A confusing poll on Europe – but does it matter?

The elections for the European Parliament in June will inevitably be regarded a referendum on the performance of governments coping with recession. This is a pity, and will create great confusion over public attitudes on the future of the Europe. Even in the Republic where the EU has a much bigger profile than in the UK and where issues have traditionally been debated on merit, the Euro-vote will be cast as a referendum on the beleaguered government. But the Euro-dimension remains. Whether or not Fianna Fail suffers meltdown, the Euro poll will be treated a a referendum on holding a referendum on the Treaty before November. Although proxy politics like this confuses the issues, I take consolation from the fact that the Treaty itself hardly matters now, whatever the vote. Continuing stalemate will do little real damage. The recession has shown an EU marking time and a big reversion to the authority of national governments. At best, the EU – or more particularly the eurozone – is now regarded as an air raid shelter from the economic blitzkrieg. It will take time before the European dimension picks up dynamic again.

That is why it’s puzzling that a bullish William Hague has chosen to rub an old sore and raise the profile of Conservative calls for a EU referendum, whether or not it’s ratified by the time he expects to become Foreign Secretary. I can only assume apart from indulging his own acute euro-scepticism, he’s sounding a dog whistle blast to help get out the core Tory vote in June, not only for the European Parliament but for elections to many English councils. And of course, to embarrass Gordon Brown further ( if that’s possible after this week) over his u-turn on Tony Blair’s referendum pledge.

“Mr Hague said that, if it were not ratified by the time of a Tory victory, there would be a referendum “in the opening months” and a Bill preparing for the vote would be ready. If the treaty had been ratified, the party would, nevertheless, spell out in its manifesto what action it would take to reverse European integration. Pressed on whether in those circumstances a referendum could still be promised in a Tory manifesto, he said: “We would not rule anything in or out.”

But as Eurosceptic Gerald Warner says, David Cameron’s pledge is more carefully ambiguous. Is there a just a little strain between the leader and his deputy on Europe? It’s still hard to see how a Cameron government next year coping with the cuts and possible chaos would want to waste political energy and capital on it.

  • MacBeth

    In NI here I would like one of our MEPs, Bairbre DeBrun, to explain why her Sinn Fein party is so against Irish languages schools in sharp contrast to position of the European Charter on Minority Languages?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    If labour all but dead and buried Europe offers the slightest hint for election recovery.

    We may already be in the middle of a sterling crisis with precentage falls higher than the last the IMF came-a-calling. Britain’s position of half in and half out of the EU – wanting the benefits of membership and the self indulgence of holding on to its own currency doesnt look as sound from an economic perspective as it might have before the recent plunge in Sterling and Tory talking down of the economy – which is what oppsotion parties like to do – could not only damage sterling further but also bring closer the debate on joining the Euro.

    What have labour to lose – the only way is up – and it is surely time to discuss the economic merits and de-mertis of the single currency with the added benefit from Labour’s perspective of knowing that every mention of it will cause fright in the unreconstructed Tory right and even amongst the more sensible backbenchers.

  • John K Lund / Lllamedos / Suchard

    Every body has a right to vota against Labour candidates. On the Lisbon Treaty they included a manifesto on this issue. That is the most important issue in Europe and Sammy you can keep all your money in Euro accounts and you will live to regret your choice should you do this; when the Euro plummets downwards.We have the worst goverment in living history in this United Kingdom and it is our democratic right to use all legal means to bring it down. The only party that can do this in NI are the Conservatives and Unonists. Remember what they said about Thatcher’s Anglo Irish Agreement- that it was Sunningdale for slow learners well this time it is across the board it seems.