Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

On passionate Eurosceptics

The argument that the EU political elite take a patronising tone towards the electorate is an easy one to make. There has long been a tendency in Brussels to ignore or brush over the opinions of the little people, and to avoid too much democratic involvement in the EU project.

The reason for this is simple – even the most fervently pro-EU types are aware that gaining agreement between 12, 15, 25 or 27 governments of the various member states is well nigh impossible (witness the recent difficulties leading up to the watered-down new treaty). To gain a majority of votes from the electorate in every single member state would be categorically impossible. With no continent-wide party machine to mobilise the electorate and spread the message, local concerns will always get in the way in EU elections.

Part of the thinking is also – a mindset common in politics, though rarely able to be expressed in western democratic societies – that the electorate is fundamentally stupid and incapable of understanding the subtleties of policy debate.

When it comes to the EU, the big problem in shaking off this “the electorate is stupid” attitude is that when hunting around for anti-EU voices, the idiotic, over-excitable and outright rude ones are far easier to find. Witness the comments on Commissioner Margot Wallstrom‘s blog, the EU Referendum blog, or at the Guardian’s Comment is Free (on the rare occasions they discuss the EU).

For every sensible, knowledgeable and literate anti-EU type, like Daniel Hannan, Bill Jamieson and EU Referendum’s Richard North (when he’s not playing to the crowd), there appear to be a thousand stereotypically over-excited raving cliches.

By all means be passionate about your beliefs. If you genuinely think that the EU is sucking all that remains to be proud of out of this once-great nation, then anger’s probably moderately understandable.

But bear in mind that you may come across as a nutter – especially if you don’t actually bother to read the arguments of your opponents in full. This is only going to damage your cause.

What I am advocating is that you all take a bit of time to step back and take stock of the new situation – as here (though, contrary to popular belief, I am in favour of a referendum and a “no” vote, on the off-chance we can end up with something better eventually…) – and analyse the new text in detail – as here – to find more things to rationally and reasonably complain about.

In other news, everyone should read this rather handy explanation of why the new treaty, erm… isn’t actually a constitution, despite the similarities to the old constitution text, and the desperate, last-ditch efforts of the Eurosceptic press to whip up yet more of a frenzy amongst our well-meaning but over-excitable Eurosceptic friends.

7 Comments

  1. Did you see Quentin Davies on Newsnight last night. He was accused of leaving the Tories because of (among other reasons) his pro-EU stance.

  2. Oh dear, Nosey, you did rattle someone’s cage, didn’t you? Well, as it happens I am not particularly in favour of a referendum, in fact I’m not in favour of referendums on international treaties at all (but that was not what I was saying – asininely – either on your blog, or indeed on the Today Prog; luckily Jim Naughtie didn’t ask me that question). At the end of the day, what people like Rob are complaining about are failures of **national** politics, not of international politics, and the solutions to failures of national politics lie in the same domain.

  3. despite the similarities to the old constitution text, and the desperate, last-ditch efforts of the Eurosceptic press to whip up yet more of a frenzy amongst our well-meaning but over-excitable Eurosceptic friends.

    Up to a point, but in a situation where everyone wants to show that “they’ve won,” the Europhiles are just as equally desperate to show that it’s practically the constitution by any other name….

  4. Abdul-Rahim – no idea about Davies, it must be said. But the impression I get is that Brown’s little more enthusiastic about the EU than the Tories – they all realise it’s a necessary evil by now, surely?

    Bondwoman – fun, aren’t they?

    IAF – It is THE constitution, except that it’s not A constitution. It makes pretty much all the fundamental changes other than those that give it constitutional status – but, fundamentally, it doesn’t replace any previous treaties. And that is a hugely significant difference in terms of the legal status of the thing.

    The argument could be made that having given a British public a referendum on joining the EEC (albeit after the fact), to fundamentally change the treaty giving us member state status would then require another referendum, hence Blair’s promise. Now that treaty isn’t affected (and Blair’s no longer PM), there’s no requirement for a referendum.

  5. OK maybe fucking idiot was a bit harsh – but I stick by idiot. And wanker.

    You say you want a referendum, you even claim you want a NO vote, but you do an extremely good impression of yet another devious, obscurantist, snakeoil peddling euroweasel, what with your twiddly bits here and your “howevers” there. Look at your pitiful final paragraph. What does it even mean? Do even you know?

    We’ve got to cut through the crap. Blair promised us a referendum on the Constitution. Virtually everyone now admits this new document is 90-99% of the Constitution. Even the limited opt-outs he negotiated are being legally questioned – not just by eurosceptics. On that basis along he – or Brown – must honour the pledge and grant a plebiscite.

    But there is a wider moral issue which totally overwhelms your puny ditherings, and those of that nitwit Bondwoman. In the end a project as grandiose and revolutionary as the EU needs the full assent of the people if it is to proceed. Too many times, when the EU has sought that assent, it has been denied, and what has happened? The EU either tells the people they got it wrong, or circumvents their votes entirely. This is scandalous. It is also very bad, long term, for the EU. The democratic deficit is increasing not decreasing. Anyone with a moral sense must and should be outraged by the deceit enacted on the people in Berlin; it was a “collective lie” as pro-European writer Kirsty Hughes put it.

    Do you have that moral sense?

    If so, as I say, cut the waffle and campaign hard for a vote. Stop this swithering nonsense and just say No. There isn’t time for endless navel-gazing wonkery – this is a crunchpoint.

    If we carry on accelerating down this dangerous road, in the end there will be a wreck. Here’s how it might happen: let’s say in a few years Britain wants to go to war alone, or ally with America on some controversial issue, unpopular on the continent. Some eurotwat will then take Britain to court citing an obscure part of the new Treaties and claim Britain isn’t acting in the EU’s interest, “in the spirit of the Treaties”. The ECJ will rule against the UK, bien sur.

    Result: explosion. Britain will be forced to leave the EU as the government falls, and as everyone realises – too late – how much power has been signed away.

    I’m not saying that’s exactly what will happen, just that something like this will happen eventually, until and unless we are honest with the people. I actually don’t want this to happen – it’s bad for business, and on a human level I don’t want some catastrophic fall-out with our friends in Europe. I want Britain to be a happy member of a flexible and variable and freetrading EU, perhaps in the end as a semi-detached member, as Giscard (of all people) suggests today. But to get there we have to start being honest now. And honesty means democracy. A vote.

    On one point you are right. Eurosceptics can be frothy and mad, sometimes counter-productively. But that’s because their anger and frustration has been building up, with every treaty, with every lie, with every dangled then denied referendum. So they just get angrier and angrier. This isn’t good either. For the first time in my life, this month I have understood why people might turn to political violence, when they feel their cause is being trampled and their liberties strangled. If a relatively sane person like me can feel that, then lord knows what some others are thinking. It’s like a boil that’s growing and growing.

    It needs to be lanced. The poison needs to be drained from this debate, the steam needs to be vented. Again, the only way to do that is to hold a vote. Eurosceptics will accept the decision of the voters. We just want our day in court – in front of the tribunal of democracy.

    Then, win or lose, whatver the result, we can all move on. At last.

  6. You’ve got a singular knack for making me want to ignore you, it must be said. Repeatedly calling people idiots and wankers is not the best way to get them to take you seriously, old chap.

    But still, let’s see if I can help:

    “Look at your pitiful final paragraph. What does it even mean? Do even you know?”

    – I don’t even know which paragraph you’re referring to, whether on this post, my last comment, or the last post in which you cropped up. My final paragraphs in all three cases, however, I’d have thought were moderately lucid. Let me know which one you mean and I’ll try and elaborate for your benefit.

    “Blair promised us a referendum on the Constitution”

    Yes. But – and this is the fundamental point which you opponents of the thing need to understand – a constitution is an overarching set of rules that sets out precisely how everything fits and works together. The old text replaced all existing EU treaties, and was therefore constitutional in character. The new text merely adds to them. You may consider that mere legal pedantry, but it makes a fundamental difference to the nature of the thing. Giving a referendum on a constitution is what was promised, and the new text – despite containing much that was in the old – simply isn’t a constitution.

    “In the end a project as grandiose and revolutionary as the EU needs the full assent of the people if it is to proceed”

    Very true. Though the argument could – and would – be made that everyone living in the EU lives in a representative democracy, therefore has already given their assent by voting for parties that want to retain EU membership. If Britain wanted out so strongly, we’d all have voted for Jimmy Goldsmith’s lot in ’97, or UKIP at the last election.

    “Too many times, when the EU has sought that assent, it has been denied”

    I’m actually finding it rather hard to think of any time where democratic assent has been sought across the EU. Even on the constitution, the majority of member states didn’t hold referenda… There have only been referenda on EU issues in a very small number of member states, and each time the result’s been bad, it’s been the member state itself that has decided to try to find ways around it.

    “The democratic deficit is increasing not decreasing”

    Erm… Actually the new treaty increases the power of the European Parliament and reduces the power of the unelected Commission. Not by any means a perfect solution, but definitely an improvement.

    “Do you have that moral sense?”

    What you’re talking about – as much as you’re passionate about it – isn’t a moral issue.

    “Some eurotwat will then take Britain to court citing an obscure part of the new Treaties and claim Britain isn’t acting in the EU’s interest, “in the spirit of the Treaties””

    Erm… Except that the new treaty (footnote to Annex I.ii.12 of the current guidelines) explicitly rules out EU influence on member states’ foreign and defence policy.

    “I want Britain to be a happy member of a flexible and variable and freetrading EU, perhaps in the end as a semi-detached member”

    In which case we’re probably much in agreement.

    “to get there we have to start being honest now. And honesty means democracy. A vote.”

    Again, we’re in agreement. I want a referendum so that the new treaty will be rejected and they have to come up with something more radical (personally, I’m an advocate of a multi-tier Europe, something Romano Prodi has begun to hint at recently as a sensible next step if this new treaty still can’t be passed).

    All I’ve been doing in recent days is stating the arguments that will be made against a vote so that ways can be found to counter them.

    “the only way to do that is to hold a vote. Eurosceptics will accept the decision of the voters”

    Not on the basis of the Eurosceptic attitude towards the 1975 referendum, they won’t… Not unless it goes in their favour…

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