Friday, April 30, 2004

Speaking of the Tories, Duncan-Smith's replacement, good old Michael "Poll Tax" Howard, is launching the Tory manifesto today in preparation for the European elections (which, thanks to the ineptitude of Camden Council, I don't believe I will be eligable to vote in, which is nice).

According to the Guardian the basic points are as follows:

· Federalist countries given a green light to integrate, but others would not be compelled to join them

· Provision for a "red card" to allow a third of the EU's national parliaments to block European legislation that offends the "subsidiarity" rule

· EU commission should lose its sole right to initiate legislation

· The six month rotating presidency should be replaced with team presidencies of one year

· Make free trade the central objective of EU treaties

· Subject all EU proposals to cost assessment

· Defence cooperation must be under a Nato umbrella

Interestingly, all of this is very sensible. Apart from the fourth point, about the nature of the EU presidency, everything else is pretty much contained within the current draft of the proposed Constitution.

Howard's a clever man. Despite the way the press has been reporting it, and despite my post of a few days ago, the Tories are being very moderate on the issue, and choosing their words with expert precision. Eurosceptics can read into them a rejection of Europe full-stop if they like, but that's not what Howard's actually saying.

Howard wants to block the creation of "a country called Europe". He knows full well that this is not going to happen - at least, not within the next century or so. Even the most ardent eurofederalists have accepted that a "United States of Europe" is somewhat unrealistic, and even under the proposed majority voting of the draft constitution there would not be enough support for this within the EU.

Howard also pledged today that "The Conservatives are promising to the British people that we will hold a referendum on every future treaty agreed by the EU which transfers significant powers from Britain to Brussels."

The "significant powers" is the important bit here. Blair's original argument for not needing a referendum on the Constitution was that "significant powers" were not being transferred - and they wouldn't be. What constitutes a "significant power" anyway? The people who decide will be those in government at the time powers are going to be transferred.

If Howard was PM and another EU treaty came up, he hasn't pledged to hold a referendum no matter what (as some sections of the press are suggesting), but only if he thinks it's significant. He could quite happily do a John Major and sign up to another Maastricht in the face of overwhelming opposition from press and public alike, and not be breaking any pledges he has made today, simply by arguing that powers being transferred are not "significant".

He's not a barrister for nothing, that Howard. Still not enough to make me vote for them though...

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