Thursday, 9 September 2010

EU is confidently moving forward every day, says Daniel Hannan: Campaigns for EU ‘in or out’ referendum in Britain

As nationalism rises, will the European Union fall? This was the question posed by professor Charles Kupchan, of Georgetown University and the US Council on Foreign Relations, in The Washington Post (29 August 2010).

Suddenly, we are offered a contrary view.

Should pro-Europeans and others, discouraged by the European Union’s descent into institutional confusion, intergovernmental bickering and lack of leadership, take heart?

Daniel Hannan, who sits in the anti-integrationist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group in the European Parliament, sees it differently from Kupchan:

The EU doesn't just bound forward in great treaties. It's confidently moving forward every day, says Hannan according to BBC News.

Tory Daniel Hannan calls for 'in or out' EU referendum (8 September 2010, last update 09:47 GMT), we are told by the BBC.

Hannan, an MEP for South East England, is a high profile critic of the European Union, in the EP and on his Telegraph blog. He has now decided to campaign actively for an ‘in or out’ referendum in Britain, putting his energies behind the EU Referendum Campaign (EURC), which aims to take the United Kingdom out of the EU.

Norway (member of the European Economic Area, EEA) and Switzerland (120 bilateral treaties with the EU) are vaguely used by the EURC as examples of alternative relationships, but in my humble opinion the EU Referendum Campaign needs to do some serious work on what a British future outside the EU means and how it should be organised.

Tactically, Hannan has chosen a good moment. The coalition government between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats has recently made a major breach in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, by introducing the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which would lead to a referendum on a reform of the outdated system of representation.

Britain and EU

The United Kingdom first applied for membership in the three European Communities in 1961, but was twice vetoed by Charles de Gaulle, an inveterate nationalist himself.

Britain was finally allowed to join in 1973. In 1975 a British referendum endorsed UK membership by a margin of two to one (Wikipedia).

The United Kingdom has four opt-outs from the EU Treaties: the Schengen Agreement on the common travel area, the Eurozone, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (with an opportunity to opt in). (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite positioning itself squarely outside core Europe, almost half a century since the first membership application and nearly four decades after becoming a member, Britain has not come to terms with its role in Europe or the EU’s needed role in world affairs.

There is little dedication to promoting European integration and fair burden-sharing in the political discourse, the media treatment and public opinion in Britain. The UK level of trust in the European Union is low; uniquely low across the 27 EU member states, according to the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll.

Meaning of democracy?

The United Kingdom is a heavyweight in a European context, but we may ask how useful its reticent membership is for the European Union, given the EU’s weak structures, lack of full democracy and faltering political leadership.

Anyway, each member state is free to leave the European Union. Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) explicitly states the right of withdrawal, and the modalities of secession are outlined.

‘In or out’ is consequently an internal issue for Britain.

The dichotomy between official EU membership and negative public opinion leads to the question of political legitimacy.

Is it right for a “wise” political establishment to disregard public opinion, even if withdrawal would be short-sighted and against the national interest?

Are wise decisions the essence of democracy, or is democratic government fundamentally a question of legitimacy?

In a democratic society, people assume the consequences of their collective vote, but they later have the right to try to correct their bad choices.

Is trial and error the right way for Britain?

Ralf Grahn