Some thoughts on the No votes
2 Jun 2005
The risk with referendums is that folk answer a different question to the one they are asked. An administration may be unpopular for reasons unconnected with the issue at the referendum - and so people vote the opposite way to the one the unpopular administration recommends.
I dare say that if unemployment in France had been lower, and its President had recently been re-elected with a thumping majority just after the country had won the World Cup, the result might have been "yes" rather than "no". And if the French had voted "yes", would the Dutch have voted "no" - particularly if nine other countries had already ratified the Treaty? Who knows. Chirac must be kicking himself for promising the referendum last year.
Whatever the Dutch and the French had done, I believe the referendum in the UK would have produced a thumping majority for the "no" campaign. So at least we now have some allies who will join us in renegotiating the Treaty. How should we do it?
This is not easy; the French rejected the Treaty because it made too many concessions to the so-called Anglo-American economic model. The UK would have rejected it because it entrenched the cosier more protectionist Franco-German view of life. The more you make concessions to the one, the more difficult it becomes for the other.
I think we should rewind the tape to the mid 1990's - when public opinion in this country began to become more hostile. We should keep as members those countries which have recently joined the EU - it is in every one's interest that democracy and prosperity should spread eastwards - and then start from a series of Lowest Common Denominators.
What are the features of the EU that most people in this country feel comfortable with? A free trading area with no tariff barriers, in which Governments cannot prop up failing industries with state subsidies. Certainly. A common currency which countries are free to join if they want to - and which they can withdraw from if they find the going too tough. No harm in that. Free movement of labour so that skills go to the areas where they are most needed? OK with me. Some quick and impartial means of resolving disputes, for example if the French start subsidising their national airline or introduce non-tariff barriers ? Yes, otherwise you won't get your free trade - the UK has nothing to fear from that.
Co-operation in areas just as the environment and fishing - sounds sensible if we are to be eco-responsible.
There may be other areas which are relatively non-controversial - recognition of each other's professional qualifications, driving licences etc. I do not pretend this is a comprehensive list, but agreement on the basics - the LCD's - should not be too difficult.
If people then want to go further and start standardising their working weeks, their holiday entitlements, their overseas aid policies - fine, they can go ahead and do that. But not every one has to join them and they can't be made to if they don't want to.
Pressing ahead with a doomed project - as some seem intent on doing - is pointless. But we should not go all the way back to the 1960's - nor do we need to. We have to carefully retrace our footsteps and then find the right way ahead.
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