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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The Lisbon Treaty is dead

But considering it was largely the unconvincing zombie resurrection of the old Constitution anyway, it probably won’t be fully dead until someone’s cut its head off, put a stake through its heart, shot it repeatedly with silver bullets, smothered it in garlic-infused holy water, and tricked it into saying its name backwards three times.

Note to the EU: for Christ’s sake, can we please actually THINK about the next step this time? In detail? Preferably without the assumption that the people are too stupid to notice what you’re trying to pull on them (thus alienating them yet further from a project which seems increasingly separated from the needs of the European people) – and ideally with the people in full, genuine consultation at every stage.

The continent of Europe is far, far too diverse for such idealistic “one size fits all” projects to have any place in future EU planning – unless it’s the most basic statement of shared ideals and principles, along the lines of the American declaration of independence or the US constitution. Surely that much is obvious? Just like the American colonies – only far, far more so – Europe is not made up of one united people; we are many peoples with much shared history and culture, but with plenty that also divides us in terms of hopes, dreams and aspirations. The old Constitution, the Lisbon Treaty – hell, pretty much every EU and EEC treaty ever ratified – failed sufficiently to acknowledge this, and so failed to allay concerns. The longer this went on – especially as the EU’s power and presence seemed to continue to grow without so much as a by your leave from a democratic vote – the more annoyed, the more distrustful the people of Europe were bound to become.

The European project was started by political elites as a trade association with delusions of grandeur. It is now much, much more than that, with competence creep after competence creep. It is too unwieldy and unaccountable for the people of a continent with more than its fair experience of despotism and dictatorship not to start taking offence if it continues down the route of “what we say goes, and there’s not much you can do about it”.

I believe in the principles behind the European Union. I believe that the European Union has done far, far more good than harm both in Europe itself and worldwide. I believe that the European Union should continue. But not in the direction it is currently heading. Not with the attitude it has currently got.

The Lisbon Treaty is dead – don’t make the same mistake as last time of trying to dress up the corpse to make it look a bit different. Accept the fundamental failure of the treaty (and constitution), and accept that a far more radical solution is vital. A complete rethink. A deep, serious analysis of what the EU is and what it is for – and, most importantly, what the European people think it is for. This is something that hasn’t happened in decades, but that is absolutely essential if the EU is to avoid the further alienation of its citzens – citizens who, it should be noted, have not all been asked if they want such citizenship in the first place.

The EU has evolved gradually over the years based on vague dreams. It’s time for a reality check.

(BBC story on initial reports of the lost Irish referendum here)

Update: As the count’s not final yet (this post was written at around 15:30 UK time), keep an eye on the Irish Times’ Lisbon Treaty site, with real-time updates. The current tally is 46.3% yes, 53.7% no. Elsewhere I’ve seen turnouts estimated at 40-45% – not huge, but not bad for EU-related elections, and more than the last Irish rejection of a European treaty back in 2001, even if the margin of rejection seems to be smaller this time…

13 Comments

  1. Sorry Clive – would have expected a little more nuance from you here.

    “I believe that the European Union should continue. But not in the direction it is currently heading. Not with the attitude it has currently got.” – there are different games being played here, different approaches being taken by different people. It’s not as if the EU as a whole is one major conspiracy… Let’s target the critique more carefully.

  2. Of course there are multiple viewpoints and the EU is nowhere near being monolithic – that’s really my major gripe. Because although there are a multitude of alternate visions of the thing, the whole “what’s good for one is good for us all” mentality that’s a leftover of the early days of the Six is still the dominant attitude, and that’s what I’m complaining about. My sense of increasing frustration comes from the constant avoidance of the increasingly evident truth that one size does not fit all.

    (As a related aside: the age-old curse of writing about the EU is that when you say “the EU” it’s not always obvious what you mean. “The EU wants” rarely – if ever – means “the EU as a whole wants”. Another argument for a fundamental revision of what the damn this is, does and is for in my books… But then again, I’ll probably have changed my mind again come next week.)

  3. hi nosemonkey;

    Can you give a short example for the
    “what’s good for one is good for us all” mentality? Generally I think I know what what you mean, but still an example would be helpfull.

    It would be good to establish clear cut limits of the decisions which can be taken on the EU level. However in practice it can be very difficult to nail down (in a treaty) what this should be. But in some areas like foreign policy
    a “what’s good for one is good for us all” mentality is actually what the European project is all about.

  4. Great result isn`t it ?
    You want analysis ? For that you have to be openminded, like foe example seeing why people are EUrosceptic. You, though, are just like the BBC. You think you`ve got your own checks and balances built into yourself.
    That`s one reason your project will fail.

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  6. Great idea, a Treaty that is just the most basic statement of shared ideals and principles, along the lines of the American declaration of independence or the US constitution. I am all for it.

    Except, this would give us, amongst others, a European president, a common (and I mean common) foreign and defence policy and European taxes.

    The reason why European treaties are so ridiculously complicated is that they have to contain compromises on every issue that could possibly be sensitive in any of the Member States – and they will remain this complicated as long as individual Member States keep the possibility to veto any new Treaty.

  7. It is a conflict of goals and interests which makes referendums unfeasible. The Irish people voted No based purely on their own vested self-interests in things such as Commission representation, taxation, abortion, defense, etc. This conflicts with the goal of the treaty to secure the best interest of the union as a whole – which the referendum really was about. The Lisbon treaty is a compromise between two dozen states crafted through the process of carefully managed political tinkering. It is a treaty for the establishment of the European Union, not a treaty for the establishment of the European Union & Ireland. This ultimately is why it is extremely unfeasible to have it passed country-by-country through referendums; countries cannot keep voting based on securing their own exemptions and interests without regard for the political unity and whole of Europe. A European Union in the state of (quoting an old Swedish saying) ‘a patched up garment’ is not in the desire of anybody, phobes and philes alike. I think it was MEP Olle Schmidt of ALDE who suggested the idea was to hold a Europe-wide referendum instead. To me it is the best solution, because then everyone either fall or rise together.

  8. While I’m disappointed about the result, I see a clear silver lining: now is a great time to make some significant changes. Finally go to a two-speed Europe with an OuterEU for economic integration only, and a CoreEU for deep political integration. It has great benefits in transparency: countries (preferably the population itself) can easily choose in which group they belong. If the CoreEU becomes a success, pressure will be on fringe countries to accept that integration does benefit people. Countries would only be allowed to join the Core if they are ready for transferring more sovereignty to the Core. Even so, the Core should resist temptation to centralize competencies that are clearly better left at the national/regional level. Integrate only those things that need integration.

    We (the pro-integrationists among us) have for FAR too long allowed the expansion game to wreck our dreams. The UK has played a brilliant game, I must confess: eastward expansion has indeed made the EU unpopular in the western states.

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  10. I’m Irish, these last few weeks have been interesting. I’m nowhere near as schooled in these matters as some of the people commenting here, but what i’m saying reflects the feelings of many of the people i know.

    The government’s campaign for the treaty basically consisted of scaring people into voting yes, and i think the results of the referendum reflected this. Literally politicians spouting stuff about “a no vote will lead us into uncharted territory” and general scaremongering. The french minister’s comment about Ireland taking money off the EU was a bit over the top too. Was that some sort of veiled threat? What the hell? A lot of people voted no because of the way politicians (both irish and european) have started to view democracy and the people’s choice as an inconvenience to their intricate plans.

    While i agreed with many things in the lisbon treaty, there was a lot i disagreed with, especially the way it was being implemented. The vote to ignore the result of the irish referendum has shocked me deeply. Ireland is a small country compared to most of the EU nations, and our voice is but a drop in the ocean in a majority voting system. The republic was founded within living memory, and it angers and saddens me to see the hard-won right of our people to choose how they are governed batted aside by beuraucrats and the political elite as an annoyance. Apologies for the patriotic waffle, but, you know…

    It’s a sad day for the european union when it looks upon the democratic choice of one of its members as some sort of amusing side show.

  11. Good stuff nm.

    Congrats to the Irish. Voting for this treaty would be like going to the bank and signing for a loan written in such unclear terms that most signees could not possibly comprend, let alone to a level that they could hold the bank to account for breaches.

    I’m somewhat bothered by Eurocrats (mostly the tie wearing, well fed neck bulging over collar type – and the equivalent ladies) demanding that the Irish should be ‘greatful’. It is the same argument as the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US. They say that ‘friends’ should be amical when they disagree and their opinions being taken into account, but in reality, the big boys kick their little friends in the face and still expect them to be greatful. Are these truely ‘friends’?

    Hopefully we will get several short (11 page max), clear and concise treaties that make the EU work much better for its citizens, be better held to account, and provide clear principles. But, that might cost too little for the eurocrats who seem unable to produce anything without bloat, the political version of ‘bloatware’ software that is shovelled onto our computers when we buy them from certain monopoly software manufacturers….

    Viva the political linux, Europe by the people, for the people!

  12. “Hopefully we will get several short (11 page max), clear and concise treaties that make the EU work much better for its citizens, be better held to account, and provide clear principles.”

    This would clearly be great and indeed if this would happen we all should be thankfull for the Irish ‘no’. But I fear that the reality will look much different.

    What is more realistic is that we get some extra 20-100 pages to the existing treaty which will satisfy all special interest groups which pushed for a no. And after they all have there pet issues satisfied the treaty will be even more incomprehensible.

    The complete process which is used to draw up these types of treaties is flawed, especially because of this dynamic. This is why we can not produce a simple set of basic rules which govern the Union.

  13. Having had a brief stint in the EC (where I failed to cause any damage) and spent far too much time amongst lawyers, I’m afraid that you may well be right.

    Like nm, I’m pro EU and bloody exasperated by the way the fatheads in Brussels tend to handle things. Let’s put it this way, none of this crowd would impress at an interview for a marketing job in a PR/marketing company.

    Sad really.

    Further to your comments, I just had thought that why not have both? 10-20 page amendments to the relevant treaties and a complementary clear language ‘constitution’ that can be understood by a 12 year old???