The purpose of entering into an international institutional arrangement by a state is rarely gratuitous. As all serious international relations scholars know, they do not exist to ‘preserve peace’- that is phrase is simply a selling term for a portion of the public. Rather, the purpose of an international institution is to further a nation’s foreign economic policy and foreign affairs strategy. A rarely recalled or argued position nowadays is why Britain had an obsession to fight De Gaulle’s veto on its membership of the European Economic Community in the 1960s. The crucial answer is that this was a part of trans-Atlantic policy on cold war containment of communism. That case is no longer existing; an economic union is not required to promote capitalist growth in a world of conflicting ideologies. Furthermore, global trade tariffs between states have decreased significantly since the Second World War, from around an average of 12% to over 2% today. Unfortunately for the UK's past foreign economic strategists the most significant reduction in tariffs occurred in 1973 when the Tokyo round of trade negotiations came to an end. This was just after the UK's accession to the EEC. The EU has now become almost redundant mechanism for advocating free-trade, on the contrary its regional protectionism is working the other way.
In contrast to the ideological containment from communism granted by the EEC in the 1960s and 1970s, the flow of socialism today is coming the other way: from within Europe. The Lisbon Treaty is expressly predicated on social market economics (Article 2(3)), though the implications of this are lost on the current cadre of British Conservative politicians. Priority emphasis on social policy by the US Congress was a key strategy in centralising and increasing the power of the US Federation between 1936 to 1976. More significantly, one of the key factors that made nation states successful were their ability to control the public and private divide, and the distinction between the state and the market. For some international relations scholars this is the key attribute of the nation state, and it is wholly waived away with the consent given to Europe to create a social market and thus decide where this delineation is to be made. Though we consented through referendum to an internal market in 1975, there was never a contract, so to speak, between the British people and its Government to handover such a significant policy making role to an external institution. The power that this provision alone grants to the European Commission on economic matters and the clear mandate it gives to a federal project has been underestimated by the House of Commons in 2009 where there was no motion for referendum. Further, it changes the nature of those who support the EU. Those who were pro-membership of the common-market, must now re-think their position as to whether they want welfare and economic matters to be conducted at the European level. In blunt terms one can no longer be pro-common market without also being a Federalist.
Unfortunately, the current political leadership of the UK was educated in period of British history when there was a dominance of an uncritical approach of the raison d’etre of the nation state in University education that was primarily motivated by the 1960s revolt against a virtuous and rightly puritanical imperial conceptualisation of Britannia. The result today is a generation that, though has shed its historic identity built over centuries, has not found an equivalent ideology from which to defend the nation state. This is why the importance of Lisbon, and then the corollary importance of holding a referendum is lost on them. Without being able to conceptualise the historical importance of creating nation states those currently in Government cannot simply make the simple deduction that Britain after three hundred years of Unionism is not in the same position as California entering into the US Republic in 1850. Alas, the future does not bode any better- Nowhere today in the education of a British child from the age of 3 years to 16 is the history and purpose of the nation state found. Particularly the invaluable lesson of the importance of the British nation state to act as a bulwark against anti-liberal ideologues in recent history is not made, let alone Britain’s contribution to the current global blooming of democracy. Instead paltry school teachers constantly confuse basic terms such as ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’, the latter unfairly dominated in its characterization by post Weimar Germany. The significance of this is not just that Britain, through those who Govern it, will accept Lisbon- but those will Govern it in the future are just as likely to accept a Federal European structure through the same causal problem of ‘denationalisation’ in education being as likely to be endemic in the next decade as in the previous few.
Lisbon of course is an extraordinary treaty. To take a few examples: one could read thousands of international treaties and not come across one that proclaims that states have the right to denounce it. Yet Article 50 of Lisbon does just that, making the most crucial matter of national sovereignty delineable on the international sphere. Article 67(2) of the Treaty ensures that immigration policy in the future is no longer to be conducted at the national level. In no previous European treaty was there a provision that permitted the Commission to make uniform laws for all member states on any matters it sees fit, yet that appears in Article 114 (1) of Lisbon- a basic supremacy clause, unlimited undefined over national legislature. At the time of writing, it is extraordinary that no British journalist has seen the implications of this provision or made an appropriate hue and cry. In the 2010 General Election, no major political party explained this to the electorate. When Cameron hollowly cried change, how little his voters new that this is soon to be coming in an enormous way, but necessarily from the source they might expect.
At present, Cameron is certainly the wrong leader for a critical approach to European polity. His own politics has brought the Conservative Party closest to a French Republic egalitarian model than any time in its previous history. The media point out how much of the centre ground Cameron’s conservatism has taken; how odd that the more painful and important reality is how much closer to the centre ground he would be in the European Parliament, dominated by social democrats, if it was reflective of national polity. On this reading, his embracing of the social market model is such, that one can no longer make the case that Edmund Burke, the truest blue theorist of all time, could really be the progenitor of the current Conservative party. By not making a case for the nation state coupled with a referendum, Cameron also demonstrates that he does not have a subtle grasp of real-politick on the international sphere. He has failed to concretely grasp that international relations is meaningless without a nation, and that a nation amounts to very little without legislative sovereignty. When Foreign Policy is conducted regionally on the European level it may finally come home, to those who were prescient, that the nation state is finally dead. Lisbon has opened the door to this with the crucial and broadly drafted new Article 22(1). The critical point comes not with further erosion of Sovereignty, as awful as that is from the perspective of democratic legitimacy, but where European Governance determines when one can and cannot enter into international obligations- this is the point when independence ends and complete dependence and subjugation begins. Lisbon is making that door already: Where national defence objectives do not meet the common defence interests of member states, Title V Chapter 1 provisions in Lisbon would defer to an international approach. This generic approach is not a good omen for the future positioning of Britain in Europe or in the on-coming new World order where China will be a dominant player. Nor there is an argument of how the European Council will or could come to an agreement over what are ‘common security matters’, the system of Lisbon is only at present predicated on disenfranchising national political discourse on foreign policy from the supra-national level.
With such features in the Lisbon treaty it must be asked in all seriousness to maintain legitimacy of the European project in Britain, that the very least the British people deserve is a neutral source such as a Royal Commission explaining to them what Lisbon involves. Then only can they make an informed and valid choice at the next election.
Copyright Abhijit P.G. Pandya
Copyright Birkenhead Society 2010.