Norfolk MEPs look to a referendum in wake of EU speech
06:30 17 September 2012
When the British backed Jose Manuel Barosso to become President of the European Commission, they did so because he was not dogmatic about creating a ‘United States of Europe’.
What made him stand out was his pragmatism; he appeared to want the EU to work well for its nations rather than the other way round.
But like a lot of things, that seems to have changed since the 2008 crash. With continental politicians now apparently unable to bring an end to the Eurozone crisis, Mr Barroso last week finally made the leap.
In a speech calling for unified banking supervision across the EU he went on to say that Europe needed to “stop trying to answer the questions of the future with the tools of the past”.
He then added: “Let’s not be afraid of the words. We will need to move towards a federation of nation states. This is what we need. This is our political horizon.
“This is what must guide our work in the years to come. Today, I call for a federation of nation states.
“Not a super-state. A democratic federation of nation states that can tackle our common problems, through the sharing of sovereignty in a way that each country and each citizen are better equipped to control their own destiny.”
Ironically enough it is the pragmatism that the British liked about Barroso that drove him to call for federation; he sees it as a solution to the Eurozone crisis, rather than as something that is desired regardless of it.
But his motivation is really irrelevant. As is his plea for people not to be afraid of the ‘f-word’ that is so dreaded by eurosceptics in this country.
With the Eurozone requiring certainty for the future quickly, Barroso said the Commission would present its outline for the shape of a European federation by 2014, a year before the European Parliament’s next elections.
Labour MEP for the Eastern region Richard Howitt said: “I was saddened by the speech. It may well be that some institutional changes are a part of what needs to happen.
“But the absolute priority we should be trying to address first is the economic recovery. It sends the wrong message to businesses and unemployed people at a time when Europe should be showing that their needs come first and not that it’s embarking on another period of introspection.”
The response from the more traditionally eurosceptic parties was unequivocal. East of England Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden said: “The very people that created the botched Euro project now want even more power to administer more of the same failed medicine.
“Mr Barroso now says he wants a European Federation with full political union and an integrated foreign and defence policy. This is precisely what we have long foreseen and vehemently oppose.”
Meanwhile Stuart Agnew, UKIP MEP for the region was more strident still. “There is no doubt that the speech exposes the whole control-freakish, anti-democratic mentality of the European Commission.
“The contempt shown for the nation states of the EU will be deeply disturbing for British voters and I believe it will increase the clamour and support for a much needed referendum.”
And therein lays the interesting point from Mr Barroso’s speech, looking at it from a British perspective. Federation could include not only a unified banking system, but a unified tax and welfare system, integrated defence, a bigger more powerful European government.
To achieve that there would need to be, as Mr Barroso admitted, yet another treaty negotiated by the nation states. However, the coalition has passed laws saying that before any new treaty could be ratified, there would have to be a referendum in the UK.
That will be music to the ears of right-wing Conservative and those in other parties that have been calling for a referendum on the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Mr Van Orden said: “The one saving grace is that Barroso now recognises the need for a new treaty. This is the opportunity that we can now seize to reshape the EU and create a very different relationship for Britain.
“Then the British people will be able to express themselves in a long overdue referendum.”
While Mr Howitt said that he would be “cold” on the idea of having any new treaty to federate the EU, he suggested that if it came down to an in/out vote then the British people would be pragmatic.
“Let’s have a sense of proportion about this. The Tory right and UKIP are going to want to inflame sentiments however they can anyway, and I don’t think this speech will make a difference to that,” he said.
“We do now have a swell of public opinion in the EU that appears to be going against pro-EU parties, but when it gets to elections people have looked over the cliff and stepped back.
“There is a sensible majority in Norfolk and in the UK that may not love the EU, but recognise it is part of doing business and when it comes to choosing would look to a constructive future.”
Much depends on exactly what question was put in a referendum; would it be a straight in/out vote or on a choice of a specific federation plan? If Britain voted against the plan would it mean the UK drops out of the EU altogether or would it have a new position in an altered EU?
These are the questions that David Cameron and William Hague must now seek to answer as they watch to see what Mr Barroso comes up with.
Either way Mr Cameron will at least be happy that those on the right of his party who have given him so much trouble in demanding a referendum on Europe, may finally get it without him having had to give in to them.