Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Reform Treaty, the UK and the Referendum Issue

I've been following with interest some of the press debate about the growing controversy in the UK about whether there should be a referendum as part of the ratification process for the anticipated Reform Treaty. There is almost no nuanced discussion of the Treaty (well draft Treaty) itself, but rather the usual rantings of the antis and the pros in the different camps. In fact, because the UK's approach to the Reform Treaty negotiations has been such as effectively to create a separate treaty for the UK (see the comments by Jim Murphy Europe Minister), that the Treaty has - for very different reasons - attracted almost as much opprobrium on the part of the federalists as it has on the part of the the euro-sceptics. Moreover, the UK Government has also managed to mobilise some sections of the union camp in favour of a referendum, because of its mealy-mouthed approach to the issue of the scope and effects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Perhaps it's a vote winner with business in the UK; it certainly seems to have raised the hackles of some of the unions.

It is undoubtedly the case that the format chosen for the Reform Treaty, which will be a treaty amending and - in the case of the EC Treaty - renaming the existing treaties, which produces a result which is remarkably like the Four-Part-Constitutional-Treaty, except this will be Two Treaties and a bunch of Protocols (plus a whole raft of further protocols and declarations which would have been appended to the Constitutional Treaty anyway) is a problem. The big difference, as everyone points out, is that the Reform Treaty is shorn of the constitutional symbols so beloved of Giscard d'Estaing, which gave the Constitutional Treaty some of the veneer of a Big C Constitution, even if it had little of the content one might anticipate for a measure which would change the constitutional nature of the current EU, which is a hybrid mixture of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. But the problem of the format is that it appears shifty and an attempt to do something by the backdoor, as Michael Bruter comments. Voters can react negatively to that sort of approach on the part of politicians, because they assume that they (the politicians) have something to hide.

I say **almost** no nuanced comment, but I have found a few things which are definitely worth reading and worth linking to; papers by George Schopflin in OpenDemocracy, an editorial in the Financial Times, penned - one suspects - by the peerless Peter Norman, a thorough fisking of what appear to be the arguments put forward by pro-referendum Labour MPs by EULawBlogger; an honest attempt at a Q & A/FAQ by the BBC. And now today a lengthy editorial in the Observer which has attracted a reasonably good set of comments. But there has been little else.

What interests me most is whether there is any sort of intellectually reputable argument in favour of a referendum on the Reform Treaty, based on an underlying claim for democratic legitimation, as seems to be the argument underpinning the regular references to the Reform Treaty (but sadly, no accompanying analysis) from the good folks at Our Kingdom. Unaccountably, however, they leaven their posts with regular references to leaders and articles in the Daily Telegraphy, a newspaper which is certainly **not** well disposed to the EU generally, and for whom the Reform Treaty represents, as it does for Cameron, another stick to beat the Labour Party and Gordon Brown over the head with. A progressive democrat would need to find some references points for his or her argument other than the Daily Telegraph for me to begin to be convinced that there exists some sort of foundational democratic argument for a referendum on a Treaty which will not affect the way we are governed anywhere near as much as the Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht.