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Darren Rutland

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Does the EU Need More Integration?

Posted: 04/10/2012 21:15

More European integration. An EU-wide defence policy. The potential for an EU army. Is this the future?

It is if 11 of the EU's foreign ministers get their way. Last month, they released a document outlining a 'future of Europe'. The document suggests that 'strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union has absolute priority'. How many unemployed people across the Eurozone have taken to the streets, demanding that closer alignment to Brussels will lead to jobs?

The document also says that the EU should, in the long-term, strive for a 'European Defence Policy... for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army'. How on earth would that work? The EU was divided over what to do in Iraq and Libya. On each occasion, action was taken under the auspices of NATO. It is inconceivable to imagine a European army being able to function anywhere near as effectively as the transatlantic alliance.

The report also cites 'strengthening the EU's effectiveness and democratic legitimacy' as a target. Given the EU's questionable history when it comes to democracy and transparency, this is a rather questionable line. But if there was a directly-elected European Commission president (the phrase 'European Government' is used in the very last sentence of the document), it would surely lead to greater legitimacy for the EU at home and abroad. One of the arguments of euroscepticism would be gone, or at least, severely weakened.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made a point on democracy during his recent state of union address. He spoke of, 'a democratic federation of nation states that can tackle our common problems, through the sharing of sovereignty in a way that each country and its citizens are better equipped to control their own destiny.'

Firstly, unless you're the President of the United States, the chances are you should not even be thinking about giving a 'state of the union' address. Secondly, how can the EU be taken seriously when it comes to democracy? There would be little point as they only hear what they want to hear.

The EU's democratic deficit is often disregarded as irrelevant. Leading politicians don't usually make an issue of it. However, Czech president Vaclav Klaus issued a stark warning. He says that '"two-faced" politicians... have opened the door to an EU superstate by giving up on democracy'. He has also expressed his disappointment in David Cameron and the Conservatives. Klaus was the final EU leader to sign the European constitution in November 2009 - had he been able to hold off for another six months, Cameron may have been able to hold a referendum in the UK on the matter when he took office.

There is still time for Cameron to seize the political initiative on Europe, but that time is running out. Like the inheritance tax pledge that led Gordon Brown to quickly buckle on calling an election in 2007, announcing an EU referendum for 2015 or before at this year's Conservative conference would surely do wonders for Cameron's prospects of an outright majority at the next election.

There have already been murmurs that Labour could call for one. The only way Ed Miliband's conference speech could have disregarded Cameron any further would have been if he announced there and then that Labour would support an in-out referendum before the next election.

Any referendum backed by Cameron would be seen, quite rightly, as a u-turn. It was disheartening last year to see the Conservative leadership kill the wish of its backbenchers to have a referendum. Another Lib Dem promise broken, but there was no apology or autotuned video. However, if Cameron did change his mind, any slice of humble pie the Conservative party leadership would need to eat would be dwarfed by the apple crumble that would be dropped on them if Ed Miliband was to back a referendum first. As Miliband's leadership seemingly grows in strength, it would not be surprising if he tried to outmanoeuvre Cameron on an issue which would infuriate his party's backbenchers and grassroots.

It is unlikely that the Prime Minister will make such a pledge to the Conservative party conference next week. But he'd make his party, the country, and the EU sit up and take notice if he did.

 

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