Saturday, September 26, 2009

Well, yes, and?

Maybe I ought to have written a bit more about the rather unexciting series about “Europe” in the Daily Telegraph but I could not quite bring myself to do so. The Boss over on EUReferendum has torn into them in his usual fashion and I cannot do any better.

However, I am going to take a brief look at two items in today’s newspaper as they round up the series. First off: Benedict Brogan on William Hague. I think we can dismiss the notion that a series of not very informative articles constitute a “landmark” in journalistic achievement but what is interesting is that even Mr Brogan is finding it hard to accept the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s attempts at being tough.
The shadow foreign secretary is in table-thumping, "read my lips" mood about Conservative policy on the Lisbon Treaty: there will be a referendum.

Hang on. That should read: there will be a referendum, but only if the treaty is not ratified by all 26 other European countries before the general election. If, however, the treaty has been approved before polling day, then… you will just have to wait and see what happens.
Quite so. The Constitutional Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified in Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland or Germany (something both Mr Hague and Mr Brogan seem to have forgotten) but if all these hurdles have been overcome by the time of the election, the Conservatives will issue a tough statement telling us all what they intend to do.

That may mean the statement is being drafted as Mr Hague insists or it may mean “oh my God, now what do we do”.

The idea that the question of a referendum on the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty is the same as that piddling arrangement of groups in the Toy Parliament is ridiculous. In the end, it does not matter to anyone, least of all the EU, who sits in which group. The Toy Parliament is not there to fulfil the functions we usually associate with bodies called that but to help the Commission and the Council to push through legislation that does not depend on elections or political parties.

In fact, the whole interview seems to consist of Mr Hague making extremely tough, hard-hitting statements that are completely meaningless. The Conservatives will not put up with this, that or the other. And they will do what? Mr Hague takes on the mantle of King Lear:
I will do such things,--
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.
And that, dear readers, is the sum of Conservative policy on “Europe” or, to be entirely accurate, the European Union.

One assumes that Messrs Hague and Cameron are praying for a no vote in Ireland, not because they really want to stop that treaty – they don’t appear to know what is involved – but because that might let them off the hook.

The chances are that if there is a no vote next Saturday, the colleagues will decide to take this particular document off the agenda, push through whatever they can on the quiet, and have another “dialogue” with the recalcitrant people of Europe before calling another IGC and discussing another treaty. That, of course, will not be very convenient for Mr Cameron, should he become Prime Minister next May but, at least, it will give him a breather as far as the referendum is concerned.

As far as the rest of the “European issue” is concerned, Messrs Hague and Cameron appear to be no different from their various predecessors. Every Prime Minister, be that Major, Blair or Brown, came in thinking that they knew how to handle the whole problem and all one had to do is be nice and friendly to the colleagues to get what one wants, whatever that might be. Since none of them knew what they wanted or how the whole structure works, they all failed. The same fate will befall Mr Cameron, assuming he is the Prime Minister.

Of course, there is the other possibility, that of Ireland voting yes. There is still the Czech Constitutional Court and the Karlsruhe decision in Germany that means some hasty legislation in Germany. Thus the treaty may not be fully ratified across the EU by May. In which case, the first few months of the Conservative government (if there is one) will be taken up by legislation for a referendum, campaign and vote.

The assumption must be that there will be a no vote on the treaty in Britain. What will Mr Cameron do then? Go to Rome, retrieve the Instruments and tear them up? Demand a new IGC (that is not in his power to call) and renegotiate the whole document? What will he offer to the other member states in return for whatever it is he wants for Britain? Does he even know what it is he does not like about that treaty and how much of it is already in place in the Consolidated Treaties by which this country is governed?

It is no use to the Daily Telegraph complacent and self-congratulatory editorial for guidance. The point of the article is that our opinion has not been asked about Europe (and, to be fair, they do explain why they use that rather vague term instead of the real one). But what is it that our opinion should be asked on? The Constitutional Lisbon Treaty? Well, fair enough but if we vote no, will that change anything about the way the EU is structured and the way it is developing? Probably not even though we would have given our opinion.

So is the Daily Telegraph suggesting an in/out referendum? That is not clear but what becomes obvious at the end of the article is that whoever wrote it has no real understanding of the European project.
Indeed, one of the reasons for running this series has been to do what our political parties hardly ever do themselves: consider the workings of the EU machine and the problems that confront it. We have been reminded that the EU's origins lay in the rubble of the Second World War and in a laudable desire to develop an association in which free people could trade and thrive together after centuries of political tensions and catastrophic warfare.

But the EU has become a vast, bureaucratic, unaccountable empire whose remit runs way beyond policing the common market. Its policies are made in secret, then insufficiently scrutinised in Brussels or national capitals. Yet its directives and regulations affect the lives of half a billion people. It is time we were asked what we think about it.
This is known technically as utter rubbish. The idea of the European state did not originate in the rubble of the Second World War though that rubble has been quite useful as a propaganda tool. It was never intended to be anything but an undemocratic, vast, bureaucratic and unaccountable though definitions of empire vary. Its progenitors were people who disliked democracy, were not keen on liberal constitutionalism and despised accountable legislation.

So what is it the Daily Telegraph thinks we should be asked about?

1 comment:

  1. Heres some more bureaucracy for you! European countries (France, Sweden etc) have gone against the 'free market' ethos of the E.U by tightening restrictions on sports betting, ostensibly to keep their state companies monopolies rich and avoid the large British companies taking over their market (I certainly don't remember us doing the same with the European motor industry!).

    Sign the petition at Right2Bet to force E.U states into standard legislation in this industry.