Should there be a referendum on Europe?

In a representative democracy, where none of the political parties can predict the outcome of the negotiated evolution of the European Union, it would seem appropriate to ballot the electorate prior to the acceptance of any further constitutional changes.

This was the approach adopted by the Labour Government in 1975. As such, it ensured a truly representative decision confirming Britain’s into the ‘Common Market’.

The European Union was previously known as The European Economic Community, a title which emphasised its primary purpose as a ‘customs union’. In this context, the style of administration within the community was of little political importance.

However, it now proposed to turn the economic union into a political union. This may mean choosing between alternative systems of government.

"Who whom?"

"Who whom?" as Lenin put it, meaning - "Who rules whom?". This is the crux of the political argument on the future of Britain in the European Union. It is not a new debate. Indeed, it had been an integral part of the development of human civilisation.

Lenin instituted a form of government, where unelected bureaucrats ruled without any reference to the ordinary people of the Soviet Union.

By contrast, the present form of government in the European Union is a mixture of bureaucratic government and democratic government. The former comprises the unelected European Commission and European Court; while the latter is composed of an elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

In Britain, there is a similar mixture of bureaucratic and democratic government. The ultimate constitutional power resides nominally in the hands of an unelected monarch - Queen Elizabeth II. Other unelected ‘bureaucrats’, such as the Law Courts and the House of Lords, form part of the governing institutions. The democratic element comprises the elected House of Commons, Her Majesty’s Government, and Local Government.

However, there are vital differences. In the European Union, the interpretation of all laws rests with the unelected European Court of Justice. In Britain, the Houses of Parliament are the final interpreters of the law.

In Britain, no executive or legislative decision can be taken without the democratic agreement of the electorate’s representatives. On the other hand, no law can be made by Parliament without the approval of the unelected Monarch.

At present, there are no proposals for a Monarch or elected President to reign over the European Union. Equally, there are no proposals to extend the democratic element of government in Europe.

The fundamental questions remain. Do we want the ultimate power to rest with the people and their elected representatives? Do we want more democracy or less democracy? Do we want more popular involvement through referendums and more public accountability - or less?

Europe is at the cross-roads. So is Russia, and the states comprising the former Soviet Union. So are the states of Eastern Europe. And so, in many ways, are all of the worlds states. Humanity is at the cross-roads.

National Status?

For Britain, there are at least three main choices.

Firstly, there is the ‘Anti-European’ option, namely to pull out of the European Union. Britain could become an independent country - like Switzerland or Japan. These two examples comprise Europe’s richest nation and the World’s second richest nation respectively; and imply that independence does not necessarily equate to poverty.

As the ‘Anti-Europeans’ have consistently pointed out, Britain has become much poorer relative to Europe and the developed world since we joined the ‘Common Market’. However, we might have been even worse off as an independent state. It is impossible to prove either way.

Secondly, Britain could become a state within a Federal Union of Europe. In such a Federal Europe, Britain would be reduced to the status of a colony. As such, it would have no right to determine its own future.

The closest parallel here is the United States of America. Until the American civil war, there was a perceived ambiguity about the relative powers of the State and Federal Authorities in the USA. "Who ruled whom?" Did individual States have a right to determine their own futures - or were they colonies within a Federal Empire?

This was the constitutional question posed by the Confederate States, prior to the American civil war. That conflict determined that the Southern States could not decide their own future. They were effectively colonies of the Northern States. It is ironical that although the Northern States were against individual slavery, they endorsed a form of national slavery (i.e. collective colonialism) within the USA.

Although the Federal Authorities in the USA then abolished individual slavery, they extended the concept of national slavery both internally (against the American Indians), and externally (in Central America and the Philippines). The concept of ethnic cleansing did not start in Nazi Germany or Yugoslavia.

It can be seen that a Federal Union of Europe could have its dangers - both for the citizens of Europe, and Europe’s neighbours.

The third main choice would be to extend the concept of the EEC in such a way as to preserve the ‘national status’ of Britain and the other European States, while allowing full economic integration within the European Union. This would be a ‘middle way’ solution to the prospective problems of European political integration.

Instead of a Federal Union, the European Union could become a Union of Sovereign States - in which each country comprising the Union would retain its ‘National’ status. As such, the Sovereign States could determine their own futures, regardless of the joint wishes of the other States in the Union. Each Sovereign State would retain the constitutional right to leave the European Union, in accordance with the normal rules of democracy.

The establishment of a European Union of Sovereign States would require an amendment to the Treaty of Rome. The revised Treaty would have to incorporate a constitutional right to National Status for the countries within the European Union.

The National Status provisions would give each country the right to maintain an autonomous government. Furthermore, these national autonomous governments would have the constitutional right to hold plebiscites, from time to time, on the question of their continued membership of the European Union. If a majority of the voters in such plebiscites, voted in favour of independence from the European Union, then independence would be deemed to have been granted.

This constitutional provision could provide ‘de facto’ prevention of collective colonialism within the European Union. The European Union would have to govern on the basis of tolerance and mutual benefit; or risk the dissolution of the Union.

A European Union of Sovereign States would lack the monolithic unity of empire. However, in a culturally diverse continent, the value of such unity is debatable. The Soviet Union tried this approach, with lamentable consequences. If Europe is to learn from the mistakes of the USA and the USSR, it must seek a democratic, non-colonial approach.

It is to be hoped that the States of Europe will not seek to exchange their former imperial role as colonial masters, for one of serfdom within the collective colony of a Federal European Union. Instead, they should be prepared to develop the concept of ‘national status’ and democratic tolerance, as the basis for a successful political and monetary union.

Economic Colonialism

It has often been said that the United States effectively colonised the countries of Central America, through control of their economies. Such countries have become known as ‘Banana Republics’. There is a danger that this could be the fate of Britain within a united Europe.

At present, it is clear that the European economy is dominated by Germany; and to a lesser extent by France and the Benelux countries. By contrast, Britain, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Ireland, and Portugal have relatively weak economies. When measured by the strength of their currencies, these latter countries have fared badly in Europe.

A glance at the map of Western Europe, shows that the rich countries are close to the centre of the European Union. By contrast, the poor countries are all on the outside of the European Union. In addition, the further the poor countries lie from the centre of the European Union, the weaker their economies become.

The reason for this is well known to economists. In any enclosed market, the centre of that market is always the best trading position. This is why the street markets in any country town are always located in the centre of the town. Likewise, the big shops and department stores are always located in the shopping ‘centre’.

Property prices tend to be highest in the town centres because the centre is the most profitable place to be. It will yield the best return on capital. Even ‘out-of-town’ shopping malls are situated in the centre of ‘their’ trading region.

So, unsurprisingly, the centre of the ‘common market’ is the most profitable trading position. This is why the return on capital is higher at the economic centre of the European Union than in the outer regions. This factor leads to a higher standard of living and higher real wages.

This is why the currencies of Germany and the Benelux countries have appreciated in value, while the currencies of Britain, Spain, Sweden and Ireland have been continually devalued.

If the outer countries are to avoid economic colonisation by the central states of the European Union, there must be further changes in the Treaty of Rome.

There are two alternatives. Either the central countries must repay the revenue and capital losses suffered by the outer countries, due to their unfavourable geographic position. Or, alternatively, the Tariff Barrier surrounding the European Union must be abolished. This latter solution would convert the European Union from an enclosed market to an open market. In an open market, there is no bias favouring the central countries.