Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The patriotic case for the EU constitution

We were told by The Times this morning that a "year-long" campaign opens today on the merits of the proposed European constitution with Jack Straw declaring that it is time for "pro-Europeans" to reclaim the Union Flag from the sceptics.

This coincides with foreign secretary publishing the Bill setting out the terms of the constitution and providing for a referendum and is accompanied by an "article released to newspapers today". That article has now been posted on the FCO website under the title "the patriotic case for the EU constitution".

I wish I could say otherwise, but the article starts with a lie and continues in that vein. It is painful in that context to report that your own foreign secretary is a liar, but that he is.That his first lie is commonplace, familiar even, makes no difference – it is still a lie, a lie of Goebellesque proportions. "Anti-Europeans," says our foreign secretary…

...have a habit of wrapping themselves in the union flag in order to paint Europe as a threat to Britain's national sovereignty and way of life. But the real patriotic case is overwhelmingly in favour of Britain's engagement in the European Union. It is time pro-Europeans claimed this argument. At stake is nothing less than the very nature of Britain's power in the world.
And where is that lie? It is in the framing – the contest between the "anti-Europeans" and the "pro-Europeans". The lie is that we are not talking about Europe. Europe is a continent. You cannot be for it or against it – it exists, like the sea, like the sky, like Africa. You accept them because they are there.

No, what is under discussion is a government of Europe – to be precise, a government of part of Europe. That is the argument. Do we want more of a government of a political construct called the European Union? Are you pro-European government or are you anti-European government?

Of course, couched in those terms, the framing would be less "user friendly", more likely to invoke a response, "whaddayamean government?", which would rather give the game away. Which is why the foreign secretary lies, and continues to lie.

He next lies when he defines "being a patriot" which, à la Straw is "wanting Britain to be prosperous at home and strong and influential abroad." I have read many long essays, and even books, on the nature of patriotism, and nowhere else could I say that I have seen patriotism so narrowly defined.

Suffice to say that, under certain circumstances, the pursuit of patriotism is the antithesis of prosperity. Did we fight Hitler to get rich?

Another lie follows in quick succession: "Our role as a leading member of the EU is a crucial part of securing that." He attempts to justify that lie by telling us that:

Britain is well-placed to gain from the global economy, as a strong trading nation and home to the world's most successful language. But to maximise those gains we also need to shape the global economy's framework and rules. We are at a far greater advantage in being able to do so as part of a powerful EU voice in organisations such as the WTO.
He continues:

Few would argue that the European single market – the world's largest with a population of 450 million – helps creates thousands of jobs, and makes our economy stronger in the world. There is a need, of course, to make Europe more competitive and more prosperous. I am pleased we have got a European Commission which has made deregulation and economic reform its first priority.
This is not the time or place for a long essay on the WTO, but how does help us if we submerge our voice and our influence in the "common position" of 25 member states – so often dominated by France – in order to talk to other countries about trade, in the forum of the WTO? The "advantage" is illusory.

As for the "European single market", the lie her is so obvious that one wonders why Straw keeps repeating it. Firstly, the market may be open to us, but our market is also open to "them". Before we joined the ten "common market" we had a trading surplus with the EU countries. Since we joined, we have sustained a massive and continuing deficit arising from that infamous "unlevel playing field".

That alone has cost us jobs but those which survive would continue with or without the EU. Would they stop selling us Mercedes if we were not in the EU, and would they stop buying our whiskey?

But says Straw, "our active membership of the EU brings power and influence beyond the economic sphere too." Britain, he says, "could not be playing the important role it is on issues like Iran's nuclear programme or the Middle East Peace Process if we had been outside the EU mainstream."

Er… excuse me? Iran? Does he not know what is happening there, and of the latest failure of the EU3 negotiations? But, undeterred, as they say, Straw adds:

And, on issues such as the recent flawed elections in Ukraine, the reconstruction of the Balkans or on human rights across the world, we carry greater weight if the 25 EU countries can agree on a common position.

A key point both for our membership of the EU and any other multilateral organisations is that you only get out of alliances what you put in. Ten years ago, with the same set of alliances and friends, Britain was powerless in the face of war and genocide in Bosnia, and marginalised and weakened in Europe.

Today, we are leading European work on counter-proliferation, tackling terrorism and illegal immigration, and on reducing poverty in Africa. And in the EU itself, we have achieved Britain's long-term goal of taking in the former communist countries of the East, and opening membership negotiations with Turkey.
Contentious is perhaps the best description of that passage. I am not sure out being in the EU made any difference to the Ukraine. The Balkans? Nato and, especially, the US intervention, sorted that mess out then. Would the EU of today, or with the constitution do any better? How effective is the EU in tackling terrorism? We know it is funding it. Is it really tackling it? And is poverty in Africa being reduced?

Significantly though, Straw does not mention certain things. Where is the mention of Iraq? Were we more powerful there because of our membership of the EU? And what about the tsunami relief effort? Where were the EU ships and helicopters?

From there, however, Straw moves on. "This confident and engaged British approach also worked well on negotiations for the new EU Constitutional Treaty. It was not a Government Minister but France's Le Monde newspaper which said last summer that 'Whatever people say, this text remains a British victory'."

Spin. How many amendments did the UK table at the convention? And how many were accepted? Someone remind me please. Nevertheless, this is a Treaty "which certainly reflects a British vision for Europe," asserts Straw. Perhaps the vision of a blind man with dark glasses at night time. What more can one say? The man does not know his history.

And oh dear, can we be serious? "Agreed by 25 freely-cooperating, independent nations," says Straw. Freely co-operating, they might be, but only in the sense that they are co-operating in giving the EU more power.

And so on it goes. This constitution "limits and fixes the EU's powers". Yes it does, but at a higher level than previously. It makes it "a more flexible and more efficient organisation." I don’t know about "flexible" but we are going to have to deal with this "efficiency" issue at length. It was Churchill who said

No-one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst sort of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Another way of putting that is to say that democracy is inherently inefficient. The "efficiency" that Straw lauds is the euphemism for more qualified majority voting – the antithesis of democracy. Is that an advantage?

"It gives national governments in Europe a stronger grip". No, actually, it does not. It brings the previous independent European Council into the EU maw as a fully-fledged EU institution, making it subject to treaty rules."

It streamlines the European Commission". Wow! That means Britain will not have its own commissioner. That's another advantage?

"It allows for better scrutiny by national parliaments of EU legislation." It doesn’t.

"Crucially, it gives greater coherence to Europe's dealings with the rest of the world on those issues where all its members states are of the same mind." Chance would be a fine thing. When, on any really serious issues, have all the member states been "of the same mind", and what happens when they are not of the same mind?

Hilariously, Straw them pledges to "continue to expose the myths and fabrications created by those who would see Britain isolated from the rest of Europe." Yes. That’s enough myths, ed. But Straw leave the best until last.

For too long, those who seek to isolate Britain from the rest of Europe have laid claim to all the best patriotic tunes. But the consequences of what they advocate should be every patriot's nightmare: a weaker and isolated Britain whose future prosperity and security is put at risk. Pro-Europeans should reclaim the flag and put the patriotic case for the Constitutional Treaty. British power depends on it.
What was that about patriotism being the last resort of the scoundrel? "Pro-Europeans" do not need the Union Flag. They have their own: it is blue with a ring of stars. They can keep it, and keep their hands off ours.

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