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Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

Amid all the argument and misinformation flying round about the agreement and disagreement at the European summit, here is a summary of what was actually at stake.

The member states of the eurozone wanted a new treaty to establish closer integration among them, particular regarding fiscal matters, as part of a programme to save the euro. There are short term measures also needed, but the treaty is intended to play a medium-term role of putting the euro on a new institutional footing.

Assuming that there was no possibility of the UK agreeing to be subject to the provisions of this new treaty, there were two options on the table: (1) a treaty agreed by all 27 but applying to fewer than that number (i.e. not the UK and possibly not others); or (2) a treaty agreed only by those countries that will be subject to it.

From the perspective of the eurozone countries, the advantages of option (1) were:

(a) being able to use the existing EU institutions rather than having to create new ones – the risk is that the unwieldy pillar structure introduced in the Maastricht treaty and finally abolished by Lisbon will have to be brought back; do they want to have a second and separate set of elections for a second and separate Eurozone Parliament?

(b) the involvement, even a small way, of the UK – yes, they don’t always hate us; different countries in different ways for different reasons welcome British influence on the EU

The disadvantage of option (1) is that the UK would be obliged to ratify the treaty in order for it to come into force, even though it would not apply in the UK. The advantage of option (2), therefore, is that British ratification would not be needed, which, given the fervent and ridiculous state of British politics, might well be a blessing.

The reason why option (2) has been chosen despite the disadvantages that it brings with it is that David Cameron wanted it that way. The arguments about financial services regulation are irrelevant: they relate to the existing Lisbon treaty which applies to all 27 and will continue to apply to all 27, regardless of what might have been agreed about the legal form of the successor treaty. By the way, if there was a serious and credible case for any of the changes proposed, it could have been raised by the British representative in the coming negotiations of the new treaty. Given that Britain has decided not to send a representative to those negotiations, it has also decided not to seek those changes that it claimed, on Thursday evening, were necessary to protect the City of London.

The overall result of the British insistence that the treaty is among 26 and not 27 is not that Britain is unaffected by the new treaty – neither option would have implicated the UK – but that Britain has no say in the new treaty. Fifty years of British foreign policy has aimed for a role in the discussions about the future of Europe, learning the lessons from the 1950s when we were invited but refused to take part and quickly regretted our refusal. Those fifty years now appear to be over.

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A question is raised as to whether Britain will really be excluded from anything. Will the new treaty actually be agreed? This is of course the question with which the British comforted themselves in the 1950s – the Treaty of Rome will never amount to anything, they said – and there is an element of denial present in those people asking that question today.

But only an element; there is also some truth. The treaty might also fail because agreement cannot be reached among the 26, noting that the failure of the treaty would damage the European economy severely and thus damage the British economy as well. This is not an outcome to be welcomed. And, moreover, it can be said that the novel legal circumstances of creating a new treaty of 26 alongside the existing treaty of 27 actually makes failure more likely. The familiar procedure of amending the treaty of 27 would be much easier: working out how the new 26-strong institutions are going to mesh with the existing 27-strong set is going to be fraught with difficulty.

If the British government was sincere in its call for the countries of the eurozone to agree some form of fiscal union and sort out their problems, a strategy that makes it noticeably harder for those eurozone countries to agree that union and fix those problems is a mighty strange way of showing it.

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Comments

  1. Very informative article. With distortion and misinformation amongst the British commentariat being the order of the day, it is neccessary to get the facts so that we can make up our own minds.

    There are many in UK who said that the UK was proved right not to join the euro. However, I recall the debate at the time. The single most weighty factor was the refusal to have Her Majesty’s Head replaced from the currency.

    When a timescale was agreed for the introduction of the Euro, UK said it would never happen. When it did happen, the media sent its people to show how it was a ripoff because of rounding-up. Then they lamented the initial weakness of the Euro. For the next 8 years, the Euro appreciated against the £ but there was a collusion of silence.

    The UK had not joined the Common Market in 1957 because (a) it was not a British idea, so it was not a good idea and (b) it was not being run by Britain, so it would not be run efficiently. Myopia!!

    The contradiction is that every British person knows that a stable and prosperous Eurozone means a healthier economy for UK but yet the Eurosceptic Conservatives and right-wing media talk down the single currency and the Eurozone, thereby reducing the effectiveness of attempted remedies. The UK even tried to cajole the Chinese and IMF NOT to help out. Incredible!!

    In summary, the Conservatives want to be in but get only the benefits, not making any sacrifice. It also does not want the social protection or labour regulations of the EU because it wants to operate a ruthless form of capitalism against British workers and the poor. Loss of soveriegnity?? That has already been lost to the neo-cons in the US through the Atlantic Bridge.

    Deo Ramprakash

  2. Soime very interesting comments and I share the views about the continuing and even intensifying of distortion and lies in the media. It sems to me that two things will follow the further debacle of the last few days. First, we will suffer not only through exclusion from key discussions-many, potentially to the benefit of British people, but also funding, partnerships, collaborative activities etc. Second, that the time for a withdrawl from the EU gets closer, with or without a referendum. Nick Clegg proposed an ‘In/Out referendum so that the British people would for the first time hear the real arguments but would have to confront the options. With the USA moving into bizarre politics if a Republican gets elected and Obama proving very ineffectual, is that what people want?. Isolation in the EU is one thing-isolation in a goobal economy is another. Although it would be very disrupotive I would prefer a referendum than this drip drip drip towards exclusion.

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