The Curious Case of the Dog Barking at the Wrong Moment

The background to Prime Minister Cameron’s veto – if that is what it really was – and subsequent developments in Brussels, raise some very interesting questions about the strategies and tactics various governments are pursuing.

The first is Cameron’s ostensibly putting his foot down. Britain was and is alone but the British Government’s behaviour suggests that this was either an isolation Cameron set out to achieve or fell into for want of strategy – a plan – or, indeed, any clarity of thought.

Little effort seems to have been made to gather support, though deals were surely there for the taking. The Irish are desperate not to lose their right to set a low corporation tax rate which makes them very attractive as the location for European companies, especially American ones operating over here. The Hungarian government is furious at its vilification for its media law and its new Constitution. Hungary joins all three Baltic states as well as other East Europeans in real anger at the way their farmers are likely comprehensively to be seen off and treated as second class citizens in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, especially over the all important direct payment, also known as the single farm payment.

It seems no attempt was made to arrive at the traditional “back us solidly over this and we will back you equally solidly over that” bargain. But insiders know that such deals are to be had. So did Cameron, and his trusty Blackberry, positively wish to have to use the veto and be isolated?

Or did he think that, actually, this was the best way to stop an ‘EU-only’ ‘Financial Transaction Tax – with its inevitably disastrous consequences for Britain’s GDP and tax base – without otherwise impeding the Eurozone economic integration which Chancellor Osborne in particular seems to want as the way out of the Euro crisis.

Whatever the case, actions have unforeseen consequences. Equally strange are the shenanigans since!

Is a new treaty in the offing nonetheless? Or is it simply an inter-governmental agreement? Cameron “vetoed” the former. But if it is the latter, this has very clear legal and institutional implications.

Even if it is entirely legitimate for the Commission and the Council to act in relation to such an agreement, the same cannot be said for the Parliament or the ECJ. Are these not, surely, acting ultra vires if they operate beyond the powers conferred by the Treaties?

Yet the Commission is using the Parliament and the Parliament is responding as if it is business as usual.

Thus, a triumvirate of prominent, determinedly Federalist MEPs, Elmar Brok (Germany, Christian Democrat) Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium, Liberal) and Roberto Gualtieri (Italy, Socialist) have been “appointed” as negotiators representing the Parliament in relation to the potential new agreement/treaty. Logically they have no legal locus standi, save as private individuals. Yet to this back room deal the ECR’s British Conservatives have made no word of complaint. Only Britain’s UKIP – in both Brussels and Westminster – are raising the difficult legal and constitutional questions about these MEPs’ behaviour.

The Tories are equally silent on the potential abuse of procedure.

The Commission is behaving as if the “veto” had never been exercised and it is business as usual. It has prepared a nine-page document which was laid before the Parliament’s constitutional and economic affairs committees as if all is absolutely normal. Despite its uncertain status, the paper is going through the successive drafts and rewrites one would expect – including the presentation of fifteen pages of detailed amendments by The Triumvirate – and there is every reason to suppose the attempt will be made to push it through under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure which, since the Lisbon Treaty, turns the vast majority of Commission proposals into the laws of the European Union.

EFD and UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew has so far received no answer to his repeated question – “Under what Articles of the Treaty on European Union and/or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is the expenditure of European Taxpayers’ money and the use of EU resources and institutions permitted for the purpose of preparing and negotiating a proposed international agreement/treaty (which will not be a European Union Treaty) on a Reinforced Economic Union?”

Yet, the British Conservatives seem entirely uninterested in even raising the question let alone receiving a satisfactory answer while their Liberal Democrat coalition partners are vigourously driving the procedure forward in the form of the ardent integrationist Andrew Duff, an East of England MEP and President of the Union of European Federalists, who does all he can to advance a single European superstate from his place on AFCO, the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

One can, of course, surmise that, for now at least, it is politically and electorally convenient to Mr Cameron to be isolated in this way whilst tacitly condoning the EU’s attempt to work around his exercise of the “veto”.

But the advantage is surely entirely short term?

For, as UKIP’s Nigel Farage has pointed out, the logic of seeking isolation and opprobrium is to begin to take Britain down a path which – via ever greater anti-European feeling in Britain and its counterpart, antagonism to Britain across the rest of the EU – eventually leads to the scenario which is UKIP’s goal, withdrawal following a referendum which establishes that this is what the British public now wants.

The irony is all the greater in that the potentially UK-supportive member states, un-approached – as far as we know – as allies when the “veto” was used, are already beginning to express anxiety that this will leave them ever more exposed to bullying by the Franco-German axis. It is little consolation to newer members from eastern Europe that they will be told what to do and what scraps of resources they are allowed in a reformed CAP by France and Germany in combination rather than just by Germany alone.

Strange times indeed, as we all try to tease out where Mr Cameron’s Coalition is taking us and understand what the Conservative Prime Minister is trying to
achieve!

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