There are only so many ways of saying it, and only so many times it can be said before it gets tedious. But today, after this Blog it is the turn of the The Daily Telegraph to say that the row over Britain's rebate is a diversionary tactic.
This is the view taken in the leader, written by Daniel Hannan, who also notes that commentators have been so dazzled by Chirac's outrageous demands that they have taken their eyes off what he is doing, so to speak, with his other hand.
Yet, writes Hannan, the case for Britain's budget rebate is as strong today as when it was negotiated. In 1984, Britain was the second largest net contributor to EU funds. In 2004, even with the rebate, it was still the second largest net contributor.
Britain does worse out of the EU's budgetary arrangements than any state except Germany. Far from increasing the UK's contribution to an even more iniquitous level, the EU should be seeking to cut its costs, so that everyone, not just the British, can "get their money back". End of story.
However, from there we part company. Hannan spoils it by arguing that it is an attempt to divert attention from the quiet resurrection of the EU constitution. This is hardly likely, and our own view is that Chirac is creating a "bargaining chip" to strengthen bid to get Britain to hold a referendum.
That notwithstanding, Hannan does make some useful points, not least that – as readers of this Blog already know - that the EU institutions are pushing ahead as though the "no" votes had not happened.
However, Hannan cites an example of the EU parliament, which he claims has voted through several "Bills" that cite the constitution as the source of their authority. Last week, he writes, MEPs proposed a unified EU seat on the UN Security Council, claiming that they "quoted as their legal basis 'the European Constitutional Treaty, which creates a legal personality for the Union and a European Minister for Foreign Affairs'".
Actually, this is not the case. Rather than a "Bill", this was a resolution (B6-0328/2005) - i.e., a non-legislative, "advisory" instrument. The text to which Hannan refers is in para 20, which is framed in the context of the proposal to extend the composition of the UN Security Council by adding new seats for each regional group, including "Europe". The parliament expresses the view that the:
…appropriate solution that would be coherent with the European Constitutional Treaty, which creates a legal personality for the Union and a European Minister for Foreign Affairs, would be to attribute an additional permanent seat to the EU.It then calls on the Member States "seriously to consider this proposal in order to enhance Europe's influence in the world through a coherent and efficient Common Foreign Policy." This hardly supports the contention that the constitution is being "resurected".
Far more sinister, in fact, is the next paragraph (para. 21) which is worth citing in full. The EU parliament:
Considers, however, that in any case, irrespective of the procedure for reform chosen, some of the additional seats for "Europe" should be attributed to the EU as such; in this context, calls on the EU Council to establish the appropriate mechanism to designate the EU Member States who will execute their mandate as EU representatives in close coordination with the other EU Member States, the High Representative or future Minister for Foreign Affairs, the European Commission and the European Parliament until the conditions for an EU seat are met.What effectively this means is that the two existing members of the Security Council – France and the UK - should cease to represent their own interests and, de facto, represent the EU interest.
This does support Hannan's thesis, that to our masters in Brussels, the goal of a united Europe is not simply desirable but inevitable. "Public opposition to that goal," he writes, "is thus an obstacle to be overcome, not a reason for changing direction. We may find their attitude laughable. But, when the laughing stops, they will still have their constitution."
This is the real issue to be addressed at the coming European Council, says Hannan (although, like others, he insists on calling it a "summit"). Instead of scrapping over the budget, EU leaders ought to be seeking to address their voters' concerns. During the recent referendums "yes" campaigners argued that a "no" vote would be a rejection, not simply of the constitution, but of the entire European project. Let them now stand by their own logic:
If the peoples of Europe have indeed voted against closer integration, let their leaders repatriate powers to the national capitals - starting with those parts of the constitution that they have already implemented. There is no point in holding referendums if we do not respect their verdict.With that, we cannot disagree.