So the Czech President has signed the Lisbon Treaty which means it will likely to come into force in a few weeks time. The big political question now is what David Cameron will do. Apparently he will make an announcement tomorrow or later this week depending on who you believe.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
I had an interesting discussion with my fellow "House of Comments" podcaster Stuart Sharpe from off of Sharpe's Opinion on Twitter earlier on. I tweeted a couple of things asking what Cameron would do next given his previous "cast iron" commitment to a referendum. Stuart tweeted: "I don't really think it's fair to stab someone in the back and then dance on their grave, you see." and then linked to this post he did last month where he suggested that neither Labour or the Lib Dems have stuck to their pledges on a Lisbon referendum. He therefore thinks it is unfair for members of those parties to now use the Lisbon Treaty as a stick with which to beat the Tories.
I can see his point and if I was a Tory and/or Eurosceptic I would be pretty annoyed about this too. In fact I am annoyed about what Labour and my own party have done over this issue but my thinking on it is a bit too involved for the 140 characters that Twitter allows. I did try and outline it in a series of tweets but I will have a proper go here.
Firstly, I am in favour of us having strong ties with Europe. I think it is good for us and makes us stronger as a nation. I am not hugely wedded to the EU as it is constituted at the moment not least because of the lack of accountability of the European Commission. I don't like the way the commissioners are all appointed and it is often seen as a reward or sop for domestic politicians of the various member states. I think it would be much better if it was more democratically accountable. I also think that the fact the accounts have not been signed off is very bad and gives the impression of corruption even if this isn't warranted. I really don't understand why this has not been addressed more fully. However I also think that the arguments above can be and are overplayed by opponents of the EU. The Council of Ministers which consists of ministers from each country is democratic in so far as the ministers are elected in their respective countries. MEPs are also elected and although I don't like the specific proportional system used for this in the UK, it is better than First Past the Post and they are representative.
As for the Lisbon Treaty and how things have played out with that in the last year or two I have a few points:
I think that the EU hugely over complicates these treaties and makes it difficult for non-technocrats to understand them. I certainly haven't the time or inclination to wade through it. I don't really understand why they can't keep it simple. Something like the US constitution is clear, concise and simple enough to be understood by schoolchildren - indeed it is taught to them in schools. Does anyone seriously think that say the Maastricht Treaty or Lisbon could be taught in a similar way?
Unfortunately, that is not how these things are done in Europe (perhaps more learned people than me could explain why in the comments) so because it is so complicated, it was not a good idea to pledge a referendum. How many people would read and fully understand it before voting? That is where parliament should earn its money by debating the treaty and voting on it.
However the Lib Dems and Labour did pledge a referendum and because I think parties should honour their pledges, we should not have gone back on this. I know both parties had their arguments: "It's no longer a constitution" in the case of Labour, "The real question is in or out" in the case of the Lib Dems but to most people it seems like a reneging on pre-election promises. I find it very hard to argue against that.
Now that we have done though, I actually think our current policy is more sensible than our original one. The ongoing saga of Europe needs to be settled. The last referendum was 35 years ago and on a completely different question.
I genuinely think that a referendum on in/out would be close and may go "out". I would not want to see this outcome but I am a democrat and we need to allow the public to make up their minds on this in order to settle this issue at least for the next political generation.
As for David Cameron, well nobody forced him to make a "cast-iron" pledge in The Sun about a referendum on Lisbon with no caveats. That was his decision and so if he now goes back on that he is going to have to expect some flak, not least from many of his own party members for whom this is a vital issue and who may well feel betrayed.