After the Referendum

As an ardent supporter of the ideal of the EU, I am delighted that the Irish have trashed the Lisbon Constitution (aka Treaty). In doing so, they have spoken for the many, including us Brits, who have not been allowed a vote.

For around 20 years I have been arguing that while I support the ideal of the EU, I could not in conscience, support this particular direction of constitutional evolution because it is, quite simply, fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic, centralizing and elitist.

Emerging reaction to the Irish vote only serves to underline this. As the BBC’s Mark Mardell notes in his blog:

But what will happen next? People are starting to back one of three options:

Ireland votes again;
Abandon Lisbon;
Move ahead without Ireland.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister has suggested that Ireland could be given assurances about defence and abortion: a clear prelude to a second vote.

The new Italian foreign minister, former commissioner Franco Frattini, said as he went in that the referendum was “a cold shower, but Europe does not stop for this”. Perhaps that is close to the third position.

Sadly, this is just as one has come to expect and continues a thoroughly ignoble tradition of carrying on regardless of public opinion, the rights of smaller countries and even the law.

The difficulty is that the EU has just grown like topsy from its beginnings as a very limited arrangement between just 6 countries in the 1950s. But the arrangements that its founders put in place back then are simply not scalable to a Europe of vastly greater ambitions and 27 members operating in the very different World of the 21st Century.

The EU establishment has simply not understood this ‘lack-of-scalability’ adequately, nor has it been able to suggest any alternative constitution to address it. (Arguably, the vested interests are such that they have little interest in alternatives which would inevitably upset their gravy-filled trough).

That is why they are so desperately trying to get the Lisbon Treaty adopted by fair means or foul – now mainly foul. But increasingly, I think the public does understand, albeit often in a confused way, that the EU is not working as it should, that it is too centralized, undemocratic and opaque. In short, it needs a restart with a radically different constitutional approach – one that is decentralized, democratic and transparent and which democrats of all stripes would be happy to support.

Those who cannot imagine any other plan, or indeed even that there COULD BE another plan, are in a terrible bind – soldier on in defiance of public opinion, law and common sense or give up on the whole European Project.

However, I sense that at long last there is a mood to think new and radical thoughts about Europe’s future. Am I right?

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