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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The botox treaty and the end of the EU

Botox

A fun little article on Europe in 2057, combined with Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s reiteration of the UK government’s position on a referendum over the new EU treaty, has got me pondering once again. (Warning – it’ll be a long one…)

It all starts from the fact that – and as I argued earlier this month – the new EU treaty simply doesn’t do what it needs to.

In setting up an EU president (with a maximum term of just five years) and marginally streamlining (via a – relatively – minor expansion of qualified majority voting) the process by which the EU can bring new laws and regulations into effect (because, obviously, we haven’t got enough already), it provides mere cosmetic fixes for deep structural issues while altogether ignoring some of the most vital underlying problems.

After all, where’s the vitally-needed rethink on the Common Agricultural Policy, the single most indefensible aspect of the EU’s existence? Where’s the fresh take on the Common Fisheries Policy? Where’s the expansion of democratic accountability, the significant increase in the power of the European Parliament, the long-promised massive reduction in the power of the Commission? Hell, where’s the logical and fair redistribution of political power and EU subsidies across the full 27 member states which was, after all, the primary reason for a new EU treaty in the first place?

It is, in other words, the international treaty equivalent of whacking some lipstick on the elephant man, the proverbial polishing of a turd.

Yet in as much as all it achieves is a retrenchment of the current stagnation with a few superficial surface changes, perhaps the most appropriate term is “the botox treaty” – because although it may make those responsible for it think that they’ve made the EU prettier, all it’s actually going to do is pad out a few minor wrinkles while artificially fixing the thing into an unnatural pose which, when ratified, will also remove all the flexibility of expression that the uncertainty of the last two years has brought. It does nothing whatsoever to tackle the serious problems of the EU’s ageing process – and its supposedly beautifying fix is actually fairly off-putting and repulsive, the Anne Robinson, Jordan and Jocelyn Wildenstein of global diplomacy.

It also seems that no one – bar those politicians involved in bringing the thing about – is pleased with the thing. The eurosceptics (surprise, surprise) see it as yet another Brussels power-grab, the hardcore federalists (naturally enough) don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough towards promoting political integration – and everyone in the middle is finding it very hard to get enthused. Mild eurosceptics have found their vitriol somewhat lacking (at least when it comes to the treaty itself – in the UK the rage has all been directed at the supposed deception over the name of the thing rather than its content), mild pro-Europeans have found it hard to really give the thing their support.

But the one thing that all can agree on is “hang on a minute, chaps, the EU’s now 50 years old, yet it still isn’t a functioning democracy? What’s all that about, then?”

I’m still against a referendum for the various legal precedents it could set – plus anything that David Blunkett and (Blunkett’s employer via his Sun column) Rupert Murdoch are in favour of, I’m against on principle – but in many ways would welcome the thing simply because the inevitable “no” might force yet another rethink, and this time a radical one.

It’s a forlorn hope, but a realisation that it’s all gone to hell and it’s time to start again on a multi-tier system is the only thing – as a fairly rational pro-EU type – that I’ve got left to cling to.

Europe has never been a uniform, monotone continent. Even under the Romans (who failed to conquer much of the north and east in any case), local languages and customs thrived, and since the end of the Empire tiny microcultures have abounded. A multi-tier EU, taking the principle of subsidiarity to its most extreme logical conclusion, is the only sensible way of ensuring that this diversity is maintained while still gaining the benefits of close cooperation and integration on issues where such partnerships are appropriate.

So far we’ve had two no votes over the old constitution text, but the EU’s still going ahead with something similar enough to give the anti-EU camp plenty of ammunition to create a convincing (if not wholly accurate) case that the voices of French and Dutch voters – not to mention those of all the other EU member states that neglected to offer their citizens referenda – have been utterly ignored.

This is, of course, hardly anything new – politicians ignore the electorate all the time – but rarely is such contempt for the people so brazenly displayed as in the repeated failure of politicians EU wide to allow their various electorates any significant say in the future of the gargantuan institution.

Subsidiarity? “Decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen”? My arse.

Of course, some anti-EU types would have us all believe that this is evidence of a vast anti-democratic conspiracy, orchestrated by some shadowy organisation of high-up politicos, all following a sacred blueprint drawn up by Jean Monnet and handed down through successive waves of utterly dissimilar governments in all the various member states over the last half century.

The truth is undoubtledly more mundane – for who knows the stupidity of the electorate more than elected politicians, who constantly beguile us with their empty promises, yet whom we continue to vote for? The electorate simply cannot be trusted to make informed choices – for if they could, elections would have to be done away with altogether lest somebody outside the political establishment gain control.

Nonetheless, everyone with any sense agrees that the only way for the European Union to maintain what little viability it has left in the long term is to get the people of Europe far more fully behind it. By failing to have a popular vote on the future of the EU, by failing to consult the people more fully on what kind of union they would like to be a part of, the successive politicians running the EU have ended up not just failing the people that the union should be aiding, but also imperilling the entire project.

A formal system of trade, security and political cooperation between European nation states is, I believe, a Good Thing. Over the coming decades and centuries, I believe, gradual political union between the various states of Europe would also be a Good Thing.

The mistake that has been made before is to try and push ahead too fast with political union, something that I don’t expect to see in my lifetime, while neglecting the fundamental groundwork that would allow such a union to occur more organically. Now, the groundwork of cooperation has begun to falter, and resentment has begun to build.

This treaty will not placate anyone, merely frustrate all sides. It is a compromise so flaccid and uninspiring that it could end up imperilling the entire union. Because why should any EU member state really have loyalty to the Brussels-based project when it is no longer working to their benefit? And with not one single member state genuinely enthused with this new treaty, how beneficial is it, really?

9 Comments

  1. I can’t say you lack logic, but your presuppositions are all wrong. You start from the basis that the whole thing is a great idea, inevitable and would be wonderful if only we could cure the “stagnation” etc. Thus you cannot grasp that the unpolishable turd is not just the treaty but the EU itself.

    “Mild eurosceptics have found their vitriol somewhat lacking – ”

    Isn’t this circular logic? If they only protest mildly they must be mild eurosceptics.

    ” – (at least when it comes to the treaty itself – in the UK the rage has all been directed at the supposed deception over the name of the thing rather than its content)”

    Hardly. The deception involves breaking a clear manifesto commitment, also endorced by the other main parties.

    And you still remain unconvinced of the case for a referendum? It might set a dangerous precedent? What the hell precedents are there for this country to surrender its sovereignty, other than Danegeld?

  2. “you cannot grasp that the unpolishable turd is not just the treaty but the EU itself”

    – erm… yes… That was pretty much what I was saying. Hence my repeated calls for a complete rethink, with the EU starting again from scratch on a multi-tier or multi-speed basis.

    “Mild eurosceptics”

    – by which I mean the ones who don’t much like the EU, but still don’t advocate a withdrawal that would (in my humble opinion) be far more disastrous for this country than closer integration. (In the good old days, that would cover all eurosceptics, but the withdrawalists seem to be getting more vocal these days…)

    “The deception involves breaking a clear manifesto commitment”

    – only if you think that it IS a deception. Which I don’t, especially, as the new treaty clearly isn’t a constitution, and the referendum was promised for a constitution.

    “What the hell precedents are there for this country to surrender its sovereignty, other than Danegeld?”

    – Membership of the League of Nations, the United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organization, and pretty much any other supra/transnational organisation we’ve joined over the last century or so, perhaps? Arguably any international treaty we’ve signed with more than one other power that has involved an aspect of “if you break this treaty, we will attack you”.

    The precedent a referendum could set, meanwhile, is that the government is unable to sign ANY international treaties without holding a plebiscite – we’d end up as politically stagnant (some may say stable, but without change you get no innovation, as Harry Lime so memorably pointed out with his cuckoo clocks analogy) as Switzerland.

    In any case, I’m not much of a fan of sovereignty, and think it best done away with…

  3. “Hence my repeated calls for a complete rethink, with the EU starting again from scratch on a multi-tier or multi-speed basis.”

    Right … and when are you going to accept that this is not going to happen?

    “only if you think that it IS a deception. Which I don’t”

    Okay … so you dismiss every statement made across Europe by numerous politicians who say the treaty is 90%, 95% or even 99% the same as the Constitution? And you ignore that every hand over of sovereignty that the Constitution included is in the new treaty?

    “The precedent a referendum could set, meanwhile, is that the government is unable to sign ANY international treaties without holding a plebiscite – we’d end up as politically stagnant”

    You really must think politicians and bureaucrats are so much smarter than the rest of us. As for doing away with sovereignty, this ain’t going to happen. The sovereignty you dislike will still be hanging over your head, it will just be that much further away from any democratic check upon it.

  4. “when are you going to accept that this is not going to happen?”

    – give me another couple of years. I’ve been on the verge of giving up hope for ages, but (and I’m on record arguing this many times as well) the only justification for supporting the EU is rampant idealism, and I’d like to try and maintain my delusions for just a bit longer.

    “so you dismiss every statement made across Europe by numerous politicians who say the treaty is 90%, 95% or even 99% the same as the Constitution? And you ignore that every hand over of sovereignty that the Constitution included is in the new treaty?”

    – ignoring the sovereignty bit (which, as mentioned before, I couldn’t care tuppence about), no, I deny none of that. 95% the same sounds about right, in my book.

    What I do deny is that the new treaty is a constitution, simply because it isn’t. It’s all down to the definition of the word, you see – a constitution (in this context) means a document containing the fundamental rules and principles by which an organisation is run.

    The old constitution REPLACED and added to all the existing EEC/EU treaties; the new treaty merely AMENDS and adds to the old treaties. It’s a constitutional document, inasmuch as it changes the rules (much like an Act of Parliament), but it’s not a constitution, because it doesn’t replace all that’s gone before, as the old constitution aimed to do.

    (As for your last paragraph, I’m afraid I have no idea what that means, or I’d attempt to answer it – and that honestly isn’t meant to sound snarky, even though I have no doubt that’s how it’ll come across… The whole point of the post was to slag off politicians and bureaucrats as being out of touch, and to slag off the current EU as being undemocratic, though, so I think one of us has got confused somewhere.)

  5. Alright man, I’ll make a mental note to ask you in a couple of years.

    These arguments about the new treaty not being a constitution remind me of the alterations made to the rules in “Animal Farm”. The contents are important. The label on the bottle is neither here nor there. The reasons given for why this duplicitous and lying government was prepared to hold a referendum apply exactly the same to this new document.

    As for sovereignty, without going into your own view, which I find as confusing as you find my last paragraph, what I personally advocate is a US-style constitution which affirms our inalieanable rights. This would establish our own sovereignty over ourselves, that no state could interfere with. My comments about you trusting politicians and bureaucrats were aimed at your rejection of people voting on important issues, which doesn’t strike me as something to fear. As for cukoo clocks, you should remember that Harry Lime was a killer without a conscience.

  6. Heh… You see, I think we probably agree on a lot more than you originally thought we do…

    “what I personally advocate is a US-style constitution which affirms our inalieanable rights. This would establish our own sovereignty over ourselves, that no state could interfere with”

    I agree on that entirely. However, thanks to the makeup of the current British/English constitution, with the emphasis on parliamentary supremacy, I can’t see any way of such rights being guaranteed via a nation-state-based arrangement, as any parliament that voted through such legislation could swiftly have it all overturned (as we’re already seeing with the – deeply flawed – Human Rights Act, a mere few years after it was passed into law).

    This is why I’m fundamentally in favour of some kind of supranational system that can override petty national concerns, and dislike the concept of nation states and national sovereignty. If states are allowed to act as they like, such rights can never be guaranteed. Even the US, which has the closest to an inviolable constitution of any nation ever, has had its constitutional problems, after all.

    And, as you say, the major issue is “sovereignty over ourselves”. What I fear that a lot of anti-EU types have failed to grasp is that in trying to prevent sovereignty being transferred to Brussels they aren’t tackling the major issue. Currently the individual citizen/subject in the UK has no sovereignty – that lies with parliament, and the English parliament has, since the late 17th century, been one of the most powerful institutions ever conceived when it comes to being able to dictate to the people.

    I guess I’m probably a bit of a libertarian at heart – albeit one who sees the best way of maintaining individual liberty as being to create governmental institutions far more vast than anything previously seen. Which is, in the current anti-governmental libertarian way of thinking, somewhat unusual, to say the least.

  7. I don’t doubt that we would agree on many things. You don’t have faith in the British constitution with it’s idea of the sovereignty of parliament – agreed, serious problems. But, hold on a minute, you propose to take that sovereignty, which you can see, I’m sure, can lead to us individuals being abused and deprived of our rights, and hand it over to another institution, bigger, more distant, with even less checks and balances? This is where I take the road to the left and you take the one to the right. That’s nonsensical!

    If we are agreed that we have inalienable rights – to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – and that in the present situation those rights have been – essentially – stolen by parliament, we need to seize those rights back, not sit idly by as they are passed over to Barosso’s Empire.

    You need to examine that libertarian heart of yours. Your solution to the problem of our rights is much like that advocated by the adverts encouraging us to “consolidate” our debts. Sure, there won’t be so many letters from creditors, but when the bill comes due, it’ll be a whole lot bigger.

  8. What’s the greatest sacrifice that this justifying idealism of yours would demand, BTW?

    As to the distinction between a constitution and an amending treaty, it’s both irrelevant and almost non-existent. The Labour manifesto promised a referendum on “it”, where the anaphoric reference was to “The Treaty”, and “The new Constitutional Treaty”. It wasn’t actually referred to as “The Constitution”. Now there’s a case to be made that changing a single word of that treaty vitiated its identy with the new amended version, releasing Labour from its promise, but if one doesn’t agree with that position, then there needs to be some other means of drawing a line.

    The consequences of the entry into force either of the constitution(al treaty) or the replacement treaty would be substantially similar. Again, if by means of an amending treaty as opposed to a consolidating treaty (by analogy with statute law) one achieved precisely the same outcomes in terms of the institutional structures of the EU, it would preposterous to argue that Labour was released from its promise.

    The difference is one of mechanism, not of effect. Therefore one must identify other differences in the effects of these treaties which make them sufficiently dissimilar as no longer to merit a referendum on the terms promised.

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