Lisbon Essay (6): A ‘No’ will re-assert the need for a renewed respect for subsidiarity…

Brian Crowe is our first Northern Irish commentator on the Lisbon Treaty. He takes the view that the debate in the Republic has polarised between the mainstream parties on one side, the slightly constitutional Sinn Fein and what he calls the disreputable right… He takes issue with Michael McLaughlin’s view that the EU is a product of compromise between to great blocks of European opinion, arguing that beyond those two, there is a growing opinion, not least in the accession countries which holds in opposition to “EU federalism and renewed respect for subsidiarity”. By Brian Crowe

In the second of Slugger’s Lisbon Essays, Michael McLaughlin described the EU as a compromise between the forces of Christian Democracy and Social Democracy. The peoples of Europe owe a profound debt of gratitude to both political traditions for rebuilding democratic politics post-1945 after the horrors of Fascism and in the face of the Communist dictatorships to the east.

Whatever their distinctive and differing approaches to economic and social policy, both Christian Democracy and Social Democracy share a foundational commitment to European political integration. It is this commitment which differentiates both from what we might call the European Conservative and Reformist tradition that force on the centre-right which, while rejecting the social and economic politics of Social Democracy, does not share the Christian Democratic vision of a federal Europe.

The 2006 Prague Declaration and the recent creation of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament give expression to this other tradition on the centre-right. To some extent this tradition had always been latent within the Parliament – the new grouping has given coherence to the non-federalist centre-right parties associated with the ED and UEN groupings. Its core affirmation is, in the words of the Prague Declaration, “the sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity”.

It is this voice which is not being heard in the ongoing debate over Lisbon. The No camp is a coalition of the “slightly constitutional” Sinn Fein, the hard Left and the disreputable Right. To regard this as the sum of the opposition to Lisbon, however, is little less than disingenuous.

The rejection of the Treaty by the electorate of the Republic, and of its predecessor by the electorates of Holland and France, together with the consistently negative trend towards Lisbon in UK public opinion polls, points to a much more significant phenomenon than that represented by the Republics No coalition.

There is a profound disjuncture in many Member States between the desire of political elites for further political integration and popular scepticism over such proposals.

If this disjuncture is to give rise to a mature, meaningful debate over the future direction and shape of Europe, it requires a more authoritative voice to emerge from within the mainstream of Europe’s democratic political traditions. In its absence, the national debate within the Republic has little, if any, enduring relevance to the future shape and direction of the Union.

The hard Left and the disreputable Right, with their shared suspicion of free societies, pluralism and open markets, cannot provide a legitimate alternative to the Christian Democratic-Social Democratic belief in a federal Europe.

While I share the unease of the Yes camp at the beliefs and credentials of the No coalition, I remain convinced that a No vote is in the interests of Europe. The short-term boost that a No vote will give to the hard Left and disreputable Right is outweighed by the fact that it will create space for a wider, more meaningful debate on the future of Europe.

The fact is that a socialist Europe and a nationalist Europe are both non-starters. The real and important debate is to be had between federalists and non-federalists.

A No vote in Ireland will provide an opportunity for what I hope will be the next Conservative government in the UK to legislate for a referendum on Lisbon – a referendum which would, without doubt, return an overwhelming No. This illustrates that cheap jibes about those of us opposed to Lisbon being nationalists entirely miss the point.

The peoples of Ireland and of the UK could together help to reshape Europe, in which respect for our continents historic nation-states replaces the obsession with political integration.

Brian Crowe is the UUP’s Director of Policy and was a policy advisor to Jim Nicholson’s European Election campaign.