Thursday, 19 June 2008

The future of the EU cannot be answered in simple 'yes' or 'no' terms

I wrote the letter below in response to Ian Bell's article that appeared in yesterday's Herald on "The EU is determined to prove it won't listen". This was published in today's Herald.

Not for the first time Ian Bell has captured almost precisely the dilemma confronting those who wish to see, and who support, further European integration but who have considerable reservations about the democratic basis on which the EU conducts its activities.

On the one hand the EU faces global challenges that require a collective response (energy security, climate change, food security) but on the other hand it is unable to deliver the institutional reforms needed to make such a collective response workable while at the same time ensuring it respects the principles of democratic control and accountability. Mind you the same might be said of elements of UK politics (and how many in Scotland today could name their MP after 9 years of devolution?).

However, people across the EU today are fundamentally sceptical about the ambitions of the “Brussels elite” and are increasingly resistant to further powers being transferred to the EU. It is likely that the referendum result in Ireland would have been repeated in a number of EU countries, including the UK, had the people been consulted.

But what is the appropriate response for those who recognise that the EU has a positive role to play, albeit one that does not involve it meddling needlessly in domestic policies? It must not be to try and railroad through the Lisbon Treaty as that will violate the foundational EU principle that all member states must ratify any treaty reform before it can be enacted in any member state. Instead EU politics has to be better mainstreamed into domestic politics.

This is not a plea to launch yet another pro-EU campaign. Rather it is to ask domestic politicians from all “levels” within the political spectrum to acknowledge the importance of EU issues to their own activities – be these local, national, or on a UK-wide basis – and to treat the EU seriously.

The important questions about the future of the EU and the contribution it can continue to make to improving our lives cannot be answered in simple “yes” or “no” terms. If people across the EU are to engage in EU issues then the principal route for that to occur is through a better engagement of these policy issues via domestic politics.

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