Brown facing ticking time bomb on Europe
Published 14/12/2007 | 09:06
Gordon Brown got to Lisbon - just. His complex choreography was carefully designed to convey the message to the electorate that he was dragged there. No wonder. At the last count (the EU's own), British support for UK membership of the European Union was shown to have sunk to an unimpressive 39%.
Such scepticism is the EU's own doing. The European idea, a noble concept which arose from the ashes of war, has gone badly wrong, victim of the Napoleonic ambitions of little men. Their Lisbon treaty is so unpopular that those signing it yesterday dared not ask their electorates at home to vote on it.
The Irish will do so - because, to Bertie Ahern's dismay, he finds that, constitutionally, they are obliged to. Only last month, Nicolas Sarkozy told a closed meeting of Euro MPs he could not win a referendum in France, nor, he said, could Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Great Britain. This is because the people are not ready to abandon the nation state.
They accept the enlightened European vision of co-operative endeavour: but to European Government, they firmly say 'No'. When faced with this challenge, the resolve at the top of the EU is that the will of the people must be ignored, thus displaying the absolutist cast of mind which is at the core of their sickness.
In the collision, the most sensitive victim is the UK. The citizens of Athens may have invented democracy, but it was the English who adapted it as a workable system in a modern civilisation. In Britain the smooth evolution of that democracy has not been interrupted for the best part of four centuries. But such continuity is unknown elsewhere in the EU.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is a former Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda in Free German Youth, the young communists' organisation in East Germany - and she remained an activist in the Communist Party until the Berlin wall came down in 1989. Italian democracy dates only from Mussolini's demise and the end of the Second World War. The current complexion of Italian society is indicated by the status of the mafia as the nation's largest industry, the revenues from its gangsterism representing 7% of Italy's GDP.
Democracy in Spain dates from shortly after the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, and is a mere 30 years old. Portugal's is only 10 years older. The nation where Mr Barroso, the President of the EU Commission, was once prime minister, suffered a coup by its army in 1926 and shortly thereafter was ruled by the dictator, Antonio Salazar, who ruthlessly suppressed all opposition and retained power until 1968. As for France, when the Germans invaded in 1940, the Third Republic collapsed and the Nazis found an almost embarrassing surfeit of fellow-travellers among Vichy's fascists, willing to herd their own fellow-citizens, crammed like cattle, into the trucks bound for Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka.
That the British should be sceptical of the notion that they should be increasingly bound by the decisions made by these infant democrats should surprise no one. Under the new constitution Brown signed yesterday, the UK loses its right of veto in 49 (or is it 54 - or 60?) policy areas. No one seems to know precisely, because the actual figure is carefully suppressed.
This will happen because more and more decisions will be taken by 'qualified majority' voting - each nation having a fixed number of votes according to its population. Until now, the major partners each have had an equal number of votes. Now Britain will have fewer than Germany, for example, and will be liable to be outvoted on key issues (like the common foreign policy being so assiduously pushed). Even more vitally, once the Treaty is ratified at Westminster (only the Lords can stop it now), removal of the veto and the extension of majority voting mean that the way will be open for the continuous extension of EU powers over domestic affairs - and for the enlargement of the EU itself: the process will be unstoppable.
There is already disquiet over endemic mismanagement within the EU, which climaxed eight years ago when the entire Commission was obliged to resign over the tide of fraud, graft and sheer incompetence. Ignoring the popular will on a vital issue like the new constitution is no way to improve things. Gordon Brown has influential referendum rebels already in the open on the Government benches and Tories and Liberals opposite are massed against him. By forsaking democracy, he strengthens the sceptics and takes on board a ticking bomb.