Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tweedledum & Tweedledee in the Great British Non-Debate

Nowhere in Europe can the issue of Europe have become so polarised as it has in Britain. Yet the issue of a Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has been confused (and I suspect deliberately so) with the question of whether Britain should remain or withdraw from the EU.

Whereas there is a strong outcry for a Referendum in certain quarters the prospect of withdrawal remains much less popular. Britain's anti-EU campaigners know this and seek to cloud the issue by using the call for a Referendum as proof of the unpopularity of the EU. It's no accident that anti-EU newspapers like the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph are all the most vociferous when it comes to demanding a Referendum. And David Cameron's Tory Party, not known for its love of things European, is no different.

During the recent House of Commons debate on the Lisbon Treaty it was significantly the Tories who felt threatened by the prospect of a European Defence Force which they see as a threat to the present Anglo-American 'special relationship' and alliance. Cameron claims that the 'special relationship' is in his and the Tory party's DNA. It shouldn't take much analysis to understand what he means.

And whereas it is perfectly understandable that writers like Susan George should denounce the Treaty as a blueprint for 'neo-liberal' exploitation and for the people of France and Holland to have rejected the proposed Constitution for similar reasons we should be much more cautious with the British Right as well as the caravan of anti-EU nationalists which follows on behind it.

A major reason the British Right is fighting the Lisbon Treaty is because it sees the creation of a European Defence Force as the first step towards a military bloc which would seriously challenge not only the present Anglo-Saxon Alliance but the imperialist military power behind it.

Now Eire is under threat from Nato

When reminded of the paradox in their 'independence' argument the anti-EU nationalists have no answer. For how can they really be serious about a British 'independence' which in the cruel light of day simply does not exist? And if the nationalists on the Left are, as they often profess to be, anti-Nato and against the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan how can they square this with their hostility to a EU which is feared by US analysts as a growing threat to US foreign policy?

Opposition to the EU in Britain tends to come from a deeper source of resentment than just concern for the threat of unemployment resulting from the Treaty's 'neoliberal' economic policies. It is something to be found in the well-springs of national identity or now rather a lack of one following a post-imperial hangover. It is probably no accident that there exists no serious interest here in a debate about the need for more democracy within the EU. Why bother when you can get your opinions ready-made from the Sun? And yet how many who read the Sun know that Rupert Murdoch, a naturalised US citizen, is a mortal enemy of the EU? And if they did would they trouble to join up the dots?

Unlike Eire with its Dublin Castle Forum debate the people of the UK are not being allowed any debate over the Lisbon Treaty. The British must rely on the paucity of --even then grossly distorted-- information it receives from the national mainstream media and a government whose attitude to the European Project is in a word ambivalent. While on the one hand successfully blackmailing the EU with threats to veto the Treaty if not allowed major opt-outs concerning industrial relations and civil rights Gordon Brown returns to our shores claiming these opt-outs to be an "achievement"! An achievement for whom, the people or a reactionary government going busily about turning Britain into a police-state?

There never was a time when Britain more needed an intelligent, informed national debate about where this country is headed for. But that need is not even on the agenda of an unelected Brown government whose deeply undemocratic nature makes even the Tories look like the champions of freedom. Of course, they are not. If Labour and the Tories have one thing in common it is that they share a deep belief in the Atlantic alliance between Britain and the USA.

That Alliance, while in the interests of Anglo-American capital, is certainly no friend of the people. Both Labour and the Tories would like to keep Britain in the EU to act as a trojan horse for US interests and interventionism. And that is why Tweedledum and Tweedledee do not want a national debate on Europe or, indeed, anything else.

While campaigning for a more democratic Europe the reality of the Anglo-American status quo should never be forgotten. What European democrats should be working towards is not only a decentralised and democratic European Federation --one that is truly people-friendly-- but for a Europe that has the economic, diplomatic and military teeth to present itself as a defensive counter-force in a new, multipolar world of powers.

Paul Carline from the Initiative & Referendum Institute, Marburg, comments:

An excellent analysis. There are very good reasons for believing that a federated Europe based on popular sovereignty and direct-democratic rights (citizen-initiated referendums and obligatory referendums on key issues - as is already the case in the Irish Republic) would be a safer and more prosperous place.

There's every reason to think that Britain would also be better off as a federal country, like Switzerland and Germany.

In fact, Switzerland, with its 26 sovereign cantons, each with its own constitution based on popular sovereignty, is a great model for an EU which now has 27 member states.
Academic studies in Switzerland show that the more direct democracy there is i.e. the more the people have real rights of political decision-making and initiative, the happier people are and the more efficient and prosperous the economy is.

When anti-EU people speak of 'national sovereignty', they are talking about an undemocratic claim to exclusive power by an unrepresentative parliament and government in which a tiny handful of people around the prime minister can take momentous decisions such as committing Britain to illegal wars (incidentally making those who promoted and supported those decisions war criminals in international and domestic law. cf. the Campaign to Make Wars History at

Is that the kind of sovereignty we want?

from Campaign for a Democratic Europe

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