Sunday, June 24

A Referendum on the EU

Both The Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times today offer powerful leaders demanding a referendum following yesterday's European Council. Both have also – with commendable speed – sussed that the treaty "mandate" is little more than another attempt to get the failed EU constitution, dressed in the different clothes of an "amending treaty", onto the statute book.
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The Sunday Times offering is backed up by a well-argued opinion piece from Lord Owen, making the case for a referendum, while The Guardian has been recording that demand for a referendum is growing.Thus does the Mail on Sunday report that Brown has an "EU timebomb" as the "treaty" starts to unravel.
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Many newspapers are reporting that a "treaty" has been agreed, but the message is nevertheless clear – once again the British people have been deceived with bland assurances that their interests have been safeguarded, while yet another prime minister has sold us down the river.What is different now, of course, is that Brown does not face an election between now and the projected timetable for the treaty ratification. Blair, on the other hand, when he agreed to an EU referendum in 2005, was seeking to neutralise the issue of the constitution, to avoid it becoming an electoral drag.But there is another difference. For months now, the message has been that the constitution is "dead" and that the only thing on the table is an "amending treaty" embodying the minor administrative changes needed to make the EU function more efficiently.
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As more and more people realise they have been deceived yet again, even those who are indifferent to the EU issue are going to be annoyed. People, as a rule, generally tolerant of being taken for a ride by their politicians, nonetheless do not particularly appreciate having their noses rubbed in it.

Thus, it seems more than a possibility that we will actually see a growing clamour for a referendum and, while Mr Brown can afford to tough it out, the clamour will be an unwelcome distraction from the agenda he wishes to pursue as a newly appointed Prime Minister.
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Despite having already – and rather unwisely – having ruled out a referendum, he might find himself having to concede one, simply to enable him to concentrate on other issues;one can only hope. Watch this space.
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Christopher Booker writes:
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A coup d'├ętat in the fine print.
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The resolution agreed yesterday in Brussels by the European Council on the EU's proposed constitutional treaty represented an extraordinary coup d'etat, unprecedented in the history of the "European project". To understand the awesome significance of what happened it is necessary to appreciate just how this weekend's decision marked a complete departure from all the normal rules which govern the agreement of such treaties.
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All the previous treaties extending the powers of the body now known as the European Union, from Rome through Maastricht to Nice, have been preceded by what is called an "inter-governmental conference" (IGC), a process of negotiation lasting several months between the governments involved. Under the rules of the Vienna Convention governing international treaties, the participants in an IGC have acted as sovereign governments in their own right, free to agree, on a basis of unanimity, which further powers they were prepared to hand over to the supranational government of the EU.
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On this occasion, to secure the new treaty they are all so desperately keen to see in place, there will still have to be an IGC, as the rules require. But what is wholly new about yesterday's resolution is that, for the first time, the European Council has given an "exclusive mandate" to all the governments involved that they can only be permitted to discuss the treaty the European Council wants. In other words, they are no longer allowed to act as sovereign governments, as the international rules on treaties require, but can only act under the orders given them by the European Council.
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This may sound like a typically arcane nicety of EU procedure, but it is of huge significance. The European Council is itself a "Community institution". It is therefore ordering the sovereign governments to hand over more powers to itself. This is something which, until it so dramatically changed the rules yesterday, no one would have thought the Council had the power to do.
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We are thus to be presented with the constitution it wants, without any further opportunity for it to be amended. But, unless they decide to change the rules yet again, it will still have to be ratified by all 27 member states, several of which will need to hold referendums. Mrs Merkel's clever coup d'etat is not yet quite complete.
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