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The problem of an "ever closer union"

If we do remain in the European Union, then it cannot be based on an "ever closer union".   One thing Brexit has done is alter the aspirations for Britain's membership of the Union forever, even if by some miracle we now decided to remain.

The "ever closer union" was at the heart of David Cameron's "negotiation" with the EU.  In a statement to the House of Commons he made clear this objective:

“we do not want to have our country bound up in an ever closer political union in Europe.”

An ever closer union has been precisely what the UK has signed up to time and time again.

During the 2016 referendum, it was often said by the Leave side that we only signed up to a Common Market in the referendum of 1975.  But this is disingenuous.   An "ever closer union" was incorporated into the preamble to the 1957 Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (common market):

"DÉTERMINÉS à établir les fondements d'une union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples européens"

It was never purely economic as often claimed.  It set out to be both economic and social:


" une action commune le progrès économique et social de leurs pays en éliminant les barrières qui divisent l'Europe,"


The countries of the EEC signed up to working in common to assure economic and social progress by eliminating the barriers that divided Europe.   Those barriers were considered to be both political and economic. 

When the UK eventually joined the EEC, it signed up to a project in progress, not merely a static set of arrangements.   The EEC was a work in progress.  It inevitably evolved into the European Union.  

But what does or should "ever closer union" mean?  

It does not in itself mean that European political institutions should merge into either a Federal State or a United States of Europe.  

Nevertheless, this is the direction the European Union was headed.   The Lisbon Treaty set out initially to be a formal constitutional arrangement, setting up many of the trappings of statehood, with its own representation as a Union in international affairs.  Voters are not fools; they see where that is heading.   Indeed, in Ireland, voters rejected the Treaty in its original form.  

Citizens in the United Kingdom were not given a similar opportunity despite promises that any such constitutional change would be put to them.   Instead, the government simply made the judgement that it was not a significant legal change. 

Some believe that this "sleight of hand" over Lisbon prepared the ground for the Brexit vote in 2016. 

It is often said that Prime Minister David Cameron achieved very little in his negotiations with EU partners. Primarily, that agreement sought to opt-out of the "ever closer union."  The agreement states:


“It is recognised that the United Kingdom, in the light of the specific situation it has under the Treaties, is not committed to further political integration into the European Union. The substance of this will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States, so as to make it clear that the references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom”

This agreement featured little in the subsequent referendum.  I suspect most voters would have been unaware of it.   

In any event, it did little to assuage the fears of those who believe that the UK is wedded into the process.  To many, it wasn't worth the paper it was written on.   Promises to exempt the UK in future Treaties would not be binding on future UK governments.   

Nor is it clear what "ever closer union" means.  It doesn't specify any specific organisational structure from which Britain would "opt-out".   

This made it difficult to sell in the referendum, which was not about the deal struck by Cameron but was a simple in/out decision.  In this case,  Cameron's agreement was not put to the British people. 

The weakness of Cameron's agreement is demonstrated by a simple question; which EU institutions would we opt out of and why?  

If we do remain in the EU, we will still have to address the issues of an "ever closer union". 






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