I have been coming increasingly to the conclusion that Michael White is a terrible arse
. As is the case with that other terrible arse, Simon Heffer, the problem is at least partly with his style of writing. Whereas the Hefferlump writes with his face contorted into a hideous sneer, White has this god-awful patronising de haut en bas
style which is as unmerited as it is irritating. Today’s little effort
, in honour of the Irish referendum, is a classic of its type.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a Thatcherite on Europe. Partly because it's true, but chiefly because it annoys her Europhobic proteges who are, most of them, too young to remember what a stout European she often was.
It’s true that in 1988 I was a touch too young to appreciate the speech she gave in Bruges
, but I wonder if Michael White really does agree with Margaret Thatcher on this:
My first guiding principle is this: willing and active cooperation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community…
Indeed, it is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction.
We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.
Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose.
But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one's own country; for these have been the source of Europe's vitality through the centuries.
I’m open to persuasion, but if White really is opposed to European integration and in favour of restoring fuller sovereignty to the member states I’d be a touch surprised.
Now to this constitution business. French and Dutch voters rejected this deeply tedious document, which I read on Ken Clarke's behalf. So Brussels scaled down its pretensions and produced the Lisbon treaty, which enshrines practical advantages – easier voting majorities, a council president etc.
I too read the draft European Constitution (lucky chap that I am, I studied it and sat exams based on it), whose limitations were wonderfully summed up by Charles Moore. The US Constitution’s first ringing words are ‘We the people…’, allowing the reader to understand precisely where conceptual power rests in the US system, and the Government’s relation to it. The European Constitution began “His Majesty the King of the Belgians…”.
I have not, however, and I would be truly astonished if Michael White has, read the Lisbon Treaty. Weighing in at a chunky 287 pages (and still starting with the imprimatur of King Albert, a monarch increasingly without a kingdom) it is written in the following style:
Article 311 shall be repealed. A new Article 311a shall be inserted, with the wording of Article 299(2), first subparagraph, and Article 299(3) to (6); the text shall be amended as follows.
(a) the first subparagraph of paragraph 2 and paragraphs 3 to 6 shall be renumbered 1 to 5 and the following new introductory wording shall be inserted at the beginning of the Article:
"In addition to the provisions of Article 49 C of the Treaty on European Union relating to the territorial scope of the Treaties, the following provisions shall apply:";
(b) at the beginning of the first subparagraph of paragraph 2, renumbered 1, the words "the French overseas departments, " shall be replaced by "Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, Réunion, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin" and the words "in accordance with Article 299" shall be added at the end;
(c) in paragraph 3, renumbered 2, the words "of this Treaty" shall be deleted;
(d) in paragraph 6, renumbered 5, the introductory words "Notwithstanding the preceding paragraphs:" shall be replaced by "Notwithstanding Article 49 C of the Treaty on European Union and paragraphs 1 to 4 of this Article:";
(e) the following new paragraph shall be added at the end of the Article:
"6. The European Council may, on the initiative of the Member State concerned,
adopt a decision amending the status, with regard to the Union, of a Danish, French or Netherlands country or territory referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2. The European Council shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission.".
It is simply not a document designed to be read, at least not by a human. The purpose, however, is fairly clear. The Constitution was designed to replace every existing EU Treaty with a new, unified constitutional document. The Treaty is designed to amend every existing EU Treaty, so that the same effect is achieved, without it being possible to determine precisely where and how. There really is no conceptual difference between the two documents, other than the fact the Constitution was inherently honest about its intentions, and the Lisbon Treaty has been designed to hide them.
But is there a possibility that the British public will have a chance to put their view on this unreadable confidence trick? Maybe, if Vaclav Klaus can resist pressure to ratify before a UK election.
German pressure on Prague has been deemed bad form since 1945, so the French will lead the squeeze. My top EU source told me an hour ago that he thinks Prague will sign – "because the pressure will be huge, but Klaus is very obstinate and has links with Cameron."
Links with Cameron? Did you know that? Yes, last month Dave wrote privately to Klaus, either urging him not to sign because Dave will soon be in a position to torpedo the treaty with a UK referendum – or, more prudently, praising his tough stance.
Which version of this under-reported event is true? As Kettle points out, we don't know, because Dave's "Dear Vac" letter has not been published in full, only in selective bits to cynical but credulous news outlets.
Why the fuck should it be published in full (or indeed at all)? The clue ought to be visible – White even refers to it as a private letter. Plus, I’m not sure how far you can push this as an under-reported event, when as White notices, Martin Kettle has a piece on virtually identical lines in today’s Guardian
The paranoid rightwing press, owned by tax exiles, pornographers and other riff-raff (yes, Rupert, I mean you), already suspects a sell-out in the making: that Dave is keen to wriggle out of the commitment he made when running for leader that he would hold a UK ballot if the Lisbon treaty was not fully ratified when he became prime minister.
Quite apart from the hypocrisy of anyone writing for theGuardian
criticising the tax-minimising ownership structures of other newspapers - the entire thing is a tax-avoidance scheme – is anyone suggesting that David Cameron won’t
have a referendum on Lisbon if it hasn’t been fully ratified? The suggestions are that he won’t have a referendum if it has
been fully ratified.
I certainly hope he's trying to wriggle. Cameron has annoyed Angela Merkel and other powerful European conservative leaders by breaking away from their EPP grouping in the Strasbourg parliament and expelling veteran Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott for sticking to his/their agreed ground…
But Cameron's tactical pandering to his domestic rightwing, to defectors to Ukip and the BNP, is very short-term and dents his otherwise pragmatic and intelligent credentials as a One Nation Tory – which I am usually happy to take more or less on trust. It is the one seriously stupid thing he has done.
This is, frankly, bollocks. The impossibility of the Conservatives remaining part of the EPP should be apparent from this list of policies that all EPP members must sign up to: an EU foreign policy; an EU seat at the UN, WTO and IMF; a common European income tax; a harmonised European police force; and an end to all national vetoes. The Conservative Party is fundamentally opposed to all of these, and it is simply dishonest to remain a member of a group that has them in their manifesto.
Anyway, shorter version: Michael White is a bit of a tit.