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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Cameron, the Tories’ confusing EU politics, and a chance for reform

So, today’s the last chance for the referendumites, and all thanks to the Tories (yep, the self-same Tories who would have had several more seats in the Commons right now if it weren’t for the splintering of their vote by the likes of UKIP at the last general election – if the referendum bid fails by 19 votes, I’ll be giggling rather a lot…).

But the real question is, why is Cameron still backing a referendum? It naturally made sense after Labour had foolishly promised one on the old constitution – the Tories could do nothing but offer the same, or risk re-opening old eurosceptic divisions within the party. But once Labour and the Lib Dems backed down after the shift from being a constitution to a reforming treaty with more or less the same effect – likely the only way it could get past the decidedly misinformed British public* – what was Cameron’s thinking in continuing to back a referendum?

Cameron: Hunting for a coherent EU policy?Initially, I thought it was obvious – he reckoned there was no chance of a referendum being granted, so it would have been a great bit of anti-Labour propaganda to throw out to the primarily eurosceptic party faithful. But now I’m not so sure it’s that simple.

You see, if Cameron had any sense of international realpolitik, he’d realise that he needs to maintain good relations with as many EU political leaders as he possibly can if he’s going to have any hope of doing deals in Brussels when he becomes Prime Minister. It’s basic diplomacy – act nice towards people, they’re more likely to accommodate your wishes. (And this applies just as much, if not more, if you want to pull out of the EU – if you’re an EU withdrawalist, make the case to the people at home, don’t piss off our European cousins. Because they’re the people you’re going to have to end up making all those lovely bilateral trade agreements with when you get your successful pull-out, and you surely want to ensure you get the best deals for your newly “independent” Britain by not pissing them all off.)

Yet since becoming Tory leader all Cameron’s done, on the rare occasions he’s ventured into the field of EU policy, is indicate he’s all up for antagonism. First he started going on about pulling Tory MEPs out of the huge centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament (meaning, as far as I can tell, that they’d be able to have even less impact on proceedings and lose a number of committee posts), now he seems to have been going all out to get an amendment in today’s vote on the Lisbon Treaty to secure that blasted referendum again.

This all plays great to the eurosceptic crowd at home, no doubt (though not great enough to gain a great many prodigal UKIPers to return to the fold, it would seem), but pisses off everyone on the continent – even those who are sympathetic to Tory doubts over the current direction of the EU. If/when Cameron becomes PM, he’s going to have even fewer friends on the continent than Gordon Brown – who at least our European cousins have a certain amount of respect for, while distrusting him, considering him supremely arrogant, and being annoyed with his lack of participation in EU affairs.

But now, the day of the crunch vote, there is apparently a genuine chance that the sums could just add up and that Cameron could get enough bodies behind him (with Labour and Lim Dem defections and abstentions) to get the referendum amendment passed after all. (For the record: I think this is still unlikely, but with Lib Dems openly rebelling and a number of Labourites likely to vote with the Tories as well, you never know…)

This makes little sense to me. The EU is not a contentious enough issue to get real votes behind it at general elections – if it were, William Hague would have won back in 2001 with his “Seven Days to Save the Pound” scaremongering nonsense. This little fight over a referendum was a great idea for a bit of domestic political propaganda when there was no chance of winning, but Cameron seems to be genuinely trying to get this amendment passed.

If he succeeds, three things will happen:

1) The UK will not be able to pass the Lisbon Treaty, setting the EU back another 2-7 years (it took two years to renegotiate the old constitution into the Lisbon Treaty, and that was in any case the result of five years of negotiations following the failure that was the Treaty of Nice back in 2001, which was meant to sort out all the problems the Lisbon Treaty is only now tackling)

2) The rest of the EU will be mortally pissed off with the UK in general, and Cameron in particular

3) There will still not be any procedure in place for an EU member state to leave the Union

The last of these is the most important in trying to work out what Cameron’s all about. After all, he’s allowed William Hague to spout off about how any future Tory government would hold a referendum on not just the Lisbon Treaty, but any subsequent EU treaty. That, surely, should have been enough?

But, of course, EU referenda are a slippery slope. Have one on a treaty, the next thing you know you’ll be having ones on membership – just as the likes of Jimmy Goldsmith’s old Referendum Party and their longer-lasting rivals UKIP have been pushing towards for over a decade, and as the pro-EU Lib Dems under Nick Clegg are now calling for in the hope a (likely) victory for the pro-membership lobby will shut up the sceptics once and for all.

Cameron’s cranking up of the rhetoric over the EU (not actually saying he’s against the Lisbon Treaty, you’ll note, but not saying anything in its favour in the full knowledge that the entire Tory press is against the thing) has been keeping the referendum campaign the most high-profile it’s been for years. Yet, unlike during the referendum campaigns in France and the Netherlands, there has not been a concurrent increase in public debate about the EU itself, or of public knowledge about the thing the referendum is meant to be about.

It’s all about the referendum itself – the casting of votes. The illusion of participation. It’s populism, plain and simple. The thing the referendum is about doesn’t matter in the slightest.

But wait – what if he succeeds and the referendum is called? The likely result is a big “no” to the Lisbon Treaty, based on brainwashing and/or misinformation by the eurosceptic – and euroignorant – press (see * below again) combined with the public’s lack of real interest in the EU.

And therein lies the cunning plan. Because that would enable Cameron to draw out the whole populist process for years with countless follow-up referenda. It would also provide a handy buffer against the withdrawalists by taking away the Lisbon Treaty’s introduction of procedures by which a member state can quit the EU**, meaning he can safely play around without the threat of having to take the EU-bashing to the logical extreme and giving up membership.

Of course, this would still piss off all the other EU member states no end. Cameron would position himself as the pariah of Europe, pissing everyone off by his obstructionism and stalling EU reform yet further.

But this could, in itself, be a good thing. Back when the Lisbon Treaty was still called (and still was) a constitution, from time to time I would hope that the thing got completely rejected time and again, forcing the EU’s bigwigs to take a step back and start again from scratch – preferably building some kind of multi-speed or multi-tier union in its place.

And although Cameron’s barely said a word about his real thinking on the EU, he did drop a few hints that he was after radical reform a year ago – albeit very vague hints that met with almost no response bar criticism, except from the usual suspects.

Cameron’s approach even at the time struck me as (almost) an advocation of a multi-tier Europe – exactly what I’d like – and his obstructionism over the Lisbon Treaty (and all subsequent EU treaties) could be just what we need to get real reform.

Because for the last decade or more, the debate over EU reform has been dominated by one goal – how to make the existing EU structures work after the expansion to 27 member states? This has always been the wrong question. It shouldn’t have been “how do we get what we’ve got to work?”, but “is what we’ve got the right option?” – and I’ve long been of the opinion that it’s not. I am, after all, pro-EU – but not pro-this EU. The only trouble is, no one with any influence has been advocating such an approach, and everyone with any power has apparently been happy to just go with the EU flow – muddling along and making do.

Of course, this is reading far too much into what Cameron’s been up to. He’s not a chap to make his aims clear, as anyone who’s been trying to keep tabs of mostly nonexistent Tory policy over the last year or so will be more than aware. But sod what’s best for Britain, a British referendum – and a no vote in that referendum – could well be the best thing for the EU…

* Not elitism (for a change) – the old constitution was 250-odd pages of complex legal jargon that was almost impossible to follow; the Lisbon treaty is a similar number of short paragraphs referring to numbered sub-clauses in umpteen previous European treaties in order to amend them, and thus even more difficult to comprehend. Plus, of course, the dishonesty of the eurosceptic press and hyperbole of eurosceptic campaigners is hardly making life easier.

** Despite the eurosceptic attacks on Nick Clegg over his calls for a vote on EU membership, after the Lisbon Treaty is ratified this would give them their first ever chance to get what they want. Their lack of enthusiasm for his plan is, I reckon, largely because they know that they can’t win that battle just yet…

20 Comments

  1. I’m against any referendum where the meaning of a no vote isn’t clear.

    A vote to reject the Lisbon Treaty might well give the government a mandate for renegotiation, but it doesn’t actually tell us what those who voted against it were voting against. In a 250 clause treaty, which clauses did people not like?

    At least with an ‘EU – in or out?’ vote, the direct consequences of a majority on either side are clear.

  2. It’s worth pointing out that most of us who opposed the EU Constitution did not oppose it because it was a constitution — that is less than irrelevant. We opposed it because it transferred more of our powers to Brussels. The lisbon Treaty still does that: the method of its drafting has changed, as you note in your *, but what it effectively does in terms of power transfer is the same.

    “3) There will still not be any procedure in place for an EU member state to leave the Union”

    Repeal the 1972 European Communities Act. What the Lisbon Treaty does is to ensure that countries can only leave on the EU’s terms and not on their own. You may consider this an improvement: I do not.

    And whilst you might like a tiered EU, you must know that that is not going to happen; the EU is aiming to be a federal country in its own right (and that has always been the aim, as stated by Monnet). Do people, for instance, talk about two-speed states in the USA?

    DK

  3. Jono – more or less agreed.

    DK – lots of points, as ever. I’ll try to cover them all, but not in order. First:

    the EU is aiming to be a federal country in its own right (and that has always been the aim, as stated by Monnet)

    – On this I disagree entirely. It used to be the aim back in the fifties,, for sure. But it ceased to be long, long ago. There are still a few hardcore federalists (like Jean-Claude Junker, for example) who advocate a United States of Europe, but if you still genuinely believe that is a realistic possibility then you’ve swallowed more anti-EU propaganda than I thought. It simply isn’t going to happen, because it’s not in the interest of any of the larger member states. Closer political integration? Yes. Political union of the kind that implies? No way. Not for centuries.

    most of us who opposed the EU Constitution did not oppose it because it was a constitution

    – I know. But the referendum promise was explicitly for the proposed constitution. The Lisbon Treaty is not a constitution. Legal pedantry and morally suspect on Labour’s part? Possibly. But it’s still true – they didn’t promise a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

    We opposed it because it transferred more of our powers to Brussels

    – Again, I disagree. I see power being drawn *away* from the Brussels machine back towards elected representatives both in the European and national parliaments. In terms of the number of competences placed with “the EU” (in whatever form), from what I can tell – and no, I haven’t done the maths – this remains roughly the same, if not diminishes.

    Repeal the 1972 European Communities Act.

    – Yep, and piss off the entire EU, making the withdrawalist pipe-dream of negotiating favourable treaty status with the thing after pulling out all but impossible.

    a tiered EU… is not going to happen

    – I’d say it’s a lot more likely than a United States of Europe… After all, we’ve already got a tiered EU – not just the Eurozone within the main EU, but also the Schengen zone (the EU minus Britain and Ireland, but with Norway, Switzerland and – soon – Liechtenstein), plus all kinds of other overlapping agreements, opt-outs (like the UK’s opt-out on the Charter of Fundamental Rights) and the like. Sooner or later I’d say it’s quite likely that the more integrationist member states are going to spot this and realise that the obstructionism of less enthusiastic members is buggering up their ability to do what they want, and propose a multi-tier system. If Romano Prodi’s started suggesting a multi-tier system as a former head of the Commission, I’d say it’s a genuine possibility.

  4. Nosemonkey,

    Essentially you are right about the complete lack of constructive EU policies from the Conservative Party, including the botched attempt to leave the EPP-ED group in the European Parliament.

    If British membership continues to be an open sore, I think that Clegg’s proposal for an ‘in or out’ referendum is the sanest option to date, however unenthusiastic I am over referendums in general.

    If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, and enters into force, I imagine that a multi-speed or multi-tier EU may evolve a bit more clearly than today. Both enhanced cooperation and permanent structured cooperation offer some tools, although advanced defence cooperation would be hampered without the UK contributing wholeheartedly (whether in or out).

    Devil’s Kitchen,

    You seem to have a devilishly low regard for international law and treaty obligations, and in addition to your lack of regard for Britain’s international reputation, your formula for simply abandoning the complex relations between the UK and the EU smacks of simplistic propaganda or a serious lack of comprehension.

    Do you really think that the interdependent and intertwined economies could be severed like a rope?

    Luckily, if your secession vision became a reality, English would still be one of the official languages of the EU, thanks to Ireland, giving you outsiders a chance to plead your causes in your own language.

  5. It’s worth noting that what was being debated, and which was rejected by the French and Dutch, was not a constitution; technically it was a treaty — the Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe.

    “- Yep, and piss off the entire EU, making the withdrawalist pipe-dream of negotiating favourable treaty status with the thing after pulling out all but impossible.”

    Come on, NM; do you seriously think that BMW, or Phillips, or Siemens, or any other big EU firm, is going to want us to raise tariff barriers against their goods? Because that’s actually what we are talking about.

    But, as I have pointed out to you before, only 10% of our economy is dependent on trade with EU countries (and we have a substantial deficit too). Serious economists, such as Patrick Minford, believe that our economy would receive a substantial boost (IIRC, he estimated a 3.5% jump) even were the EU to block free trade with us.

    “Sooner or later I’d say it’s quite likely that the more integrationist member states are going to spot this and realise that the obstructionism of less enthusiastic members is buggering up their ability to do what they want, and propose a multi-tier system.”

    Generally I would agree with you, but I believe that this will be a last resort: they desperately want to get every country to accept this Treaty (otherwise, as you have pointed out before, we end up with an uncontrollable system — but a multi-tiered system will complicate that still further).

    Further, our opt-outs are worth less than nothing — in fact, TEBAF Margot said essentially that at one point. The famous red lines are nothing more than a fig leaf.

    DK

  6. Slight problems, with your analysis;

    I believe you will find the Conservatives initially promised a referendum, this in turn forced the same promise from the Labour party and the LibDems, Remember Blair`s u turn on the issue. Which ever, it conveniently removed debate about the Constitution / Lisbon treaty becoming an important election issue.

    It is the British who will or will not, elect Cameron to office not the other EU leaders.

    Cameron and most of the other elected MPs were elected on a clear manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the Constitution, just because they have secretly decided to re- write the same thing in a different manner and call it the Reform / Lisbon treaty does not release them from their commitment to the voters.

    It is glib to decide which of William Hague policies caused the Conservatives loss in 2001 and ignores Howard’s loss at the last election. The Conservatives were unelectable against NuLabour whatever their policies whatever their leader.

    I do not see setting back the EU as a reasonable argument for passing even further powers away from control of our parliament, that is the very nature of sovereign democracy, we decide unilaterally which treaties are acceptable and which are not. If we do not want what the treaty offers it is quite clearly our duty to reject it, if we want a different EU then it is our duty to create the circumstances where that EU can be brought about. So you do have a point that the rejection of this treaty might well be for the best for the EU in the long run.

    We do not need any procedure in place for any member to leave the EU, that power is and always should remain within the member state. One of the many reasons why the treaty is unacceptable.

    It is not enough to allow one member of his cabinet to make unsubstantiated claims about future referendum it needs to become a clear unequivocal Conservative party commitment to be included in their next manifesto. There has been far too many loose empty gestures from the Conservatives to allow them any leeway in this matter. In any case I believe you will find that Hague did not promise a referendum on the Lisbon treaty after it had been ratified by this administration. The promise was to allow referenda on any following changes to the treaties. But that rather ignores the self amending clauses within the Lisbon treaty which will allow for further amendments to the treaty without the input of the member states parliament. And as our parliament only lasts 5 years any following government will not be bound by Hague promise but will be bound by the treaty. As you point out anyone with any influence has for too long just been happy to just go with the EU flow – muddling along and making do. It is time we taught our political leaders that this is no longer acceptable, this is why Cameron will not attract back those who have left the party unless he clearly states his objectives for Britain as a member of the EU and clearly demonstrates the will power to no longer go with the flow. Other than which you started you post questioning why Cameron is going against the flow and upsetting our partners in the EU, you cannot have it both ways.

  7. DKdo you seriously think that BMW, or Phillips, or Siemens, or any other big EU firm, is going to want us to raise tariff barriers against their goods? Because that’s actually what we are talking about.

    – Nope, I’m talking about the EU raising barriers against British goods and services, not the other way around. As for the economic costs, there are numerous other economists who say different. I don’t know enough to comment beyond saying I reckon it’s a very risky gamble.

    our opt-outs are worth less than nothing

    – For the most part, yes, British opt-outs aren’t worth a lot (bar the Charter of Fundamental Rights one) – but that’s more due to Labour’s piss-poor negotiating skills. France has innumerable opt-outs and favourable deals. Perhaps that would have been a better example.

    Kenjust because they have secretly decided to re- write the same thing in a different manner and call it the Reform / Lisbon treaty does not release them from their commitment to the voters.

    – You may well think that (and I can see how), but that’s only one interpretation of what it is they’re doing. Plus, of course, by the same argument you use about my claims for Hague in 2001, how many people voting were voting based on this manifesto commitment? And, furthermore, why should failing to deliver on a manifesto pledge spark a referendum anyway? It happens all the time. Remember Labour’s promise not to introduce university tuition fees, then top-up fees? How about the pledge to have a vote on electoral reform? There are countless dozens.

    passing even further powers away from control of our parliament

    Which powers, exactly? What powers that the EU doesn’t already have does the Lisbon Treaty give away? I genuinely haven’t seen this answered anywhere – though I’ve seen the “more powers transferred to Brussels” line all over the shop.

    We do not need any procedure in place for any member to leave the EU, that power is and always should remain within the member state

    – Agreed. We don’t *technically* need such a thing in place – countries can always act unilaterally (cf. North Korea, Iraq under Saddam, etc.). Withdrawalists do, however, presumably want relatively friendly relations with the EU after pulling out? Because one thing is certain – a non-EU United Kingdom would have to be a diplomatic expert to negotiate all the bilateral agreements it would need to continue to function. If not the dream of becoming another Norway or Switzerland (itself a rather flawed one, considering how massively influenced those two states are by the EU) is going to become utterly impossible. Putting formal procedures in place for quitting the EU is designed purely to allow such a thing to happen with the minimum of antagonism.

    There has been far too many loose empty gestures from the Conservatives

    – Agreed entirely. That’s what the post’s all about – I have no idea what their EU policy really is.

    the self amending clauses within the Lisbon treaty

    – Not actually true – another eurosceptic myth. Any amendments would still require the unanimous assent of all member states – and their national parliaments.

    you started you post questioning why Cameron is going against the flow and upsetting our partners in the EU, you cannot have it both ways

    – You see, I think that you can, if you’re cunning enough about it. What Cameron seemed to be doing a year ago was building alliances with other more eurosceptic parties and governments (notably that of the Czech Republic) though that soon fell through and he seems to have given up on the idea. If he managed to come up with a viable multi-tier vision for the EU and then get on board the more sceptical likes of Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, possibly Italy, possibly Ireland, perhaps a few others (including the likes of Norway and Switzerland, which have been on the brink of joining for years) – then real reform would be possible.

    By only preaching to the home crowd, however, Cameron hasn’t got a hope in hell of delivering. He needs continental allies, and then real reform could be possible – because the UK is still strong enough (and will be even after the Lisbon Treaty is passed thanks to its population size) to get its way. The trouble is, no government during the time we’ve been a member state – bar (possibly) that of Thatcher over the rebate (and even that wasn’t as tough a fight as she made out) – has had the guts to really kick up a fuss in Brussels and then stick to its guns.

    In short, if the UK wanted it enough, the UK could get big reforms through. Not in one go, obviously, but a movement could be started in that direction – and I’m pretty certain it would only gather momentum once it got up and running. But successive UK governments have been only too keen to do what Brussels tells them, pretty much to the letter. Look at France – that approach really isn’t necessary.

  8. Your call to action is a rousing one, nosemonkey (and I say that without a trace of sarcasm), and should be made to Brown as well as Cameron. (I suspect Cameron doesn’t have much of a game plan beyond winning the next general election – opposition leaders rarely do, whatever their politics.) What I want to know is, why is such a call for a ‘coalition for EU reform’ so rarely heard in the UK, not just in the top-selling commercial media but also in the blogosphere? The opinion that the EU is good in principle but somewhat dysfunctional in practice is mainstream enough, and many suggest reforms that might make the EU better, some of which may already have majority support in the UK, but very few people seem to be thinking seriously about the international politics needed to effect these reforms at an EU level. Most instead treat the rest of the EU as having an essentially monolithic opinion, and either say ‘we should just accept the EU with all its follies because it’s better than being the odd one out’ or ‘the best way to improve our position is to throw a tantrum and then hope Europe follows our lead’.

    Incidentally, I don’t think the UK’s exceptional obedience when it comes to implementing EU directives is necessarily a bad thing for the UK’s negotiating position – it’s part of what might be called the ‘gentleman’s strategy’, which is in some sense the opposite of the mad dog strategy, and works well when the name of the game is cooperation and trust-building, unlike mad dog which works best in a zero-sum conflict. But the other elements of a good gentleman’s strategy are a willingness to punish (in a proportionate way) dishonour on the part of other players, and honouring your own interests by taking a hard line on promising anything that might compromise them, because you know that your promises are serious business. The UK has fallen short on both of these in recent years, though not as far short as many commentators like to suggest.

  9. Funny thought process that failing on a manifesto commitment does not spark a call for a referendum, the manifesto commitment was to hold a referendum?

    We are not asking for a referendum to decide if we should have a referendum?

    I do not think Labour did actually break a manifest pledge on university fees, they said they would not introduce them in that parliament and they did not, They broke the spirit of their commitment by making preparations during that parliament though.

    I have cut most of my response to you points because I believe you have a good point about a possible way forward, if only we had a strong leader who could act with purpose, failing that I would push for withdrawal as the best option.

    I tend to disagree about the withdrawal clause, if our parliament is sovereign then being sovereign it cannot allow any outside rules to govern its procedures. If it must conduct its business according to rules set and changeable by an outside institution then it can no longer claim to be sovereign. I do not see why withdrawing would be such a problem as you envisage, the decision to withdraw would initially be made in our parliament then our government would negotiated the terms of that process as equals, thus not being controlled by the rules of the EU on the subject.

    To be honest without promising to withdraw the Conservatives from the EPP group Cameron would probably not have been elected leader, so his machinations over that promise to his own party, are perhaps a guide for the future reliability of him as leader of the country. And of course without playing to the home crowd he will not get the chance to run the country anyway.

    I really do not see him as a reformer certainly not strong enough to hold a contrary position on the EU, I tend to agree with Colin Reid; Cameron doesn’t have much of a game plan beyond winning the next general election. The Conservatives have for a long time been acting EUsceptics – acting.

  10. Colin – Agreed on all points. The single most frustrating thing about the British EU debate is how the extreme fringes of it have somehow come to dominate and turn the thing entirely black and white. You’re either a europhile or a eurosceptic, it seems, with nothing in between.

    Ken – As above in response to Colin – your definition of what it is to be EUsceptic is just one interpretation, which seems to mean being in favour of withdrawing from the EU. This is very much a minority view (if it wasn’t do you seriously think that the Tories – or Labour, for that matter, wouldn’t have adopted it in pursuit of political power?).

    Eurosceptic used to mean (and should still mean, I reckon) someone who isn’t certain that the EU or the EU’s current methods are the best way forward. By that definition the Tories are very much still eurosceptics – hell, so am I, most likely. What I’d say you and DK are goes way beyond that – you’re Eurocynics.

    On the EPP front, if Elaib is right in his analysis of the group’s new policy position (though as a UKIP man he’s hardly unbiased in this), Cameron probably does need to get out asap. There’s a lot of stuff there he can’t risk being seen to approve of in th current political climate in this country, even if he actually does.

    As for the sovereignty issue, as you probably already know, I disagree. By your definition of sovereignty, no international treaty and no system of international law would ever be binding – a perfect formula for perennial mistrust and instability of the kind seen before, well, a system of international law was introduced in the mid-20th century.

    And – by the same definition – Britain hasn’t been sovereign for most of the last century via membership of organisations like the United Nations, NATO, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, etc. etc. and through signing up to agreements like the Geneva Convention – all of which also restrict the British government’s ability to act as it pleases, and all of which would remain in place even if we were to leave the EU. Or would the sovereignty campaign then move on to all these?

    The issue for me, as always, is what’s best for the British economy and the people of Britain. The sovereignty of the state (which is effectively what the sovereignty of parliament means these days) plays no part in this – for me, at least – if the broader international agreements and coalitions are well enough worked out. Furthermore, for the people what is needed above all is stability – the petty foibles of party politics and fleeting national concerns are not conducive to stability.

  11. I did not actually define EUsceptic my position is that I do not see the EU as being re-formable, because of that I argue it is best or us to leave.

    I believe in this, I have history on my side. I do not see the multi tiered EU you envisage, I do not see any evidence at all that this is on the cards for the future, it is a version of the EU that is often trotted out but has no basis in fact.

    The EU is not being constructed to be a multi tiered grouping of independent sovereign states. The treaties the Constitution now the Lisbon treaty are not blueprints for a such an organisation, they are rather the building blocks for a Supra Government, a blueprint for centralisation where the final power resides not in individual states, but in the overarching central government. Sure that central government at some point may decide to devolve power back to the regions but it will still remain its prerogative to decide when if and what to devolve.

    I believe you are confusing power with sovereignty every country has to take into account world opinion, what is happening in neighbouring countries and the world generally, each country has to abide by its commitments to international agreements it has entered, but being sovereign it has the power to remove itself from such agreements or institutions if it so decides, without interference from outside. The withdrawal clause places such interference on the sovereign power of this country to withdraw from the EU – we may withdraw but only if we follow the rules set and changeable by the EU, that is a direct interference on our sovereignty.

    Going back to your previous post – as I said I deleted most of my response, but my point with regard to the manifesto pledge has nothing to do with the reasons people voted. I did not claim that this government only holds power because it made that commitment. But because all parties made that commitment, debate of the Constitution was sidelined at the last election. It was in effectively postponed because we were told that it would be fully debated at the time of the referendum.

    You talk of what is best for the British economy and the people of Britain. and claim stability as the main ingredient, but it is the constant advances of the EU and its constantly increasing powers within the Britain which are creating instability. The EU is not offering any kind of stable relationship between it constituent parts because it is constantly changing as it is constantly building on its centralising powers. You mention NATO, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, etc. etc. how many new Nato treaties have been negotiated how many times has the Council of Europe renegotiated its treaty no it is the EU which is creating instability and will continue to do so as it evolves.

  12. KenI do not see the EU as being re-formable, because of that I argue it is best or us to leave

    In other words you’e not sceptical, you’ve made up your mind. As I said, you’re a cynic.

    I do not see the multi tiered EU you envisage, I do not see any evidence at all that this is on the cards for the future

    How about, as I say, the complex Venn diagram of the Eurozone, EU, Schengen Agreement, etc. etc. etc.? It’s already multi-tiered.

    the building blocks for a Supra Government

    I’d say that the Lisbon Treaty is the least like a blueprint for an EU government we’ve seen in any EU/EEC treaty pretty much ever – certainly far less than the Single European Act or Maastricht. It’s a shoddy, weak compromise between integrationists and less enthusiastic member states, after all – it was never going to be radical, and isn’t.

    being sovereign it has the power to remove itself from such agreements or institutions if it so decides

    And this would still be an option under the Lisbon Treaty. A British government could still unilaterally pull out, just as one could now. It’s just there would for the first time be a more diplomatic route available to prevent irritating the rest of the EU. The withdrawal clause could, however, still be unilaterally ignored if a member state really wanted to. It wouldn’t be very clever (just as unilaterally withdrawing now without prior discussion wouldn’t be very clever), but it could be done.

    because all parties made that commitment, debate of the Constitution was sidelined at the last election. It was in effectively postponed because we were told that it would be fully debated at the time of the referendum

    This is certainly true. However, I doubt there would have been too much about the EU at the last election anyway – poll after poll shows it’s not a key issue for most voters now, and it wasn’t then. (Having a majority in favour of a referendum is another matter altogether.)

    it is the constant advances of the EU and its constantly increasing powers within the Britain which are creating instability

    Renegotiations of treaties affect the man in the street not a jot (that he’d notice). Let’s face it, it’s only because we both know a bit about the Lisbon Treaty that we have any idea that any changes will be happening at all – as and when those changes do come I very much doubt we’ll notice any impact on our day to day existence. That’s what I mean by stability – the stability of the individual in his everyday life, not high politics.

  13. I am afraid you are right about the view of the EU from the man in the street, however it is incorrect to suggest that changes in the treaties do not affect ordinary people. They most certainly do, just about everything that concerns ordinary people has an EU dimension; working hours and conditions, social policy, immigration, Tax, hospitals, transport, energy, food production, fishing, farming, drugs, police powers, shops, what we can eat, what drugs we can take, which herbicides we can use in our gardens, rubbish disposal the list is endless and ever growing.

    There is really no stability, we are in a situation of constant volatility, endless changes, of rules, continuous transformations, trains, telephones, postal services, local services local government just about everything is changing all the time, also now on the agenda is our health service will the NHS be able to survive the EU cross border health plans, it will certainly be affected.

    As the EU expands it areas of competence it begins to legislate in those areas but it is legislating for the whole of EU not for the benefit of the British people.

    So when Markos Kyprianou European Commissioner for Health says
    There are wide disparities in the health status of citizens and quality of healthcare between different Member States, regions and social groups. In order to be able to better address these challenges, there is clearly a growing demand for the EU to act on health. One of the important areas where the Commission is preparing Community action concerns health services and cross-border healthcare.

    What exactly will that mean for the NHS one can reasonable assume that the rest of the EU is not going to adopt our system yet the EU will take action to ensure there is a reduction of inequalities and disparities between regions.

    I am not against change or against changes to the NHS I am trying to make the point that when you claim stability I believe you are totally wrong.

    If you are suggesting the EU creates a political stability then you do have a point to a degree, but what is the cost to democracy, instead of electing a government to run the country as we wish we are electing a management team which is increasingly bound by EU rules agreed by previous administrations, it is increasingly becoming immaterial which political party is elected to hold office in Westminster because all we are really doing is electing a team to take their place in the real government.

    The problem we EUsceptics have is linking all these issues to the EU in the mind of the people, against a political elite who want to keep the EU off the agenda and a supporting or supine media. If that were to ever be achieved then I think you will find the ordinary man in the street would begin to understand the importance of the EU.

  14. Sorry – I thought the kind of stability I was referring to was obvious. I mean the perception that everything’s staying pretty much the same among ordinary people. Yep, of course things are shifting – but no so that anyone would really notice on a daily level. And that’s the whole reason why no one cares – they can’t perceive the impact the EU has on their lives. Pretty much what you’re saying in your last point – and pretty much the entire point I was making.

    The other issues are largely off-topic, so I’ll be fairly quick and glib – not meant to be rude.

    1) The NHS – the EU’s healthcare plans are all speculation at the moment. But considering anyone of ANY nationality (not just EU) can already use NHS facilities for free on getting the the UK (a policy that has nothing to do with the EU), I doubt there’ll be much impact.

    2) The cost to democracy – when the votes of 22% of the electorate can give Labour such a vast majority in the Commons, and when electoral turn-out is steadily declining, there’s a severe problem with our democracy anyway. And I personally see little or no difference between the various Commissioners and the various heads of the UK Civil Service departments – other than that the appointment and day to day operations and working methods of Commissioners are far more open and transparent than that of the Sir Humphreys…

    Pinning everything on the EU – as eurosceptics seem wont to do – means that eurosceptic arguments are being spread too thin, and that they begin to sound like conspiracy theories. Most people may like them to start with (hence the popularity of The X Files and The Da Vinci Code) dismiss conspiracy theories pretty quickly as highly improbably. Target your arguments, however, you may start to get somewhere.

  15. The cost to democracy is that we can no longer change our government or change its direction on many issues because those are no longer decided in our parliament. The point that parties are growing closer on their core policies has been made in the media but the link is not made that this is a natural process if the parties understand that they must work within EU guidelines.

    I do accept that one cannot blame the EU for everything, but I think the general point is that the affects of our membership go much deeper that people realise, if they were to understand that many of the guiding principals behind many of our governments policies emanates originally from the EU then that organisation would be much higher on the political agenda.

    But it would seem as if our own politicians are quite happy to abdicate their responsibility, keep the effects of the EU below the horizon and at the same time to score political points against each other for policies which they would themselves have to implement if they were in power. How many times have we heard about the Conservative rail privatisation debacle, but they were only in the vanguard of implementing EU policy, on the other side Cameron for instance was writing in the Telegraph this morning bemoaning the closure of post offices, arguing that “Conservatives all over the country have been campaigning against these unnecessary changes.” thus leaving the impression that these closures are cause by Labour policy. A Conservative government would of course not have implemented EU directive 97/67/EC, not that he mentioned the EU, or suggested what a Conservative administration would do to about the agreement.

    Actions like this are creating a total charade of our politics so it is little wonder that people are being turned of politics. And people are noticing changes at a personal level but those changes are not properly ascribed to the EU but the failings of our own government.

  16. the guiding principals behind many of our governments policies emanates originally from the EU

    – But here comes the need to distinguish between what part of the EU they come from. Almost ALL “EU policies” stem from the member states. In this regard the UK is one of the biggest contributors towards the formulation of EU policy (the European Commission has a staff of just 25,000, after all – most “EU policy” is actually drawn up by the civil services of the member states, and the UK has one of the largest civil services, so does a large chunk of this work).

    In other words, claiming that a policy “eminates from the EU” is almost always – strictly speaking – inaccurate. Yes, it may have been implemented following an EU directive (rather than an equally “undemocratic” statutory instrument, for example), but where did the impetus for that directive come from? You may well be able to trace 80% of laws to the EU (I have no idea and somewhat doubt it), but I’d guess that 80% of those laws can be traced back further – to the (elected) governments of the member states.

    Nothing’s as simple as it seems.

    (An off-topic aside: Blaming the closure of Post Offices on that directive is somewhat unfair, and to buy in to the Post Office’s own propaganda on the matter. Yes, it pushed for the introduction of competition in postal services – that the Post Office blames in part for the need to cut costs – but it’s a lot more complex than that. Plus, of course, the same directive stated the need for adequate provision of Postal services – not the cutting of them. The current drive towards shutting Post Offices could actually be seen as a breach of that directive…)

  17. Often policy is implemented in anticipation of a directive (I think Rail falls into this category just) or as a consequence of the threat of a directive, random roadside breathalyser tests for example. We do seem to jump in with both feet when others hang back to see what happens, after the problems with the break up of BR other states used the evidence to argue against making those changes for themselves.

    There is also something about the British which seem to require us to follow the rules to the letter and then add a bit, hence we end up with abortions like the home buyers pack, this although original based on an EU directive was embellished out of all recognition, instead of a simple declaration of the property carbon foot print being produced at some point of the sale we end up with pile of required documents to be compiled before the property can be marketed, it is as if the British political system has always got to go one better.

    The rail and the post office are examples of the EU intention to break up national based services. It does not benefit us in this country to have a national public service broken up to aid the EUs own agenda. Pushing for competition in a national public service is not a benefit if it destroys the service, and these are changes which create an unstable situation for all of us and we all do notice them.

    But the point you made remains our politicians do not seem have a grip on the subject and are happy to just go with the flow of the EU.

    Thanks for the plug by the way as noticed I have become rather despondent of late on the subject with extremely few postings, I was surprised you included me at all.

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