December 12, 2011
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.Author : European Movement UK