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To What Extent Is the Nation State an Antiquated Notion?

11/03/2015 13:05 GMT | Updated 11/05/2015 10:59 BST

There is nothing antiquated about the nation state in the eyes of the majority of the British people. When David Cameron pledged an in/out referendum in 2017, Ed Miliband, as leader of the opposition, realistically and courageously decided to accept the European Union Act 2011 governing referendums which Labour in Parliament had very unwisely strongly opposed. In doing so Miliband showed that his adoption of 'One Nation; from Disraeli was not just a slogan but he was ready to compromise in the broad tradition of Clement Attlee's leadership when the national interest has to be paramount.

From now on, no government - whether Labour or Conservative led - can ratify any amendment to the European Treaties without a referendum if it falls within the restrictions spelt out in Clause 4 of that Act. In effect, any loss of UK sovereignty within the EU cannot now take place unless endorsed by the British people. For me personally this is an essential safeguard for which William Hague deserves much credit. The 2011 Act removes any possibility for a future British government acting without the people's consent to ratify a treaty that would allow a United States of Europe to emerge. It also goes a long way to negating those provisions of the Lisbon Treaty which come dangerously close to opening up that possibility.

As a consequence I do not believe that Europe is an overriding issue in this May's General Election. Personally Ed Miliband's endorsement of the 2011 Act has meant I no longer focus on Europe but instead am part of the campaign to ensure the NHS in England is reinstated. Today, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs are presenting The NHS Bill in the House of Commons which I believe will form the basis for legislation supported by all those parties after the May Election.

The pretension that lies behind the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxembourg, arguing for a European Army is a reflection of Europe's deep seated problem. Europe pretends to be a nation when it is not. Europe pretends to be ready to defend itself when it is not prepared to pay for such a defence. Europe pretends to have a single foreign policy when it does not. Look at the Ukraine where Germany and France alone leads. A foreign policy depends on cooperation, not qualified majority voting, amongst nations with a history of economic, political and military cohesion. Nations that are ready to negotiate for peace but also ready to fight for peace.

The limited tinkering reforms of the EU which David Cameron envisages by 2017 will not suffice. The situation will be very different then to the 1975 UK referendum. BREXIT will by then be forced on to the agenda in a very risky way. We should stay at the negotiating table as long as it takes, no walkouts but quiet persistence. We must demonstrate to our European partners that the issue is not BREXIT - the issue is what reforms Europe makes to enable some members to opt for a single currency with all the economic and political integration that entails in a 'Union' while other members opt to retain their own currency with no federal integration in a 'Community' but where these two European groupings stay within a Single Market and live in harmony.

This is an extract from a speech Lord Owen gave today at the LSE/Germany Symposium