Sunday, January 29, 2012

David and his amazing technicolour veto

After several attempts, a reader has finally extracted from the government on "full details of the Treaty which was vetoed by the Prime Minister at the European Council meeting on 9 December 2011".

The Keeper of the Answers is Roger Smethurst, Head of Knowledge and Information Management at the Cabinet Office, a deity who must enjoy the cocktail circuit where, one presumes, lesser mortals fall to their knees in awe, stunned that such a Grand Personage should exist.

Howsoever, the Mighty Smethurst tells us that the European Council (not a "summit", you will note) was considering a suggestion made at the meeting to amend the European Union Treaties to create reinforced fiscal and economic rules for the members of the Eurozone.

This, of course, we knew, but The Smethurst is just setting the scene. The Mighty One goes on to tell us that the Prime Minister (in capitals) "would not agree to this process without certain safeguards for Britain", and that "these safeguards were not agreed by others".

And now comes not The Knowledge but The Holy Spin. Since all Member States have to agree to any changes to the European Union Treaties, intones The Mighty Smethurst, "this amounted to a veto". As a result, we are told, Eurozone countries and others "are now making separate arrangements for coordinating their budgets through a separate Treaty".

Thus we are dutifully informed by The Smethurst that: "There was therefore no text of a Treaty which was vetoed; it was rather the process of amending the European Union Treaties to this end which was vetoed".

In response, one might say that "dishonest" is perhaps the mildest epithet we could use, but it sounds more restrained and sober than dismissing The Mighty Smethurst as a liar. But that he is, as the treaty itself (which he calls in aid) makes him out to be. Smethurst actually refers to the Treaty of the European Union, Article 48, the relevant part of which states:
The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties … If the European Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, adopts by a simple majority a decision in favour of examining the proposed amendments, the President of the European Council shall convene a Convention composed of representatives of the national Parliaments, of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, of the European Parliament and of the Commission … [or] a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States.
Thus, the process of amending a Treaty is the convening of a "Convention" or an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), with the decision made in each case by a simple majority vote of the European Council. In other words, there is no veto on the process of amending a treaty … the process is determined by majority vote. It was not amenable to a veto and Cameron could not therefore have vetoed it.

Thus, never perhaps in history have we seen a press corps so completely and utterly mislead itself, showing its profound lack of knowledge of EU procedures, and its complete inability to learn.

But, as we see from Your Freedom and Ours and Witterings from Witney, the process of self-delusion continues, its latest contributor being Iain Martin in the Sunday Failygraph. There, oblivious to the reality, he asks: "Is David Cameron about to water down his famous EU veto?", a fatuous question but one which confronts an interesting development.

To appreciate this fully, we must step back to the night of 8/9 December, when The Boy was confronted with his dilemma, and having told the "colleagues" that he was minded to block any treaty revisions (which he could do once the treaty had been drafted, but hadn't been then), they decided to do what they had always intended to do in the first place – to go for a veto-proof "International Treaty".

This, however, still left The Boy with something of a card to play in what was a very weak hand – a block on the use of the EU institutions to administer and enforce aspects of the new treaty, something that the blathering Tory Boy Blog was terribly keen for him to do, otherwise, in their terms, the "veto" was pointless.

That brings us back to Iain Martin, who perceives that The Boy is to remove his objections to the use of the institutions. This is no great discovery as it was flagged up in The Guardian last Friday, amounting in this paper's terms to a major U-turn.

The effect, to the dismay of The Tory Boys is to make the "non-veto" even nonner than before, but since The Boy had such a weak hand – even despite the intervention of The Mighty Smethurst - there was perhaps little else he could do.

Sadly for him, as the "colleagues" run rings round him, all that is left to The Boy is to dream of his amazing technicolour veto, the veto that never was. And even in the minds of his most enthusiastic fans, it is also ceasing to be.

It was fun while it lasted.