Thursday, 18 October 2007

Who Knows The Euro-Truth?

The current debate on the EU Referendum is so polarised that the chance of anything meaningful being gained from it is roughly zero.

Immediately upon making that statement in mixed company, it is easy to imagine what would ensue. The pro-EU and anti-EU camps (I've come across very few people who describe themselves as politically interested yet Euro-ambivalent) immediately begin pointing the finger, making clear their scorn for the other camp without much attempt at actually having an honest debate on the issues concerned.

Polly Toynbee's column in Tuesday's Guardian was a case in point1. As far as Polly is concerned, those who would agitate for a referendum on the reform treaty are "Euro-crazies" and "Euro-hysterics". Anti-EU newspapers are "xenophobic", "malevolent" and their owners are "fanatical". Now, she does have a point. Murdoch's Sun's front-page comment calling for a referendum showed Gordon Brown mocked up as Churchill 'giving two fingers to the country' and inside claimed that the treaty is "the greatest threat to our nation since World War 2".2

It is not surprising that opponents of the referendum promised by Labour prior to their re-election in 20053 are adamant that the people would not vote on the treaty itself, but instead act upon prejudiced and ill-informed opinions.

However:

"The new Constitutional Treaty ensures the new Europe can work effectively...It is a good treaty for Britain and for the new Europe. We will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign whole-heartedly for a ‘Yes’ vote to keep Britain a leading nation in Europe."

This statement was made by a governing party in their bid to be re-elected two years ago. The manifesto it comes from is PM Gordon Brown's only mandate. For him now to try to squeeze out of it on the basis that the reform treaty is not a 'Constitutional treaty' and that 'red-lines' have been negotiated is highly disingenuous.

Even the pro-EU Guardian is clear on the former4:

"The new document, known as the reform treaty, resembles the old one in that it reshapes the EU's institutions, changes its voting procedures, expands the role of the European parliament and national legislatures and includes a charter of fundamental rights."
The fervently anti-EU blogger Devil's Kitchen has posted extensively5 about the latter contention, which was reiterated by Brown tonight4. He has found that opt-outs last just 5 years, and the UK can be fined if it wishes to continue them beyond that time.

"Protocol 10 Article 10 (4): the EU by Qualified Majority Vote can force the UK to pay financial penalties for the opt out."
Those of you who read SELECT Privacy may be reminded at this point of another issue that has brought civil libertarians and the Government and its supporters into conflict.

It may well be the case that as Polly Toynbee and others have suggested that a NO vote in a referendum on the reform treaty would 'lead the UK to the EU's exit door'. It may well be the case that voters on said referendum will vote based on their prejudices, reinforced by right-wing newspapers. It may well be the case that most people who will vote will not understand any of the treaty whatsoever.

However, the stark fact is that a referendum we were promised, a referendum the people still believe they should be given (69% according to a recent YouGov poll4), and a referendum we should get.

If those in favour of the UK's signing of the treaty are concerned that they will lose - They are almost certainly correct in that belief, it is up to them to convince the British public that it, and by extension continued membership of the EU, is good for them and for Britain.

Toynbee's appalling effort this week is most certainly not the way to go about doing that.


1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2191937,00.html
2. http://www.anorak.co.uk/tabloids/176522.html
3. The Labour Party Manifesto 2005 (PDF) (Page 41-42)
4. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/eu/story/0,,2193648,00.html
5. http://devilskitchen.me.uk/2007/10/eu-constitution-and-those-magical-red.html

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