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Between a Rock and hard woman in Brussels

Mark Mardell | 21:40 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Gordon Brown is in Brussels today. Some are saying “about time too”.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown

As Chancellor, Mr Brown was known for his distinct lack of enthusiasm for coming to meetings here, and a marked tendency to lecture people on how to run their economies when he did.

As Prime Minister, he’s done little to dispel either perception. But this time he might find himself between a Northern Rock and a hard place: on the receiving end, if not of lectures, of stern looks and careful listening from a woman know as Nickel Neelie.

Mr Brown has been to Brussels as Prime Minister. It was directly after the signing of the Lisbon treaty, which he managed to miss by a few hours.

He hasn’t made a trip since then. Quite a contrast to Merkel and Sarkozy, who arrived within a day of becoming leaders of their respective countries.

Those with Britain’s interests at heart point out this is not a matter of respect, or kowtowing to those at the heart of the European Empire, but of Britain punching its weight.

Brown’s views on the economy are pretty much in line with those of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and the majority of the commissioners.

European protectionism

But there are those, notably President Sarkozy of France, who want a little less free trade and a little more European Patriotism or, as we used to call it, economic protectionism: perhaps taxation and trade barriers to protect European goods, and not even the sort of cross-border competition within the EU that threatens big French firms on their home ground.

One commission official who feels the visit is welcome but very overdue told me that there was a need for Gordon Brown to “pull on the rope from the other end” and provide vital life support for the commissioners who feel under pressure.

They see Brown speaking up for this economic agenda as “real and important” and they want more of it and hope this is a new beginning.
Gordon Brown greets President Sarkozy at Number 10

But those close to President Barroso disagree that Brown has been disengaged in policy terms. He held a meeting with Merkel, Prodi, Sarkozy and Barroso in Downing Street last month and they felt it was pretty useful.

They’re not rude enough to put it like this but the impression I get is that they feel Brown is a little politically clumsy about the niceties; absent when he should be present, most notably at the signing of the Lisbon treaty; relying on officials who seem to have two modes, neither of them very attractive.

They are seen to either hector and lecture, like Mr Brown in his days at the finance ministers’ meetings, or come over all tight-lipped and taciturn, perhaps also faithfully reflecting their master’s voice.

Fly on the wall

It sounds as if the meetings will be packed.

First, his old chum, Peter Mandelson. The two men loathe each other so I would love to be a fly on the wall, watching body language rather than listening to their accord that the Doha trade round has to be brought to a successful head.

Then Barroso. There will be some discussion of the role the European Union can play in failing states and world crisis. Brown thinks that the EU can fill a gap providing civilian advice and police backup.

This fits neatly with the view among some top brass in Brussels that while the UN can keep the peace, and Nato can kick ass, the EU can do both and the bits in-between.

Serious money

There will be quite a lot on international development, one of Brown’s real passions, and where the EU spends serious money.

But top priorities are the environment and the economy. Fine details of the commission’s plans to give the lead in cutting greenhouse gasses are being nailed, rather painfully, in place and the Prime Minister may have suggestions about a European carbon bank.
Northern Rock Bank

But it’s real banks that give the most concern.

Politicians all over Europe are not surprisingly itchy about the financial turmoil that could spell disaster for their economies and the end of their careers.

All politicians have a tendency to want to do something, come up with a new initiative, at least to show they are not twiddling their thumbs.

The commission and Mr Brown together are bound to come up with some sort of blueprint, or at least a blueprint for a blueprint.

I expect the Prime Minister will back a plan for two new commission studies to examine whether the EU needs to act.

The commission is particular worried about huge movement of capital from the Middle East. It looks as if they are quite a long way off any concrete plans, but this could be the centrepiece of the Spring get-together of Prime Ministers and Presidents in mid-March.

Nickel Neelie

But the most difficult meeting may be over lunch. It’s with nine commissioners.

Among them, Neelie Kroes, the Commissioner for Competition.

European Commissioner for Competition Neelie KroesShe has a reputation for toughness. The Daily Telegraph describes her as a Dutch Thatcherite. She used to be a minister for the most pro free market party in the Netherlands and is apparently known, not as the Iron Lady, but Nickel Neelie.

I write “apparently” because I’ve never heard anyone call her that, but it is in all the newspaper cuttings.

Whatever her metallic make-up she has given a provisional thumbs-up to the rescue plan, but Mr Brown has to show her the detailed plan by 17 March, to make sure it doesn’t fall foul of EU rules which are aimed at stopping state aid giving companies an unfair advantage.

As apparently it’ll cost each of us British taxpayers an average of £3,500 there ought to be some advantage in it.

But Mr Brown, so keen on lecturing fellow ministers, might not feel so happy having to explain himself, like an errant student, to a tough Thatcherite bureaucrat, who could decide that his wheeze is illegal.

Comments   Post your comment

A Thatcher figure in Europe!
At last.
But is Gordon getting led astray by the French man of the moment?
Maybe he can loosen him up a bit.
I am enjoying this whole new lot of politicians we see today. I wonder what Medvedev will add to the equation this year?

  • 2.
  • At 09:34 AM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Derek Tunnicliffe wrote:

As you say, Mark, Sarkozy has too much of an interventionist approach. However, Brown can take note of Sarko's success with Alstom (shipbulders, metro and TGV specialists). He ensured the company stayed afloat via government support when it was in deep cash-flow problems, in spite of EU condemnations.

A couple of years later the French Government's shares in Alstom were sold for a handsome profit.

There has to be a lesson in there somewhere?

  • 3.
  • At 01:02 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Laert Dogjani wrote:

I hope she tells Brown that Northern Rock was not "too big to fail".

I thought you had written "the Daily Telegraph describes her as a Butch Thatcherite," but on rereading more carefully, and looking at the photo, I see it does actually read "Dutch Thatcherite."

  • 5.
  • At 03:22 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Anthony wrote:

On the Northern Rock thing costing each of us £3,500 - I think you mean putting at risk a sum equivalent to £3,500. It's not actual money that's being spent - it's money that could be lost if all NR mortgage holders default and all their homes are worthless.

It doesn't sound much, but it's the difference between buying a house and buying a hamburger: with one, you have an asset to your credit afterwards.

  • 6.
  • At 04:31 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Tel Tetel wrote:

I think we are going to see more of Gordon and future British Prime Ministers coming to Brussells cap in hand to explain economic shortcomings. Until at some point the British ruling class realise at last that their future is in Europe and in the Eurozone. I get the feeling that this will start being preached in Britain soon after the Danish referendum.

  • 7.
  • At 04:34 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Ronald Grünebaum wrote:

Maybe GB (both the country and the PM) will finally learn that the EU is about rule-based collective decisions.

I am not sure, though, that this will kill off the old British instinct to turn to the "divide and rule" principle when dealing with Johnny Foreigner.

Looking at the UK press of today I fear that Mark is pretty lonely out there with his unemotional analysis of EU politics. It seems that most Britons still haven't understood how utterly irrelevant the UK has become in almost everything (economic management being the latest addition).

  • 8.
  • At 06:17 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

The reason that the British Prime Minister is not keen on frequent visits to Brussels is that association with the EU costs him votes. When we see him standing in the EU ‘family portraits’ at each Brussels summit we are reminded of the waxwork leaders that run China, and his deceit in reneging on the 2005 manifesto commitment to a referendum on the EU Constitution.

Most elected heads of governments make their first visits overseas to those countries that they regard as their key partners in the world. France and Germany are essentially regional powers with a recent history of bad relationships with the outside world. Once Merkel & Sarkozy have met each other there is not much else for them to do except go to Brussels and figure out how to fix the foreign policy relationships damaged by their predecessors. Britain’s closest and most important partners are outside Europe, a reality which is certain to be reinforced by the key economic and demographic trends of the 21st century.

I was in India recently at the same time that Gordon Brown visited the country. I was struck by the televised “UK-India” debate attended by government and business leaders (e.g. Richard Branson, Arun Sarin of Vodafone, Karan Bilimoria of Cobra Beer, etc) and academics. What struck me most was the almost unquestioned assumption by both Britons and Indians of what might be called the Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy of open markets and individual entrepreneurship. Richard Branson made a strong case for the British and Indian governments dismantling precisely the kind of protectionist measures that president Sarkozy of France still seems to believe in 250 years after their debunking by Adam Smith. Who on the Indian side would question this liberal orthodoxy when the rise of that country can be dated to precisely the point in time at which they abandoned protectionist instincts and opened up to the globalising world? The only mention of the EU was by Gordon Brown himself who suggested access to the common market was one reason why Indian companies might want to invest in the UK. Following this televised “UK – India” debate I was left with the strong impression that the UK shares more of a common political and economic culture with far-away India than it does with all those European countries that still bang-on about their ‘social model’.

So should Brown have been in Brussels instead of Delhi discussing the 1950’s agenda of a self-aggrandizing bureaucracy that resonates with Britons about as much as does the need for fins on cars or beehive haircuts? Somehow I think his relative priorities are correct.

If the EU stops Gordon Brown from wasting 3,500 pounds from each taxpayer, I'm sure the British newpapers will conveniently ignore the story and invent something about eurocrats telling us our bananas aren't straight enough.

  • 10.
  • At 06:27 AM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"he [Brown] might find himself between a Northern Rock and a hard place"

Whether a state-controlled bank (or any other company for that matter) can perform better than a private-owned one should make an interesting case study in a debate over advantages of humane socialism over ruthless capitalism.

[Successes of Deutsche Post, Airbus and Galileo Project vis-a-vis FedEx, Boeing and GPS are already a subject of comparative studies.]

* 8.
* At 06:17 PM on 21 Feb 2008,
* Freeborn John wrote:


"Who on the Indian side would question this liberal orthodoxy when the rise of that country can be dated to precisely the point in time at which they abandoned protectionist instincts and opened up to the globalising world?"

Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm a bit confused by this remark: Didn't Ghandi manage to gain independance by rejecting British imported products? Are you saying that India didn't "rise" until it subjugated itself to the "Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy of open markets"? Surely,without independance it would be unable to "rise" at all...... Were there any non-entrepreneurs (apart from their academic apologists) present? Perhaps the biased nature of those involved in the discussion is a better explanation of the unanimity -and not the validity of the arguments -which it seems were not questioned or tested in any way..... Is there nobody in the whole of India who might disagree with the panel?

By the way, with giant conglomerates dominating the global economy -where exactly is this mythical "free market" that Aglo-Saxons still believe in?

Could you plese clarify your rhetoric a little.....

  • 12.
  • At 01:38 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • JorgeG wrote:

‘As Chancellor, Mr Brown was known for … a marked tendency to lecture people on how to run their economies’

Yes, the British government likes to regularly lecture its EU counterparts on free markets, yet it sees no contradiction between this ‘free market’ pontification and the existence of private monopolies in its own turf, e.g. airport operators with 90%+ share in key regional areas, railway operators each with a monopoly over certain key routes, charging extortionate prices for a third rate service, etc. In the same way it totally overlooks the fact that the British opt-out from the Schengen accord is equivalent to an opt-out from the full implementation of the single market in the UK, as it is clearly and unambiguously stated in the preamble to the Schengen Convention:

WHEREAS the Treaty establishing the European Communities, supplemented by the Single European Act, provides that the internal market shall comprise an area without internal frontiers’

The British (lecturer) government doesn’t really understand what constitutes a free, single market. Let this humble citizen explain it to them:

1. Free movement of (legal) goods
2. Free movement of (legal) labour
3. Free movement of (legal) capital
4. Free movement of (legal) people, i.e. sellers and buyers, and for that reason the Schengen Convention has enabled the true freedom of movement of people inside the EU, meaning EVERYBODY that is a member of the human race, i.e. including non-EU nationals with legal residence in an EU country, who are allowed to travel to another EU-Schengen country for up to three months, enough for them to do some cross-border shopping or tourism without the thoroughly ANTI-FREE MARKET restriction of having to apply for a visa.

For this reason, the UK – as the only voluntary opt-out from Schengen in the EU-27 countries – is no longer a full member of the ‘single market’, as not everybody that is legally resident in an EU country can come freely to the UK (while goods, labour and capital can) or vice versa. As a result of the UK’s opt-out from Schengen, the UK is now part of a FREE TRADING block with the rest of the EU, but not fully part of a single market. As an example, a Chinese or Indian company that might wish to send a team to research key countries within the EU’s single market would find itself having to apply for two different visas for their team: One for the Schengen countries and another one for the UK. ‘But you told us the EU was a single market!’ they would fully be entitled to protest.

This irony of the ‘free market teacher’ ignoring its own lessons resonates again in one of the official PR lines from the British government in relation to the signature of the Lisbon Treaty, something along the lines of: ‘It is now time for the EU to end this inward looking period and focus on the issues that matter to people’. As for the ‘inward looking’ part, it is difficult to imagine anything more inward looking than being the only country in the EU that has voluntarily kept its policed borders with the rest of the EU. As for ‘focusing on issues that matter to people’, Schengen and the euro are, if we leave the ‘single market’ aside, the EU policies that have more direct impact on more ordinary people on a daily basis than any other EU policy. With regards to the euro, leaving economic theories as to the merits of joining or otherwise aside, it is precisely ordinary British people who – to a large extent unknowingly – pay the price of being out, in the form of extortionate exchange rate commissions and exchange rate risks (particularly painful if they eat into your pension, e.g. the predicament of British OAPs in retirement in Spain, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7221413.stm%29, and higher mortgage costs, while the banks and financial institutions are the ones who, no surprise there, rake in the profits.

So next time the free market ‘experts’, i.e. Gordo and his NuLab teaching assistants, want to lecture the EU on ‘free markets’ I would only hope that the media would hold them to account. Unfortunately that kind of media doesn’t seem to exist here, the only vociferous section of the media being the one owned by foreign neo-cons whose only agenda is for this country to fully become an appendix of the US (gosh, but it already is!).

  • 13.
  • At 01:39 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"he [Brown] might find himself between a Northern Rock and a hard place"

Whether a state-controlled bank (or any other company for that matter) can perform better than a private-owned one should make an interesting case study in a debate over advantages of humane socialism over ruthless capitalism.

[Successes of Deutsche Post, Airbus and Galileo Project vis-a-vis FedEx, Boeing and GPS are already a subject of comparative studies.]

  • 14.
  • At 02:35 PM on 22 Feb 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

Trevor Batten (10): I was referring to the economic rise of India which unfortunately is a far more recent phenomenon than its political independence. As you say India did indeed follow a period of economic autarky after independence, with a heavily-regulated domestic economy largely cut-off from the world and administered by a bloated bureaucracy that enriched itself through the issuance of license-permits without which a company could not operate, such that more entrepreneurial activity was devoted to bribing the bureaucrats than to producing goods or services that people might actually want to buy. For as long as this system lasted the Indian economy flat-lined; reform has brought the wasted decades to an end.

I am not suggesting exact parallels between the past excesses of Indian bureaucracy and that which exists today in Brussels. But it is my impression that the received wisdom today in India is that the most reliable formula for a prosperous future is the olde Anglo-Saxon recipe of individual rights & responsibilities, a strong civil society and government which regulates rather than runs the economy such that entrepreneurial activity may flourish; all of which is anathema to the self-aggrandizing bureaucratic centralism that dominates the EU institutions.

If Prime Minister Brown prefers to use one of his initial visits overseas to improve our links with a like-minded country that has a trillion dollar economy growing at 9% per year then I for one feel that is far better use of his time than going to Brussels to beg ‘Nickel Neelie’ for a permit to safeguard the UK banking system.

  • 15.
  • At 05:00 AM on 23 Feb 2008,
  • Thomas Patricio wrote:

I find Freeborn John's comment so typical of British who still cling to the old idea of Empire and those that dream that somehow there'll be a grand Anglo coalition.
His statement that Britain's most important partners are outside of Europe is so delusional, so ridiculous, yet probably most within the U.K. believe it. The truth is that, as an example, the U.K.'s trade with the EU in 2007 was almost 296 billion pounds. With Germany alone, it was almost 75 billion. Compare that to the U.S (57.5) and India (a measly 7 billion) and then claim with a straight face that the EU is irrelevant to the U.K.
Why do I get the feeling that most British are in denial? The truth is that the U.K. has more in common economically, socially and politically with continental Europe than with any other country/region in the world. When will the British learn that they have more to gain by being engaged with Europe than they have to lose? That countries such as Portugal, Spain, Poland, Netherlands crave for U.K.s active leadership? Wake up Britain! Stop crying for the lost empire and stop dreaming you would be better off as America's 51st state! (Mind boggling considering that being America's 51st state is Canada's worst nightmare).

Thomas Patricio
Toronto, Canada

In the BBC web article "US-Mexico 'virtual fence' ready" we read "Built by Boeing, the virtual fence is part of a strategy to stop illegal immigrants as well as drug-smugglers attempt to pass into the US on foot or in vehicles."

So can the EU now ask Airbus to build a similar fence between Kosovo and Serbis, for example?

Or have the Americans already given the contract to Boeing?

What does the US say about unfair government subsidies for commercial companies?......


  • 17.
  • At 07:32 AM on 25 Feb 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

Thomas Patricio (13) : I am not saying European countries are irrelevant to the UK. I do not however accept that trade with Europe means we should be in a political European Union. 82.6% of Canada’s exports are to the USA with the UK a distant second with just 2.6%. If we were to apply your own logic to your own country we might expect you to be a whole-hearted supporter of Canada being integrated into a North American Union that would see Canadians lose control of the government they live under with supra-national decisions imposed on you by a qualified majority in which the US weight would very often trump the policy preferences of Canadians. Yet surprisingly you say that such a thing would be “Canada’s worst nightmare”.

Why do you advocate we in Britain do something the like of which you reject so vehemently for your own country? Are Canadians somehow more deserving of representative government than Britons? Do you only value your own democracy? Or perhaps your anti-Americanism runs so deep that you value the EU as a counterweight to the US even when it means the steady disenfranchisement of people other than yourself?

  • 18.
  • At 09:30 AM on 25 Feb 2008,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"So can the EU now ask Airbus to build a similar fence between Kosovo and Serbis, for example?

Or have the Americans already given the contract to Boeing?" [#14]

EU can sure ask, but whether Airbus can deliver is a horse of another colour.

But, of course, since EU is so staunchly free market oriented, I'm certain Brussels would earlier accept competitive bids from everybody.

Just like US government did.

BTW I suspect that Boeing people would freely admit that a virtual fence wouldn't stop violence in that region, because it's never been virtual. It would take a brick and mortar fence at least thrice as thick and twice as high as the one being erected on US' southern border to separate a "cradle" from a child.
Oh, and a decent mine field on each side.

  • 19.
  • At 05:15 PM on 25 Feb 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

JorgeG (12): I think you protest way too much. The reality is that you only need to present a passport (or ID card for most nationals of EU countries) once when you arrive in the UK and after that you will not be asked to identify yourself again. Compare this to your situation when you visit any Continental country where you can be asked to hand over the same documents at any time and any place during your entire stay and you will see that Schengan provides nothing but an illusion of freedom. I for example have been stopped 100km inside France simply because I was driving a German registered car with the police demanding my passport. This will not happen to foreign drivers in the UK because the police cannot stop people here without suspicion that they have done something wrong. The reality is that you are less free in your own country than you are when visiting the UK because your police can demand “Ausweiss Bitte” of you at any moment.

The free movement of people in the EU is anyway not the right to enter a country without ID, but rather the right to work there. It is a fact that the UK upholds this right more sincerely than Old Europe countries as our labour markets are open to East Europeans while the French, German, Belgian, etc. labour markets remain restricted. The problem with this ‘freedom’ for Britons is that it is not in practice very useful for us. A UK citizen would need to be rather eccentric to make use of this ‘freedom’ when doing so likely means poorer pay and linguistic/cultural difficulties in your work and social life. A reciprocal automatic right to work in other English-speaking countries such as the US, Canada or Australia/NZ would actually be far more valuable for Britons than anything the EU can ever offer.

Anyway, I think we have digressed some way from the topic of this thread. Can anyone tell me why the head of the democratically elected British government needs to prostrate himself in front of “Nickel Nellie” for permission to safeguard the UK banking system? Or why she should be expecting some political baksheesh in the form of advancing the Commission’s own self-aggrandizing agenda in return for giving this permission?

  • 20.
  • At 09:22 AM on 26 Feb 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

Thomas Patricio (15): 82.6% of Canada’s exports are to the USA yet you do not draw the conclusion of your own arguments to your own country. Indeed you say that political domination by your southern neighbour would be “Canada’s worst nightmare”. Strange that you imagine British trade with Europe, which by your own figures is less dependent on Europe than Canada’s is to the USA, implies we do something which you reject so vehemently for your own country.

I have relatives living in Massachusetts, Ontario, and New South Wales. My brother lives in Melbourne. Do you think my German car means I am ‘closer’ to Stuttgart than these places?

  • 21.
  • At 04:27 PM on 27 Feb 2008,
  • James wrote:

Gordon Brown, like all british prime ministers, is weaker and less influencial than he should be in europe, given the size of his country. Why?

Partly because of the conservatives who play with EUphobe fire, while they would never support actions that lead to Britain leaving the EU. They ferment anti EU sentiment, along with the american owned press, as a way of weakening Britain's influence in the EU because they are idealogically committed to america. They are the most unpatriotic centre-right party in western europe.

Why are the majority of british eurosceptics conservative voters? Why, unique to Britain, is there a strong link between free market views and euroscepticism? Why do conservative eurosceptics claim to defend british sovereignty when they are the first to advocate giving it away to america? They agitate consistently against the sovereignty of their nation and hasten its disappearance, while claiming to do the opposite. And the press has nothing to say.

The EU is a reality. It won't go away if Britain buries its head in the sand, and no eurosceptic has come up with a realistic alternative. Europe has never been a static continent- systems such as the EU are created, change and develop, and the game always goes on- if Britain stops playing the european game she dies but, culturally colonised by america (a country that was invented in direct opposition to what Britain stood for), many conservatives see in that red herring a way of avoiding the reality of who Britain is. It is pure self hatred.

Outside the EU britain will still be subject to its rules but with no say in how they are formed. So the best way to protect sovereignty is from the inside. As a large european country Britain could have much more influence in Brussels than it does today- but because it stands at the side, never proposing anything constructive, only grudgingly accepting or opting out of the other's hard work, it is passive and weak. So Britain is not effectively protecting its sovereignty within the EU as it could, because conservatives and the eurosceptic press (owned by americans) make every decision on this issue a national panic that stops britain acting decisively either way.

The current position on europe is untennable:
Europhiles put up with the inconveniances of EU membership - (compromise-the name of the EU game, accepted and unloved by all countries) but without the benefits- the euro, schengen, and the greater influence that come with them.
EUphobes put up with the "inconvenience" of EU membership and thus are deprived of making a fresh start outside the EU.

And as Britain dithers, washington and brussels take what they like.

Sorry but a referendum on Lisbon would not change this situation, whatever its outcome. Who cares if it was promised or not? Let's be constructive here for once instead of playing national party politics- this is your country's future at stake, be honest with yourselves: the rest of the world is playing hard ball.

Why are the conservatives and labour against the lib dems referendum IN or OUT? They don't want the problem to be resolved? Prefer to play party politics? They are not acting in their country's interests.

And EUphobes who prefer a referendum on Lisbon to one on IN or OUT need to ask themselves what they really want because they look incoherent and, frankly, infantile.

  • 22.
  • At 05:28 PM on 27 Feb 2008,
  • James wrote:

Gordon Brown, like all british prime ministers, is weaker and less influencial than he should be in europe, given the size of his country. Why?

Partly because of the conservatives who play with EUphobe fire, while they would never support actions that lead to Britain leaving the EU. They ferment anti EU sentiment, along with the american owned press, as a way of weakening Britain's influence in the EU because they are idealogically committed to america. They are the most unpatriotic centre-right party in western europe.

Why are the majority of british eurosceptics conservative voters? Why, unique to Britain, is there a strong link between free market views and euroscepticism? Why do conservative eurosceptics claim to defend british sovereignty when they are the first to advocate giving it away to america? They agitate consistently against the sovereignty of their nation and hasten its disappearance, while claiming to do the opposite. And the press has nothing to say.

The EU is a reality. It won't go away if Britain buries its head in the sand, and no eurosceptic has come up with a realistic alternative. Europe has never been a static continent- systems such as the EU are created, change and develop, and the game always goes on- if Britain stops playing the european game she dies but, culturally colonised by america (a country that was invented in direct opposition to what Britain stood for), many conservatives see in that red herring a way of avoiding the reality of who Britain is. It is pure self hatred.

Outside the EU britain will still be subject to its rules but with no say in how they are formed. So the best way to protect sovereignty is from the inside. As a large european country Britain could have much more influence in Brussels than it does today- but because it stands at the side, never proposing anything constructive, only grudgingly accepting or opting out of the other's hard work, it is passive and weak. So Britain is not effectively protecting its sovereignty within the EU as it could, because conservatives and the eurosceptic press (owned by americans) make every decision on this issue a national panic that stops britain acting decisively either way.

The current position on europe is untennable:
Europhiles put up with the inconveniances of EU membership - (compromise-the name of the EU game, accepted and unloved by all countries) but without the benefits- the euro, schengen, and the greater influence that come with them.
EUphobes put up with the "inconvenience" of EU membership and thus are deprived of making a fresh start outside the EU.

And as Britain dithers, washington and brussels take what they like.

Sorry but a referendum on Lisbon would not change this situation, whatever its outcome. Who cares if it was promised or not? Let's be constructive here for once instead of playing national party politics- this is your country's future at stake, be honest with yourselves: the rest of the world is playing hard ball.

Why are the conservatives and labour against the lib dems referendum IN or OUT? They don't want the problem to be resolved? Prefer to play party politics? They are not acting in their country's interests.

And EUphobes who prefer a referendum on Lisbon to one on IN or OUT need to ask themselves what they really want because they look incoherent and, frankly, infantile.

  • 23.
  • At 11:59 PM on 02 Mar 2008,
  • Freeborn John wrote:

James: Much of your post (20) is just anti-Americanism, but you are correct to say that the current UK situation is untenable and that the EU is not a static system. The interesting question is whether the ongoing changes to the EU will make it more or less popular in Britain, as this will determine more than anything else how the untenable situation will be resolved one way or the other.

The main cause of EU unpopularity is the lack of democratic legitimacy implied by its ‘community method’ and the application of this decision-making method to policy areas for which it is was never designed. Under the community method EU law is superior to national law, the Commission has a monopoly on all proposals for change to EU law, and EU law can be imposed on us against our wishes by a qualified majority of other countries. In decades past it was argued that the lack of democratic legitimacy inherent in the community method was not a problem because the political sensitivity of the issues decided by it was too low for anyone to care. But in the name of ‘efficiency’ a succession of changes to EU treaties has dramatically changed all that. The community method is now used to decide matters in almost all policy areas including those of such political sensitivity that they should only ever be determined by democratic politics within a nation-state. When the EU uses the community method to create law it replaces not just national law, but also the ability of national parliaments to legislate in the area covered by the superior EU law. Since the body of EU law grows with each passing day, the inevitable long-term effect of the widespread use of the community method will be to continually reduce the scope within which national parliaments can legislate towards vanishing point. Our national elections decide less and less as they cannot influence anything already agreed to at EU level. Ultimately they will only which political party sends ministers to the EU Council of Ministers to be outvoted and explain to us why we must henceforth live under EU law that we never agreed too and can no longer change through the democratic process.

EU supporters are fond of saying that the rules designed for 6 (or 12, or 15 or 25) cannot be used for an EU with 27 members. But they completely fail to recognise that decision-making rules designed for the common market cannot be used for politically sensitive policies. I contend therefore that the dynamic EU process you refer to will inevitably make the EU ever less popular in Britain and we will ultimately leave the EU in order to restore our ability to shape the governance we live under.

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