As the arguments for and against the EU continue to be heard in European courts, media, and public debate, it has become jarringly fascinating to witness the pinnacle definitions stemming from these debates. What exactly are the costs
for a nation’s democratic functioning in joining the EU? Asks Rachel Smith.
As Britain approaches a genuine national exit (although the door will stay open for a while after), it is becoming interesting to note just how and how far removed from practicalities both the definitions and implications of European union are being defined.
The German constitutional court is on record as having found that the most pressing and persistent fears of British nationals, who have voted to leave the EU, are unfounded. The Bundesverfassungsgericht examined many of the tabled concerns around European union — notably dealing with the nature of the Lisbon Treaty — during 2018. It found that, by definition, there was no real or implied compromise to individual member states’ own functioning democracy in joining the union. Defining the massive amount of legal detail of union is important, and that 2018 German court process was significant, yet there remains a wide gulf between legal definition and practical implications on the matter of European union.
For one, such legal wrangling fails to illuminate the current rank and capacity of individual states, something that will undoubtedly make a mockery of the finer points of the legal definition of what Brussels is to become. The fact the German court found that citizenship of the EU would function on a “derived basis” — its powers being limited to that which is conferred upon it — satisfied many who are pro-union, but equally infuriated those in favour of an exit. While the court found that individual member states would remain “masters of the treaties [they have signed to effect union],” the subtleties of such phrasing merely revealed an immediate inconsistency for the average British citizen.
WHAT WOULD UNION MEAN FOR BRITAIN, REALLY?
Britain is at least solid in its own thinking, as 17.4 million Britons have voted to give the union a big skip. Whether it’s anyone’s aim to scupper that decision with a second vote or not, has convincing arguments on both sides. UK Premier Theresa May has herself said that a second referendum on the issue would be a perversion of democracy. But what are the implications of agreeing to the Lisbon Treaty, were Britain to remain in as an EU member state?
It is impossible to extrapolate the sheer volume and minutiae of EU membership for Britain, but a legitimate appraisal of the implications of the Lisbon Treaty can be gleaned by looking at broad national industry. Firstly, any nation’s currency has up until now been sacrosanct and this is something that will become lost in union. To whatever extent a nation’s economic health is demonstrated by the value of its currency, this would now be outsourced to the collective interest. Secondly, as the London exchange continues to merge with Frankfurt’s Deutsche Boerse, many see the Lisbon Treaty as emblematic of the death of London as the world’s financial capital. Financial power may shift to Frankfurt with or without Britain being an EU member, but for many- this move is an alarming sign of a diminishing British autonomy and, worse, financial clout.
Closer to the bone, British fisherman will now operate in an arena with continental considerations. British coal miners, farmers, and security force personnel will all operate in fields that demand local management to best, honestly profitable effect. They will now be obliged to accommodate broader European dictates, whatever that might mean for the nature of their industry and well-being. Few industries can accommodate remote considerations, but agriculture, fisheries and mining, as examples, would be particularly frustrated, and possibly irreparably harmed by union. As a standard productivity or business model, stretching national interest to continental concerns — those being determined by Brussels — is not sustainable, something basic economic models repeatedly and eloquently depict. While state intervention in all of these matters may prove a softening presence, this merely passes the burden on to the British taxpayer, and is of course- not a solution at all.
No matter the fine-tuning of the definitions surrounding the Lisbon Treaty, it remains supra-nationally binding in its current form. Whether the EU is able to form its own statehood or not — and the German courts believe not — it remains its own legal personality, acting on behalf of itself, and against member state interests, as and when union requires it to do so. That tenuous “one size fits all” modus operandi in the name of a far greater good has already been presented as a dictatorial essence, and it cannot be denied that history shows things will only go downhill from here.
Indeed, for many Britons, far more scary than frustrating would a second referendum on membership be, as it risks exposing the reality of a democratically elected, representative, sovereign government acting in the interests of the electorate, as a complete sham. Democracy doesn’t, by definition, get a do-over, notwithstanding the repeated second referenda across the continent in the jostle for union. Prominent Belgian politician Guy Verhofstadt probably depicts the future of a unified Europe most unequivocally, and it begins with a “… transfer of power!” No ambiguity there, no matter the niceties of legal definition.
BEYOND SPECULATION, THE FUTURE IS WRITTEN IN BLACK AND WHITE
There are extant, written future plans for the EU, from its architects, and although defenders immediately revert to context and definitions to rebuff objections, the outlined future coming from Brussels sounds dark to many Britons. A snapshot view of the unified future outlined by the Lisbon Treaty includes such alarming facts as Britain and all other member states losing veto powers in 2020, when the system changes to majority acceptance without veto. Also, members will essentially become states of a new federal EU nation by 2022, all member states will have to adopt the euro by the same year, and new members will have to do so within two years of joining the EU.
The EU Parliament, far from a benign and wise advisor from afar, will be entrenched as the highest authority in more ways that can clearly be anticipated. The European courts and the European army are by written definition higher powers than the national version of them anywhere in Europe, including Britain. There is also currently some indication of the power in Brussels, in that May’s recent exit deal has failed so badly. Granted, many factors have contributed to her defeat on the issue at home, but it is again a very different issue for Britain to face, in comparison to domestic issues faced by autonomous and regal Britain but a decade or two ago.
There is an insistence from pro-unionists that union is strictly treaty-derived, thus eliminating any dictatorial stance from Brussels and ensuring zero compromise of any nation’s citizens. Practically, however, this cannot be, as notwithstanding the current semantic bureaucratic dance, the EU is by definition - destined to be a higher power than any one member state. Otherwise, union will have no more effect than trade treaties of the past, limited to trade and infrastructure spending between European nations. The EU remains thus an ill-defined and dangerous hybrid, with copious reassurances and legal terms that appear to safeguard individual members’ autonomy, whereas the whole concept of union implies a dissolution of individual power and a transference — in the words of Verhofstadt — of power, autonomy and ultimately self-governance to Brussels.
The press has carried detailed reports on the need for “cross-cutting” by British politicians in their handling of both the local electorate’s wishes and the will of Brussels. While this is often simply politicking for party favour or to lessen Britain’s exit bill - now mooted to be $47 billion — it makes a mockery of assertions that union will not impact a country’s politicians’ ability to govern in the interests of their people. Granted, belligerent interests are best subdued by the neighbours, but the EU is not a solution for continental cohesion, as nations given to warmongering are not historically amenable to discarding the whole concept because of membership in any continental structure.
If anything, Britons fear that the EU will give greater license to those who seek power on the continent to set about obtaining it, by playing Brussels to their own desires. That, is what ordinary citizens fear. That on top of incumbent yet often wily or incompetent politicians, will come an ephemeral and remote higher tier of the same political intrigue, shenanigans and erosion of real democratic rights. EG