17 November 2007

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

For "ring" read "treaty" and that is where it looks like game, set and match.

For more than 80 years, visionaries have been dreaming of the settting up of a supra-national government over Europe, one which would take over the power of nation states to rule themselves and replace them with a new form of government to rule them all.

It is more than 60 years since one of those visionaries dreamed of the day when, after this new edifice was more or less complete, they could unveil a Constitution for Europe which would be its "crowning glory".

It is more than 50 years since some of those visionaries realised that the only way to build that edifice was stealthily, piece by piece, over many decades, without letting on where it was intended to end up.

But in 2001 the successors of those visionaries, now comprising the European Council, thought they had reached the point where they could finally come out into the open about it, and could summon a convention to draft the Constitution for Europe which was to be the crowning glory of the whole project.

The original idea, as dreamed of by Spinelli in his prison cell in 1941, was that, when the Constitution was unveiled, the peoples of Europe would greet it with acclamation as just what they all wanted.

But in reality, as we know, at least some of the peoples of Europe did nothing of the kind. And, as we remember, in that summer of 2005, this threw the gaggle of nonentities making up the European Council into a state of shocked bewilderment. It was simply not in the script that their Constitution should be rejected.

The whole point of the Constitution, as they had solemnly agreed at Laeken in 2001, was that it was being presented to the people of Europe as what they the people wanted". It was there to redress what even Europe's leaders called the "democratic deficit". And the one thing the democratic deficit was not meant to do was to turn round and bite them, with the message that the peoples of Europe would prefer to hang onto what remained of their existing democracies, thank you very much.

So Europe's political leaders, those nonentities making up the European Council, went off into a huddle, indeed a whole succession of huddles, trying to work out what to do. They knew they had to have that Constitution which had been so unceremoniously rejected. They knew they could not possibly allow the peoples of Europe the chance to reject it again. So sometime last winter they came up with their brilliant plan.

They would bring back their Constitution almost exactly as before, but rearranged in a new way, to make it much less easy for an outsider to understand. And they would change its name to something different, less provocative.

Then they would simply come out with it again, saying there was no longer any need to consult the people. They would rush it through their parliaments and there they would be, happy as fleas, with the Constitution they had wanted all along.

There was just one little snag to their plan. They knew they would have to call it a treaty, and they knew that, under the rules, before you can have a treaty you have to have something called an intergovernmental conference, where all the sovereign national governments get round a table and negotiate the terms of that treaty.

But if they allowed that, then different governments might want to argue all over again about the contents of the treaty, and that they couldn't possibly allow, since the whole point was to get that new version of the Constitution exactly as it had already been agreed by the European Council.

So, in for a penny, in for a pound, they came up with another brilliant idea. To satisfy the rules, they would put up a show of holding an intergovernmental conference. But they would then doing something quite unprecedented and certainly against the rules. The IGC would be strictly mandated by the European Council to come up with exactly the text the Council had already approved.

At this point, many of the heads of government making up the Council, realising that they had stitched the whole thing up so neatly that they were virtually home and dry, came out in the open and admitted that the old Constitution and the new treaty were pretty well identical. 90 percent the same? 96 percent? 98 percent? 99 percent? Who cares?

Only one prime minister, as we know, in his brooding, devious way, didn't think he could dare admit that the two documents were in effect the same. He knew he was committed to grant a referendum on the Constitution, and that this was the solemn promise on which his party had been elected.

So if he admitted like the others that the new treaty was just the Constitution under another name, he would have great difficulty in explaining why he was going to break that promise, by refusing to hold a referendum he knew he would every chance of losing.

So he decided not only to break his promise but to tell a blatant lie into the bargain – perhaps the most brazen and shameless lie that any prime minister of this country has ever uttered.

His calculation was, and clearly remains, that the people of Britain didn't ultimately care enough about this issue, or understand sufficiently what was at stake, for them to do anything but make a kind of token, half-hearted fuss about it. Some of the press would jump up and down. The Tories might make half-angry noises. But ultimately Mr Brown thought he could rely on his majority in Parliament, and that within a few months the whole thing would be done and dusted. Britain would have ratified the treaty, just like everyone else, and Europe would have its Constitution by any other name.

Now I don't have to explain to you in this hall what the new treaty does for the way we are governed. It certainly doesn't mark the absolute end of the road the European project has been travelling these past 50 years or more. But it is equally a further giant step towards the creation of that supra-national government for Europe which the project’s original handful of visionaries were dreaming of as long as the 1920s.

The one thing they hated, despised and feared more than anything else was the nation state, and the right of each national people to have a government of their own choice, ruling through national institutions as they had evolved in many cases over centuries. What they wanted was a wholly new form of government that was above all the nation states, with the power to rule them all.

And perhaps the cleverest thing they did was not to sweep the nation states and all their institutions away, but to leave them all standing – while gradually sucking away all their power to the new supra-national government that was being constructed above them.

Parliaments, monarchies, presidencies, courts, all were still left in place, just as if nothing really had happened. But gradually they had been hollowed out from within. And by gradually drawing national politicians and civil servants into the great task of constructing the project behind the scenes, they could create their shadowy new supranational government without most people really having a clue what was going on.

I have often observed over the years that the people who enthusiastically support the European Union either don't really know very much about it or are in some way making money out of it. To those I think we have to add all those politicians and officials who see it as in some way adding to their own sense of self-importance, as being part of the big show.

The point about this new treaty is that it really does formalise that new supranational form of government much more obviously and completely than ever before.

It is very important that, instead of that shambolic rotating presidency which gives each country in turn the semblance of being in temporary charge of things, Europe should now have a single President who can be in office for as long as five years, and who can pose as "President of Europe" on the world stage, as a counterpart to the President of the United States or any other country.

It is important that, sitting next to him, should be Europe's own foreign minister, even if for the moment he still has to be called the "High Representative".

But there is one other very important change in this Constitution the significance of which few people seem to have appreciated, even though my friend Richard North and I have been rather forlornly banging on about it for months. This is the change which is taking place in the status of that body known as the European Council.

Most people, even most politicians, let alone most of the media, are still amazingly hazy about the European Council, precisely what is its purpose, its status, its role. It is of course made up of all the EU's heads of government. It meets three or four times a year, and those meetings are still usually referred to by uncomprehending hacks as "summits".

But even though it has come to play an extremely important and central role in the workings of the EU, the European Council is still not formally part of the EU's structures. Although Mr Blair used to think that it was set up by the original Treaty of Rome in 1957, it only came into being in the 1970s, when it was first suggested, like almost everything else in the great project, by Jean Monnet.

Monnet's idea was that the heads of government should hold regular, informal meetings to discuss how best the great task of Europe's political integration could be moved forward. He himself called it "the provisional government of Europe". It was on that basis that the European Council was set up in 1974, and it was on that basis that it has come to play an ever more important part in steering Europe towards its eventual destination as in effect a single country ruled by a single government.

But only now in the Reform Treaty is the Council finally admitted as a fully-fledged "Institution of the Union", alongside the Commission, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (a wholly different institution with which it is often confused). And this brings with it a significant change, not just in the Council's status but in its nature and the role it is expected to play.

As members of a "Union institution", those who make it up will be bound by a wholly new obligation. No longer will they attend meetings of the Council as heads of supposedly sovereign governments, representing the interests of their own people.

Their primary duty, as set out in Article 9, will now be to promote the values, the objectives and the interests of the Union. And if you read through Article 3 of the treaty, setting out just what are those objectives of the Union, you will see that they are pretty well all-embracing, covering just about every aspect of government you could imagine. But these are the objectives of the Union which members of the Council will now be legally obliged to place ahead of any of the interests of their own peoples.

What this means is that when, say, Gordon Brown, goes off to Brussels for a meeting of the Council, he will no longer be doing so primarily to represent the interests of Great Britain, but as one of the 28 members of a body which is above all committed to putting the interests of the Union first.

By this change, the new government of Europe will not only have its own permanent president and foreign minister, it will in effect be given its own Cabinet. The prime ministers of Latvia and Greece and Malta and Finland will sit alongside our own prime minister as the Cabinet which decides the policies which are to rule our lives here in Britain and everywhere else.

We shall thus have a government which not only is not even nominally obliged to consider Britain's interests, but one which we cannot in any way call to account and which we will no longer have any power or right to dismiss. We shall never be able to change it through a democratic election. We shall in effect be just a small part of a giant one-party state.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them. In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie. Not quite what we all had in mind when Edward Heath assured us that going into the Common Market would in no essential way effect our sovereignty.

So what hope is there? Is there any glimmering of a chance that we can halt this final step into a one-party state which has already shown itself to be stupendously incompetent, corrupt, dishonest and quasi-totalitarian in everything it does?

There is perhaps just one very faint glimmer of hope and in the short term it is really the only one open to us. Mr Brown may be right in thinking that he can railroad this treaty through Parliament. But even Mr Brown, as the events of recent weeks have made obvious, is not going to be our prime minister forever. And however much many of us may have been dismayed by the performance of Mr Cameron and his party since he and his friends took it over, we are picking up indications that there may just be a stiffening of the Tory position on this treaty: a readiness at least to discuss behind the scenes the possibility of going to the country at the next election on a promise of some form of renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union.

All this may seem very far-fetched, but even at the top of the Tory Party there has recently been a shocked realisation of just how much of our power to govern ourselves we have already given away: not least on the issue of deciding who has the right to enter and live and work in our country.

We have certainly given away far more of the power to decide how Britain is run than most people realise, but with this new treaty it really is game, set and match. There may be little to stop us having the treaty imposed on us by a prime minister who is prepared both to break his word and to lie to us to get what he wants. So our hopes, fragile though they are, must now centre on the possibility that one day, perhaps not all that far off, we might just have a government for which this treaty was the wake-up call that it was the bridge too far.

If that is not the case, however, then let us be in no doubt as to the reality of the situation we shall be faced with. Like all the other peoples of Europe, we shall have become the victims of an immense, slow-motion coup d'etat. A coup d'etat brought off by a political class which holds both the idea of democracy and us, the peoples of Europe, in total contempt.

We have rarely seen this more clearly expressed than in the reported comment this week of Nicolas Sarkozy, the new President of France, that there is no way in which the peoples of Europe should be allowed to give their views on the treaty through the ballot box. Such matters are simply not for the people to decide.

But if that observation reflects the contempt in which our new rulers hold us the people, then we must remember that contempt very often works both ways, If there is one thing about our contemporary Europe which is as obvious as the contempt in which we are now held by those who govern us, it is that the contempt is reciprocal.

Never in history can the politicians and officials who make up the political class have commanded more universal distrust and scorn than today, as we see reflected in the ever dwindling turnout at elections and in the comments one hears on every side from people for whom politics and politicians have become words as dirty as any in the language. Even our ruling class in Brussels have long noticed what they call in their lofty way "the democratic deficit", even if they have not the slightest idea how to do anything to remedy it.

But if the rulers and the ruled in any society get that far apart, as history shows, if both sides to a broken contract hold each other in equal contempt, if one side possesses the power and is only too ready to use it, while the other feels increasingly powerless to effect any change, then we have something building up which is potentially very dangerous.

The pressure in the vessel is steadily increasing, while its lid is being screwed down tighter and tighter. The only way such a story can eventually end is in a very nasty and messy explosion.

Take away from people any right to control their own destiny, and eventually they will take their destiny back into their own hands. That is the stark reality of what we are confronted by today. Unless something gives, there will eventually be no alternative but a very nasty disintegration. And so long as Britain remains part of this crazed, self-deceiving enterprise, we shall be caught up in that mess just as surely as everyone else.