Monday, March 17, 2008

3rd reading of the Lisbon Treaty

Just catching up on some blogging to mention the excellent debate in the House of Commons to give the Lisbon Treaty Bill a 3rd Reading (11th March)

Previously the House debated a proposal to submit the Bill to a referendum and defeated it - rightly in my view.

There is nothing that has been brought to my attention that would come anywhere near warranting a referendum, which in general is a bad way to make major political decisions, given we are a Parliamentary democracy with the idea that a parliamentary majority is the way all our major decisions are made.

There is of course a role for referendums, notably where the governing party is divided and cannot sustain its majority or because of a fundamental change such as adopting the euro or where a proposed change is (paradoxically) of less importance and you want to give people a choice at a local level (such as elected mayors, regional assemblies).

The only case for a referendum on the now defunct Constitution (which in itself was not that ambitious and represented incremental change) was that it had the symbolism of a Constitution and it was that kind of symbolics which suggested a referendum was of value.

At the time I must say I was not convinced. Europe isn't for most people a misty eyed thing that you embrace and fall in love with. For me it's a pragmatic mechanism that as a matter of simple fact the UK decided to join the EU because it felt it was in its overall interests and for that reason stays and works to improve it.

Going out there and persuading people to love the EU is daft - for good or ill (usually for ill, but there we have it) we Brits are congenitally sceptical of anything and love nothing better than poking fun at them there foreigners with their strange ways that are so clearly inferior to ours.

(This was the reason that we joined the EU late - 1972 as opposed to 1958 when it was first set up. We just couldn't believe that something run by our continental 'cousins' would work. We wanted to be "in Europe, but not run by Europe" a vast "area of free trading sovereign nations" .... so we set up EFTA as an alternative but seeing that the EU worked quite well we decided - that is to say the elected majority in Parliament decided - to join the EU - of course the Labour government did hold a referendum because it was so hopelessly divided it had to do so to maintain its majority and stay in office, but not for any other reason).

All those wonky banana stories are just too good to not print if you are a tabloid editor - though the determination of our culture to prick pomposity and lampoon any bureaucracy is not a totally bad trait either.

And all of these traits have helped to form the Lisbon Traety which makes the EU work at 27 as opposed to 15 (with surely the thought that there are quite a few countries yet to come in, albeit smaller e.g. the Balkan states) but addressing all of the negotiating points identified by eurosceptics over the years. Subsidiarity is in the Treaty and is defined along with a principal of conferral (the EU only has power explicitly conbferred on it, for example. Britain has oodles of 'opt ins', that is areas where the UK can opt in if it wants to but doesn't have to and there is explicit recognition of the role of the National Parliaments, giving them a veto over extensions of qualified majority voting.

Of course there's a lot of content that's the same as the defunct Constitution, but that's because there is widespread agreement on some relatively minor changes, like ending the rather silly rotating presidency (rotating every 6 months), extending QMV in some areas (mostly technical) and improving the votes' weighting system - increasing the UK's share of the vote.

In summary:

- Yes to the EU and our continued membership
- Yes to the Treaty of Lisbon as a good amending Treaty
- No to a referendum because we are a Parliamentary democracy
- Yes (hopefully) to an end to euro-institutional navel gazing
- No to any more EU treaties (amending or otherwise) for the next 20 years........

The link to the Hansard debate at 3rd reading is here

The link to the Parliament web for the Bill is here

For information on who voted which way see here

The Government majority was 140, which is very solid.

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