Thursday, October 18, 2007

We do not need a referendum

The call for a referendum on the new EU treaty really does get some people extremely animated.

It is not that difficult to put forward a cogent argument as to why Britain does NOT need to hold a referendum on the proposed new EU treaty. Here goes:

1. The reform treaty's most significant innovations - for example reducing the role of the rotating presidency and the merger posts of EU High Representative and the Commissioner for external relations - are sensible pieces of 'housekeeping.'
2. Compared to earlier EU treaties, such as the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, the new reform treaty does not shift significant powers from the member states to the EU itself.
3. The form of the new document - an amending treaty - is different from its predecessor, which consolidated all previous treaties into one text, with constitutional trappings.
4. The UK government has negotiated special provisions that include de facto opt-outs from important provisions on justice and home affairs, social policy and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

What is clear beyond any doubt is that if for some strange reason Brown did grant a referendum, he would look hopelessly weak for giving into a tabloid frenzy and the government would almost certainly lose it. This would have the effect of bolstering the Tories even further and would, in effect, mean that the new EU treaty would become the longest suicide note in history - much longer than the Labour manifesto of 1983!

Stick to your guns Gordon, it will be worth it in the long run.


Unpremeditated said...

I think the Government's problem here is that it has completely misstated the argument. When Spain, France et al say the new document is 90-98% the same as the old constitution they are right - the treaty that they are signing up to IS a new EU constitution. However - thanks to its various opt-ins and opt-outs - Britain is signing up to a very different document to its EU partners. If that had been explained properly, rather than all the macho posturing about "red lines", the Government might be in a far stronger place to make its argument.

Andrew Allison said...

As unpremeditated referred to; why do other countries admit that the new document is almost identical to the old constitutional document if what you say is true?

You come from a political philosophy that thinks the state knows best. You like control, rules and regulations. My philosophy is completely different. I know more interference from Brussels is not going to make my life better. I know a European superstate is not what the majority of people want. Why can't you be honest about this and allow the British people the right to decide?

Mike Ion said...

Unpremeditated - I think you make a fair point about how all this has been handled - the mission to explain has been sadly absent!
The document is a statement of intent - it does not capture the detailed opt-outs that Britain has secured. There is no need for a referendum because a new constitution is NOT being proposed.

Andrew - I guess you do not want a referendum on the so-called treaty but on whether Britain should remain in the EU. I do not - as you suggest - want a large super-state that dictates and imposes. I do not want a union that is best on collaboration and mutual solidarity - cooperation as well as competition.

If a new constitution were to be proposed I would whole heartedly support the calls for a referendum - where is the dishoensty in all of this?

Andrew Allison said...

Mike - you are wrong in saying this is not a new constitution. Leaders of other EU countries admit that it is virtually the same as the old constitution. To say it isn't is just playing around with semantics.

We are losing many vetos and privilages we enjoy today. It is pushing us closer to a European superstate. They are the facts.

A common market, I agree with; the European Commission getting more power, no.

Mike Ion said...


Exactly what are these privileges that are now in danger?

Blair/Brown secured a protocol on the issue of the Charter of Rights which protects the British interests. Britain has also secured an opt-in/opt-out for justice and home affairs - again to ensure that we can protect the British national interest. There is an emergency break and a veto in relation to social security that protects the British national interest. National security is outside the scope of the amending treaty so the British national interest in that respect has been safeguarded too.

What exactly is the issue here?

Andrew Allison said...

Mike - The treaty is worded in such a way that experts cannot agree just how much sovereignty is being transferred. Some of the vetos we will lose are of little importance - simply a tidying up exercise - but what everyone does agree on is that nation states are losing more power and pooling more sovereignty to the EU.

Take the role of President of the Council. It is proposed that prime ministers and presidents of each member country appoint someone to that role for 30 months. Those who dream of having a directy elected EU President see this as a stepping stone. I would also imagine that once someone is appointed for 30 months they will be in a much stronger position to push through their own agenda; something which is not possible now.

What we have here is salami tactics. Slice-by-slice, powers are moving from individual member states and are being transferred to Brussels. Whether you agree or disagree with that, is a matter of conjecture. Britain entered a European Economic Community and what we have now is far removed from that. Politicians are not elected to give our sovereignty away. We are the people who decide on these matters. Supporters of this treaty see it as a stepping stone towards further integration and when you look at past treaties the evidence is there.

Finally, you and I both know the reason why Gordon Brown refuses to hold a referendum, is because he knows he will lose. He doesn't want to risk the embarassment.

Anonymous said...

And incidentally, the treaty also states :-

"pending the euro becoming the currency of all the Member States of the Union" and "taking decisions to end the derogations (i.e. opt-outs) of those Member States with a derogation (yes that's us!)"

So where's our referendum Mr Brown?