European mayhem as Treaty triggers UK's exit
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
British withdrawl from the EU is coming into sharper focus, with all the grave consequences that will ensue for the Atlantic order and the cause of market liberalism.
For this we can thank those who recklessly - or mischievously - chose to revive the European Constitution after rejection by the French and Dutch people, when common sense urged Brussels to lie low, lick its wounds, and rediscover patience.
By reopening this can of worms, they have already let France's Nicolas Sarkozy excise the clause "free and undistorted competition" from the core objectives of the Union. Adieu to the single market, the one incontrovertible benefit of EU membership.
It would never have been easy to win a British referendum on the original (better) text, which furnishes the EU with the apparatus of a thrusting state - president, foreign minister, justice department, supreme court, energy tsar, and treaty-making powers. It will be much harder now.
Gordon Brown's plan to slip it through Parliament is becoming untenable in the face of a backbench revolt by Labour MPs, a united Tory opposition, and likely calls for a vote by the Liberal Democrats.
As David Blunkett said last week, Downing Street has failed to justify why Labour is violating its manifesto pledge to hold a referendum. "It is critical for the Government to demonstrate the difference between the original constitutional treaty and the current treaty," he said.
Well, yes, and how is this to be done when Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the author, himself says the changes are "more cosmetic than real", that "the substance is similar or even the same," and that the label constitution has been dropped to "make a few people happy"?
Should Gordon Brown persist with this charade, he will be chased out of Downing Street within two years. British debt deflation is not going to leave him much margin of popularity in any case.
Personally, I might have put a clothes peg on my nose and voted for the original treaty, if the other big states had already said "Yes", and if an isolated British "No" risked UK secession.
It would have been a Realpolitik calculus, hoping that a blocking majority of liberal nations would eviscerate the treaty's effects.
Britain had by then achieved its goal of extending the EU to Eastern Europe, breaking the Rhineland lock-hold that has caused so much grief.
A British-led constellation of states had begun to emerge - much to the annoyance of Paris.
The Commission's teeth arms - competition, single market, trade, and farming - had become engines of Anglo-Saxon reform. The European Court was finally shedding its crypto-Hegelian bias as liberal judges swamped the bench.
Having waited so long, and endured such provocation from the Delors junta, it would have been precipitous to leave just as the bargain promised more advantage.
But that was then, before the "No" earthquakes. The dispute is no longer over the meaning of treaty articles. The issue is whether we wish to let the EU ram through the same project - stripped of its anthem and visible symbols of statehood - after voters have already issued their thundering prohibition.
The matter has escalated into a defence of democracy against an enterprise that has slipped its leash, demonstrated a dangerous will to accrete power, and forfeited basic trust - as Tony Blair well knows.
"What you cannot do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and bring it back with a few amendments and say, 'have another go'. You cannot do that," he said in April 2004.
It is unlikely that British voters can be cajoled into endorsing this Putsch, once debate is joined. No doubt Labour will attempt to turn any referendum into a ballot on EU withdrawl, hoping to scare enough fence-sitters into a reluctant "Yes". But this merely ups the ante. So we await the unstoppable slide into crisis.
Hopes that the French people will rescue us a second time are fading. Mr Sarkozy has a crushing majority in parliament, and is better able to duck a referendum than Mr Brown.
His European theatrics have created the impression of restored French primacy in Brussels, dulling the mood of indignation. The Left - the nucleus of the "No" vote - is in disarray.
Holland remains eerily silent, watching us. No doubt, there are strong factions in Paris, Brussels, and Luxembourg that would like to see the back of Les Rosbifs, and anti-American elements close to power in Madrid and Rome who agree.
But British withdrawl - so obviously forced upon us - would sent tremors through Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, among the oldest democracies in Europe as it happens, and the richest. It would traumatise Ireland, and dismay Finland.
It would alter the strategic equation for Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and further enflame the poisonous quarrel between Warsaw and Berlin.
Where all this might end is anybody's guess, but it is a fair assumption that Mr Sarkozy will quickly press for a core-Europe, one more willing to entertain his plans for "Community Preference" (a semi-closed trade bloc), a managed exchange rate, and perhaps capital controls - as allowed by majority vote under Article 59. By then, the French, Spanish, Greek, and Italian housing booms will have popped, so the mood will be receptive.
What we take for granted as the permanent post-War order is more fragile than it looks. Tug too hard on the British thread, and the European system quickly starts to unravel.
Jean Monnet would have seen the dangers of this. Germany's Angela Merkel does not. The provincial and ill-advised Kanzlerin has over-played a tactical hand, heedless of strategic risk. The die is caste.