A fun little article on Europe in 2057, combined with Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s reiteration of the UK government’s position on a referendum over the new EU treaty, has got me pondering once again. (Warning – it’ll be a long one…)
It all starts from the fact that – and as I argued earlier this month – the new EU treaty simply doesn’t do what it needs to.
In setting up an EU president (with a maximum term of just five years) and marginally streamlining (via a – relatively – minor expansion of qualified majority voting) the process by which the EU can bring new laws and regulations into effect (because, obviously, we haven’t got enough already), it provides mere cosmetic fixes for deep structural issues while altogether ignoring some of the most vital underlying problems.
After all, where’s the vitally-needed rethink on the Common Agricultural Policy, the single most indefensible aspect of the EU’s existence? Where’s the fresh take on the Common Fisheries Policy? Where’s the expansion of democratic accountability, the significant increase in the power of the European Parliament, the long-promised massive reduction in the power of the Commission? Hell, where’s the logical and fair redistribution of political power and EU subsidies across the full 27 member states which was, after all, the primary reason for a new EU treaty in the first place?
It is, in other words, the international treaty equivalent of whacking some lipstick on the elephant man, the proverbial polishing of a turd.
Yet in as much as all it achieves is a retrenchment of the current stagnation with a few superficial surface changes, perhaps the most appropriate term is “the botox treaty” – because although it may make those responsible for it think that they’ve made the EU prettier, all it’s actually going to do is pad out a few minor wrinkles while artificially fixing the thing into an unnatural pose which, when ratified, will also remove all the flexibility of expression that the uncertainty of the last two years has brought. It does nothing whatsoever to tackle the serious problems of the EU’s ageing process – and its supposedly beautifying fix is actually fairly off-putting and repulsive, the Anne Robinson, Jordan and Jocelyn Wildenstein of global diplomacy.
It also seems that no one – bar those politicians involved in bringing the thing about – is pleased with the thing. The eurosceptics (surprise, surprise) see it as yet another Brussels power-grab, the hardcore federalists (naturally enough) don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough towards promoting political integration – and everyone in the middle is finding it very hard to get enthused. Mild eurosceptics have found their vitriol somewhat lacking (at least when it comes to the treaty itself – in the UK the rage has all been directed at the supposed deception over the name of the thing rather than its content), mild pro-Europeans have found it hard to really give the thing their support.
But the one thing that all can agree on is “hang on a minute, chaps, the EU’s now 50 years old, yet it still isn’t a functioning democracy? What’s all that about, then?”
I’m still against a referendum for the various legal precedents it could set – plus anything that David Blunkett and (Blunkett’s employer via his Sun column) Rupert Murdoch are in favour of, I’m against on principle – but in many ways would welcome the thing simply because the inevitable “no” might force yet another rethink, and this time a radical one.
It’s a forlorn hope, but a realisation that it’s all gone to hell and it’s time to start again on a multi-tier system is the only thing – as a fairly rational pro-EU type – that I’ve got left to cling to.
Europe has never been a uniform, monotone continent. Even under the Romans (who failed to conquer much of the north and east in any case), local languages and customs thrived, and since the end of the Empire tiny microcultures have abounded. A multi-tier EU, taking the principle of subsidiarity to its most extreme logical conclusion, is the only sensible way of ensuring that this diversity is maintained while still gaining the benefits of close cooperation and integration on issues where such partnerships are appropriate.
So far we’ve had two no votes over the old constitution text, but the EU’s still going ahead with something similar enough to give the anti-EU camp plenty of ammunition to create a convincing (if not wholly accurate) case that the voices of French and Dutch voters – not to mention those of all the other EU member states that neglected to offer their citizens referenda – have been utterly ignored.
This is, of course, hardly anything new – politicians ignore the electorate all the time – but rarely is such contempt for the people so brazenly displayed as in the repeated failure of politicians EU wide to allow their various electorates any significant say in the future of the gargantuan institution.
Subsidiarity? “Decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen”? My arse.
Of course, some anti-EU types would have us all believe that this is evidence of a vast anti-democratic conspiracy, orchestrated by some shadowy organisation of high-up politicos, all following a sacred blueprint drawn up by Jean Monnet and handed down through successive waves of utterly dissimilar governments in all the various member states over the last half century.
The truth is undoubtledly more mundane – for who knows the stupidity of the electorate more than elected politicians, who constantly beguile us with their empty promises, yet whom we continue to vote for? The electorate simply cannot be trusted to make informed choices – for if they could, elections would have to be done away with altogether lest somebody outside the political establishment gain control.
Nonetheless, everyone with any sense agrees that the only way for the European Union to maintain what little viability it has left in the long term is to get the people of Europe far more fully behind it. By failing to have a popular vote on the future of the EU, by failing to consult the people more fully on what kind of union they would like to be a part of, the successive politicians running the EU have ended up not just failing the people that the union should be aiding, but also imperilling the entire project.
A formal system of trade, security and political cooperation between European nation states is, I believe, a Good Thing. Over the coming decades and centuries, I believe, gradual political union between the various states of Europe would also be a Good Thing.
The mistake that has been made before is to try and push ahead too fast with political union, something that I don’t expect to see in my lifetime, while neglecting the fundamental groundwork that would allow such a union to occur more organically. Now, the groundwork of cooperation has begun to falter, and resentment has begun to build.
This treaty will not placate anyone, merely frustrate all sides. It is a compromise so flaccid and uninspiring that it could end up imperilling the entire union. Because why should any EU member state really have loyalty to the Brussels-based project when it is no longer working to their benefit? And with not one single member state genuinely enthused with this new treaty, how beneficial is it, really?