Promises, promises

By Philip Bushill-Matthews [email protected]

MEP West Midlands Region Conservative Spokesman for Employment and Social Affairs

MANY READERS may be confused about the latest EU Treaty and whether or not there should be a referendum.

Such confusion is understandable given the very different messages coming from our own governments at very different times.

Several years have gone by since Tony Blair put his name to the original proposed EU Constitutional Treaty. At that stage, it was presented as simply “a tidying-up exercise” and therefore could not be a problem. He had earlier signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights which he also declared was not a problem “as it had only the same legal force as The Beano”.

But then as people started to read what was actually in both documents, there was growing public awareness that there was indeed a major problem. The constitutional implications in terms of transfer of powers were seen to be substantial. Conservatives clamoured to let the people decide and the Prime Minister finally accepted that a referendum was the right way forward.

Restoring trust

Nothing had changed and yet this same treaty was suddenly no longer a tidying-up exercise after all.

And the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, which had been signed up to without fuss and which all his Labour MEPs have since repeatedly endorsed, was now branded as such a potential threat to UK employment and social legislation that it had to be resisted.

However, following agreement at a recent EU summit, a third message has emerged. After lengthy negotiations in Brussels, there are now allegedly no constitutional implications after all. The treaty is no longer about a European Constitution and so apparently needs no referendum. It is merely “an amending treaty”. Or is it?

The reality is that this new treaty gives the EU its own legal personality for the first time. It will have its own diplomatic service. It will have its own Foreign Minister. It will have its own full-time President for up to five years. More decisions will now be taken by majority voting, with more national vetoes surrendered and with less opportunity for Member States to block new initiatives they dislike.

The EU’s primary objective, to secure a free and undistorted single market, has been watered down by the French in favour of more social rights. This is not just an amending treaty. It fundamentally changes the nature of the EU and the role of individual Member States within it.

So the issue is really very simple: it is a question of keeping two promises. The first is that the UK government promised that there would be a referendum. The second is that Gordon Brown has promised to restore trust in politics. Holding a referendum would be a good place to start.