Monday, 2 November 2009

Tories in a tizz over Europe

So the Tories have got themselves in a tizz about Europe once again. They want to re-negotiate Britain's membership of the EU and Cameron will put that in his manifesto. Of course, when he says re-negotiate we instantly assume he means with other European leaders. But no, he actually means with Sun Editor, Dominic Mohan, the former Editor of the paper's bizarre column. Precisely.

Of course, they are going to keep all this bottled up. There's an electorate to be hoodwinked and an election to be won don't you know. Tim Montgomerie, Editor of ConservativeHome, tries to ride both horses- loyalty and euroscpeticism. It will work for a few months but will explode in David Cameron's face should he win next May.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in Paris, Berlin, and Madrid when the first attempt to re-negotiate the Treaties is made. David Cameron may well be prepared for a hostile reaction. I'm sure Margaret Thatcher's 'give us our money back' rhetoric could be resuscitated. He could conveniently forget that two years after Fontainebleau, Mrs Thatcher signed the Single European Act, the biggest single expansion of European power since the Treaty of Rome. Maybe he could be honest and call his rallying cry: 'give me my party back.' But he'll be disappointed. He won't be met with hostility. He'll be met with ridicule.

Maybe once they've wiped the tears of laughter away, they will decide to get all pragmatic. Sure, you can have those social and employment rights opt outs- things like maternity leave, guaranteed holidays, rights for agency workers (which also protects non-agency worker from having their terms competed away)- but there's a price. Um, we'll have that £3billion rebate for a start. You want to reform CAP? Silly boy. I hope you don't mind Mr Cameron, but we've put you with Iceland and Slovenia for the dinner. Don't worry your table gets jelly and ice cream rather than grown-ups' puddings. You just love jelly and ice cream, don't you?

(As an aside, what happens if David Cameron does succeed in a re-negotiation? Would that not be a Treaty change? So would he not be bound to have a referendum in accordance with his own promise? And what if he then lost that referendum? Just a thought....)

Jessica Asato makes the important point that Labour shouldn't just carp from the side-lines and revel in the Tories repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot for no purpose. We should 'make the case.' But what is that case?

Well, it's about national sovereignty actually. The EU, far from being a dilution of national sovereignty, is a reclaiming of national sovereignty. In a world of large regional powers, with open commerce, movement of people, global communications, and large-scale cross-border environmental damage, there is little use in defending formal sovereignty. Instead, you have to find ways of cooperating with like-minded nations to confront these challenges. That is a reclaim of de facto sovereignty- you have a greater say over the future of your people.

What is the consequence of this? We can better manage and grow our economy, fight crime and terrorism, manage our borders, reduce climate change, protect the rights of our workers, influence global affairs and confront the multiplicity of risks that modern nations face.

Is Europe perfect? No, and we have to be clear about that. We have to support the EU but also articulate a strong case for reform. It is woefully undemocratic. What say do we have over the appointment of the new president of the Council? Or the next president of the Commission? Or the Commission itself? We can only influence these appointments through the European Parliament and so there is little public debate. There is a severe deficit of transparency- what actually happens in Council meetings? The continuation of the CAP in its expansive form is a disgrace and completely unjustified.

None of this can change without enjoying a degree of influence. None of these things are costs that outweigh the benefits but nor are they insignificant. But our influence over our own affairs and our global influence (just listen to the noises coming out of Washington) depends on being a strong member of the EU. Any movement towards the periphery away from the core is detrimental to our national interest and our sovereignty.

Ultimately, that is the cost of a Conservative government. David Cameron has already placed himself on the very periphery of the EU- through his rheroric; his clubbing together with a rag-bag of anti-semites, homophobes, and climate change deniers in the European Parliament, sticking two fingers up to President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel in the meantime; and with his determination to suck Europe back into an institutional wrangle. That is not in Britain's self-interest. That is not statesmanship.

*The image is courtesy of the Ministry of Truth.
** It is also worth reading Next Left on this.

1 comment:

  1. "You just love jelly and ice cream, don't you?"

    Yes, I do, and I'd rather sit and eat with Slovenia than many other countries you could mention. David Cameron could do worse!

    A Slovenia fan!