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Save our Strasbourg

Mark Mardell | 08:40 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The revolving doors of the European Parliament in Brussels are spinning as people with suitcases bustle in and out, the coffee shops are full of men and women huddled over pieces of paper, heavily underlining important paragraphs, and the corridors are full of people hurrying along to meetings.

All of this is very unusual. For this is the time of the month when they should all be gathering in Strasbourg, as they are meant to do for every full session.Debris in European Parliament in Strasbourg

But over the summer ten tons of rubble descended from the beehive-shaped roof there, onto the desks and chairs below, and work is still going on to repair it. Had they been meeting, people would have been killed. But it's given a new impetus to the "single seat" campaign, run by those who want one parliament, based in Brussels.

The leaders of all the British parties in the parliament support it.
Labour's Gary Titley says: "It's just bad for the image for the European Parliament, which is now increasingly being associated with waste and extravagance".

The Conservatives' Philip Bushill-Matthews agrees. "Some of the few MEPs who did like going to Strasbourg are now joining our campaign and saying 'What's the point? Let's stay in Brussels'." So does the Liberal Democrats' Andrew Duff. "For us to travel to Strasbourg is expensive, tiring and takes us away from the centre of power. The centre of political power in the EU is in Brussels." He also says that if the Lisbon Treaty was passed MEPs themselves would have the power to change where they meet, although others dispute this.

The restaurants and hotels in Strasbourg are half-empty and the city is beginning to feel the pinch. The mayor, Roland Ries, says "this has revived the ardour of those who campaign against Strasbourg.

"But it has made us realise what the economic impact would be: hotels, shops, restaurants: we're losing four million euros each cancelled session."

So one French MEP has launched a counter-campaign. True, Brigitte Foure only has just over 1,000 signatures, compared to over a million for the one seat campaign. But she tells me that, although she is not from the area but from Picardy in northern France, it matters to her. And it is the symbolic, not economic, argument that counts.

"I come from a land of wars and it is really important to hold this meeting in the city. European delegates are elected at the same time in the same week. It's something amazing and a symbol to the world that we can live in peace and build a better future. I am attached to the European flag and anthem and these symbols support what we believe in. In Strasbourg the parliament is built expressly for this purpose and I want it to continue."View of Strasbourg

To my knowledge the only British MEP to support Strasbourg is Lib Dem Emma Nicholson who, like Madame Foure, thinks it should be the only seat. She says that it's not just about the past but the current, underlying political reality.

"Beneath the surface of this very civilised European Union we have the ongoing permanent tensions between France and Germany. In Strasbourg we have the Council of Europe, so we can pop next door over the bridge and talk to the Russians, the Eastern European people, the whole of the real Europe. We're very isolated here in Brussels, an ivory tower becoming more and more like the UN every day, further away from a parliamentary democracy. Very comfortable and happy here, but the reality is France, Germany, the rest of the world and the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights as well."

A German MEP who is spearheading the opposing campaign disagrees. Alexander Alvaro tells me "it certainly is a powerful symbol, but right now it's backward-looking, at what has been done in history. It's a symbol of the ancient European Union, rather than looking forward."

It may matter what they all think. But it's not in their gift. Where they meet is set down in a treaty that has to be agreed by all the presidents and prime ministers of the EU nations. If my memory serves me correctly, it was in Edinburgh that John Major backed the current arrangement. It would mean Chancellor Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown (and the rest) taking on France's Nicolas Sarkozy. And the senior politicians I talk to feel they have better things to do, and indeed better horses to trade, than taking on a symbol that means much to the French.

To those who didn't like yesterday's post: I do like stimulating furious debate, but that is not the only purpose of a blog: it is there to read. And yes, on the whole it should be about Europe, but I don't see why I shouldn't talk about other aspects of the job. Maddy cute? I thought I was being more paternally talent scout-ish. But I will leave it up to you if you want to start a cuteometre for everyone I ever mention.


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  • 1. At 09:16am on 23 Sep 2008, danteGideon wrote:

    The cute-o-meter? Well, of all the people mentioned in today's post Alexander Alvaro is probably the most attractive. Roland Ries has a certain patrician charm but is perhaps a touch too old for me.

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  • 2. At 09:20am on 23 Sep 2008, dalrymple01 wrote:

    It did not occur to me that yesterday's blog entry was outside your remit - it was an interesting read and an interesting insight into the world both of journalism and in which we live.

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  • 3. At 09:27am on 23 Sep 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    I glad MEP's are finally waking up to the need for change in the E.U. It is just a shame that they have picked up on such a trivial issue. There isso much work to be done around making the E.U more accessable and accountable to its citizens, that where they sit seems of little consequence. Maybe whilst the Strasbourg building is being repaired (probably at great expense) they should go on a European roadshow taking the Parliment to every country in the Union. Much like the England team did whilst Wembely was being built.

    Spread the E.U love around a little? (just a thought)

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  • 4. At 09:51am on 23 Sep 2008, Young-Mr-Grace wrote:

    Like the idea in post 3 of temporary traveling to showcase the parliament around europe.
    Re the Lisbon treaty. If ratified would the "citizens intiaitve" allow a public campaign to collect signitures to support a one-seat campaign.
    Two seats must be environmentally unfriendly if nothing else and so if the EU wants to provide leadership in that area then the parliament would be useful symbolic start.

    You're all doing very well !!

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  • 5. At 10:27am on 23 Sep 2008, the-real-truth wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 6. At 10:32am on 23 Sep 2008, bena gyerek wrote:

    the sad truth is that nobody cares about the european parliament. ever fewer people vote for it. nobody can name their mep. nobody really knows what they do, and in truth when compared to most parliaments (even emasculated westminster) they do very little of consequence to ordinary people. their role is negative, to vet policy proposed by others. they do not appoint or control the "management" in the european commission.

    i am sure the meps do feel strongly about this issue, as it must be an enormous hassle for them not to have a permanent home. but i am also sure many of them are desperate to be more noticed and relevant, and it suits them to pick this fight because it is one of the few things that gets them any public attention.

    i totally agree with wep @ 3 that if the meps really wanted to start a worthwhile campaign, it should be to make brussels accessible and accountable. as i repeatedly said elsewhere, the best way is by making the commission elected. what the european public needs right now is the ability to choose a man with a plan, someone that can give a sense of purpose to the whole project and a different perspective to the one peddled by our national governments.

    i wonder if any meps read this blog..

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  • 7. At 10:47am on 23 Sep 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    I can't remember the last time MEP's were elected. In the last six years i can't remember a European election. Whens the next one?

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  • 8. At 11:02am on 23 Sep 2008, Buzet23 wrote:

    #6, benagyerek,

    I'm afraid I've long held the opinion that MEP's and Commissioners are those politicians who have outstayed their welcome in their own government. Your first paragraph is exactly the situation that most of us feel and having faceless nobodies for our MEP's makes it even worse. At least I know my local Minister, Mayor and many councillors and it is fairly visible what they do or don't do, but MEP's are a totally different equation.

    The farce that Strasbourg is should be shut down as quick as possible, and if the only reason for keeping it is because of French sensibilities then it's even more proof how non-European the French are as nobody can justify the huge cost purely on national pride.

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  • 9. At 11:14am on 23 Sep 2008, jon112uk wrote:

    There is one good thing about the shuffle...

    If you want to go on holiday to Strasbourg (lovely place) pick a time when the Euro-piggies, sorry MPs, are not sitting there.

    Just across the big park from the parliament are the most wonderful hotels which usually house the MPs - paid for by us. Obviously the hotels are empty, desperate for trade and cutting their rates.

    You can get an experience of the expense account luxury at a fraction of the normal cost.

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  • 10. At 11:17am on 23 Sep 2008, Freeborn John wrote:

    The money spent shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg is one of those 'surrogate' EU issues. Like corruption it is a problem that can easily be latched onto when the deeper cause of discontent with the EU is trickier to diagnose and articulate. Having this body meet permanently in one location would save some money, but it would do nothing to address the fundamental problems facing the EU Parliament that lead to its unpopularity.

    The biggest problems with the EU Parliament are (i) the party-list system (ii) that the people who elect it do not form one polity that agree to be bound by its majority (iii) it frequently acts to advance its own institutional interest in acquiring more power, even when such transfers are opposed by those who elect it.

    MEPs at the head of a party-list, for example Giles Chichester, Andrew Duff or Richard Corbett know they cannot be removed except by truly massive and unlikely swings even when they have resigned as leader of their party in Brussels for (supposedly minor) financial irregularities or represent highly federalist views at odds with their electorate. Such figures are political insiders appointed and protected by party machines. Only a system of direct primaries would open up the selection process such that voters might root out individual rogue MEPs that we currently cannot get rid of.

    The other problems require returning powers to nation-states where there are polities (the nations of Europe) that agree to be bound by majorities in national parliaments and constitutional mechanisms to prevent the EU ratchet of power disenfranchising electorates (e.g. Irish-style referendums).

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  • 11. At 11:19am on 23 Sep 2008, stupidmop87 wrote:

    "Beneath the surface of this very civilised European Union we have the ongoing permanent tensions between France and Germany"

    Sorry, can't see that. May be, french and german goverments don't always agree, but I don't think that's the kind of "ongoing permanent tensions" she means.

    I'd prefer a solution with one permanent seat, but not sure about where. If I had to decide I'd choose the one which is a better place to work for the MEPs and which has more important political connections. Symbolism isn't important to me.

    I can understand the mayor of Strasbourg but if they'd stay in Brussels, EU could support the city. Bonn is still a nice place and even grew after the German government moved to Berlin.

    But there won't be a decision anyway. They will repair the building an keep on meeting in Brussels and Strasbourg.

    @7: next election is in june 2009

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  • 12. At 12:09pm on 23 Sep 2008, Lord_Nose wrote:

    The ordinary person does not care a stuff about the sentiments of pro-Strasbourg MEPs, history or indeed the city's population. The winning point for most people is that ending this silly merry-go-round would save billions in the long run.

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  • 13. At 12:12pm on 23 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    The symbolic importance to the French of the Strasbourg may have been significant when it was first on the agenda but, these days, it is almost entirely economic. Strasbourg was a delight before the eurocrats got their hands on it and anyone who doubts the ability of a city to adapt to an outflux of pen pushers should take a look at Bonn.

    At the risk of sounding trite, perhaps the French should focus on something more mundane such as civil engineering. After all, if the roof had not caved in, we probably would not be having this debate.

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  • 14. At 1:42pm on 23 Sep 2008, G-in-Belgium wrote:

    Emma Nicholson should nip down Rue de la Loi to the centre if she's feeling isolated.

    It's not far, about 2.5 kilometres.

    She'll find Poles, Moroccans, French, Belgians, English, Irish, Dutch, Danes, Romanians...

    She needn't even go that far, there's plenty of pubs and restaurants around her in Brussels where she has the opportunity to meet q huge cross section of the European populace.

    Ivory Towers are in her mind...

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  • 15. At 1:59pm on 23 Sep 2008, SCFNL29 wrote:

    There can be absolutely no doubt that Brussels would feel some of the after effects as well if the EU moved its headquarters (or some of its institutions) from there.

    I suspect apart from in France, nobody will shed a tear for Strasbourg's loss of revenue if the parliament seat was removed from there. At the end of the day, the money and time saved will far outweigh the interests of this minor part of France. There is no room for sentiment in the running of an EU now covering 27. Jeez this isnt 1945.

    Its wierd actually, I bet the person who goes on about the symbolism of Strasbourg will also be one of the first to attack "Eurosceptic" opinion as being out of date and backward thinking. Rather ironic wouldn't you say?

    Anyway, they have the Court of Human Rights there as well so they shouldn't get greedy.

    The end is finally near for the pointless Strasbourg parliament you have to feel - it may be a while away but at least its no longer far off in the distance!

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  • 16. At 2:05pm on 23 Sep 2008, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    So the roof is finally caving in on the EU. Surprise surprise.

    This calls for drastic measures. If I were Sarkozy, I'd push for emergency radically upgrade the standards of hotels and restaurants in Strasbourg. Build a better mousetrap and they will come.

    "the real Europe"?????

    What is the real Europe?????

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  • 17. At 2:45pm on 23 Sep 2008, RealisticJimmy wrote:

    Heh. Considering that most of the people likely to be mentioned in your blog are politicians I think an ugly-o-metre would probably be more accurate...

    I think some people don't fully understand exactly what a blog is about. I personally found your previous post very interesting to read.

    As for Stratsbourg/Brussels, in the grand scheme of things the underlying mechanics and structure of the EU are, I think, more important- of course its far easier for the politicians to talk about the symbolism of where they meet than address the real issues of the EU...

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  • 18. At 2:51pm on 23 Sep 2008, IanBannen wrote:

    Actually I thought yesterdays blog was fascinating. Re. the Strasburg situation, isn't about time that the French realise that the EU isn't their private fiefdom anymore, and there is no point in having two sites. In fact, given that English is so widely spoken, why not have only one official parliamentary language as well?

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  • 19. At 3:10pm on 23 Sep 2008, schranzo wrote:

    Heres my proposal then... If Strasbourg say they lose 4 million per session give the city 48 million per year and stop the circus. That will still save the taxpayer over 150 million per year.

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  • 20. At 3:27pm on 23 Sep 2008, Peter_Sym wrote:

    Fundamentally if Westminster relocated to Manchester for 2 months a year to aid the economy of the North West the BBC servers would collapse under the weight of angry blog comments. The continuing Starsbourg farce is a giant statement that the EU was set up by France for the benefit of France.

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  • 21. At 3:39pm on 23 Sep 2008, Peter_Sym wrote:

    "Heres my proposal then... If Strasbourg say they lose 4 million per session give the city 48 million per year and stop the circus. That will still save the taxpayer over 150 million per year."

    Nottingham (my home town) would get 4 million a session if we hosted the EU parliament. Can we have 150 million a year too?

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  • 22. At 4:09pm on 23 Sep 2008, greypolyglot wrote:

    3. WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    "Maybe whilst the Strasbourg building is being repaired (probably at great expense) they should go on a European roadshow taking the Parliment to every country in the Union. "

    An inspîred idea! It's an even better idea than holding everything permanently in Brussels. For heaven's sake push it to your MEP and MP.

    The Strasbourg's sessions only exist as a sop to the French who were REALLY important partners when the EEC got started. (The Germans kept quiet and were just glad to be readmitted to the human race after WW11 and the Italians had spent half of the war on the wrong side - all of the other countries were rather small and insignificant)

    Marcus Aureliius:
    I was away for several previous threads so I'll comment here. I'm British but I'd like you please to check to see who paid for your War of Independence and fought alongside the Colonial troops. Please also check to see who made your Statue of Liberty and GAVE it to the USA. Can you explain why Americans claim their independence from 1776 when they only actually WON the war later as recognized in the Treaty of Paris 1783 (oh dear, the French again !)

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  • 23. At 4:20pm on 23 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    Apropos your previous post ('Hostile environments'), the ruins of the EU Parliament would make a great place to practice urban warfare games.

    Once completely destroyed, it could be used as a venue for paintball, or 'scrap-heap challenge' type events etc.

    At least some benefit would finally come out of it.

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  • 24. At 4:51pm on 23 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    WEP @ #7

    4 - 7th June 2009 is the EU Parliamentary Elections and they are canvassing for support now!

    This date actually creates a bit of a potential problem.

    The Lisbon Treaty was expected to be in force and this treaty would be the first EU Parliament Election with granting electoral mandate to use the powers of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the MEPs more substantive powers.

    However, if the Lisbon Treaty is not in force when the EU Parliament Elections are held the powers of the MEPs will continue to be restricted to the powers granted under the Nice Treaty.

    If, after election the Lisbon Treaty is unanimoulsly ratified, the MEPs will, arguably, have been elected by Europeans with mandate constrained by the current known powers and not have popular electoral mandate to use the powers conferred by Lisbon.

    The question would be then, could the MEPS legitimately use the powers conferred by Lisbon?

    I sense more litigation in the pipeline if the Irish second referendum is "Yes" to Lisbon and the final ratification occurs post-June 2009.

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  • 25. At 6:12pm on 23 Sep 2008, hrcolyer wrote:

    Why shouldn't the single seat be in Strasbourg rather than Brussels. EU institutions were meant to be shared between all member states, historically it's a much more fitting seat.

    Brussels hardly needs the finance, whereas Strasbourg does.

    And people forget the symbol of Strasbourg is not French national pride, but a reality of the peace the continent can enjoy in an era where France and Germany are no longer tearing themselves (and the rest of us) apart.

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  • 26. At 6:29pm on 23 Sep 2008, Old-Man-Mike wrote:

    This is a test post - blog not working?

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  • 27. At 8:45pm on 23 Sep 2008, chris smith wrote:

    2009 euro elections pay back time vote ukip just think what trouble they could do over there on our behalf bring it on

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  • 28. At 9:32pm on 23 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    On second thoughts, we could offer Strasbourg the 2012 Olympic Games as compensation!

    It's a win-win situation: London sheds a stupid, expensive burden and Strasbourg continues to hog at public (in this case French) expense.

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  • 29. At 10:36pm on 23 Sep 2008, betuli wrote:

    Strasbourg, a germanophone city under the French state, that's a suitable place to be the EU parliament see, but permanently, no more MEP trip expenses!

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  • 30. At 10:40pm on 23 Sep 2008, Buzet23 wrote:

    #18, couldn't agree more.

    #23, what a really great idea, I'd take my children and grandchildren there to have a fun day and if there were effigies of EU politicians, not one paint ball would miss.

    #25, hrcolyer,

    Sorry, France has had more than it's fair share of the spoils, if you'd suggested a city in one of the newer entrants then maybe you would have a point, but never, never France as we're all suffering from the French nationalistic non-European ego.

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  • 31. At 10:56pm on 23 Sep 2008, EUprisoner209456731 wrote:

    On this website I read

    ' "I have announced today that enough is enough."

    Viviane Reding, EU Telecommunications Commissioner'

    Well how about that ?!?!?

    That is exactly how I have felt about the "EU" for over thirty years!

    Do they care?

    Not one tiny bit!

    They do not care what the "citizens of the 'EU' " think.

    They are at least as arrogant as Hitler.

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  • 32. At 11:04pm on 23 Sep 2008, EUprisoner209456731 wrote:

    24. At 4:51pm on 23 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    "WEP @ #7

    4 - 7th June 2009 is the EU Parliamentary Elections and they are canvassing for support now!

    This date actually creates a bit of a potential problem.

    The Lisbon Treaty"...

    Blahdy blahdy blah...

    "The question would be then, could the MEPS legitimately use the powers conferred by Lisbon?..."

    Do I give a flog?

    I want out!

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  • 33. At 11:37pm on 23 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #24 - Menedemus

    I am not at all sure it is not an advantage. It effectively sets a deadline by which Lisbon has to be resolved one way or the other.

    You cannot really have an election involving 300 million people plus who have no idea whether they are voting for a talking shop or a legislative assembly.

    Can you imagine it?

    Vote for us and we promise to do this, that and the other - but only if we have permission?

    Not really a starter is it?

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  • 34. At 00:25am on 24 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    SuffolkBoy2 @32

    When John Major and the Conservative Government ratified the Treaty of Maastricht the UK was bound to the EU project for good or bad and forever and, unless a future UK Government ever offers the citizens of the UK a referendum on staying in the EU, you can rant, rave, jump, froth at the mouth, scream and holler as loud as you like but leaving the EU is just not going to happen.

    The reality is that the chances of any one of the the three major political parties of the UK EVER giving the UK Electorate a referendum on leaving the EU is somewhere between no chance and never in a million years!

    I am sure you will will not like this home truth but your wasting a lot of negative energy ranting and raving with your anti-EU comments.

    With your abundant energy you might find more comfort in being healthily eurosceptic (as I am!) and simply work to change the EU to a model that is more to your liking - the alternative is that you will continually bang your head against a brick wall, waste a lot of your energy and just keep giving yourself a massive headache for which there is no cure.

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  • 35. At 00:50am on 24 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    threnodio @ #33

    Yes indeed, introducing Lisbon is a now or much later matter. But 5 years is a long time for the EU to have to wait to implement some of the Lisbon articles.

    One problem I forsee is that the June 2009 EU Parliament Elections, if held in compliance with Nice, will mean that the current schematic for MEP numbers per country will remain unchanged.

    Lisbon reduces the numbers of MEPs for the etablished 13 nations and the more new EU member states gain more MEPS. Delay would be unfair to those new member states including Hungary for example!

    If Lisbon is ratified after the electorate have voted will the EU Parliament disenfranchise some of the electorate who voted for MEPs who may be "defrocked" and will the new constituent MEPs be elected via by-elections within the new member states. It could further exacerbate the issue of democratic accountability.

    I just wonder if there will be an EU imposed solution or whether the European Court will have to adjudicate a sensible (?) solution?

    Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to hold off deploying Lisbon if it is ratified after June 2009 - as regards the EU Parliament - until the next EU Parliment Elections.

    But this raises another problem: The EU Parliament is key to voting for the Lisbon created President, President of Commissioners and Foreign Minister - would they be lawful appointments if not voted for by an EU Parliament not empowered to do so by the Lisbon Treaty.

    The EU, if it get the Lisbon Treaty post-June 2009 is going to find itself between a rock and a hard place - with a parliament not given elected mandate to choose the top positions but the EU desperate to have those psoitions filled a.s.a.p.

    A bit of a quandary for the EU, the Council of Ministers and of course the MEPs who must be itching to get their Lisbon powers granted to them as soon as possible.

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  • 36. At 01:08am on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #34 - Menedemus

    Amen to that!

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  • 37. At 04:45am on 24 Sep 2008, pciii wrote:

    #34, Menedemus, isn't your advice to Suffolk boy just a tiny bit patronising and defeatist?

    Fair play on pointing out the obstacles in place, but just because something's difficult, that's not a reason to give up.

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  • 38. At 07:47am on 24 Sep 2008, WhiteEnglishProud wrote:

    Unfortunately Menedemus is right. The three major political parties in the UK will never go to the country over the E.U.
    And I dont think that the majority of people will trust the UKIP in my life time.

    Were stuck with the E.U what we need is more say in its future. We need to shape it so that instead of the E.U dictating to the people, the people tell the E.U what they want from it.

    This is the heart of the problem whio has ever been asked what they want the E.U to be? Not just in the UK but Europe wide.

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  • 39. At 09:08am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    Menedemus @34 wrote:

    "The reality is that the chances of any one of the the three major political parties of the UK EVER giving the UK Electorate a referendum on leaving the EU is somewhere between no chance and never in a million years!"


    " With your abundant energy you might find more comfort in being healthily eurosceptic (as I am!) and simply work to change the EU to a model that is more to your liking..."

    These sentiments are both correct, of course. But that doesn't mean that we can't frustrate the EU-fanatic integrationists' endeavours to such an extent that the whole 'European Project' jams up and grinds to a halt - or - they throw us out.

    Either are acceptable to me. (Although I would prefer the latter as the cost of the UK subsidising the EU is a blatent waste). instance

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  • 40. At 09:09am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    Menedemus @34 wrote:

    "The reality is that the chances of any one of the the three major political parties of the UK EVER giving the UK Electorate a referendum on leaving the EU is somewhere between no chance and never in a million years!"


    " With your abundant energy you might find more comfort in being healthily eurosceptic (as I am!) and simply work to change the EU to a model that is more to your liking..."

    These sentiments are both correct, of course. But that doesn't mean that we can't frustrate the EU-fanatic integrationists' endeavours to such an extent that the whole 'European Project' jams up and grinds to a halt - or - they throw us out.

    Either are acceptable to me. (Although I would prefer the latter as the cost of the UK subsidising the EU is a blatant waste). instance

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  • 41. At 09:18am on 24 Sep 2008, bena gyerek wrote:

    menedemus - couldn't they just hold new elections once (if ever) lisbon is ratified?

    buzet - the problem with repatriating powers to nation states is that (a) far too many issues these days absolutely require cooperation among nation states, and (b) it is impossible to get consensus between 40 nations (which is roughly how many members the eu could have in 10-20 years from now). give and take is always needed to get any agreement in the eu, and replacing the veto with qmv institutionalises this give and take, making decision making way more efficient and transparent (as nations can afford to voice a no vote).

    the obsession with national self-determination is very english. we are still not used to the idea that political decisions can be made at a level other than westminster (either higher or lower). most european countries do not get in a funk about "brussels" per se. they just don't trust their own political establishment with a project that seems designed to exclude them.

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  • 42. At 10:02am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    benagyerek @41 wrote:

    "...the obsession with national self-determination is very english."

    Absolutely. Maybe because we have been a free, independent and sovereign nation since 1066 (and in the United Kingdom by volition since 1707.

    Most EU nations have been either enslaved or enslavers for the past 900 years. In the past 100 years all EU members except Sweden were at times wholly or partially under occupation by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union (or both).

    Some nations in Europe are experiencing freedom and self determination for the very first time - only to have it subsumed into the overarching transnational EU.

    Yes. Maybe we are obsessed with self determination. And a damned good thing too!

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  • 43. At 10:09am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    In my post @42 I made a mistake: Spain and Portugal were not, of course, under foreign occupation - but had their own self-grown fascist governments instead. Lucky them.

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  • 44. At 10:16am on 24 Sep 2008, Constable_Shoe wrote:

    It is quite ironic that rubbish was dumped on the EU parliament desks, since the EU has the habit of dumping so much rubbish on member cou ntries.

    It is definately time that the circus of movement between Brussels and Strasbourg was brought to an end. Bad news for the Burghers of Strasbourg, but they'll get over it. They just need to build a few landmarks, have a flower festival, that sort of thing.

    There is no argument for continuously shuttling MEP's back and forth, other than the one that started it in the first place. It is clearly a move designed to weaken them and reduce their ability to function as an independent branch of the EU, by denying them continuous access to any facilities, staff or records.

    In the words of Humphrey Appleby, Power goes with Permanence, Impermanence is Impotence and Rotation is Castration.

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  • 45. At 10:26am on 24 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    benagyerek @ #41

    You may be right about holding fresh EU Parliament Elections being a solution IF Lisbon is ratified post-June 2009.

    The problem may simply be then of logistics and, the fact that some of the recently elected MEPS may well find themselves out of work if they vote for a dissolution of the EU parliament - are they going to want to vote for a dissolution of the EU Parliament if that means the end of their jobs.

    I am afraid I have no faith that self-interest will not always outweigh the interest of the common good when it comes to Parliamentarians and their own livelihoods!

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  • 46. At 10:31am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    Is there any truth in the rumour that the Machiavellian Mandy is to be replaced by the Hideous Hoon? (Who will no doubt accelerate the national sell-off by both design and incompetence).

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  • 47. At 10:39am on 24 Sep 2008, chimpy_ape wrote:

    #42 - you forgot Switzerland.

    Also we (the UK) haven't always been as free, independent and sovereign over the past few centuries as you claim, depending on which home nation you are from and your political views (I am English and therefore have not had an independent country for 300 years - many Scots feel the same). During the Glorious Revolution we were under a foreign monarch (even more so than our current one), and under Cromwell we were under a dictator. And today we are under a government that spies on its own citizens.

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  • 48. At 10:46am on 24 Sep 2008, Constable_Shoe wrote:

    39. At 09:08am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    “These sentiments are both correct, of course. But that doesn't mean that we can't frustrate the EU-fanatic integrationists' endeavours to such an extent that the whole 'European Project' jams up and grinds to a halt - or - they throw us out.

    Either are acceptable to me.”

    And me. As an idea this has several things to recommend it.

    The growing EU is under constant internal tension between its ability to function under the current operating model and its inability to define and implement new structures and processes.

    This can only get worse until the whole thing collapses under its own bloated, bureaucratic, undemocratic, unrepresentative weight.

    By leaving now, we will remove one (admittedly awkward) country from the equation, thus making it a little bit easier for the rest. We refuse to play their games fully, we haven’t joined the Euro and we are always drawing red lines and negotiating opt-outs and rebates. Poll after poll says how much we dislike membership. We are like the guest at a party who criticises every detail of the catering and decoration.

    In all truth and honesty, the other EU countries don’t respect us, don’t like us and frankly, do not want us. We never actually wanted to join either; we were bamboozled into it by silly sheep who were scared of being left out. Since the majority of the population of the UK don’t want to belong either, the conclusion is obvious.

    In exchange for favourable trading agreements, we should leave as soon as possible, and we should be as awkward as possible in the meantime to facilitate this.

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  • 49. At 10:52am on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    chimpy_ape @47 wrote:

    Switzerland is not in the EU. (The Swiss aren't stupid).

    The point about self-determination is that one can change one's own government. One can't change (or 'de-select') the EU.

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  • 50. At 11:03am on 24 Sep 2008, chimpy_ape wrote:

    I don't even have a government.

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  • 51. At 11:27am on 24 Sep 2008, Young-Mr-Grace wrote:

    Post 42. MaxSceptic wrote:
    "In the past 100 years all EU members except Sweden were at times wholly or partially under occupation by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union (or both)."

    Max, you self corrected on Spain and Portugal but there are a few more. I may be wrong but I'm not sure if Malta and Cyprus were occupied by Nazis (Cyprus maybe but Malta didn't win a George Cross for nothing).

    And of course what about Ireland? It was not under the heel of nazi or soviet. The foreign occupying power there was ......... Britain.

    And of course a part of Britain (the channel islands) was occupied by the nazis and so Britain would fall under a definition of partially under occupation.

    History is never clear cut...

    You're all doing very well !!!

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  • 52. At 11:51am on 24 Sep 2008, Buzet23 wrote:

    To #41, benagyerek,

    I'm pretty sure they can't delay the elections because that must be in a statute somewhere and to hold new elections might be an answer but imagine the cost. My local commune finds it very hard to make ends meet whenever there is an election and adding another round of elections will not be welcomed I'm sure.

    As for the problem with repatriating powers to nation states you mention, the problem is also that there are already so many barriers to cross border working/living that the idea of there being consensus amongst countries is false, even between neighbours it is declining as cross border rules get watered down and neutered in order to increase the tax take of the various finance ministers.

    I forget which blog it was but someone once explained in great detail how the QMV works and how the percentages are inherently biased towards certain large countries like France and Germany, meaning that the UK and small countries would have to be very lucky to pass or reject a law France and Germany held the opposite view to. I think it could be interesting here if there is anyone out there who knows the exact detail of the QMV to reiterate it so we know whether it is a solution or a Franco-German device.

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  • 53. At 11:59am on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    Given that there must be a European Parliamentary election in June 2009 and that candidates must be given a reasonable period in which to campaign, it is essential that Lisbon is resolved by March 2009 at the latest.

    It seems inconceivable that Ireland could join the process without a further referendum and the outcome is by no means guaranteed but if the major objections can be overcome, it is possible a 'yes' vote can be secured. However, one of these objections seems to be the question of a permanent commissioner and, if that is addressed, there are bound to be other smaller countries who would query the equity of any new arrangement.

    There are other waverers for various reasons. Finland has to resolve the question of the Arland Islands and the Czech president has indicated he will not sign the ratification legislation until Ireland is on board. If Ireland does agree but on revised terms, it raises questions for several other countries.

    The EU cannot function without the Parliament because it holds the ultimate sanction of ratifying the budget. Without a budget, everything eventually grinds to a halt.

    I agree with Menedemus that, notwithstanding the stridency of some out and out objectors, the chances of the British given the option of complete withdrawal are non-existent. If the more reasonable ones are prepared to go along with the idea that it is better to seek reform from within. In this context, while Lisbon is certainly flawed, it does go some way towards addressing the democratic deficit both in terms of the relative powers of the Commission and Parliament and greater representation for smaller countries. Given that many of these are countries which are far closer to the British model of what the EU should be than the traditional Franco-German approach, this could be seen as beneficial.

    In my opinion, what should now happen is for EU heads of government to see if it possible to accommodate the Irish by 'tweeking' the treaty. It will have to be tested electorally, preferably before February next year. If there is a 'yes' vote, well and good. If the answer is 'no' the whole project will have to considered dead. In the former scenario, the elections would go ahead under the Lisbon rules. Under the latter, it would take place under the status quo with a provision that there will be new elections when and if the countries can agree a working constitutional formula. I suggest that this would have to require confirmation by referendum among all the members.

    This proposal is scrappy and has its drawbacks but it is the only option that makes any sense to me. If someone has a better idea, we will be interested to hear it.

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  • 54. At 12:05pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    Hi Buzet,
    The Wikipedia guide is a bit basic but the chart on the right hand side is usefull on QMVHERE

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  • 55. At 12:50pm on 24 Sep 2008, Buzet23 wrote:

    #54, threnodio,

    Thanks for the link it's most interesting, even the penrose method is new to me. My guess is that the bias a previous person highlighted is down to the change in the QMV were Lisbon to be enacted eg To pass: Majority of countries (55% or 72%) representing 65% of the population is the Lisbon method, whereas To pass: Majority of countries (50% or 67%) and votes (74%) and population (62%) is the current method. It looks like they dropped the percentage of votes requirement and since it only needs 55% of countries covering 65% of the population that will give the Franco-German block a huge advantage especially when you consider Italy and Spain usually side with that block. That would mean under the Lisbon style those four control 50.3% of the population, whereas under the Nice style they only have 33% of the votes.

    All that block need to do is threaten/cajole sufficient small countries to support them to overtake the 55% of countries and they can pass whatever they like. Now I understand the trick that's been put into Lisbon.

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  • 56. At 12:51pm on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    51. At 11:27am on 24 Sep 2008, Young-Mr-Grace @51,

    Malta wasn't an independent country until recently - and neither was Eire until 1922 - so although I am incorrect about them being under Axis/Soviet occupation, I am right that they're relative newcomers to independence and self-determination.

    I can't see the Irish willing to give this up easily despite the 'vote again until you get it right' brigade.

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  • 57. At 1:00pm on 24 Sep 2008, BackintheEUssr wrote:

    Hey Mark,

    Forget about saving Strasbourg - what plans are you making to save your Euroblog? Isn't the European Parliament about to vote on clamping down on internet discussion?

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  • 58. At 1:11pm on 24 Sep 2008, Buzet23 wrote:

    Just to enhance what I just said in #55,

    All France, Germany, Italy and Spain (the Mediterranean block) would need to find to pass any law they so wish is another 11 or more countries which cover at least 14.7% of the EU population. E.G. 4 + 11 =15 which is the 55% majority of countries and 50.3 + 14.7 = 65% which is the majority of population.

    Conversely, should the UK or any other country try to push through anything which is more in line with our direction of the EU then they would have no chance since three of those four can block everything by population percentage alone.

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  • 59. At 1:16pm on 24 Sep 2008, Freeborn John wrote:

    It is a great mistake for any EU-sceptic to believe that the EU project can be reformed to make it democracy-compatible. It is not acceptable to simply delay integration, or even accept current EU treaties, because the destination will remain the despotism of an undemocratic political union. We need to debate the destination we wish to arrive at and not the arrival time.

    Political union must be reversed. Any incoming British government in 2010 must enter negotiations to return powers back to Westminster, and will very likely have to make clear to EU partners that we are prepared to walk away from the EU if negotiations do not produce results in a timely manner. There are many better and lower-cost options for the UK than EU membership anyway. Canada for example is currently negotiating free trade and people movement with the EU, in addition to the current free she has with the US and Mexico through NAFTA without sacrificing her democracy or political independence. The UK (which has less trade dependence on the EU26 than Canada does with the US) could aim for the same relationships which would give British goods and services free access to both North American and European markets and restore democratic governance to this country. This is just one example of a better future than the destination EU federalists would like to drag us into, so please; no talk of reform or delaying federalists. We need to cut them loose.

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  • 60. At 1:19pm on 24 Sep 2008, MalcolmW2 wrote:

    Those arguing for sceptics in the UK to work for change within the EU rather than calling for outright withdrawal conveniently ignore the uncomfortable fact that such change is impossible in an organisation which has no desire (or intention) to accept change, and makes up the rules as it goes along.

    The Lisbon Treaty was rejected by the Irish people in a free and fair election. Sad for the EU but that is the nature of democracy. The treaty cannot come into effect unless and until it is ratified by EVERY member nation. That is the legal situation, and it is clear enough. To any democratic organisation that would be the end of the matter, but just as with the Maastricht and Nice treaties in the past, electorates which give the "wrong" answer in a poll are simply told to vote again. It worked with Denmark and it worked with Ireland. Now there is pressure from within the EU for the Irish to once again be forced to confirm their "no" vote in a further referendum. Can you imagine the UK electorate being told that they had elected the wrong party in a general election to Westminster and being told to try again? How on earth can anyone, supporter of the EU or not, pretend that there is even a fig leaf of democracy in such a practice? And what if the Irish did vote "yes" by a small margin, say 50.1%, would the EU listen if the "no" campaign demanded another vote? Of course not; it is a one-way valve with power only flowing to the executive in Brussels. It is the politics of the playground where the bully always wins.

    For nearly three decades I have listened to UK politicians telling me that the European project was swinging "our" way; that the UK was winning the arguments from within; that the waste and corruption was going to be tackled; that the commission would be more accountable to the electorate. Asolutely nothing changes, because the EU is impervious to change - it has one goal in mind, and like a juggernaut it just keeps rolling along. Lisbon may or may not have helped, but legally the treaty is dead. Them's the rules. If it is ratified in defiance of the rules (and the law) then it simply becomes one more symptom of the desease - the autocratic rejection of due process and democratic expression by the people where that expression conflicts with the goal which the EU (not the people) has set for itself.

    I agree with the sentiment that banging your head against a wall is the surest way to give yourself a headache, but trying to effect change within the EU is like trying to stop a steamroller by pushing it with your hand - it simply defies logic because it is impossible to achieve. So what should objectors do? Simply roll over? That is not how the British psyche works (and very gratefull other European countries have been for that in the past!)

    The only alternatives available to the people, both in the UK and elsewhere in the EU, are accept what is being created or leave. It is unlikely that any major UK party will willingly offer the latter by way of a referendum (although you never know if one thought it might help its chances domestically), so for those who wish the UK to regain its self-governing status, the best hope is that the whole edifice will come tumbling down. There are plenty of cracks already, and the present economic turmoil across the globe may expose many more. Squandering taxpayer's money on the absurd movement to and from Strasburg for nothing more than French hubris may even accelerate the process. In the meantime, those who wish to regain national sovereignty, and once again see democracy respected, have no choice but to repeat their calls for a referendum on membership in ever louder voices until the government takes notice. Street barricades are so un-British.

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  • 61. At 2:00pm on 24 Sep 2008, Constable_Shoe wrote:

    #60. MalcolmW2: You said a mouthful. You say change is impossible in an organisation which has no desire (or intention) to accept change, and makes up the rules as it goes along. This is true, but it is doubly difficult in an organisation which has a specific agenda from which it cannot be deflected, i.e. Full Political and Monetary Union.

    You say that the EU has ignored and will continue to ignore, legal niceties such as unfavourable referendum decisions. That is because they do not believe in democracy, they only believe in the project of Union.

    For three decades, politicians have said that the UK has to be engaged in Europe, because if it is not, we will lose influence. With the exception of Margaret Thatcher’s rebate, (cravenly surrendered by Blair,) can anyone name an example of successful British influence in Europe.

    This is why I believe that leaving the EU is the only viable future option, and I would vote for anyone who offered it.

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  • 62. At 2:18pm on 24 Sep 2008, Jukka Rohila wrote:

    To benagyerek (41) and MaxSceptic (42):

    I think you both should remember that national self determination is nothing without the power and the ability to fulfill it. Namely, having a healthy democracy is nothing if the only thing needed to bring down the government or make it change a decision is diplomatic note from your friendly peace loving super power next to you. If we look at history, I would say that Britain along with Russia are the only countries in Europe that have got used to being able to not just determine but to pursue their national self determination. Now if we look at any other European country, we can see that somebody have marched their over or blackmailed them to subdue at their will.

    Many not some nations are indeed experiencing what it means to have national self determination and ability to carry it out. However from my view the situation is not EU succumbing this new found freedom, but EU is the mechanism that allows nations to express and work out their national self determination.

    We should also always remember that Russia is still around, USA still is the greatest super power in the world and China and India are super powers in development, not some former colonies gone haywire. As long as we have other power blocks in the world that are stronger and bigger than us, we have to have some leverage and counter balance to enable our fair position in the world.

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  • 63. At 2:36pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #59 - Freeborn-John

    "Any incoming British government in 2010 must enter negotiations to return powers back to Westminster"

    Who, F-J? Are Labour or the LibDems going to go down that route? Are there enough eurosceptic rebels in the Tory ranks? Can UKIP raise the groundswell of support in 18 months?

    It is not that the less eurosceptic amongst us are not willing to listen. We simply do not see your knight in shining armour. In his absense, surely dragging the EU kicking and screaming if necessary in the right direction from within makes more sense.

    #60 - MalcolmW2

    "Street barricades are so un-British."

    Nevertheless, that is probably what it will take.

    #61 - Constable_Shoe

    "- can anyone name an example of successful British influence in Europe."

    How about 25 nations that are not governed from Paris and Berlin for a start.

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  • 64. At 2:47pm on 24 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    Freeborn_John @ #59
    MalcolmW2 @ #60

    There are many wise things you both say.

    But the destination of Europe to be united is a foregone conclusion. "Ever closer union" is something that the UK has signed up to.

    Anti-EU separatists will not have their way until hell freezes over - you can ask for a "Should the UK leave the EU?" referendum as much as you like but it just ain't going to happen.

    I really do understand the frustration with the EU seeming to be unequal to the challenge of change but the truth is that any changes to the EU is determined by, currently, 27 people . . . . . The Council of Ministers.

    The leading politicians from all of the EU member states could, for example, decide tomorrow to dissolve the EU Parliament and remove that functionality form the EU - it would not happen overnight but if the Council of Ministers wanted it so it would happen. The only constraint upon the Council of Ministers is that the leading politicians all have signed up to is the Treaty of Rome which states categorically that their intent must be guided by the principle of "ever closer union".

    Thus we already know the destination - and so the pressure for change must be upon our individual leaders to drive forward robust changes that deliver democratic accountability, transparency of how the EU Funds are disbursed and spent and determine whether we want a Federal EU (similar to the US Federal government) or a federated EU with the Nation States governing with more supreme local authority.

    The option of not having a European Union is a dead duck. Wishing it gone is not going to make it vanish.

    By the same token withdrawing from the EU unilaterally is a major upheaval despite it seeming to be an attractive and feasible option.

    Yes, the UK government of the day could withdraw from its commitment to the EU by revoking its obligations under the Treaty of Rome - it must do so especially if the were a referendum majority demanding this to be done - but there would be major implications for the UK by doing so.

    Repudiating a treaty is a messy business. International trust and reputation is totally destroyed for many, many years as no country will enter into a pact, alliance or treaty with a partner who has reputation for unilateral self-interest and having repudiated treatie in their past.

    Existing treaties would also come under scrutiny as the existing partners for those treaties would wonder if the repudiating country could be trusted to adhere to other treaty obligations.

    Similarly, I am not so sure about the economics of free trade and the EU not being severely impacted - we could not leave the EU and then say to the EU, "Oh, by the way we would like to keep the free market options - it is just the political items we don't like!" What would the UK do if it was told to get stuffed - the UK would get its EU payments back but the increased UK import/export costs would far exceed any benefits of that saving?

    We would also suffer the consequences of loss of major investment form other EU and external investor countries. Nissan don't build cars in the UK because it is a great car market in the UK - they build cars in the UK because it then costs next to nothing to ship them over to the continent - with no EU membership, Nissan and similar companies would up sticks and walk over to France or Germany or wherever else they chose.

    Similarly, France's EDF company is about to buy a big part of the UK's Power Generation Business - the investment is likely to top 30 Billion Euros. It is a good deal for EDF but it is potentially a great deal of money for the UK - similar future investment will disappear and never be put on the table for the benefit of the UK if we are outside of Europe and the EU.

    One has to be careful that cutting one's nose off to spite the EU is the outcome of repudiating the EU and the Treaty of Rome.

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  • 65. At 2:53pm on 24 Sep 2008, Freeborn John wrote:

    Jukka Rohilla (62): The US, China etc. are not denying the self-determination of any European nation (though China does this in Tibet and threatens Taiwan). The only people trying to do this in Europe are EU federalists who resort to imaginary threats of what big countries might do to us to scare us into giving up democratic self-governance to power-thirsty EU institutions beyond the control of the people.

    "#7: The only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia." - Umberto Eco ('Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt').

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  • 66. At 3:11pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #65 - Freeborn-John

    I am not directing this at you personally so please do not take offence but, reading some of the more rampant eurosceptic posts here in recent months, I find it hard to imagine a better example of xenophobia.

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  • 67. At 3:24pm on 24 Sep 2008, Jukka Rohila wrote:

    To Freeborn-John (65):

    Lets just sit down and imagine a situation where there would be no EU...

    Countries bordering Russia would surely get more friendly requests and wishes from Moscow: "Hello, we have recognized two new states, you would surely like to recognize them, did we mention we may have some problems in customs?"

    Countries next to Turkey would also get some calls from Ankara: "Hello, we would like to put this Cyprus thing in past, you surely recognize the independent North Cyprus? Yeah, we thought you might."

    Countries bordering Germany would for surely get calls from Berlin: "Hello, we would like to discuss with you about repatriation of lost and stolen German property, did we mention we have just huge pressure to raise import taxes?"

    UK for surely would get more calls from USA: "Hi! We are going to invade another country! You gonna party with us! Yeah! ...Oh, yeah, sorry about those missing source for the F-35! But hey! You don't really need it. We are friends!"

    You surely get my point. The point is that when you are a lot smaller country than your neighbor and you have nobody to back you up, its your neighbor who dictates that you are best friends for ever and will dictate how you as a best friend for ever must behave to retain your relationship as best friends for ever.

    Yes, we will just get fine without the EU. I just have to retake some German classes and learn to speak Russian. Of course retaking Germany and learning Russia are good things, but they would be required to succeed in a country that is in a best friends for ever relationship.

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  • 68. At 4:36pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    I think there is one thing that is forgotten in this debate and that is why the whole enterprise began in the first place. For the best part of a millenium, Europeans were at each others throats until 1945 when wisdom finally prevailed and the realisation that the cost in human and economic terms of further European confrontation was not tenable.

    The ethos of the Union was the 'never again' philosophy and it has worked. This is surely the thinking behind the expansionist agenda - that the Balkans and south-eastern Europe will become part of the peaceful coexistence project.

    Here is the problem. There is a generation of Britons who believe very properly that, when the chips were down, Britain stood alone against 'the forces of evil' and prevailed. It is a great source of national pride and so it should be. But from that has stemmed a 'fortress Britain' mentality which belongs in a different time. We - the British - have to recognise that we are unique in the EU. The only nation that was not trampled over rough shod first by National Socialists then by Communism, many by both. Having lived now for some time in central Europe, I have understood how fresh some of the scars still are. We all know people whose parents were gassed at Auchwitz or died in appalling conditions on both sides at Stalingrad. Talk to people who remember the Hungarian Uprising of '56 or the Prague Spring a decade later and they will tell you that, yes, they understand why the west could not come to their rescue but is the supra-national institutions that guarantees that it will not happen again, not the promises of some distant superpower which will wash its hands Pilate like when push comes to shove.

    Perhaps if some of the more vigorous eurosceptics had lived through occupation and humiliation instead of defiance and sacrifice, they would understand at a personal level what common security means.

    But these people are also democrats. They look at the increasingly centralised power of Brussels and they say exactly the same things as you. Some of them would like nothing better than for the UK, as a big player, to grab the institution by the throat and tell it enough is enough. They are not wandering blindly into an alternative dictatorship and - especially in the east, they did not wait so many years for their freedom simply to hand it over on a plate to another superstate.

    Britain still has sufficient power and influence to move the European project decisively in a democratic direction. By walking away, you simply condemn yourselves to not so splendid isolation and betray a lot of people who share your values in the process. 1939 was not about walking away, it was about standing up for what you believed in.

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  • 69. At 4:55pm on 24 Sep 2008, Constable_Shoe wrote:

    63. At 2:36pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #61 - Constable_Shoe

    "- can anyone name an example of successful British influence in Europe."

    How about 25 nations that are not governed from Paris and Berlin for a start.

    And what is the link between the question I asked, and the words that you have typed in response?

    Britain did not join the EEC until 1973, at which point the pattern of expansion and integration had long been established. Starting from the original six members of the ECSC in 1948, the EU has now grown to its present size following a model which was already set in stone at that time. Can you seriously point to any successful UK intervention which has caused this to happen? I know a fair bit about the EEC / EU and I can think of nothing. We’ve been too busy fighting our own corner for that.

    #64 Mendemus,
    You list some speculative objections to the idea of leaving the EU unilaterally. I will give you a solid reason to do so.

    It will inevitably sink, probably within 20 years. I am just suggesting we should get into a lifeboat now. Wishing may not make it so, but the inherent structural weaknesses are building up, and physics cannot be denied.

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  • 70. At 6:05pm on 24 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    Constable_Shoe @ #69

    If you feel that I am speculating why it is not a good idea to leave the EU then you might want to consider your own words, "It will inevitably sink, probably within 20 years."

    This is surely more speculative than my comments at #64 which are logical arguments to consider if the UK were to repudiate the EU and the Treaty of Rome presuming that the EU is there to be repudiated.

    I am sorry but I cannot quite get my head around what you mean by inherent structural weaknesses and physics - I actually think the EU is quite robust but that it is undemocratic, unaccountable and too francophile to be acceptable to all - I'm not sure what that has got to do with you analogy of the EU sinking?

    Please do not misunderstand me. They laughed at Noah before the flood and boy-oh-boy was he right to build his Ark!

    Feel free to build your lifeboat too - you could be right . . . . . just as much as I could be correctly identifying the problems of leaving the EU and the Treaty of Rome unilaterally before the EU sinks or not.

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  • 71. At 6:25pm on 24 Sep 2008, MaxSceptic wrote:

    threnodio @68,

    Thank you for the well-reasoned and impassioned plea.

    With sincere respect, however, I believe you are mistaken. The European 'Project' is irredeemable. It is a flawed conception and by nature doomed to failure. The only question is as to the nature of its failure. I hope and believe that it will be a peaceful atrophy and the only cries will be those of disenfranchised EUrocrats and thwarted transnationalists.

    Nation states in Europe have a long, bright and peaceful future ahead - if we play our cards right and jettison unwanted and unpopular trans-national empire building. The long term alternative is awful to contemplate.

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  • 72. At 6:30pm on 24 Sep 2008, Freeborn John wrote:

    Threnodio (66) : I believe in a world of voluntary co-operating nation-states, in which each of the world’s peoples has the right to live under a government of their own choosing, but no right to interfere in the affairs of others (except in self-defence). Why is that xenophobic? Such a world is after all described in the UN Charter as the sustainable basis for friendly relations among nations.

    Jukka (67): We don't have to imagine how the world would be without the EU. We can just look at the rest of the democratic world which seems to get by just fine without supranational governance. For example we could look at Canada which is negotiating free trade and people movement with the EU to complement its free trade with the US and Mexico as part of NAFTA, is part of NATO, and which remains a self-governing country whose democracy is not slowly being strangled by an ever-growing body of EU law that its people never wanted but cannot change. Why would that not be a more desirable situation for the UK than EU membership?

    I agree that we need to be vigilant against a return of big countries (or alliances of small countries) using raw force to interfere in the affairs of small countries like we saw in the 1930s. However we have two international organisations designed precisely to prevent that. The UN could take action against Germany or Turkey if they were to act aggressively in the internal affairs of their neighbours. It could not however act in your 3rd case because Russia is one the five veto-wielding members of the UNSC. That is why we have NATO. None of the scenarios you describe could better be prevented by the supranational governance of the EU and one of them (Germany threatening to raise import taxes to deliberately damage the economy of a neighbour) could actually be better carried out through the EU.

    However when I read your posts I sense that you do not just want to prevent external aggression in the affairs of your own country (you do not support Finland joining NATO for example). You seem to feel that it is actually desirable to have a balance of power between mutually adversarial power blocks, one of which is the EU. This is the mentality of Euro-nationalism and it is very dangerous. EU integration is after all modelled on the integration of Germany, starting with a customs union ('zollverein') and leading via confederation to an undemocratic state that started two world wars. How do you propose to prevent a repeat of the 1930s at intercontinental level if you are prepared to tolerate an EU so undemocratic as to impose treaties on nations like Ireland, France and the Netherlands that voted against them in national referendums?

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  • 73. At 7:19pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #72 - Freeborn-John

    "Why is that xenophobic?"

    I chose my words with some care:-

    "I am not directing this at you personally so please do not take offence . . . "

    Your case is always well argued and I read your posts with respect.

    In responding to Jukka you have actually moved quite close to my argument. Along with many, I deplore the lack of democratic accountability in the EU. That is why we all have to work towards changing it.

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  • 74. At 9:35pm on 24 Sep 2008, Jukka Rohila wrote:

    To Freeborn-John (72):

    Lets start from the obvious: UN and the international law are jokes. UN is the discussion club of the countries with power. Just look at its history, veto power was given to countries who at the time where the most powerful and recognized. What UN does is to allow great powers to discuss and work an agreement when it suites them. In example UN gave blessing to first gulf war because liberating Kuwait and restricting Saddam's power was beneficial to all powers. In other cases where there is no great need for any great power to intervene, UN can make endless amounts of decisions on paper and have nobody to follow them, just look at the never ending occupation of Palestine by Israel. UN itself doesn't have any power, its totally useless and its only purpose is to make its greatest members actions legal: "Look, UN gave us the permission, we can invade and bomb that country. Yes yes, we have permit, don't worry".

    NATO is a very different organization from UN, but lets face it, NATO serves mainly the purposes of USA. NATO was founded "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down" to quote Lord Ismay. NATO currently is more or less a way for the US to sell weaponry to its members and use it as an leverage when negotiating with different NATO countries. The second purpose and role that USA increasingly wants NATO to take is to be an global force that fights USA's fights in third world countries. I would also question the real strength of NATO in a great power conflict. Its one thing to promise to fight along, its another thing to fight. In cold war days the threat of Soviet Union was so great that there was collective need to fight it, but in todays world, would NATO actually do anything if in example China and US would start a war over Taiwan? To me as an reservist the question is more or less do I want really to die in some god forsaken third world country because it harbors terrorist as in Afghanistan.

    Now if we move to trade, well, that who has the money writes the rules. In NAFTA Canada is not an equal partner, just ask the people in British Columbia. US and Canada have fought over soft lumber for ages and still haven't reached a deal. The thing is that as US is way more important to Canada and Canada is to US, US can brake the rules when it wants and dictate terms to settle the issue. In EU Canada negotiations Canada is not an equal partner, actually Canada has not gotten any positive reactions from Europe. Why you may ask? Well Canada just doesn't have leverage and importance as an trading partner that the US has. Just in example look at the trade dispute between Antigua and US, yes WTO settled that to Antigua's benefit, but sanctions against US was just 21 million when Antigua in reality lost billions. You ask why? Well, in the background US pressured WTO and other important members in the end gave blessing for WTO just to make symbolic slap on the wrists.

    The thing is that we have huge countries in the world and they are dictating the rules. We currently have US as a lone super power. We have China and India following it. In the end of the 21st century besides China and India we will also probably have strengthened Indonesia and Brazilia. These countries will negotiate between them the rules on how the world functions, if we Europeans want to negotiate with others and not just be handed the rule book, we have to have the strength and power to be credible negotiating partner.

    Now on regards of German unification and current integration and building of EU, I would have to disagree with you. Germany was united with steel and blood where as EU is united with co-operation and consensus. Co-operation and consensus are the things that are unique and make EU different than other power blocks: EU is not based on one nation. What we have in Europe seen based on our history that only viable and working solutions are fair and equal solutions. By uniting into a one we can spread our way around the globe. We can promote democracy and human rights and do it with using soft power. The EU is already being an example that other areas want to follow, we have the African Union, we have th Union of South American Nations and so on.

    You also seem to have a very one sided view on history. Germany wasn't the aggressor in the first world war. France and Britain both were eager to go war with Germany, France for revenge and get back lost territories and Britain for preventing Germany to challenge it in see. Russia in the other hand wanted war too as it was caught in pan-Slavism and wanted to bring all Slavic people and the helms of mother Russia. In starting the first world war Germany was more or less the spectator not an active seeker of war. Now if we look at the second world war, well, of course Germany did start it, but we should really ask why it did it. Firstly, Britain and France bankrupted Germany more or less by setting economic punishments to it which more or less in the end crushed Weimar republic. We should also remember that in both Germany and Japan before the second world war, people thought that the other were to get them and to prevent this the only way would be to beat them first. I also would like to add that Britain wasn't so much more democratic than Germany before the first world war. Germany was continuously becoming more democratic and from todays view Britain and especially France with its fledgling democracy were not morally superior to Germany.

    PS. Referendums are one way for people express their voice. Decisions done by the nations parliament under the rules of countries constitution are also expression of peoples voice. There is nothing undemocratic in France and Netherlands parliaments voting for favor of the Lisbon Treaty as the decisions of the parliament are also decisions of the people, that is the essence of parliamentary democracy. EU also hasn't overrules Irish vote, EU has recognized that the Irish voted NO, but that doesn't mean that EU do anything or not to further integrate, it just means that either Irish will vote again or EU will find another way to move despite Ireland. Its a false notation to say that Irish no should be a no for the whole development of EU.

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  • 75. At 10:37pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    #74 - Jukka_Rohila

    While I broadly agree with most of what you say, I will take issue on 2 matters of history.

    If you study the negotiation process at Versailles in 1918-9, you will find that both the UK and US were opposed to the punitive settlement the French wanted to impose on the Germans. One direct outcome of them eventually conceding to French demands was the re-occupation of the Rheinland. Had this not occured, arguable there would have been no Second World War.

    I agree that Germany, in the person of the Kaiser, was opposed to the First World War. However, Bismarck was not and he successfully argued that a war would weaken their Austrian allies so promoting his pan-Germanic project. It was actually Austria which was the most aggressive protagonist believing that it would be a regional rather than a global conflict. The Kaisers detailed notes have, I believe, only recently come to light. In the end, Austria paid more dearly than the Germans. The Empire was completely dismantled and what little that was left of Hungary finally broke away.

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  • 76. At 11:25pm on 24 Sep 2008, threnodio wrote:

    PS. On re-reading my post, I see that I did not express myself clearly. I am, of course, aware that Bismarck died 16 years before the outbreak of war. He was nevertheless the key political figure in the pan-Germanic movement and shaped the course of German foreign policy for the next 20 years being responsible for the absorption of Bavaria into Prussia in 1871. The Kaiser, with close family ties to the British monarchy took a different view from his government in this regard.

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  • 77. At 05:36am on 25 Sep 2008, tahitian wrote:

    The reason they want to stay in Brussels is very simple: Strasbourg has no prostitution infra structure and they don't like it. These are expensive politicians to maintain. They eat up their respective nation's taxes; they expect everything tax free; and best of all they want to get lay. How naive the common johns are.

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  • 78. At 2:09pm on 26 Sep 2008, dfawcett wrote:

    I'm all in favour of a single admin centre for the EU in Brussels.

    I can also propose a new use for Strasbourg - move the General Assembly of the United Nation to Strasbourg from New York.

    It will please the UN - being close to Geneva, another UN admin centre. Also the climate there is much better than NY. Comms lines can be built for them.

    It will please the French - even more business accomodating a bigger organisation.

    It will please the Americans - ridding them of a bunge of ingrates, and will help defuse the "US out of UN" movement.

    With the UN housed in Europe, the EU can take a larger share of the burden of supporting the UN.

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  • 79. At 04:59am on 29 Sep 2008, Wrinklyoldgit wrote:

    Having Strasbourg and Brussels makes as little sense as breeding two headed dogs, but typical of the French to want to be at the centre of everything - Britons by and large have long realised that they are no longer Top Dog, so to us where the head of the EU is matters little, because wherever it is it will be overstaffed and over-expensive.

    Typical examples of EU sheer stupidity is having all those translators when all the leaders already speak English, and the printing of all documents in so many languages, with costly nitpicking over the meaning of words.

    It is time for savage cost cutting, at the rate EU costs are increasing, the administration budget will soon exceed the farm budget.

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  • 80. At 05:03am on 29 Sep 2008, Wrinklyoldgit wrote:

    dfawcett makes a good suggestion in moving the UN from New York, two problems solved in one stroke, the Americans get rid of all those ungratefull UN foreign "commies and liberals" and Strasbourg finds a use for its white elephant.

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  • 81. At 9:41pm on 29 Sep 2008, Menedemus wrote:

    Re #78 and #80

    Just what Europe needs - more politicians that jaw-jaw and earn money for not really doing anything!

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  • 82. At 11:25am on 30 Sep 2008, greypolyglot wrote:

    79. polcirkel:

    "Typical examples of EU sheer stupidity is having all those translators when all the leaders already speak English, and the printing of all documents in so many languages, with costly nitpicking over the meaning of words."

    Can you guarantee that every CITIZEN has enough English to understand what is written - or doesn't Joe Public matter?

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  • 83. At 12:01pm on 05 Oct 2008, JoeBiden wrote:

    Hmmmm this anti-Strasbourg campaigne.

    I have idea, lets move all EU robotic or what ever institutes around London to Brussels, lets move European Central Bank from Frankfurt to Brussels, it will be much cheaper for EU taxpayers to have all EU institutions in the one plaice, why we need just to stop with building in Strasbourg, which is BTW ownership of the Dutch pensionfund and they made huge amount of the money on that. I am from Strasbourg, do you think that I or any average citiezen of the Strasbourg have plus becouase all trafic stoped when for example former British PM need to speak in Parlaiment? Only what I see from all this is that average citiezen of the Strasbourg pays very high real estate price, or rents, so I will not have anything against to move all EU institutions to Brussels, so why just stop with Strasboug, lets move all EU institutions to Brussels, especially Central Bank which cost EU tax payers huge amount of the money in Frankfurt, and much more than EU parlaiment in Strasboug.

    Also I have been in Brussels and Strasbourg, Strasbourg is much better city than Brussels, it is on the FR-DE border, it is in middle of the Europe, Strasbourg is city of
    the European Court for Human Rights, European Council, so it is capital of the Europe, not just EU.

    I know, British will be against total movement o the all EU institions on one plaice, Gemans will be against that idea, but hey, lets bash Strasbourg, or only EU institution in France?

    I don't think this is connected with Strasbourg or EU institutions, this is just one more mostly UK bashing of the France.

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