Sunday, June 15, 2008

An EU without Ireland and the UK?

Firstly Will Hutton in the Observer (Europe must not be derailed by lies and disinformation) envisages the EU will proceed without Ireland in the event of 26 countries ratifaying the Lisbon Treaty.

Second an editorial in Le Monde points the way to a new Treaty body (based on Lisbon, presumably).

What is therefore looking likely at the moment is the creation of an EU Associate status - probably designed for Ireland, the UK and Turkey.

Le Monde:

Pour sortir de ce cercle vicieux, il n'y a qu'une possibilité : créer, à côté de l'Union européenne actuelle, une avant-garde composée de pays prêts à accepter la règle de la majorité qualifiée pour approfondir l'intégration. L'idée n'est pas nouvelle, mais elle n'a jamais été mise en oeuvre. Elle suppose des dirigeants convaincus que l'unité européenne est une ambition nécessaire. S'il aidait à cette prise de conscience, le vote des Irlandais serait finalement une chance pour l'Europe.

Rough translation:

There is only one way out of this vicious circle - the creation, alongside the current EU of an 'avant garde' made up of countries ready to accept the rule of qualified majority voting in order to deepen integration. It's not a new idea, but it has never been put into practice. It would require leaders convinced that European unity was a necessary ambition. If it's any help toward such a position then the Irish vote might end up being a real opportunity for Europe.

Will Hutton:

On top of these there is the political problem that the treaty can't be rewritten to accommodate specific Irish concerns because it already does; Ireland's 'no' campaigners told lies. The voters' great concerns had been met. There is a specific protocol that guarantees Ireland's neutrality and excuses it from membership of any joint European defence effort, if any surfaces. There is no possibility of Ireland being told to enforce abortion. And all states have autonomy over tax policy.

Crucially, the treaty contains a clause that states that do not agree to its provisions are required to leave the European Union. The existing treaty can certainly be made more obviously Ireland-friendly within its existing provisions, but beyond that, the EU will have to get tough and invoke the clause. It will have to ask Ireland to resubmit essentially the same treaty for a second referendum early in 2009, rather as Ireland held a second referendum over the Nice treaty in 2002.

If Ireland votes similarly again, then it will have to accept associate status in the EU and not be a member of its governing structures. The EU will proceed without Ireland.

I don't entirely agree with Will Hutton's analysis but the logic of a Treaty being negotiated by all heads of government and ratified by 26 out of 27, and one of the countries stating they are unable to ratify means there is at least a possibility of being asked to accept associate status.

The irony is that for associate status to be enacted it would require an Ireland-EU Treaty ... probably requiring a referendum.

The real risk is for Britain as an incoming Tory government (in the event of that happening) might quite like associate status.

Let's be clear however, what associate status would mean. It would be more than free trade - this is already enjoyed by Norway and Switzerland as continuing members of EFTA as part of the European Economic Area (described on its website as being for [members] to:

participate in the Internal Market, while not assuming the full responsibilities of EU membership. The Agreement gives them the right to be consulted by the Commission during the formulation of Community legislation, but not the right to a voice in decision-making, which is reserved exclusively for Member States

in other words to have the right to have decisions made by others without your involvement.

It would therefore mean still being part of EU common policies (agriculture, fisheries), still paying a budgetary contribution, still being bound by EU law but having no MEP's, no Commissioner and no presence at the Council of ministers.

I am sure there are many eurosceptics who would vote for this as a stepping stone to rejoining EFTA (i.e. leaving the EU).

On the positive side, if the EU develops as a free association of peoples (as it undoubtedly is) then maybe it should allow for stepping stones, both to exit and entry via an associate status.

And I am sure that eurosceptics would then campaign to come out of the EEA to avoid being told what to do by the EU that we had just left.

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