It is a sad fact that from the very beginning the Common Market was built on deception. As Jean Monnet, one of its founding fathers was candid enough to state, the EU had to be built stealthily or it would never be accepted. From the beginning, the EU was designed to be a technocratic structure with as little democratic control as possible - an objective which, to a remarkable degree, those initiating it managed to achieve. Most of the power in the EU still rests with the unelected and largely unaccountable Commission. There has always been a powerful political elite in Europe, particularly in the core countries of France and Germany, which is strongly centralist, secretive, distrustful of democracy, and anti Anglo-Saxon. For them, building a European state is such a natural objective that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of its creation. It is hardly surprising that we then see misleading propaganda and democratic deficits, shading into slush funds and outright fraud, being accepted as the necessary means to achieve a goal regarded as sacrosanct.
In the 1970s, when Britain joined what was then the Common Market, we were given a large number of assurances by the politicians of the day. The Common Market was purely a trade agreement with no significant long term pretensions to be anything else. We had secure vetoes over wide areas of policy formation. We were to be allowed in on equitable, even favourable terms. Even at the time, however, as subsequent revelations have made clear, these assurances were known by those conducting the negotiations on our behalf to be completely false. Those involved were all too well aware of how weak our negotiating position was and how much had to be given away to secure our admission. Sir Con O'Neill, the civil servant leading the British negotiating team has recorded that his brief was to "swallow the lot, and to swallow it now", including the whole of the then acquis communautaire as well as new damaging features such as the Common Fisheries Policy, which were hugely against British interests.
Perhaps more typical than anything else has been the long saga of promised reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy. The CAP - part of the original deal between France and Germany when the Common Market was established - has been prodigiously wasteful of resources. It is highly regressive, largely benefiting powerful agribusinesses in the richest countries at the expense of ordinary consumers. It is immensely expensive. It is highly damaging to the Third World. In sum, it is completely indefensible on any rational grounds. Because it is one of the fundamental building blocks of the EU, however, its core structure is untouchable. All talk of reform has therefore been largely fraudulent, with those claiming that this was to be done knowing that it was virtually impossible. Indeed, it has now been agreed that the CAP is to remain substantially intact until at least 2013, however much damage this does to the rest of the world
Part of the problem in our relationship with the EU is that far too many senior British politicians have taken to heart the bland assurances given by those out to deceive them about the true integrationist tendencies in the EU. Successive British prime ministers, both Conservative and Labour, have deluded themselves into believing that they could shift the balance of power in the EU more in Britain's favour, leaving us in a pivotal position to determine its policy. In attempting to do this, all too often they have had to make concessions which, to start with, they never dreamt would be necessary. The end result, however, has always been the same. The concessions remain but we are no nearer being at the "Heart of Europe" than we were before. The reason is simple. Most senior politicians on the continent simply do not share a vision of the EU's future which meshes in with those found at Westminster
The oft-repeated mantra from those favouring Britain's further integration into the EU is that we have benefited economically from membership. There is no evidence that this is the case and the fact that governments of all persuasions, ever since we joined, have refused to carry out any sort of cost benefit analysis speaks volumes about the unreality of such claims. In fact, all the available figures suggest the reverse. In only one year since we joined - in 1975 which perhaps not so coincidentally was the year in which the referendum on continuing Common Market membership was held - have we received back more than we paid in to the EU coffers. The total net payments we have made since joining now total œ48.6n In recent years they have been running at about œ3.8bn a year. We constantly have a trade deficit with the other EU countries, currently running at well over œ10bn per annum. Nor is Britain dependent on the EU for jobs. The claim that 3m jobs would be lost if were not in the EU is nonsensical. In fact, Britain's economic performance has been considerably better recently than that of most of the other EU Member States, largely because we are not in the euro and thus not bound by the Stability and Growth Pact and the deflationary dictates of the European Central Bank. Our growth rate is higher - at 2.3% per annum compared to their 1.0% or even less - and our unemployment rate much lower - at 5.1% and stable compared to the euro zone's 8.8%, which is still rising.
Particularly since the 1980s, there has been a succession of new treaties and agreements which have radically changed our relationship to the EU, greatly increasing its impact on the way we are governed. From the establishment of the Single Market to the treaties particularly at Maastricht and Nice, there has been a steady accretion of power in Brussels and a corresponding reduction in Westminster. In all cases, the British government has been forced to concede a good deal more than it would have preferred, as one safeguard after another has had to be abandoned. As each of these events occurred, however, we were assured that only relatively minor changes were being made, while the impact of the totality of what had been conceded has never been made clear. Nor has it ever been the subject of any clear democratic choice.
Nevertheless, it is still maintained by many defenders of what has happened that the changes have not been great enough to have made a radical difference to Britain's constitutional status. Inspection of the record shows all too clearly, however, that the cumulative effect has been dramatic. Indeed, it has been claimed that some 80% of all legislation affecting social conditions in Britain now emanates from the EU. At the same time, "harmonisation" has proceeded apace, as regulations and directives covering every aspect of commerce and business have flooded in from the EU, ranging from maximum lorry weights to banning the use of imperial measures. Our legal system is in the process of being transformed to being something much closer to the continental model. An EU army is in prospect. While all this happens, our parliamentary government at Westminster steadily sees its powers being eroded away.
It is against this background that we need to consider very carefully the impact of the new Constitution, currently being prepared for the EU in response to the problems posed by enlargement. We have been told by some that this is a mere "tidying up" exercise. We need to be acutely aware, however, that this is not the case and that the changes proposed are of even more far-reaching magnitude than those in previous treaties. In particular, we need to be wary of the usual process of having government spokespeople minimising the changes put forward until the full magnitude of what is at stake is revealed, at which time we will be told that it is too late to press effectively for changes to be made. On the contrary, the reality of the new Constitution is that it proposes further radical centralisation, reductions in the power of veto and further substantial extensions of the Commission's power. Decisions over defence, the legal system, social and foreign affairs, are all to be concentrated more in Brussels than in the EU Member States. Powers over taxation and national budgets are not far behind as the framework for more "harmonisation" in these policy areas becomes established.
Very radical changes are therefore proposed in the new Constitution. The first thing which needs to be done is to be honest with the British people and to tell them what is at stake. The deception from which we have suffered for much too long has to stop. The second is that the British electorate must be allowed to choose whether the Constitution represents the future it wants. There are going to be referendums in perhaps as many as seven other EU countries on the Constitution. Why cannot we have one here? The answer is that the government is afraid of losing and therefore feels that it has to drive a vote through a compliant Parliament rather than to award any degree of democratic credibility to what is proposed by putting the suggested changes to the electorate. No wonder there is so little trust in the EU and all those involved in promoting its opaque objectives, which so few of the British people really share.
Go to Head of Page