Tuesday, April 20, 2004

referendum or ransom note
So we get to vote on the EU constitution after all. After stalling on giving us a referendum on the grounds that what was to be effectively the first ever written constitution applied to the UK was just a bit of administrative tidying up, now Euro-enthusiasts are getting a little too keen for a ruck.

Don't be fooled by Jesuitical Eurosceptics or nervous Europhiles, both of whom will insist this referendum is just about one EU treaty and not about our membership in the EU. Whatever it says on the ballot paper, the real question will be "Do you want us to be in the EU or not?" For this constitutional treaty, when and if it is agreed by European leaders, will be the new, authoritative description of what the EU is to be for some time to come. Anyone who votes "no" must be prepared to get out of the EU altogether.

Jackie Ashley was harping on a similar theme a couple of weeks back. I’m sure there are a lot of people amongst the ranks of the professional eurosceptics who want us to leave the EU altogether. But that isn’t implied by a vote on the EU’s constitutional framework. Nor does it represent the views of the country at large. Most polls show that a plurality wants to stay in the EU but oppose the single currency and are suspicious of the constitution.

That’s my view. I don’t believe that a single financial architecture covering everywhere from Helsinki to Dublin works in practical terms. Interest rates and currency values will always be too low in some places and too high and others. European economies might eventually converge, but will the gain from that be any greater than the gain we could have had without going through the pain in the first place? On a personal basis, if George Soros hadn’t forced us out of the ERM back in 1992, I wouldn’t have been able to buy my house on a 100% mortgage. Why would staying the course have made me any better off?

And I don’t buy the idea that the constitution just makes the changes necessary for the EU to function effectively with its new members. In that case, why call it a constitution?

In general, Europhiles can’t seem to understand that for most people, EU membership is a matter of utility rather than ideology. I’m ready to be persuaded on whatever merits the EU constitution has. But if the government try and frame the issue as a choice between leaving the EU and voting for the constitution, then I’m not prepared to be blackmailed into a yes vote. If the constitution’s such a good thing then it doesn’t need that kind of bullying to get it approved.