October 20, 2007

October 20, 2007 | Commentary on International Conflicts

Brave New Europe

Britain must defeat the new EU reform treaty.

Imagine if the citizens of the United States were handed a new Pan-American "constitution" or "treaty" drawn up in Buenos Aires, and crafted by unelected foreign officials behind closed doors. The several hundred page document, the centerpiece of a grand political union of the Americas, would pave the way for the creation of a Pan-American foreign minister, a permanent Pan-American president, and a Pan-American diplomatic service. Under the proposed treaty the United States would be expected to pool its sovereignty with dozens of countries, stretching from Canada in the North to Argentina in the South, and work towards a unified foreign and security policy as well as a common defense policy, which would involve the likes of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The U.S. would also be encouraged to join a Pan-American common currency to replace the dollar, with a Central Bank in Mexico City, which would set interest rates across the entire Americas. Imagine also if the American people were told that this treaty was so clearly in their interests that they would not be allowed a popular vote on whether to sign up to it. Referendums after all can rock the boat and disrupt the best laid plans.

This all sounds like a nightmarish vision of the future dreamt up by Aldous Huxley or George Orwell. The vast majority of Americans would see this as a ludicrous exercise in futility that would destroy the sovereignty of the United States. Millions of people would take to the streets to protest their rights as American citizens.

Luckily, we are unlikely to ever see the White House and Congress sacrificing America's independence in such a fashion. Unfortunately, for the inhabitants of Great Britain and other European Union members, this kind of scenario is a reality and not science fiction.

Originally envisioned as a single market within Europe, the EU (formerly European Economic Community) is morphing into a gigantic political entity with ambitions of becoming the world's first supranational superstate. Already major strides have been made in the development of a unified European foreign and defence policy as well as a supranational legal structure, and with the introduction of the Euro in 1999, the European single currency and European Central Bank became a reality.

The European Constitution, drafted in 2004, was a huge step forward in the evolution of what is commonly known as the "European Project," or the drive towards "ever closer union." With its 448 articles, the Constitution was a vast vanity project conceived in Paris, Berlin, and Brussels, which dramatically crashed to earth when voters in France and Holland emphatically rejected it in 2005. Over the past two years, European Union apparatchiks have worked feverishly to resurrect the Constitution, and EU leaders met this week to finalize details of the new European Reform Treaty, a massive document that looks almost exactly the same as the old Constitution. The Treaty is expected to be formally signed at a summit in Brussels in December.

All the main elements of the Constitution are contained in the new Treaty, repackaged in flowery language - it is the kind of cosmetic makeover that a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon would be proud of. The Reform Treaty paves the way for the creation of a European Union High Representative at the head of an EU foreign service, as well as a long-term EU president, both trappings of a fledgling superstate. In addition, countries such as Britain will sacrifice their veto right over EU decision-making in 40 policy areas. According to the European Scrutiny Committee, a British parliamentary body, only two of the treaty's 440 provisions were not contained in the original constitution.

The old Constitution was a blueprint for a European superstate dreamt up by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The new "reform treaty" is also a blueprint for a European superstate dreamt up by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. This time however, most of Europe doesn't get to vote, as democracy is too dangerous a concept for the architects of this grand vision of an EU superpower.

For both sides of the Atlantic, this treaty is bad news. The treaty poses a massive threat to the future of the Anglo-American Special Relationship, as well as the broader transatlantic alliance. It will further entrench Europe's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as well as the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), both major threats to the future of NATO. The treaty will weaken the transatlantic alliance and seriously impair the ability of America's allies in Europe to stand alongside the United States where and when they choose to do so.

An America without Britain alongside it would be far more isolated and friendless, and less likely to effectively project power on the world stage. For Washington there is no real alternative to the Special Relationship. Its collapse would be damaging to America's standing as a global power and significantly weaken her leadership of the war against Islamist terrorism.

Europe doesn't need a constitution. The European Union is not the United States of Europe. The EU is a grouping of 27 independent nation states, each with their own culture, language, heritage, and national interests. The EU works best as a single economic market that facilitates the free movement of goods, services, and people. It is far less successful as a political entity that tries to force its member states to conform to an artificial common identity.

The Constitution and its successor treaty are all about the centralization of political power in the hands of a gilded ruling elite in Brussels, and not the protection of individual liberty. They are also based on the principle that sovereignty should be pooled by nation states for the 'greater good' of Europe, an outdated concept that goes against the grain of modern history, as witnessed with the break-up of the old Soviet Empire.

The notion that the people of Europe should not have a vote on the treaty's huge implications for the future of the continent, demonstrates the utter contempt that the Brussels bureaucracy has for the average man or woman on the street. There is no doubt that if the Treaty were put to a popular vote the electorates of several countries would reject it -- so far only the Irish government has been brave enough to stand up to Brussels and insist on a vote. The whole "European Project" is fundamentally undemocratic, unaccountable, and opaque, and if it were subjected to referenda across the EU would almost certainly be consigned to the dustbin of history.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is stubbornly opposing a referendum on the treaty. This is a big mistake politically, and will cost him numerous votes at the next election in 2008 or 2009 unless he reverses course. The Reform Treaty is hugely unpopular with the British public, and the Conservative Party is wisely outflanking Brown by pledging to hold a referendum if elected. In a new Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll 69 percent of Britons surveyed called for a British referendum on the treaty, including 87 percent of Conservative voters and 70 percent of Labour Party supporters. A mere six percent of the British electorate agrees with Downing Street's assertion that "the new treaty differs substantially from the old constitution."

The British people have always been uneasy with the notion of further integration in Europe, and if given a chance to vote on this issue will overwhelmingly oppose any attempt to strip away more powers from Westminster. Invoking the defiant spirit of Churchill, the hugely influential Sun newspaper in London, owned by Rupert Murdoch and edited by Rebekah Wade, has launched a large-scale campaign in support of a British referendum, which its several million readers are enthusiastically backing. In addition, over a hundred thousand Britons have signed an online petition for a referendum launched by theTelegraph.

With a keen eye on the polls, Brown may ultimately give in to public pressure and agree to a popular vote. A hundred Labour MPs have already come out calling on Brown to reverse his position. If he does so, the Treaty will be thrown out, effectively driving a stake through the biggest threat to British national sovereignty and the Anglo-American alliance of our generation.

The prime minister should heed the words of Lady Thatcher, who wrote in her seminal book Statecraft: "That such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era." The Iron Lady's instincts are right -- common sense must prevail and the British people should reject an Orwellian vision of Europe's future in favor of the principle of sovereignty and freedom.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Sally McNamara is senior policy analyst in European Affairs.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Sally McNamara Senior Policy Analyst, European Affairs

First appeared in National Review Online