Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

What is the EU for?

Is the Lisbon Treaty finished? Well, if you have a gander at the latest poll of voting intentions in the Irish referendum on the thing, then yes. Because it can’t be passed without unanimous support from all 27 member states, and if the Irish people vote no, it has to be rethought and redrawn. Again.

Only 30% for the yes camp, with 35% in the no – and rapidly rising. Doesn’t look good for the pro-treaty brigade, does it? And all this from the Celtic tiger – one of the poorest European countries before joining what is now the EU, now one of the wealthiest. There’s gratitude for you!*

But the real revelation of this poll? It confirms something I’ve always maintained about a referendum for such a complex international treaty:

The reason most often cited by No voters is that they don’t know what they are voting for or they don’t understand the treaty – with 30 per cent of No voters listing this as the main reason for their decision

If you don’t understand something, don’t vote for it strikes me as an eminently sensible policy.

And herein lies the EU’s biggest flaw – as I’ve repeatedly stated here and elsewhere for years, the EU is far too complex to understand. Simplification is the key – and a constitution of sorts was the perfect opportunity to simplify. A few basic principles – nothing horrific. And what did they do? Churn out an incomprehensibly thick document full of meaningless subclauses and vague platitudes in an attempt to minimise dissent, ensuring that no one – not even those involved in drafting the thing – could agree on what it was actually setting out to do.

But even drawing up a simple, US-style constitution of a minimal number of first principles isn’t as simple as it sounds. An EU promoting free trade? You’ll be opposed by those wanting a “Social Europe”. Human rights sound like a nice thing to get behind, right? Well, it depends whose human rights – and whether you can agree to lump the basics of “don’t torture people” in with the more contentious “right” to taxpayer-funded benefits.

The Irish people don’t know what the Lisbon Treaty is all about? Little wonder when even the member states can’t agree what the EU itself is about.

This is the central problem with which the EU has been trying to come to terms since the end of the Cold War. It is the problem the Treaty of Nice was supposed to address, then the Constitution, and now Lisbon. And they still haven’t got an answer to the fundamental questions: what is the EU for?

* Note: Yes, I am fully aware that the Irish economic miracle cannot be put solely down to its membership of the EEC/EU – but you’d surely have to be somewhat ideologically blinkered to deny that membership had any part to play in Ireland’s success.