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William Hague: The European project and democratic consent: disconnection or disengagement?

"I want to talk today about the choices on Europe facing our country. We are now in the middle of a long debate in Parliament about the Treaty of Lisbon - or the renamed EU Constitution as it is better known. Most attention has been focused on what is set to happen if this Treaty comes into force. But I should like to use this speech to think about the opportunities for Britain and the EU as a whole if, first, the British people were given the referendum they were promised and, secondly, if voters used that referendum to reject the Treaty.

Case for a referendum

It is a puzzle why the most enthusiastic proponents of deeper European integration in this country are a referendum's fiercest opponents. If this Treaty is such a good thing for Britain, if the new powers it gives the EU and the new institutions it establishes are so vital for our future, why do they not want it to have the firmest possible democratic mandate? If its benefits are so obvious, why do they fear that they would lose the argument in a referendum campaign? In the debates in the Commons we have heard ministers extolling how it will allow the EU to do more to combat crime and promote energy liberalisation and the Single Market. The Conservative Party believes, with good reason, that they are wrong. But nevertheless, if they are confident of their reasons why do they think they cannot convince the British public of their case? And if the Treaty is of such a nature that the British public could not be convinced of its benefits, why do ministers support it?

Similar questions were asked when there was a debate on whether the original EU Constitution should be put to a referendum. One Guardian columnist put the case for a referendum well. He argued his case so persuasively that it is worth quoting his article extensively:

'The real reason, of course, why the government does not want to hold a referendum is the fear that it may lose … it won't do. The alternative, now unfolding before us, is infinitely worse: a false assumption that anti-Europeans are democrats, and pro-Europeans are not. By shilly-shallying with semantic half-truths about the content of the Constitution, and now haughtily dismissing all calls for a referendum, it is New Labour which is … "playing straight into the hands of the Eurosceptics". Nothing will do more damage to the pro-European movement than giving room to the suspicion that we have something to hide, that we do not have the "cojones" to carry our argument to the people.

The author, was, of course, Nick Clegg, and nothing has happened since then - since the Treaty is almost identical in content to the Constitution - to change the validity of his arguments. If anything, they have only grown stronger.

It ought to be obvious that European integration can only be built on democratic consent - yet this Treaty is uniquely devoid of any democratic mandate in Britain. That is a fact the significance of which cannot be underestimated. Every major political party in this country promised a referendum on the EU Constitution. That is the basis on which almost every MP was elected to the Commons. No political party sought a mandate from the voters to negotiate instead any other kind of treaty. No political party said that if another country voted down the Constitution it would be renamed, brought back with a few tweaks and then whipped through Parliament without the voters being allowed any say on it at all at either a general election or in a referendum.

That is why if this Treaty is ratified in this country without a referendum and if it is ratified in all other countries and comes into force before a general election, in our view not only would political integration have gone too far but the Treaty would lack democratic legitimacy in Britain. So as we have already made clear, that situation would not be acceptable to an incoming Conservative Government and we would not let matters rest there.

In fact, the refusal to hold the promised referendum on this Treaty will do the exact opposite of what its opponents hope for. It will not help the Labour Government. Trust in politics is at a low ebb now for all too many reasons but a chief reason is this Government's persistent failure to do what it says it will do. The failure to keep manifesto promises is an important part of that, as Gordon Brown has acknowledged. Just before he became Prime Minister he said: 'the manifesto is what we put to the public. We've got to honour that manifesto. That is an issue of trust for me with the electorate'. By failing to honour his commitment to a referendum he has ensured that those words will come back to haunt him. Trust in his Government's word has been fatally undermined.

Then there will be the effect on the EU's standing in Britain. Far from securing the European Union's status, failure to put this Treaty to the people in any way at all would gravely undermine its democratic legitimacy in Britain. It will have been given powers for which the voters had never given their permission. And the lack of democratic legitimacy is all the more worrying given how intimately concerned with our citizens' rights and freedom many of the Treaty's most important provisions are. I am thinking here particularly of the end of intergovernmentalism and national vetoes and the extension of the EU's legislative remit over justice and home affairs. The Chindamo case - where the Government was unable to deport an Italian national who murdered the schoolmaster Philip Lawrence after he finished his sentence in large part because an EU directive forbade it - illustrates the frustration voters feel when decisions they think belong in this country's courts and Parliament are taken out of their hands and given to the EU, leaving the institutions for which they feel ownership unable to act.

It is quite easy to see why under those circumstances people are disengaged from politics. It really does take some of the point out of voting. As a supporter of Britain's membership of the EU, albeit one who believes that EU matters should be approached with one's critical faculties fully engaged, that is not a result I want to see.

It is a fact that is receiving growing recognition across the political spectrum that in the twenty first century people want less top down politics and more bottom up politics. They want more control over their lives and the failure of today's political structures, national and supranational, to deliver it is another cause of political disenchantment. As Nick Clegg said when he became his party's leader: 'a new politics, of politicians who listen to people, not themselves. No more business as usual. No more government-knows-best'. Yet there could be no more perfect illustration of a government-knows-best approach than whipping a Treaty through Parliament without a democratic mandate.

The Government's treatment of the bill ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon exemplifies their total lack of interest in any genuine debate. Yet their main argument against a referendum was that Treaties were for Parliament to decide, where it could be subjected to proper parliamentary scrutiny. Gordon Brown pledged that the Treaty would 'go to Parliament for very detailed discussion by Members of Parliament' where it would be 'debated in great precision in the House of Commons'.

He did not mean any of it. Rather than the 20 days of parliamentary scrutiny promised there are only fourteen, and the Government has used that time to minimise that scrutiny.

Gordon Brown ran away from an election, he has run away from a referendum and now he is running away from the detailed parliamentary scrutiny he promised. Great chunks of this Treaty have missed any Parliamentary scrutiny at all. If Gordon Brown had set out to confirm every criticism of made of him - that he is a politician of gesture and cynical calculation rather than sincerity and substance - he could not have done more to confirm it with his behaviour on the EU Treaty.

Instead of the detailed amendment by amendment examination of the text itself that has been used for every previous EU treaty scrutiny has been constrained by a Government programme that devotes the bulk of the time to vague themes about aspects of the EU. And the themes themselves have allowed the Government to avoid proper scrutiny of the Treaty. A whole day is devoted to climate change, an extremely important subject but of almost total irrelevance to the content of the Treaty itself.

On the other hand just one day was given to the huge changes and transfers of power in justice and home affairs - six hours to consider in detail the new common asylum and immigration policies and powers on visas, the extension of the European Court of Justice's full jurisdiction to criminal justice and policing co-operation, new rights to makes laws on the definition and penalties of crimes, on criminal procedure and evidence, new powers on civil justice and new powers for Europol and Eurojust, including the right to initiate investigations and the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor.

All this had just six hours of debate. If these had been domestic measures almost any one of them would have merited a bill in itself. The Government said that there would be line by line scrutiny of the bill, but on that day Parliament had, on a rough estimate, 45 second a line, with the inevitable consequence that it was barely able to examine at all the new common asylum and immigration policies with their concomitant provisions.

So it will simply not be true to say that this Treaty will have been looked properly by Parliament. And this after the Treaty was agreed through a process that provided, according to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 'little scope for UK public or parliamentary debate and engagement' and which according to the European Scrutiny Committee 'could not have been better designed to marginalise the role of national parliaments and to curtail public debate'. Of course both committees have Labour majorities.

It is clear that, quite apart from the question of a referendum, the story of this Treaty is of a government to government stitch up, with only a charade of parliamentary involvement, let alone public consent.

This disconnection between governors and governed is worsened by an arrogant failure to listen. Every poll has shown that not only do people want the referendum they were promised but a majority would use it to reject the Treaty. Polls go up and down but where there is such consistency it would be wise for politicians to pay attention.

But Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown have shown complete indifference to public opinion. Gordon Brown used the word 'listen' no fewer than five times in his speech accepting the leadership of the Labour Party. It was not a bad speech. It set out the kind of leadership people want from their Prime Minister and voters heard it and hoped he meant it. We certainly saw its effect on the polls. The collapse in public confidence in Gordon Brown can be dated from when they realised that he spoke those words not out of conviction but from calculation. If politicians act cynically politics as a whole will be treated with cynicism.

A referendum on the renamed EU Constitution would be a wonderful reversal of all that. It would give voters the involvement and control over how our country develops that they seek. A clear decision would be put in their hands. It would be a proof that when politicians made promises in their manifestos they meant to keep them. It would show that politicians really did want to listen to what the British people thought. After years of complaints from EU institutions that people do not know or care enough about the EU it would guarantee in depth public debate about EU matters.

It is often forgotten how the debate that led through the Convention on the Future of Europe and the EU Constitution began. At the European Council in December 2001 the EU's heads of state and government signed the Laeken Declaration. It identified the long-term issues facing the European Union. 'Within the Union', it affirmed, 'the European institutions must be brought closer to its citizens'. 'Citizens', it continued, 'feel that deals are all too often cut out of their sight and they want better democratic scrutiny'.

All so true. All so perfectly remedied by a referendum.

What of the principled arguments against a referendum? There are those who have consistently opposed referendums as part of our parliamentary democracy. I respect but do not agree with their position. When a permanent change to our system of government is proposed the people have a right to decide. Nor, after the referendums on devolution and directly elected mayors, can referendums be said to be unconstitutional in Britain. Once again Nick Clegg, in his excellent article makes the case succinctly. On Tony Blair's claim that 'holding a referendum was out of the question since it was not consistent with British political "traditions"' he says 'This from the man who gave us referenda on a Hartlepool mayor and Scottish autonomy. Never let the facts get in the way of a good political putdown'.

It is said that a referendum vote cannot be risked because of the terrible consequences of a 'no' vote. These alarmist myths are easily disposed of.

It has been claimed that a 'no' vote would lead to Britain being forced out of the EU. This is clearly nonsense, as history shows. European Treaties have been rejected in referendums four times: Maastricht by Denmark in 1992, Nice by Ireland in 2001 and most famously the original Constitution by the French and Dutch in 2005. All led to different outcomes but none of them led to expulsion from the European Union. Neither is there any legal mechanism to expel a Member State for failing to ratify a Treaty.

The longest running canard about the Treaty, also used to defend its incarnation as the Constitution is, as Tony Blair put it in 2003, that it is 'necessary to make [enlargement] work', an argument still used by the Government today. Yet enlargement happened in 2004 and the European Union has shown itself perfectly capable of taking decisions. Indeed, the latest academic study on decision making in the EU has found that 'business as usual' rather than 'gridlock' has been the norm since enlargement.

In fact, one can argue that thanks in part to President of the Commission Barroso's approach of quality before quantity the EU has achieved more of real worth in the past three years than the norm. In particular, the Emissions Trading Scheme has been a bold step for the EU, showing that together European countries can lead the way in tackling climate change. Of course, the Scheme needs reform, starting with putting a real price on carbon, but it proves that the EU has all the powers it needs on the environment under the current Treaties.

Benefits of a 'no' vote - dangers avoided

The weakness of the case that this new Treaty is actually needed to accomplish shared goals was brilliantly, if inadvertently, demonstrated by the Home Secretary's speech on justice and home affairs last week. Her entire case for the Treaty was based on how well the EU was doing now. It is a novel but unconvincing argument to say that 'if it ain't broke it still needs fixing'.

Gordon Brown has put about one last myth in his desperation to find any credible justification for this Treaty, and that is that it will bring to an end a period of institutional wrangling and allow the EU to focus on real issues that matter to the peoples of Europe. Leaving aside the rather odd argument that handing over large swathes of power to the EU is a good thing because we hopefully won't have to hand over any more for a decade - a bit like seeing the upside of having one's house done over by a burglar as meaning that there's less left to burgle - Gordon Brown's case is severely flawed in three ways.

First, one of the EU's chief priorities today has to be helping European economies not just maintain but improve their competitiveness, and this is something where the EU has a mixed track record. We all remember the famous Lisbon agenda which was grandly declared in 2000 with its great goal being to make the EU 'the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world' by 2010. Well, 2010 is not so far off now and it would take an economic miracle to hit that target.

But it would be equally be wrong to minimise the EU's achievements in the Single Market, not least thanks to the efforts of Competition Commissioners to strike down protectionist measures. Yet by downgrading the principle of undistorted competition in the internal market this Treaty threatens to leave the Commission and Court of Justice hobbled in their defence of this vital task for the EU.

This change to the Treaty was slipped in by President Sarkozy at the June summit, a change Tony Blair, with his usual unfortunate disregard for rather important details, completely missed. No doubt that is one of his many talents that recommends him to President Sarkozy as a candidate for president of the European Council. As is well known, after loud protests from competition lawyers, from my party and, to give credit where it is due, from the current Prime Minister, a little protocol was added restating undistorted competition's importance. This is, unfortunately, a poor substitute in legal weight. As a recent paper by the Centre for European Policy Studies put it, 'there is a real danger that in future EC competition law will be cribbed, crabbed and confined ... the power of the State to distort competition through subsidy and regulation will increase. There are also serious concerns as to the extent to which the excision of the competition principle will be deployed to assist industrial policy arguments in merger control cases and frustrate the liberalisation of hitherto protected industrial sectors.'

So it is precisely because we want the EU to be able to act constructively on substantive issues that we oppose this Treaty so strongly. Far from allowing us to look to the future the Lisbon Treaty would give an opening for the return of failed past policies like industrial champions from the 1970s.

The second flaw in the case is the claim that the Treaty would bring a temporary halt to the process of institutional reform - a claim only supportable with a light acquaintance with the Treaty's text. As no other Treaty has done before, Lisbon allows for sweeping changes to be made through a number of ratchet clauses, or passerelles, the most important of which allows any remaining veto to be abolished without the need for a new Treaty. Worse, under the terms of the bill we are currently debating any such move would need little parliamentary scrutiny for approval.

It has also recently emerged how little thought through the new EU institutions - the new EU president, the EU foreign minister and his diplomatic service and a European Public Prosecutor - set up by the renamed EU Constitution are to work, or how existing EU bodies such as Europol and Eurojust are to use their new EU powers. Leaving aside the strangeness of delaying such material decisions until after the Treaty has been ratified, this will necessarily ensure that we are set for months, if not years, of yet more institutional introspection. Worse, since scant consideration seems to have been given as to how some of these institutions, such as the president and the foreign minister, might relate to each other, far from more harmonious co-operation in Europe this Treaty sets the EU up for more inward looking rows as each body fights new turf wars.

This leads to the third and last flaw in the Government's case. This Treaty gives the EU a whole lot of new kit for its toolbox, and it is that that excites it advocates most. And these new posts and powers are not there to be used for what most people look to from the EU - co-operative solutions to the challenges of global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty - but aspects of deeper political integration: the new posts I have mentioned, the EU's greatly increased role in foreign and defence policy and its extensive new remit over criminal justice, a common asylum and immigration policy and over police co-operation.

No student of politics can be in any doubt that, like a child with a new toy, if a political institution is given new roles and powers it will be dead set on using them as soon as possible. So it is all too likely that if this Treaty comes into force we would see European institutions pouring their energy not into the hard grind of making our economies more competitive but in exploring how far and to what ends their new competences in these areas might reach.

Benefits of a 'no' vote - a different structure for the EU

Because Conservatives are opposed to shifting power from the nation state to EU institutions and ever deeper integration some depict us as anti-European. In fact, we are the strongest advocates of a European Union where nations work together in a way that strengthens our economies, empowers our consumers and turns our common values into effective action on the great issues facing our world today: climate change and global poverty. It is a Conservative approach because we are above all concerned with turning our ideals into action. But the great opportunities before us can only be grasped if the EU's focus is not the ever deeper political integration of the Treaty.

Far from allowing us all to move on to the real issues of substance this Treaty would do the opposite. A 'no' vote would not mean that Britain had turned its back on Europe, it would be a vote for a more modern and flexible Europe - not the outdated top-down, one-seize fits all structure but one that takes into account Member States' differing goals and outlooks. It would create the freedom and space for the EU to move to consider a more up to date agenda.

So not only would it be an opportunity for Europe to think again, put institutional questions to one side and get on with the work our voters want us to focus on. It would make unavoidable the realisation that ever deeper political integration is not something every EU Member State wants. Every test of public opinion shows that the great majority of British people do not want the EU to receive more power. If the British people were able to make that view clear in a referendum it would force even Gordon Brown to think of our European policy not as just a damage limitation exercise but in terms of the need for a strategic British vision for Europe, one that, as Tony Blair's former economic adviser testified, was lacking from the start of the Constitutional negotiations.

The main fact that we must face is that while the majority of British people, with their usual good sense, want to be in the EU but do not want ever deeper union, so there are equally set majorities in some - but not all - Member States for that deeper union. The Lisbon Treaty is very poorly designed to meet these varied visions for Europe. A more flexible structure, with more variable geometry, is needed. We should not stand in the way, confusing, in my colleague Sir Malcolm Rifkind's words influence with interests, if they do not ask us to participate in deeper integration than we are comfortable with. This is not new. It is a long held Conservative view, but it is the only one that can work in the long term.

Rejection of the Treaty in a referendum would encourage other fresh thinking. This Treaty makes some nods in the direction of subsidiarity. But there is still too little provision for powers to be transferred not just towards the centre but back to the Member States. It is remarkable and a sign of their lack of vision or leadership that this Government has completely failed to press the case that some of what the EU does might be done better at the national level. They seem to be slow learners. Take the agency workers' directive, whose total inappropriateness for Britain's job market could, according to the CBI, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. For years ministers have been fighting a rearguard action against this directive, desperately keeping a blocking minority together, ultimately with trade-offs in other areas. Yet this would never have been a problem at all if this Government had not signed up to the Social Chapter. If they had not, EU legislation in this area would have had no relevance in Britain. Indeed, other than for the actual necessary operation of the Single Market, as for the free movement off workers, it is not clear that EU employment legislation offers any added value for Britain, a question the current Government seems never to have asked itself. That is why a Conservative Government would seek the restoration of social and employment legislation to national control.

A flexible European Union, with the strain of trying to keep all its Member States at a similar level of integration put to one side could then genuinely concentrate on the EU's real priorities. And we have a great deal of work to do.

Benefits of a 'no' vote - back to the right focus

The EU has great accomplishments that it can be proud of: the introduction of the Single Market, on enlargement and on the environment. Those are achievements Conservatives in Britain applaud, not least because the last Conservative Government had a great deal to do with them.

But while the EU has spent years on the question of the Constitution in its two guises, despite the improved focus under President Barroso and the efforts of those like former Commissioner Bolkestein, the EU's agenda still too often either lags behind the curve or stumbles on implementation, problems that are a symptom of the skewed priorities that have placed political integration before the concrete issues of the twenty first century where the peoples of Europe look to their leaders to work together and deliver: on global warming, on global competitiveness and on global poverty.

Global warming

On global warming I have already mentioned the pioneering Emissions Trading Scheme. Here the EU has been if anything ahead of the curve but the problems of implementation have been severe. European countries collectively have a fantastic opportunity to lead the world by example on an area of the highest importance to ourselves and future generations, but which requires much, much more political time and will for success.

Global poverty

On global poverty the problems are severe and are of policy and implementation. It remains a great challenge, but a challenge to which the new generation of EU leaders can, with determination and optimism, make a difference, as Angela Merkel and Fredrik Reinfeldt have on climate change. The Doha round may not only be in the EU's hands to solve, but on agriculture we can go further in what we offer developing countries. I do not downplay how difficult CAP reform has been for our farmers, worsened enormously by this Government's gross incompetence on single farm payments, but where we are is not good enough.

The problems are not primarily of institutional structure. Britain's priority should be to make the case, persistently and persuasively, for substantial policy reform: for a higher share of EU aid targeted on poverty reduction, for things as simple as EU Member States keeping their promises on aid and, vitally, to sort out the severe failures in its aid programmes caused by bureaucracy and administrative short-comings, a problem singled out again and again by both the Department for International Development and peer reviews by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.

This Government's defeatist approach to EU matters has also had a direct bearing. Despite the great changes to the Common Agricultural Policy farmers have had to adapt to it remains the case that the barriers put up by the CAP remain a real obstacle to free and fair trade. The Government have had three outstanding opportunities to secure reform - when the EU Constitution was first negotiated, when the British rebate was under discussion and now in this latest Treaty - and each time they have failed to press for the necessary reforms. Indeed, the proof of the seriousness of the EU's commitment to reducing global poverty will come when the EU changes the CAP to take the developing world's needs into account.

Global competitiveness

On global competitiveness Europe has a better story to tell but the scale of what is yet to be done is still daunting.

The Single Market is at the core of what the European project is supposed to be about. It is a major achievement: there have been huge strides on the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. There have been substantial benefits - on job creation, one economic growth and on quality of life. Consumers now have a wider choice and pay lower prices. Competition has forced innovation and productivity improvements.

Old mistakes are slowly being put right. There is movement from very complex technical harmonisation to a new approach, where outcomes are specified and industries develop technical standards. The new 'goods package' is an example. Impact Assessments are now required for all significant proposals and there is now an Independent Impact Assessment Board, another long-standing Conservative goal, to monitor quality.

There are clear commitments to complete the single market in all areas and to expand market opening outside the EU. Although Socialists in the European Parliament forced a compromise on the Services directive its centre-right negotiators saved vital and valuable provisions. Countries will be obliged to help companies access the Single Market by 'one stop shops' for information. They will also have to screen all their own rules and remove those that act as market barriers.

There will be new ideas to measure real market openness, rather than the tired Single Market Scoreboard. For the first time, EU Governments must act as if they owned the Single Market, and really believed in its success.

These are real achievements. After years of campaigning by Conservative MEPs and others, the Single Market is now rightly being placed at the heart of the EU's competitiveness agenda - an agenda, however, whose long-term success is now threatened not just by the demotion of competition in the Lisbon Treaty but by an increased role for the Commission on employment policy. The Agency Workers' directive's persistent presence on the negotiating table is a sign that there are some parts of the EU that still do not get the need for modern labour markets in a global economy.

Then come the 'buts'. No fewer than 144 Single Market directives have not been transposed on time in at least one Member State. The number of infringement proceedings is another sign that there is too little political attention paid to this area at the Member State level. This is not the glamorous politics at the European level but it will lead to the growth and competitiveness Europe needs.

There are the still uncompleted areas of the Single Market, such as the vital liberalisation of the energy market, whose successful achievement grows in importance as the politics of energy becomes one of the most important policy issues for our generation. There is the completion of public procurement rules, the need to ensure the free movement of goods by mutual recognition of standards, whose accomplishment must be one of the EU's leading priorities. While we have a welcome commitment to reduce the regulatory burden on small and medium enterprises, that must be turned into concrete measures, including provisions to remove burdens that cause disproportionate pain to small enterprises.

The Better Regulation process has already produced notable results at the EU level, and I again pay tribute to Conservative MEPs and others who were at the forefront in obtaining this important improvement and to Commissioners Barroso and Verheugen for helping deliver it. The different directorate-generals in the Commission, however, sometimes give every impression of working on contradictory agendas. So the proposal for an Internal Market Test, examining the impact of any proposal on the full implementation of the four freedoms of movement of goods, services, workers and capital, should be part of all Commission proposals and activities merits serious consideration.

As does a very intriguing idea that has been mooted by the Dutch Liberal Party VVD, including at our Movement for European Reform conference in September in Prague, to use the Treaties' existing provisions on enhanced co-operation to set up a truly free market in services among participating countries. If after careful study this proposal does indeed offer the benefits it proffers then Britain should be in the vanguard - not least because a single market in services is real integration for individuals with tangible benefits, unlike the Constitution's institutional rearrangements in Brussels.

And lastly on this subject, there is the great project of a transatlantic free trade area. When I put this forward two years ago as a project whose time had come and to which the Conservative Party would give its wholehearted support, it was ridiculed by a former editor of the Guardian writing in that paper. 'The Hague wheeze is fraudulent', he said. 'It doesn't acknowledge EU reality … So it won't happen, doesn't matter.'

Politicians are rightly held to account for the claims they make and I think it is healthy if columnists are too. A transatlantic free trade area's supporters now include Chancellor Merkel of Germany. Last year a new transatlantic economic council was set up to oversee the dismantling of regulatory barriers that hinder what remains the world's biggest trading relationship. I look forward to a mention in the Guardian's corrections column. Yes, stumbling blocks remain, principally and typically the Common Agricultural Policy. But if this is made the political priority it should be they can be overcome.

Conclusion

So there is a wide-ranging and exciting agenda for Europe, an agenda that deals with the issues that really matter to normal people, not just think tanks. But it is an agenda for an institution whose very democratic legitimacy this Government is doing its best to undermine, whose implementation, in competitiveness at least, this Treaty would actively undermine and from which the new powers - just leaving aside all other questions - the Treaty would give EU institutions too potent a distraction. Not everything can be a priority.

The Conservative Party's deep scepticism about European integration for its own sake can be attacked for being typical earthbound British pragmatism. I think that is unfair. Our profoundest concern is that a partly supranational institution must never lose sight of the need for democratic legitimacy. That is the great danger the EU faces if the EU Constitution under whatever name goes through without the people's democratic consent. At the least, the lively, far-ranging debate a referendum campaign would bring about would rekindle popular engagement with the European Union, restore some badly needed trust in British politics and re-empower voters. But a rejection of the outdated approach to Europe embodied in the Treaty, more redolent of Delors than Google, would give us the great opportunity to move towards the nimble, flexible structure that would ensure the EU's success in the twenty first century. It would free Europe's leaders from the prospect of Eurocratic turf wars to deal with the real challenges Europe faces today."

ENDS

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