Monday, 25 October 2010

Melanchtron on good form

Later this week - on October 28th - Cameron goes to attend the EU summit in Brussels. Top of the agenda will be the Franco-German proposal for a new EU Treaty. I have already explained, many times, that Eurosceptics want a new EU Treaty - one that renegotiates our position within the EU, repatriating key powers as we have promised in our past three General Election manifestos. This is a superb opportunity to achieve what Eurosceptics have wanted for years.

To enable our leaders to take this opportunity, though, they must have confidence that renegotiation will not result in our leaving the EU. One past fear about that can be discounted on this occasion - namely the fear that our EU partners would respond to a request for renegotiation through simply rejecting it and that the logic of suggesting that renegotiation was vital would be that, absent renegotiation, we would be forced to leave. That's not going to happen here, because our EU partners absolutely must have a new Treaty in order for the Eurozone to survive at all, and no such Treaty can proceed without British agreement, so there is no chance of their being able simply to deny us any discussion of renegotiation.

The other problem is slightly more tricky. This is the fear that renegotiation would result in a referendum in the UK, and that once one had started down the path of referendum it could ultimately prove difficult to avoid holding a referendum on membership - such a referendum potentially resulting in our leaving. Since our government and Party leadership have no interest whatever in leaving, that means that there must be no risk that renegotiation would lead to a referendum on continued membership.

And why should it? What I and my allies want to see is a new Treaty that renegotiates Britain's position within the EU. Why would we need a referendum on that? Suppose it were won - what would have been the point in the referendum? Suppose it were lost - then we would have rejected repatriating powers from Brussels to London and would be left with the post-Lisbon Treaty; what Eurosceptic would want that?
We don't need any kind of referendum on a repatriating Treaty - the only point of demanding one would be as a Trojan horse for getting a referendum on membership of the EU; a referendum that we don't want.

Forget demanding a referendum - all you will achieve is to damage the cause of renegotiation, and leave us trapped in a post-Lisbon scenario. However, because of the low public confidence in our government’s dealings with the EU after Blair’s broken promises on Lisbon, I do think there must be a strong case for pre-committing, prior to the renegotiation, that the deal struck will be brought for ratification to the House of Commons on a free vote. I’m not normally a fan of free votes – whips are essential to the functioning of political parties, and the presence of parties improves government immensely. But on this occasion, I think a free vote is a reasonable compromise with and comfort to those that feel they were denied a referendum. I hope that agreement on a free vote could be achieved across the House – prior to the renegotiation – and that the large Eurosceptic majority in the House of Commons would be comfortably adequate to ensure that a renegotiated Treaty were ratified.

The next issue is what the renegotiation should be about. The Sunday Telegraph discusses two kinds of things:

a) allowing Britain to trade without tariffs with countries outside the EU
b) withdrawal from the Working Time Directive.

Well, (a) is just withdrawing from the EU. The EU simply isn't a free trade area; it's (inter alia) a customs union, and as such it is essential to its nature that there is a Common External Tariff - that is to say, that EU members are not free to trade without tariffs with countries outside the EU. I am a big fan of Douglas Carswell, but that's a non-starter.

As for (b), it's far, far too little. The very idea that a renegotiation of our position in the EU would focus on something as petty as the Working Time Directive!!

The fact that even a newspaper that takes as much interest in EU matters as the Telegraph is unable to see what could lie in between dissolving the EU altogether (i.e. allowing free trade with countries outside) and reversing one petty measure (the WTD) illustrates an extraordinary lack of understanding of Euroscepticism in the press.

To try to help, I'll explain what are some of the real issues about which we would need to have a renegotiation.

At the heart of Euroscepticism is the fact that the EU is a state-under-construction. I know that many Europhiles deny this, claiming that this was something briefly believed in in the 1990s but now passed. They are talking codswallop. The central doctrine of the EU is (and always has been) "ever closer union". EU members are committed to seeking always to merge themselves more closely - trade-wise, economically, politically, socially, constitutionally, legally. The European Union already has a supreme court, a common legal space (more developed in terms of civil and commercial law, to be sure, but also encompassing criminal law), a civil service, a democratically-elected Parliament, a central bank, a currency, a foreign service, a constitution, a charter of fundamental rights, an international legal identity, a military structure. In both legal and practical terms it already functions as a state. It is, of course, a confederate state, not a centralised unitary state like the UK (at least pre-1997) or France. But being a confederate state does not make it any less a state. Sometimes Europhiles suggest that what Eurosceptics really object to is the idea that the EU might become a centralised state, with too many centrally-determined decisisions and not enough decided more locally. They claim that principles such as subsidiarity imply that this can never happen. But that argument misses the point. The Eurosceptic objection is not to the sort of state that the EU is. It is to Britain's being dissolved into another state. Europhiles suggest that this is a "fear" that is unwarranted, as if there were some concern that the EU might stop us playing cricket or eating Yorkshire puddings. But Britain is only a constitutional entity. Without Britain being the sovereign entity there will be no Britain at all.

Now arguably that doesn't matter any more - arguably there is so little unique merit in Britain as a constitutional entity that it would be better to take the gains of involvement in the Single European State at the very small cost of losing Britain's constitutional heritage. I'm very tempted by that view, and indeed if the British Establishment flunks this golden opportunity to re-assert itself as the master of its destiny and to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU, I might well think the game is up. But not yet. We may be in the last chance saloon, but for now we are still drinking.

What follows from the above is that the topic of the renegotiation must not be mundane matters about particular regulations that we don't like - that's all for another day. The key is for us to assert that we shall not be part of the Single European State. That means that the new Treaty must contain the following provisions:

Britain must explicitly be exempted from the obligation to seek "ever closer union". This is the single most important point. If we do not get this, little else will count for aught.
It must be asserted that, in respect of the UK, conclusions of the European Court of Justice do not have independent legal force. They constitute only an arbitration over whether we are or are not in violation of our Treaty obligations. (This provision probably needs to be supplemented by some piece of British legislation (a “Sovereignty Act”) that changes the legal status for British bureaucrats of acting in ways that violate Treaty obligations - specifically, that they are not subject to malfeasance findings if they do.)
We must withdraw from the common criminal space (the essence of which was already present in the Amsterdam Treaty).
We must withdraw from the common defence force (ditto).
We must withdraw from the common foreign service provisions of Lisbon.
We must state that the UK shall not be bound by any measures under the passerelle clause of Lisbon, even if British representatives in the European Council vote in favour.
We must state that the UK is not part of the single legal entity, for international negotiations, created by Lisbon.
We must become "outs" of the euro project, not merely "pre-ins".
My view is that the above constitute the essentials of any renegotiation. If these are achieved, then in due course we will be able to negotiate with the Single European State and other EU members (who, like ourselves, will not be members of the Single European State) over matters such as the Common Fisheries Policy or the Common Agricultural Policy or particular measures of financial regulation or health and safety rules that we dislike. The key thing in my view is to achieve enough disentanglement (and decisive enough disentanglement) from the Single European State that it becomes in the interest of the Single European State to disentangle itself from us, further, later.

Thus I don’t think we need to achieve everything in one hit. But perhaps I’m wrong. I certainly think it’s debatable and ought to be being debated. But at this stage we are struggling even to secure an effort from our government to renegotiate.

By October 28th we need Cameron to be saying that he favours a new EU Treaty and that the UK will use it to seek to repatriate powers. So there’s not much time to impress upon him and his team that they will ultimately have no choice here. We must convince them that their way to a quiet life on Europe is to renegotiate, not to seek to avoid renegotiation, and that the latter option would cause huge ructions on the Conservative side and make Europe a central issue of politics for the new five years. A good start from Eurosceptic backbenchers, though, with the rebellions over the Budget, the Bill Cash EDM and the pressure from Eurosceptics on Cameron over the weekend. Good show! Keep it up!

I do not agree with all of it, I think that we do need to leave the EU, but it is nice, just for once, to hear someone who actually grasps the concept of the EU other than Mr. North and Mr. Booker.


Edward Spalton said...

I entirely agree with you about a referendum. I discussed this with Tony Coughlan of the Irish national Platform. Unless one of the main parties (preferably the one in government) were to campaign for "out", I believe that a majority of people would vote to stay in because they can be so easily frightened about the economy. That's essentially what happened to the Irish people in the second Lisbon referendum. If you look at the Foreign Office's Royle report on manipulating public opinion in the Seventies, you will see what we would be up against - greatly multiplied because the Spin machine created by New Labour is still in position and vastly larger than what was then available.

But IMHO Cameron is a bigger Quisling than Blair - so I don't see him doing anything but surrender.. If he'll do it with the fleet, he'll do it with anything. I would love to be proved wrong and for the backbenchers to insert a little backbone where the jelly presently is.

Blogger said...

I'm using AVG Anti virus for a few years now, I'd recommend this product to all you.