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|Forget the Lisbon treaty|
The Times - October 1st 2009
This is an important week for the politics and policy of
Tomorrow, a couple of million Irish voters will seal the fate of the Lisbon treaty, the document that hardly anyone has read and which will determine the powers and institutional structure of the European Union for at least the next decade. Having rejected the treaty in a referendum last year, the Irish are being sent back to the polls in order to give the right answer—from a European point of view—bribed to do so only by some “clarifications” about what the treaty will do and by a promise that Ireland can still send a commissioner to do a non-job for plush pay in Brussels.
The whole charade should anger anyone who cares about democracy, and indeed about
When the draft constitution was published, I was editor of The Economist, and we recommended that it be filed straight in the nearest rubbish bin. When it was finalised by governments, we recommended that all European voters should reject it. Yet tomorrow, when the Irish hold their lonely vote, under the shadow of their deep recession and the fear that but for the EU they might have been
Why? Part of the reason, I confess, is boredom. The thought of having to read or even engage in any more discussion about EU institutions, voting mechanisms and power structures leaves me cold, especially when economic crises, Iranian nuclear-weapons programmes and rising Chinese power offer far more real and important topics for Europeans to think about. If getting this treaty passed has been a war of attrition, then I am ready to wave the white flag.
Another part of the reason, though, is embarrassment: if the EU matters, and I think it does, then for its workings to be held up by a handful of voters in one of
That is what David Cameron and his highly Eurosceptic shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, will need to face up to—immediately, at their party conference next week. To threaten to re-open the whole thing when they enter government would be pointless. Worse than pointless, it would be destructive both to British and to Conservative interests.
A good measure of leadership is whether you choose the right battles to fight. A good measure of statesmanship is whether you have a clear idea of your nation’s interests and objectives. A Tory fight to reopen, or just disrupt, the
As has often been the case in the past 20 years, contrary to fog-in-the-channel Eurosceptic claims, the trends in the EU are moving in both a British and a Tory direction. Look at the policies being followed: France’s Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing a carbon tax straight out of Green Dave’s copybook, and is now promising cuts in business taxes. Look at the way European policies are being shaped: not by the European Commission or by any band of federalist ultras, but strictly by deals between governments. But look, most of all, at
The country that has suffered the biggest drop in GDP of any of the major economies, in which unemployment is tipped to rise rapidly this autumn, has rejected the left and its calls for greater state control, and instead voted in a centre-right coalition that brings together Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats with the Free Democratic Party, the closest thing Germany has to a genuinely liberal, pro-market, small government grouping. This new government is not, of course, about to worship at the altar of Margaret Thatcher. But it will resume, in a careful German way, the task of liberalisation and pro-market reform.
For a new Tory government in
No British government, let alone a Tory one, is going to fall head over heels in love with a French or German counterpart of any political stripe. But to provoke a row over a boring institutional treaty, which virtually everyone else has already agreed to, would be folly, grand scale. Indeed, if Messrs Cameron and Hague do hang on to