Richard North, 09/06/2004  

While we remember the man who led the West to victory in the Cold War (a victory that has since been to a great degree squandered by many, not least the European Union), we must also spare a thought for the man who lost because he miscalculated. No, for once I do not mean President Mitterand but President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorby, as he was known affectionately in the West (the Russians called him and his expensively dressed wife considerably worse things) had become leader mostly because even the sclerotic Kremlin leadership realized that against a growing American threat they had better put up someone who was a tad faster on his feet than the moribund Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko (who?). He then proceeded to introduce reforms as he saw the need for them.

The aim of the Gorby reforms was not to introduce freedom, democracy or liberalism but to make the Communist system more efficient. Reminds you of anything? It gets worse. In order to reform that unreformable system and make it strong enough and productive enough to square up to the Americans, Gorby hit on three ideas: glasnost, perestroika, uskoreniye.

The first can be translated roughly as transparency (or propaganda, as some preferred), the second as restructuring and the third as speeding up or growing efficiency. Unfortunately, it did not take the Russian wags long to work out that the trinity or troika had the initials GPU, one of the reincarnations of the ubiquitous secret police in the 1920s. So uskoreniye or efficiency, was dropped. It was a lost cause, anyway.

As one reads through the statements made by Gorbachev and, even more so, his followers, one sees a striking continuity: behind the vague talk of democratization, move forward, efficiency and so on, there is the undoubtedly fierce defence of the indefensible communist system. He did not respond to Reagan’s challenge to open the gates and take down the wall if he really believed in openness and freedom. The wall was taken down and the gates were burst open by the people.

Why this dull historical analysis, one may ask. I am constantly reminded of Gorby and his doomed “reforms” by a certain class of europhiles, whom one may call the “perestroika” europhiles. They, too, think that it can all be made to work if only a few rather insignificant reforms are carried out. And they, too, when seriously challenged will respond by a ferocious defence of European integration, come what may.

The most important of these organizations in Britain is the Centre for European Reform, run by Charles Grant, the erstwhile biographer of Jacques Delors and, for some time, Tony Blair’s adviser on foreign affairs.

Mr Grant has produced a very cogent paper on the possible outcome of the referendum If Britain votes no .... His view is that the two alternatives posited, that the EU will stay as it is or that Britain will be thrown out are unconvincing. He does not exactly produce his own alternative but goes through various developments, which is what a good think-tank should do. Oddly enough, he would agree with the view frequently expressed on this blog, that a no vote in the referendum will throw the EU into a whirlpool.

Mr Grant’s preferred scenario is the formation of a core group that will move more speedily towards integration, that is, unless France has a referendum and votes no. Then, of course, all bets are off.

What is so odd from such a judicious writer is that he considers that to be a tragedy for all. The idea of the people of Britain (or any other country) expressing their preferences against a demonstrably bad and badly written constitution is abhorrent to Mr Grant and his Centre. Glasnost and perestroika are all very well, but, in the end, it is the system that must be defended.

For instance, he is clearly appalled to think that some European politicians might use a no vote to throw Britain out. (Actually, they cannot, as Mr Grant reluctantly allows.) “They despair of Britain’s loyalty to the US, its xenophobic press, the smug superiority of many of its politicians and its unremitting hostility to most kinds of European integration.”

Is Mr Grant listening to himself? What can be more xenophobic and smug than the unremitting French hostility to all things American and, what they describe with loathing as Anglo-Saxe? And if the people of Britain are hostile to “most kinds of European integration”, maybe their views should be listened to. Has Mr Grant heard of democracy? (Probably only vaguely. It was, after all, Charles Grant, who some years ago presented a paper to a Foreign Office seminar, in which he argued that Britain must learn to manoeuvre better in the EU and work harder to find allies. One such possibility was Spain, who could be talked into supporting British views on the choice of Commissioners and Commission Presidents as well as, possibly, putative CAP reform. And for this, according to Mr Grant, Spain should be offered a deal on Gibraltar. Well, we know what came of that particular idea.)

At least Charles Grant is relatively judicious. His colleague, Mónica Roma, the senior research fellow for justice and home affairs at the CER, is less so in her paper Who's afraid of the Charter of Rights?

Not only she sees nothing wrong with that rather dubious document, she castigates the evil eurosceptics and foolish businessmen for raising doubts. It is a most inoffensive document, she says, though, for some reason rather a necessary one, and there is no need for British politicians to listen to worried businessmen and to try to extract concessions and explanations from the IGC. (Those concessions that Blair has allegedly extracted turn up in Charles Grant’s paper as well. It would be interesting to see a list of them.)

Ms Roma dismisses the fears of “woolly distinction between rights and principles” but in her analysis she says that “[t]he charter itself does not contain a list that neatly divides rights and principles. But the ‘explanations’ to each article added by the Convention which drafted the charter, go a long way towards making that distinction.” One worries about Ms Roma’s understanding of law. Explanations do not have a legal standing in court.

In fact, one worries about her understanding of many things. She says that preambles do not usually have legal force. Not in British law maybe, but this is not British law. But the real problem lies in her explanation of why one must not worry about the Charter, as it does not have to be translated into national legislation:

“The charter is an integral part of the EU’s constitutional treaty. Governments sign international treaties (and that is fundamentally what the new treaty is, despite its grand name), but they do not implement them through secondary legislation. No government has transposed the UN charter into national law, for example. There is no reason why this case should be different.”

Mr Grant had better have a good look at Ms Roma’s arguments. Even for a perestroika europhile, that is silly. The treaty, Ms Roma, is to bring into effect a Constitution, which will be the source of legislation in the EU. By making the Charter part of that Constitution, the Convention has asserted its position as a source of legislation. That is why Jack Straw has been trying to clarify certain issues. Furthermore, previous treaties signed by governments did, indeed, result in a great deal of legislation that had to be transposed into national laws and regulations, sometimes through primary, sometimes through secondary legislation. (Perhaps Ms Roma thinks all national legislation is secondary.)

Indeed, it is rather disingenuous to say that the Charter does not matter as it applies only to EU legislation. EU legislation is our legislation and will be more so if the Constitution is adopted. But then, let’s face it: transparency and reconstruction are all very well, but what matters ultimately is the system. And that must be defended to the death.

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