Let us imagine that the Czech Republic formally ratifies the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon, within a few weeks. The reform treaty would enter into force on the first day of the following month, 1 December 2009 at the earliest.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and similar expressions of the Golden Rule may come to haunt the leadership of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
David Cameron and William Hague were prepared to base their Lisbon referendum promise on the obstinate refusal by one maverick head of state against his own parliament and government, and those of all the other EU member states. Not much compassion gained there.
The Tory leaders have to move to the “we won’t let matters rest there” stage, which requires proposals for taking back powers from the European Union, which allegedly has a surplus.
Cameron and Hague can, if they form the next government in Britain, arrange a referendum on their repatriation agenda, or promise a referendum on the future results, or ask the British public to trust the way they are going to handle the affair.
All options require that they outline the substance of their EU policy sooner rather than later.
Given the anti-EU atmosphere in England and within the Conservative Party, leaving the European Union would be straightforward.
The Lisbon Treaty offers a procedure for an orderly withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50 TEU). This is the one act, which can be initiated and put into practice unilaterally, although sensibly the myriads of links can be terminated only by detailed negotiations. Actually, secession would require reverse engineering of membership talks.
A seceding country would most probably want some form of relationship, so application for membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) or a tailor-made bilateral accord would have to be agreed.
Can anyone see a categorical imperative requiring the other EU member states to offer exceptional favours or “golden parachutes” to a parting Britain?
The United Kingdom already has a hefty budget rebate, paid for by even the poorest member states. The UK has four major opt-outs from the Lisbon Treaty. “Red lines” and constant obstruction have been the hallmarks of British EU membership.
Further scaling back of British involvement would require treaty change.
Each member state can propose amendments of the treaties. Only a simple majority of the European Council is needed for a Convention, which can lead to an intergovernmental conference (IGC). (The consent of the European Parliament is necessary to dispense with the Convention.)
The member states would have to agree, by unanimity, on the amendments. These would have to be ratified by all member states. (Article 48 TEU)
According to the principles established by the Tory leadership, Britain could offer no justification against any member state subjecting the possible agreement to a national referendum, or to a state figurehead refusing Royal or Presidential assent.
To put it crudely, why on earth should the other EU member states gratify the wishes of a Conservative government in Britain?
Even if, miraculously, there would be overwhelming support for further British detachment, established Tory principles should block any move devoid of total submission in every member state.
By accepting that “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”, David Cameron and William Hague will make Immanuel Kant and us all proud.