Thursday, 2 June 2016

A profound choice







This referendum is the most momentous decision we will take in our lifetimes. The Referendum should be hinging on big questions like our national identity, who governs us and how do we see our place in the world for the next 40 years. There should also be a clear understanding of what the EU's purpose and aims are and whether we share those aims. Perhaps the most succinct statement on this was provided by Francois Hollande, in an exchange with Nigel Farage last Autumn "Do you really want to participate in a common state?"

The EU's aim is a single European State

There should be no doubt that the purpose of the EU is to create a single European state, governed from Brussels, absorbing formerly independent and autonomous nation states. But don't just take my word for it. Here's some quotes from European politicians over the years:
"We have sown a seed... Instead of a half-formed Europe, we have a Europe with a legal entity, with a single currency, common justice, a Europe which is about to have its own defence. " — Valery Giscard d'Estaing, President of the EU Convention, presenting the final draft of the EU Constitution, 13th June 2003
"The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary!" — ValĂ©ry Giscard d'Estaing, 2007, referring to the the Lisbon Treaty achieving the aims of the rejected EU constitution
"The Constitution is the capstone of a European Federal State." — Guy Verhofstadt, then Belgian Prime Minister, now an MEP.
"The European Union is a state under construction." — Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs
"Of course the European Commission will one day become a government, the EU council a second chamber and the European Parliament will have more powers."  German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing MEPs,  November 2012.
"We need a true political union ... we need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government and two chambers - the European Parliament and a "Senate" of Member States ... European Parliament elections are more important than national elections ... This will be our best weapon against the Eurosceptics." — Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, January 2014
“For my children’s future I dream, think and work for the United States of Europe” — Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, May 2014
Also, we have our very own Kenneth Clarke, in a rare moment of honesty from a British pro-EU politician:
 "I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe." — Kenneth Clarke, Conservative Chancellor in International Currency Review Vol 23 No 4 1996 
This is reinforced by the proposals for the next EU treaty, The Fundamental Law of the European Union, published by the federalist Spinelli Group of MEPs, through the Bertelsmann  house in late 2013. The pre-amble contains a a telling paragraph:
"This proposal for a Fundamental Law of the European Union is a comprehensive revision of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007). Replacing the existing treaties, it takes a major step towards a federal union. It turns the European Commission into a democratic constitutional government, keeping to the method built by Jean Monnet in which the Commission drafts laws which are then enacted jointly by the Council,representing the states, and the European Parliament, representing the citizens. All the reforms proposed are aimed at strengthening the capacity of the EU to act."
Nor should anyone believe that this is a recent development. The EU was always conceived as a vehicle for supra-national federal union, dating right back to its founding organisation, the European Coal & Steel Community (ECSC) established in 1951:
"Through the consolidation of basic production and the institution of a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and the other countries that join, this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation .."  — The Schuman declaration May 1950
"By the signature of this Treaty, the participating Parties give proof of their determination to create the first supranational institution and that thus they are laying the true foundation of an organised Europe.” — Europe Declaration made on 18 April 1951, at the signing of the Treaty of Paris establishing the ECSC

Supra-national EU erodes national sovereignty

Perhaps the biggest mis-conception in the public mind  is to confuse the EU with other international organisations.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Organisations such as the UN, NATO, WTO, the Commonwealth and the myriad of organisations making international regulations / standards (e.g. UNECE, Codex Alimentarius, ILO) are inter-governmental. They are based on bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements between sovereign governments as equals or partners. These agreements will include specific and limited obligations and commitments entered into freely for mutual benefit between the partners (e.g. Nato's mutual defence clause, trade agreements that open markets etc).   Nations are free to co-operate, form alliances and partnerships on an issue by issue basis. Decision making is based on consensus, voluntary opt-in and allows for opt-out or right of reservation. For example, NATO does not have majority voting: each nation makes its own decision regarding military action and is free to leave inside one year under a recognised process - as France did in the 1960's .

The EU is uniquely a supra-national union. The EU treaties create over-arching legislative, executive, and judicial authorities.  Powers or competencies are passed from the member states to the union, and the union then exercises power in these competencies in a sovereign manner. Hence the obligations and commitments made by member states are essentially open-ended. The relationship is hierarchical rather than multi-lateral, as member states are subordinate to the union.  The member states are fixed in a permanent alliance with each other and the Union will tend to represent the member states in international forums. Decision making is by majority rather than allowing voluntary opt-in or right of reservation. If the pro-EU camp are to be believed, leaving the EU is so complicated and fraught as to be practically impossible - although they would wish us to believe that so as to deny us a Leave option.

The argument is often made that there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty. It is certainly true that (i) national decisions are constrained by considerations for neighbours, allies and  other inter-national factors (ii)  joining & co-operating with allies is often necessary.  This of course has always been the case. Sovereignty is not unfettered power, it is the ability to choose our path/allies/commitments and accept the consequences.  But it is clear that membership of the supra-national EU means that we increasingly pass decision making to the EU and are unable to choose our allies from around the globe - that is real loss of sovereignty.

EU institutions & democratic deficit

As indicated by Angela Merkel, Vivian Reding and many others, the EU's political institutions mirror that of a state. There are 2 revising chambers: the EU Parliament representing the peoples of Europe and the and EU council representing the members states.  The EU commission is referred to as a "supreme government" by European federalists but as "just a civil service" by UK Remain campaigners trying to downplay their significance. In fact the EU commission is both civil service AND government.  It has sole power to initiate and propose new or amended legislation (as supreme government) and also undertakes the drafting of all legislation (like a civil service). Commissioners are appointed by national governments and swear an oath of loyalty to the EU.

The European Court of Justice acts as a supreme court for ruling on the EU treaties and EU law. The Lisbon treaty also includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights & Human Rights legislation as general principles of EU law (Article 6). Asylum Law is also included in EU law via Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Recent UK government proposals to amend the European Communities Act 1972 and assert Parliament as sovereign were abandoned. The supremacy of European Union Law was established as long ago as 1963, in the "van Gend en Loos" case and subsequent ECJ case history increases the scope of EU judicial supremacy.

This institutional structure is essentially the one proposed by Arthur Salter in his 1931 publication "The United States of Europe", based on the League of Nations (which had a Secretariat, Council of Ministers, Assembly & Court). Crucially, Salter proposed a Secretariat as a permanent body of international civil servants, loyal to the new organisation (not to the member countries) and with supreme authority over national ministers. Salter also suggested splitting up member states into regions to further erode nationalism - all in the name of peace and avoiding further Franco-German conflict. Salter's close friend and former colleague at the League of Nations, Jean Monnet, adopted this blueprint for the EU's fore-runner (the ECSC).

The EU suffers from democratic deficit, not just because of these institutions but also due to the lack of a European identity, or "demos". The EU commission recognised this issue in its white paper on European governance in 2001. Citizens of the member states see democracy in terms of national issues and vote accordingly. There is a continuing decline in turnout for EU parliamentary elections. But what emerges from the white paper is not a proposal to empower the people, or return powers to member states, but an approach to undermine existing national institutions and "europeanise" them. You can read a well-researched  critique of this white paper here  (ghost-written by Dr R North for a younger Nigel Farage before he became pre-occupied with immigration).

It seems clear that there is simply no room for national democratic self-government in the EU. The EU is built upon a plan dating from 1931, when many intellectuals preferred rule by technocrats and had little confidence in democracy. Its anti-democratic nature is hard-wired.

EU's growing competencies erode national governance



The EU's competences, or powers, are defined in Articles 2-6 of the The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and represents a large range of powers already transferred from the UK:
  • The UK  has no power to act in exclusive competences such as commercial/trade policy, tariffs, competition rules etc. 
  • The UK can only act in shared competences where the EU has not (yet) legislated. The UK's scope is increasingly restricted as the EU increases its activities. For example, an Energy Union is currently being planned. The UK has a general opt-out of Security & Justice, with 31 specific opt-ins for measures such as the European Arrest Warrant.
  • The UK's economic, employment and social policy must fall within EU guidelines and co-ordinate with other member states policies. Despite the € opt-out, the UK is still subject to the EU's competence on economic policy which aims to achieve convergence for monetary union. 
  • Even in areas where the UK is not prevented from acting, it is not free from EU actions in the same field to implement programs, conduct common policy or supplement the UK's actions. 
The EU also has competence for external affairs, specifically to "define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy." This policy is defined and implemented by the European Council (Heads of State) and the Foreign Affairs Council (consisting of Foreign, Defence & overseas aid ministers) acting unanimously. So the UK retains a veto (with some exceptions as defined in Article 31). However, the direction of travel is clear:
  • The Lisbon treaty established: (i) the "High Representative of Foreign Affairs", essentially the EU's foreign minister; (ii) the European External Action Service (EEAS), essentially the EU's foreign ministry and diplomatic corps. 
  • Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary, in a recent speech noted "the range and the activity of the EEAS are inexorably increasing  and so is its cost ... At every stage this creep is resisted by the British government initially and then absorbed. Meanwhile we have seen substantive cuts in the budget of the Foreign Office". 
  • There have been many european voices (including President Juncker) calling for an EU army, an EU Defence Union and so on. A highly-informed and balanced analysis on Defence and Brexit can be found at ThinkDefence blog. While he sees little change in the short to medium term, he concludes "the question we should be dealing with, do we want a single EU state with a single EU Navy, Army and Air Force? ... The long term points to ever closer political, and that means military, union."

The EU usurps national representation in international organisations

But perhaps the most dramatic and least understood loss of national power is the way the EU increasingly usurps the role of national governments on the international stage.  The UK is increasingly bound by common policies and the requirements of Article 34, which as a recent blog by LostLeonardo explains, means the loss of influence, vote and right of reservation in international organisations.

With legal identity secured by the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is  keen to upgrade its "limited status" in "organisations and fora where important decisions are taken" (see Vice-President Ashton's Strategy communication to the Commission, dated 20.12.2012). The implication is that member states will be reduced to passive observers and in the fullness of time lose representation entirely. The EU has already assumed competence in the International Maritime Organisation, with predictably negative results (See Pete North Politics blog). Britain is the world's No.2 in services provision, but we have no national representation at the  Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations, unlike EFTA states Norway & Switzerland, unlike Commonwealth allies Canada, Australia & New Zealand.

The direction of travel is clear. The UK will end up with as much influence on the international stage as Texas or California.

Conclusion - The honest Referendum choice

Voting to Remain is not a simple "stay as you are option". As Allister Heath states in the Telegraph: "Comfortable, middle-class voters who are considering sticking with the devil they believe they know need to think again. Voting to remain is a far greater leap into the unknown than voting to leave. It’s self-evidently normal to be independent and prosperous: just look at America, Australia, Canada or Singapore. But there are no known examples of a previously independent democracy being subsumed into a dysfunctional, economically troubled technocracy and doing well as a result. As mad gambles go, it is hard to think of anything worse."

We need to recognise the EU for what it is - a political project to create a single state, governed by bureaucracy/technocracy instead of by democracy (the consent of the people). The Referendum can be boiled down to one very simple choice : Should Britain be a self-governing nation, trading and co-operating with nations in Europe and around the world ? Or should Britain be subsumed into an undemocratic United States of Europe ?

3 comments:

  1. With regard to the lack of a demos, it seems to me that it is virtually impossible to have a political debate on the European scale, for lack of a common language.

    I suppose one could have a European TV channel with simultaneous translation for viewers in their different countries - not that I want to give them ideas..

    Andrew

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  2. I dont think a European demos can be established by such simple means. If it ever comes to pass it will be after decades or even centuries of "trade and co-operation", i.e. these informal bonds will have become so strong that we naturally begin to feel and operate as one nation. Whether that leads to a United States of Europe or not is moot - the point is whatever is appropriate will "evolve". By then the nature of governance in an inter-connected world may have changed completely in any case.

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