Monday 5 October 2009

UK’s EU referendum & Conservative Party

This week’s Conservative Party Conference is a challenge for party leader David Cameron and shadow foreign secretary William Hague, who try to postpone any meaningful announcement on a Tory policy on Europe.

The promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty hangs on a thinning thread. After the Irish referendum, the amending treaty has been approved in all 27 member states. Despite the undoubted democratic legitimacy of the treaty, two presidential signatures are still needed for formal ratification.

Disregard for the democratic decisions of the member states of the European Union can hardly claim the moral high ground, and it will win no friends in the European capitals.

If the Treaty of Lisbon is finally ratified, as it should be, the Tory leadership has promised not to let matters rest.

Is the Manchester conference going to let the party leadership escape without saying more than previously?

Initiating negotiations for British opt-outs from the EU’s employment and social policies (and the Lisbon Treaty reforms) may be unrealistic, and would probably be resisted by the other member states, without satisfying increasingly secessionist opinion among the Tory MPs and grassroots.


The European Citizen blog wonders “Does time heal all policy wounds?” (4 October 2009). The Tories’ European policy can easily be identified as Euroskeptic, but it is harder to see the actual goal of the policy. Cameron has to make a choice. He will be dogged by the issue if he can’t deliver.


The Next Left blog of the Fabian Society looks at anti-EU opinion among top UK Conservative blogs in ”Tory blogosphere would get Britain out of EU” (4 October 2009). Many Conservative high profile voices see a battle over the Lisbon Treaty as just one skirmish in a wider war on UK withdrawal.


David Cameron and William Hague must establish a real EU policy, because the European Union is not going away.

Hiding behind a Lisbon referendum is no substitute for a real policy.

It is questionable if enough top-down pressure can be applied to keep the party conference patiently waiting.

Even if the Conservative party leadership manages to leave Manchester unscathed, it will at best be a short reprieve.

The UK Conservative Party cannot in good faith ask for the keys to government without a credible policy on the European Union.

Ralf Grahn


  1. I am not so convinced that the democratic legitimacy of the EU ratification process is indisputable.

    The Hungarian parliament, the one elected on a lie, voted to ratify on the Monday after the Treaty was signed in Lisbon on a Friday. Perhaps the quality and intensity of the democratic debate over the weekend was a marvel to behold, and the merits of Lisbon as the answer to the EU's need for constitutional development were thrashed out comprehensively, after the existence and nature of that need was diligently examined.

    But I doubt it.

    Remember that the version of the Treaty then available was not the consolidated version. Was it even available in Hungarian at all ?

    Nor were the Hungarians the only state to ratify without a forensic examination of the Treaty by the ratifiers.

    C'est magnifique, mais c'est pas la democratie

  2. Fergus,

    The governments of the member states knew the essential contents of the amending treaty when the mandate for the intergovernmental conference was agreed, in June 2007.

    A majority of the member states had approved the Constitutional Treaty, so for them it was almost totally a question of approving the reductions in the Lisbon Treaty.

    Hungary ratified the Constitutional Treaty by 323 votes to 12 (8 abstentions), so you can hardly say that the issue was contentious.

    The intergovernmental conference produced the Lisbon treaty in all the official languages. The texts were known to the governments and the parliaments.

    Officially, the Treaty of Lisbon was published in the Official Journal on 17 December 2007, the Charter of Fundamental Rights (essentially from 2000) on 14 December 2007.

    The acceding member states participated in the Convention and the IGC leading to the Constitutional Treaty, so they were fully aware of the reductions along the way.

    I am more worried about countries where the constitutional system is less conducive to positive decisions.

  3. It is precisely the very fact that I can "hardly say that it was contentious" that makes me worry about it. Have we forgotten so quickly the obviously anti- democratic character of near unanimous votes in Iraq, North Korea and Warsaw Pact countries ?

    "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking". "If we are all in agreement on the decision - then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about."

    See for citations for these quotations)

    Is it old-fashioned of me to think that a Union based on lack of thought is undesirable ?

    You say I am more worried about countries where the constitutional system is less conducive to positive decisions.

    Given the recent history of our Union, I suggest that it is entirely legitimate to be very worried about the difficulty that proponents of the development of the Union have with accepting negative decisions.

    That is not to deny that there may be better ways to go about things than those currently in use.

    And no, I do not see the Council as the Politburo.

    Yet :-)

  4. Fergus,

    Requiring a 27 - 0 score indicates a lack of robustness to me, not the lack of democratic deliberation.

    I believe that European citizens would fare better in a shifting and sometimes dangerous world, if our union was more effective and democratic than it is.


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