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Ever since the negotiations started before the summer I’ve been no fan of the UK’s position regarding the EU Reform Treaty, with the government trying to argue that the Treaty is different from the European Constitution hence meaning no referendum is needed on the text. I’ve posted about the argument here, about the discourse about the Treaty here, and the UK constitutional implications here.

The government argument is essentially disingenuous as the substance of the Treaty is very similar to the Constitution, and the EU scrutiny committee of the House of Commons, in a damning report published yesterday, takes that point of view – despite a Labour majority on the Committee. Article about it from the Torygraph here. Following that David Miliband has today not ruled out the possibility for the House of Commons to vote on whether a referendum would take place – what chance that in a vote a referendum could be avoided? (Guardian story here).

All of this makes me profoundly worried. I’ve forever been scarred by my experience from the 1997 referendum to establish the Welsh Assembly and I generally dislike direct democracy as a result, even though – in that case – I was on the winning side. Yet the only sensible arguments against a referendum (that the government would lose and that it’s against UK traditions of Parliamentary Sovereignty) don’t work in this case. After all Labour called a referendum to establish a directly elected mayor in Hartlepool and you cannot argue that this is a less important question.

If a referendum does happen in the UK that would start a domino effect across the rest of the EU – Denmark, Czech Republic, Poland… Netherlands, France? As a result the chances that the Reform Treaty sees the light of day have to be really slim. Even if a referendum could be won in the UK then the chances that ratification would happen in all 27 Member States would look very slim. If it was just about the UK voting I could probably stomach that, but it could mess up the entire institutional reform process that the EU badly needs to sort out.

Dark days. I hope there’s some way out of this maze yet…

7 Comments

  1. Bruce Wilford-Turner

    Lets deal with FACTS: We were promised a referendum on EU reform (constitution by another name) Brown has never been elected as PM of Britian so has no mandate to commit the electorate or nation to EU rule, it is very obvious that he certainly dare not put it to the vote – so what has happened to our rights to democracy or are they also to be disolved in the ever growing arrogance & contempt of government policy. Many voters are of the opinion that the EU is just another unaccountable feeding trough for the incompetence of multinationalism – one shoe will not fit all feet, nor will it…….. EVER!

  2. Pure People Power

    (This comment has been edited by the blog owner!)

    There’s a website trying to get people to sign a petition in favour of a referendum on the Reform Treaty. I’m afraid I just cannot sanction links to it on my blog (would a UKIP blog accept a link to a federalist petition – I think not). But as I’m gracious I’ll leave the name of the poster intact, so if you’re super keen you can find the site. But I suggest you don’t!

  3. Marcel

    Thanks for treating us to the usual rant of anti-Europeans, which as always is undeterred by it not fitting with the facts!

    Firstly, a quick glance at a list of what new powers the new treaty actually creates makes it very clear that you are talking drivel to say it passes on new powers to the European level (for example see the list here – I accept that is from a quite pro-European source but it is factual and no other source would give you anything very different). As Jon says, the only element that could conceivably be regarded as going in this direction is the extension of QMV.

    As it happens I entirely agree with you that more democracy in the EU would be good, and it is not really acceptable that the Commission is unelected. However it does not have any legislative power – and the treaty makes some small steps in the right direction, for example in strengthening the role of the (elected) European Parliament in appointing the Commission.

    Your claim that no national Parliament has ever asked for a mandate for this and therefore it is illegal is straight out of chapter 1 of the Anti-European Loonies Handbook – thank you for reprising it, it’s one that I have heard for a few years now here in Britain (where are our anti-Europeans have been at it for longer). Obviously every national parliament and government is elected and unless there has been a rash of parties standing on a platform of leaving the EU, and then failing to implement it when in government, you are talking nonsense.

    Indeed the reform treaty in fact gives national Parliaments a greater role in creating EU legislation. But of course the real accountability remains that any government which signed up to anything in the Council which wasn’t supported by their national Parliament, would not remain long as the national government.

    Your array of conspiracy theories about the EU is entertaining – though I think you missed a few elements: I think you forgot the fact that some of Hitler’s DNA was stolen from him before his death and the whole plot is being masterminded by his clone based in Argentina, and perhaps with a bit of imagination we could get the Elders of Zion and the ‘Greys’ conspiracies in there too?

    Given your views above, I don’t think it is at all surprising that you think most Dutch politicians are amazingly uninformed about the EU – I hope they long remain uninformed about your bizarre and wacky ideas!

    Please come back when you are able to support your claims with some facts, rather than simply neurosis!

  4. Marcel -Netherlands-

    You must have a funny definition of democracy. So you think that moving legislative powers from parliaments to a combination of appointed kommissars (politbureau/commission) and ministers is actually an improvement? Remember that only in Britain do ministers also represent a constituency, this is true of almost no other EU country.

    I on the other hand do not define democracy as: 27 ministers voting per QMV supported by a bunch of kommissars accountable to no electorate.

    Democracy is where the people of a country elect the parliament and government and those parliament and government make the decisions and laws.

    Handing over powers to a supranational body so ministers can bypass national parliaments simply by QMV does not democracy constitute.

    If 20 bankrobbers (net receivers) vote with 7 bank clerks (net contributors) and the result is 20-7 in favor of the bank robbery, does that constitute democracy? I think not.

    No national parliament or government ever asked for or received a mandate to surrender powers to a supranational body, therefore by definition it is illegal for them to have done so anyway.

    National parliaments can do NOTHING about the decrees and regulations of the EU. They cannot decide not to implement a directive or regulation. The commission and the council can bypass national parliaments at will.

    As former German president (and former member of the constitutional court of Germany) Roman Herzog already asked: are we (in his case Germany) still a parliamentary democracy. The way he phrased it implied he thought it was not the case. And naturally that infuriated the pro EU/anti sovereignty types in Germany. Because one rule is always in their heads “do not ever question the existance of ‘the project’ -EU-“.

    Also, since fascism and communism showed us how bad centralization was, I completely and utterly oppose this ongoing centralization of powers and competences. I belive you EU-philes call it ‘harmonization’ (Germans once called it gleichschaltung.

    And you are right, there is no evil plot. They are quite open about it. The evidence is all around us. The Schuman declaration called for federalization. The Davignon report (approved by the commission in 1970) called for proposals as to how to achieve federalization. Ted Heath knew about this report and yet he lied to the British public and told them the EEC’s purpose was economic only, later he admitted “of course I bloody knew” about knowing about the political aspects.
    Ask yourself, why else would they set the EU up around a commission (government), council (senate), parliament and court? What else if not some form of federalization? And as Gorbachev did find so funny, isn’t the setup remarkably like the Soviet Union? They too had a commission (politbureau), council of ministers (of the constituent republics), parliament (powerless) and court.

    There is no plot about the treaty either, almost all senior politicians (except Gordon Brown) have said the ‘new’ treaty is the same thing as the old. Almost all law and constitutional experts will tell you this also, and tell you that the ‘abandoning constitutional concept’ actually doesn’t mean anything. They are quite open about it and almost proud of their contempt of popular opinion.

    So, the treaty clearly does nothing to improve democracy, quite the contrary (as I have pointed out with the shift of lawmaking powers from parliaments to appointed ministers and kommissars whom no one can remove or replace except the elites themselves).

    The treaty implicitly creates tax powers (article 262 ‘own revenue streams’ which is Eurospeak for taxes). It creates a mechanism whereby the EU can simply seize powers without needing a new treaty. It makes the formerly independent council formally an EU body and last and certainly most dangerously: it gives the EU a legal personality.
    This turns upside down the relation between member states and EU. Previously the member states were superior (at least de jure), now the relationship is reversed. The EU truly becomes the supreme government of Europe.

  5. Marcel – I couldn’t disagree more… There are very few changes to the competences of the EU in the Treaty, and where Qualified Majority voting now applies it improves democratic accountability. There’s no evil plot here – everyone is too busy arguing for there to be a nasty plot behind the scenes.

  6. Marcel -Netherlands-

    Jon, you are wrong. The treaty isn’t about institutional reform (it does nothing of the kind). It is about one thing and one thing only: more powers to the EU to further the EU in its quest to become the supreme government of Europe. A very malign form of government which has already destroyed the livelyhoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers and fishermen (and not just in Europe, particularly in Africa also).

    The changes the reform treaty proposes (and which the treaty known as constitution also proposed) are quite significant and not trivial. The main change is that in many cases they won’t need another treaty to grab more powers.

    We the peoples have never given any politician a mandate for this.

    And I don’t trust politicians on this question. In talks I had with dutch politicians I found them to be frighteningly uninformed about the EU. They do not see its covert federalist supergovernment agenda which has been on the cards from may 9th 1950 (when Schuman -in Monnets name- called for such a thing). I don’t believe British politicians are better informed..

    The EU is a politicians gravy train. The question of national sovereignty, national parliaments’ prerogatives is much too important to leave to uninformed politicians.

    We the dutch want this malign cancer removed from our national government. Restore sovereigty!

  7. Hi Jon

    I agree that it is very difficult indeed to see any really significant differences between the Constitution and this Treaty.

    But I don’t agree that it is not possible to make any sensible arguments against having a referendum on it. Even leaving aside the general arguments against referenda, if you are going to have them then it is very odd to do so on a treaty most whose provisions are incredibly procedural and detailed – precisely the sort of thing that politicians are elected to worry about. I have argued this through more fully here. The public should get their say on important political issues of principle and there are very very few of those in the reform treaty.

    What is a major political issue of principle of the kind that the public should make the decision on, is whether they want to be part of this whole Europe business or not (indeed if the UK had a referendum ostensibly on the reform treaty people would in practice answer that question instead anyway). I was initially sceptical about the idea of a UK referendum on EU membership but I have now come round to it a lot (article here. I think there is increasingly a case for Brown to go for this option. It is basically the question the public want to answer, in any case.

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