James McConalogue: Why Gordon Brown needs more than Balls to reform Europe
Jim McConalogue, Editor of the European Journal, fears that Ed Balls', and therefore Gordon Brown's, "hard-headed Europeanism" will be more of the same.
Yesterday, Gordon Brown’s key political architect, Ed Balls MP, wrote an amazingly refreshing article in The Sunday Times on the future of the EU treaty. The article entitled "Europe doesn’t need a treaty" seemed to offer a new middle ground rationale between pro-European Blairism and anti-EU supporters calling for the complete withdrawal from the European Union. Whilst it does offer a pathway out of blind Europeanism, which has been advocated by Tony Blair over the past ten years, its grounds and aims appeared to be rather empty – "Our approach should be to engage the British and European public interest where we can – while standing firm where our national interests would be damaged." But, as I mention, this is some resolution on the tragically misguided path pursued by Blair.
Ed Balls does recognise some of the key challenges for the EU – job creation and single market reform, the budget negotiations, EU super state-building, the common agricultural policy and economic competitiveness. But, is it all in vain?
A pledge for "reform" is in vain if it coexists with making "the case for a hard-headed pro-Europeanism" – because that is precisely what already exists under Blair. It is a vision of Europe strategically enforced without transparency and against democratic principles – whether that be voting, consent or referendum – carried out according to the wishes of the British people. Of course, as the European Foundation has argued – the current treaty (if there is to be one) and all existing treaties need to be brought to referendum so that the British people themselves can lay the groundwork for deciding the nation’s relationship with the EU, based on a looser association of nation-states. Ed Balls fails to recognise that the EU’s "democratic deficit" has been an inherent failure which will simply lead to the provision of more ill-fitting solutions and plans by himself, Brown (and their new counterpart, Sarkozy). Thus, Balls’ pledge for "radical reform" may very well fall on deaf ears.
Ed Balls’ article also made some rather spurious claims that economic co-operation bore no relation to political integration:
"The old assumption that economic co-operation would inevitably lead to political integration, from single market to single currency, tax harmonisation and a European state seems removed from the reality of modern Europe today."
On the contrary, I feel, it is far removed from the reality of modern Europe today to suggest that in the past and in the future, economic co-operation does not lead to political integration. In many cases, economic integration has become the grounds and the focus for political integration and underlies the rapid construction of excessive structures of European governance.
After all, Balls still argues for the EU to tackle "climate change" and "terrorism" through the mechanism of "co-operation with our partners in the EU", which only leads us back to a situation of continued European super-governance in its present form. The economic secretary to the Treasury is clever to emphasise (but misconstrue) the inter-governmental nature of the European Union, as if national parliaments are still competent decision-making bodies, and casting himself as a cool middle-ground in this heated European debate. Yet I can’t help but feel that the case for "hard headed pro-Europeanism" may be nothing but ‘Blair, Take Two’, for a duo eager to back down on the treaty because it will be rejected by public referendum (and not because they believe in the fundamental renegotiation of treaties binding Britain to the EU).