Friday, 8 June 2007

Squandering political capital

Eulawblogger asked “Is there an obligation to ratify the Constitutional Treaty in international law”, on 5 June 2007. The answer, quite correctly, was No, and it can be read on:

I noticed later that, for some reason, my comment did not appear on the Eulawblog, so I’ll post a new one here, on my own blog.

Eulawblogger’s answer is correct, legally or legalistically, however you want.

But, I did not assert that a national parliament is legally bound to ratify an international treaty entered into by its government.

I just wanted to invite readers to assess a pattern of behaviour from an ethical and political standpoint:

A government has signed up to a European treaty with 26 others. It later uses the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands to try to roll back major substantial provisions, which seem to have almost no connection with the ratification difficulties in these countries.

Going back on your word, either as an individual or as a government, is bound to affect your trustworthiness.

I thought (and still think) that acting in ‘good faith’ as a ‘civilised nation’ and using the law of treaties as moral guidance are more relevant measures of conduct than an unexplained reversal. (I chose the cautious words ‘could have been a more meaningful point of reference’ after checking Brownlie.)

One can, of course, try to understand the political climate in Britain, and the arduous task of trying to educate a tabloid-reading electorate, but political capital can be squandered in Europe as well as at home.

Perhaps ‘fixated upon the UK’s position’ has something to do with the general perception that Great Britain (again) is something less than a team player in the European Union; and sometimes you have to concentrate on the main stumbling blocks.

Disruptive behaviour should be judged according to the same principles, whoever the actor is.

Ralf Grahn