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Lord (Geoffrey) Howe disputes Lord Howell's opposition to the EU Treaty

Howell_lord Lord Howell of Guildford: "The truth is that the international scene has metamorphosed into an amazing new network of states, and it is time for new platforms and coalitions. The idea of the EU as a bloc with a single foreign policy, whether intended to confront America or for any other purpose, is—to put it in the jargon—“yesterday”. Power has shifted from the bloc-builders, indeed from the whole Atlantic world, in two overarching ways: it has dispersed to billions of desktop computers via the worldwide web, a teeming and often dangerously empowered micro-world; and, of course, it has shifted to Asia’s millions and the unstoppable Asian enterprise, soaring economies and high technology which is flowing not west to east, but east to west.

The architects of the Lisbon treaty—to which we will have to give a lot of time—are taking the European Union in the wrong direction. They are trying to establish the legal and constitutional structure of a kind of western empire that belongs to history while the real need is not for another jammed-together regional bloc but for far more flexibility and a trelliswork of links and relationships between different nations. That is why the integrationist flavour of the latest treaty is so hopelessly inappropriate. It is trying to sew together a constitutional garment for the EU of the past. The EU of the future, which I hope will certainly include Turkey and maybe other countries, will look quite different and require different systems of governance.

Let there be no scintilla of doubt: this latest treaty is patently and obviously a document that embodies the old constitutional concept. We know from the candour of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and the like that it was designed to be largely unintelligible, which is a far cry from the hopes of those at Laaken four years ago. They wanted a new treaty that would bring the EU closer to the people. I am afraid that it is more likely that it will be closer to the lawyers. Its DNA is identical to that of the rejected treaty. It is that treaty’s proven child. As the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place put it a few days ago:

“Taken as a whole, the Reform Treaty produces a general framework which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty”.

In the words of the Economist magazine, which is no lackey of any party, this is,

“Sneaking a constitution through on the sly”.

The case for a referendum on such a transfer of Parliament’s powers to others and such a contracting out of our foreign policy is absolutely unanswerable, just as it was with the previous treaty."

Later in the debate, former Foreign Secretary Lord Howe of Aberavon, disagreed with the Conservative frontbench: "I cannot help recalling that one of the documents which I handed to Chancellor Kohl in 1985, with Margaret Thatcher present, was entitled “Europe: The Future”, which contained our support for progressive movement towards an increasingly co-operative European foreign policy. That is what the Single European Act was about and it remains one of the most important components for addressing the world as it is today. It is exactly the kind of solution we need and for which we have been campaigning for a very long time.

For the reasons explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, it is an entirely sensible treaty. It contains measures which are essential to the operation of our foreign policy if it is to be amplified by partnership in the kind of world in which we live. I am distressed by the dilemma that has been created because democratic competition has landed both our major parties with a commitment to a referendum on this issue. I cannot believe that the prospect of a referendum on this treaty—worst of all if the treaty had already entered into force—will be of any value at all. Indeed, at this time, the prospect of a referendum is disruptive to a certain extent. That is what happened in 1975. There was a hiatus in which the foreign policy of this country and a lot of its business was paralysed because of uncertainty about our position.

So, while I can understand why we have got into the hole in which we find ourselves, I endorse the speeches of noble Lords who can see that the only way out of it is by proceeding now with the implementation of the treaty, negotiated and renegotiated, as it has already been. Accepted by everybody but ourselves, there is a limit to the extent to which we can remain in a corner of our own making."


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