The propaganda war over the final text of the EU Constitution has started. Tony Blair in his official statement predictably claimed that the constitution was a "success for Britain and a success for Europe". The Europe Minister Dennis Macshane seems not to know the word "constitution", describing the agreed document as the "new rule book" for a "new Europe", arguing, again, that this is necessary for an enlarged Union of 25 states. It is in fact a constitution for a proposed state, the European Union. The agreement signed in Brussels on Friday, 18th June 2004 is the culmination of a decades' old project to emasculate the nation-states of Europe under a 'wise' technocratic and intentionally undemocratic government.
It should also be noted that the Constitution if ratified will not mark the end-game of EU integration. Its vagueness and obscurity and complex prose will be used by the the inteventionist and left-leaning European Court of Justice to enhance even further the inward looking, statist, protectionist, over-regulated, sclerotic political, social and economic structure that the EU has developed into. The EU Constitution should be read in this light. It is not a document that defines what the member-states and the central institutions can and cannot do. It is in fact an enabling document to be used to impose outmoded statist economic policies and force further integration.
If ratified, where will Europe's latest version of utopian construction take us? We can only be sure that it will be far away from democracy and far away from economic liberalisation and a competitive economy.
Despite rumours to the contrary it seems that this government's spin machine is still functioning. The supposed red-line issue of tax harmonisation has been set up as a red herring to disguise the fact that Blair has surrendered control over Britain's economic and employment policy. This undermines democracy and threatens prosperity. It is a strange state of affairs that in the week when the Labour Party celebrates a 30,000 drop in unemployment its leader agrees to a Constitution that wil,l if ratified, lead to the enforcement of policies that are responsible for the high unemployment in France, Germany and Spain.
The Prime Minister in his desire to be at 'the heart of Europe' has signed away the democratic inheritance of Britain and of Europe. Tony Blair has failed to fight for the interests of those in Britain and the rest of the European Union who do not wish to be governed by a centralised EU. The negotiations are now all over, the focus will move to the Houses of Parliament - probably in November - when a ratification Bill is flagged up in the Queen's speech.
What is expected is that the Bill will be tied in with, or incorporate a Referendum Bill. The outcome will be that Parliament will give its approval to the treaty being ratified, subject to a referendum having been concluded. This will clear the way for the general election - expected in the spring or early summer of 2005 - when the full utility of the referendum will become clear. As in 1997 with the promise of a euro election, Blair will use it to neutralise the EU issue, allowing him to concentrate on domestic issues. How far that will succeed is debatable as, technically, the treaty will not have been ratified. It will be open to Howard to campaign on a platform of repealing the ratification Act (technically, an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972), so that the UK can refuse to ratify without resorting to a referendum.
By this means, Michael Howard could effectively turn the general election into an EU referendum - exploiting his party's relative strength on the issue. If, however, we're back with Labour after the general, the referendum campaign will start for real and, in the fullness of time, the date will be announced. The best bet is that we are looking at the autumn of 2005, although it could be later. Either way, the battle has effectively started.