also produces material for reflection on the extent to which a partisan British policy has undermined Britain's long-term interests. Livened by references to contemporary political memoirs ("Thatcher seemed to think the EC was a branch of NATO," Hugo Young on the Fontainebleau negotiations) and attentive to real dilemmas, Dinan paints a devastating picture of an obsessed prime minister overplaying her hand at EC summits and failing to understand the initial fund of sympathy for the British case. The rigidity of commissioner Leon Brittan on competition policy, when Europe needed flexibility, also gets shown in the round.
For a book which so successfully shows the EU as an extension of the domestic political process - rather than, in the British manner, news - it is too modestly described as an introduction to the European Community. It has the textbook structure of history, institutions and policies, with some judicious charts. But its real value is in bridging the interpretative gap between Euro-elites of various sorts and a public opinion which is ignorant or hostile or both and showing that politics is always a matter of choice, even at EU level.
The implicit theme linking Dinan and the other books is Where next for the Community? Is it ever closer union? In the time frame in which these books appear, between Maastricht ratification and the run up to the intergovernmental conference next year, the answers are instructive in their diversity.
Seen through the eyes of Dinan, the EU is now an inextricable part of the political process, economic organisation and social structure of Western Europe. Dinan's logic is clear. It ought to be part of every citizen's democratic inheritance to understand which are the doors that can be opened and which are the levers that can be pushed.
In a very different register Maurice Galton and Bob Moon also stake out a Europe of the active citizen, a Europe which is part of our daily lives. Their Europe emerges from voluntary association between those with professional interests in common. Their focus is teacher training, a strategic area for a Single Market and a Community which, with Maastricht, has expanded its educational interests.
The book describes work in several European organisations which have had a huge influence on those who are directly involved but excite little media interest. These include the Council of Europe powerhouse of ideas across the whole of Europe, OECD and UNESCO.
The book also takes transnational themes which equally make those concerned feel Europe is a natural extension of their lives. These are the extent of government intervention in different countries, the effects on training of mass secondary schooling, the situation of girls, and changing concepts of pedagogy. It is worth noting that in this Britain may be a pioneer, having been spurred by government policy for school-based training to get university level teaching by other means - for example through open and distance learning (Moon runs the OU's PGCE).
Yet another kind of affirmative answer to the question "Ever closer union?" emerges in Brock and Tulasiewicz's study of the European dimension in school systems in the Community. It is a fact that the education systems of the Twelve have adopted roughly similar structural reforms at about the same time - leave aside the public private issue - and have a common impetus to improving vocational training.
This is not because of direct Euro-pressure since education is a touchstone of national sovereignty. Indeed, say the authors, a number of countries claim that these are national initiatives and nothing to do with "Single Europe" or Brussels. But what is happening is convergence for all that, voluntarily undertaken and in terms which respect each member State.
The book's structure of country papers by experts provides a useful reference on systems, responses to EU programmes and in some cases relevant research, pointing up the cultural diversity which is Europe's force. But there is a major error on page one, suggesting Belgium has no language problem and their view - in contrast to Dinan - is strongly apolitical.
The "logical consequence" of a situation they describe as "economic internationalism in an inter-cultural context" would, they say, be the dismantling of national systems of education. What we are seeing is the opposite: the renaissance of cultural specificity in a global economy. That professionals and governments then choose to do similar things is the real measure of a European consciousness.
But which Europe? The question does not go away. The Commission has produced a small book on European identity destined for adolescents. It is prefaced by accolades from Delors and the chairman of the European Parliament's Culture and Education committee. It starts with a quote from a 1930s European intellectual exhorting pupils that "Our duty is to love Europe." It's long on ancient history, short on the present. Arabs appear in European history as architects and mathematicians (c 12th century). Very good. But Arab migration has also been a factor for good and ill in the late 20th century. Wars have left their traces. The book has a whiff of the Middle Ages, Europe, a Christian fortress. I am reminded of an elementary school textbook in the days when it was the pupils' duty to take unquestioningly what the teacher said.
But who lives in that world now? And isn't it the task of the teacher to help pupils manage complexity - such as what it means to be European today?It so happens that there has been a hugely impressive study - also funded by the Commission - (published in French by Hachette) on the nature of identity and European consciousness. It looks openly at the conflicts of 20th century Western Europe. It produces a multifaceted and believable view. Involving a 100 strong team of historians under the direction of Rene Girault it must be a key reference for the Commission and a base for simplified versions. Have they lost it?