Thursday, December 02, 2004

A rose-tinted vision

It appears that the singularly under-employed MEP, Daniel Hannan, has acquired yet another paying job, this time writing for the Wall Street Journal (subscription only). This time he is offering us his words of wisdom on what would happen if Britain votes "no" to the constitution in the referendum.

Writes Hannan, "on the reasonable assumption" that the "colleagues" would not allow the UK to veto the entire project, EU leaders would be likely to offer Britain some form of associate membership.

This arrangement, he argues, could resemble the current institutional arrangements enjoyed by the countries of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), on which basis he is confident that we could negotiate some kind of EFTA agreement with Brussels, given Britain’s size and influence in the world.

"Bear in mind…" he writes, "the UK runs a structural deficit with the rest of the EU averaging £30 million per day over the 32 years of its membership. It is not normal, in any transaction, for the salesman to have the upper hand over the client."

What a wonderful, cosy world Mr Hannan must live in – in fact, he does – but the likelihood of the "colleagues" rolling over and letting the British tickle their tummy, is about nil. One can almost hear the afterburners roaring on the pigs, as they line up for take-off.

More persuasive is the paper by the Instituto Affari Internazionali, which would have the rest of the EU member states setting up their own organisation anew, leaving Britain to crawl back in on their terms. Rather than giving Britain all the gains of a free trade association, with none of the pain of political union, that is more in character.

What Hannan forgets, or perhaps never realised is that, in the 1960s, the then community of Six, under the guidance of Walter Hallstein, its first commission president, actively subverted EFTA, completely undermining its development. The fear was that it provided too attractive an alternative to the dirigiste customs union. It had to be smashed, or other countries might gravitate to it, instead of the (then) EEC.

The rose-tinted picture that Hannan paints, therefore, defies history, and the community is nothing if not a slave of its own history.

All of this, therefore, poses a problem for the "no" campaign. Clearly, from the amount of discussion going on, the issue of what happens if, or more likely, when the UK rejects the constitution, is moving up the agenda.

The "colleagues" will increasingly be drawn to painting a picture of Armageddon, and we need answers to counter this. One thing for sure, the "Yes-No" stance of the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign will look ever-more untenable as the campaign picks up a head of steam.

People, having been told that "Europe" – as it stands - is such a wonderful thing (if only we could reform it a little), will be confronted with the choice of voting for the constitution to stay in the European Union, or voting "no" and risk being ejected. Sooner or later, "Yesno" is going to have to make up its mind which side of the divide it stands on.

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