David Blackburn

The coalition’s inept EU referendum lock

The coalition’s inept EU referendum lock
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At least this government is honest. ‘There will be,’ Europe Minister David Lidington says, ‘no referendum on the transfer of competence or power from the UK to the EU during this Parliament’. The government will ensure that there are no more EU power transfer treaties; but, as Douglas Carswell, Tim Montgomerie, and Bill Cash all note, the Lisbon Treaty is self-ratifying. The EU has already picked the coalition’s lock and garnered new powers for itself – notably the extension of the EU arrest warrant.

The EU could be an economic superblock with the muscle to influence the globe strategically and culturally. But its current political operation is unnecessary and deplorably un-democratic. European nations’ commercial advantages are being squandered by needless regulation, petty squabbles and rare outbursts of antagonism. The continent’s democratic and liberal outlook is also being compromised by the union’s proposed expansion into Turkey, a country now more attuned to the east.

Yesterday, Turkey passed laws to strengthen its presidency, weaken its overbearing military and improve gender equality - all designed, President Erdogan says, to meet EU accession demands. But implementation does not necessarily follow from inauguration. Without delivering reform, Turkish accession would fundamentally undermine the EU’s moral authority (Turkey’s human rights record is appalling) and permanently shift Brussels’ strategic priorities to the Middle East and the Caucasus – caught in a hard clench between Russia to the far north, anti-Russian nationalism to the north-east and warring Islamic theocracies to the south and east. Turkey’s altered stance to Israel and Islamism’s rise (despite rapid economic growth) are also serious concerns.

Such momentous change concerns ethics, security and an unwanted sphere of influence, exceeding mere 'power' and 'competence'. The European polity should be consulted as to its view; that there is no precedent is immaterial.

The British government is determined that Turkey accedes, and soon. On the evidence of Lidington’s written statement, the British people will have no say in the matter:

‘Treaty changes which do not transfer competence or power from the UK to the EU would not be subject to a referendum. For example, Accession Treaties that transfer competences and power from the acceding country to the EU, and which only amend Treaty provisions to the extent necessary to facilitate the accession, do not transfer competence or power from the UK to the EU, and so consequently would not be subject to a referendum.’

PS: When in Opposition, the Tories pledged to repatriate powers from Brussels using Croatian accession as a bargaining tool. The Coalition Agreement is deliberately hazy on matters European, but, as I understand it, the government still intends to stick to its original plan – though SpAds and officials are ludicrously vague when it comes to the government’s European policy, perhaps there isn’t one? If so, D-Day is still some way off – the Commission and the Croatian government have still to agree on 11 of 33 ‘chapters of accession’. An accession date in 2011 is now unlikely – just like the original date of 2008.