Flying to Brussels this month, I sat next to an industrial psychologist on her way to Barcelona. We fell into conversation, and she remarked that the Lisbon Treaty (a.k.a. the Renamed Constitution) was too difficult for the average punter to understand. I replied that all she really needed to know could be told in five minutes — so she asked me to do so.
When I’d finished, she was kind enough to say that she had a new under¬standing of the subject, so it’s perhaps worth repeating.
First, while there are technical differences between the Constitution that failed in 2005 and the new Treaty, the practical effect is virtually identical, so Gordon Brown’s excuse for breaking his word on a referendum is indefensible.
The treaty gives away national vetoes in (depending how you count them) around 50 policy areas, including energy, border control, tourism, space exploration, and so on. My interlocutor rightly remarked that we had given Brussels our North Sea fisheries decades ago, and we now seemed about to give them our North Sea oil — a point I have made many times.
The Treaty establishes a semi-permanent President of the Commission. We were promised by Labour earlier this year that they would not allow the combination of the posts of President of the Commission and of the Council — yet this now seems to be allowed by the Treaty. It is another step on the road to a United States of Europe. There will also be (in effect) an EU Foreign Minister, although they have changed the name. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, “cosmetic changes and different terminology, but with the same legal effect”.
There are two other changes which are remarkably sinister.
The first sounds dry and technical, perhaps appealing only to constitutional lawyers. It gives the EU a “legal personality”. This means that it can sit in its own right in international bodies and sign treaties on behalf of member-states. It would open the way for the EU to take over Britain’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council, for example.
But it also marks the point at which we can no longer pretend that the EU is a free association of independent states (even if that is true today, which is in doubt). With a legal personality, the EU is more like a country, and less like an association of countries. It crosses the threshold to statehood.
And the second change: this is a “self-amending” treaty. It gives the EU institutions powers to pursue further integration without limit, and behind closed doors. Today, a new EU Treaty must be ratified at least by parliament, and we can have a realistic debate about whether it also demands ratification by the people in a referendum. In future, powers can be grabbed by Brussels without even our House of Commons having a say.
That is why it is so vitally important to press for a referendum on this Renamed Constitution. For if we fail now, we may never have another chance.