EU Referendum

EU Referendum: lowest common denominators


In his piece yesterday Booker asked whether any important political issue "had ever been so misleadingly reported as David Cameron's forlorn quest to negotiate a 'new relationship' for Britain with the EU".

For those who are charting the fall and fall of the fourth estate, the answer is probably in the negative. Although we have plenty of examples of media inadequacy, I cannot recall any issue on which the media has so comprehensively failed to report properly - almost all of them falling for the same superficial narrative.

The intriguing thing is that, if this is any guide, the hacks between them think they're doing a grand job. In their terms, the Westminster tittle-tattle and the personality politics that goes with it is the essence of political journalism. So degraded is the trade that its practitioners don't even realise how far they've declined.

Thus, the whole complexity of the EU issue is boiled down to low-grade in-fighting within the Conservative Party, which is all the contemporary media is interested in, as it struggles to keep within its comfort zone.

In decades gone by, the Sunday newspapers might have carried out an in-depth political analysis of the European Council meeting just gone, and it might even have been worth reading. But such is the lack of any political acuity that the hacks had nothing of any interest to say about it. In the main, they wasted our time with more Westminster fodder, and in particular a tedious discussion on whether Cabinet ministers should be allowed freedom to campaign.

On this, it seems that the Westminster bubble is having trouble coming to terms with the essence of a referendum, a process where the politicians stand aside and let the people make the decision. Even though politicians may be ever so high, they still only have one vote – the same as any one of us.

Front man of the day was Liam Fox, who picked on "ever closer union", telling Andrew Marr that he believed it was "against Britain's national interest". Yet, this is one issue of all issues that will be resolved by the "British model", whence we can expect Fox to jump ship at the last minute and endorse the "remain" proposition.

Basically, when it comes to Conservative politicians, very few of them can be trusted. If they are allowed a high profile in the "leave" campaign, they will take a lot of voters with them when they change sides and sit alongside the Prime Minister. With only a few honourable exceptions, the fewer Tory MPs involved in the "leave" campaign, the better.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph is telling us that the Prime Minister is planning a "pro-Europe dossier" to keep Britain in the Union. According to the paper, the pamphlet will be sent to British households outlining why staying in the European Union is "the right decision" - despite Prime Minister's ongoing renegotiation with Brussels.

In reality, the government will be presenting us with an ostensibly "neutral" document. It will be vetted by the Electoral Commission and is one of the reasons why the Commission wants the six-month period before the Referendum Period, warning against a June referendum. It needs the time to field-test the document 

And back in Brussels, the situation gets even murkier, as the "colleagues" express their fears over the knock-on effects of the UK referendum. There is concern that the vote will prompt demands for referendums elsewhere, from Poland to Denmark.

If Cameron wins and Britain stays in on improved terms, says Reuters, some fear political contagion, with other national leaders tempted to emulate his tactic of taking Brussels hostage for domestic ends. "Unfortunately, we need a victory for Cameron," one senior EU official said. "But it is full of risk for Europe as a whole".

That itself should give the pundits some clues. The EU simply cannot afford to give the UK very much – in fact, it can concede nothing which would add to the stresses already affecting the Union.

Those issues we being discussed last Friday morning in the European Council, under heading of the Five Presidents' Report follow up. Yet this vital element of the Council meeting has been completely ignored by our idle hacks as they chase after their own trivial obsessions.

If any one of them was worth their salt, they would have picked up an article from the Official Monetary and Financial Institutes Forum which has been circulated to subscribers with a view from Antonio Armellini, a former Italian Ambassador. He is explaining: "Why we need two Europes". Mr Cameron's renegotiation bid, he says, opens a way forward - an important, if unwitting, opportunity for a necessary reshaping of Europe's structure.

The British Prime Minister's proposal for an exemption from the commitment towards an "ever closer union", he goes on to say, has been widely interpreted as an essentially formal request with little or no substantive implications. But Armellini believes the opposite is true.

The British request, he says, raises a fundamental point, and obliges everyone to recognise that the mantra of 28 states having the same ultimate objective (albeit to be achieved through different routes and timescales) is officially dead. Talk of a single – though multi-tiered and multi-speed – Europe is over.

In future, he says, we should aim at two Europes: a Europe of states looking to a political union, centred around the euro; and a Europe based on a free trade zone-plus (with a political-judicial overlay), centred around the UK.

The two Europes, Armellini then asserts, would progress along independent, parallel paths. But they would both form part of a broader European Union of nations sharing the basic principles of democratic representation, market economy and fundamental rights. That could include Turkey and Viktor Orban's Hungary.

If one links these statements to our earlier writings, we can see that this fits completely with the idea of associate membership, and Mr Cameron's "British model". And what kills it is the "political-judicial overlay".

Nevertheless, Armellini says that such a scheme would respond to UK needs without diluting others' priorities. Relations between the parts of the new, broader Union would be redefined, and mutual associations and link-ups envisaged. This approach would require an in-depth revision of the treaties but it would give the EU the flexibility for which it has long and largely unsuccessfully been searching.

It may be very difficult to accomplish such a plan within the timetable deemed as feasible by Britain and its European partners, he adds. There will be a constant temptation to make recourse to a muddle that leaves everyone tolerably dissatisfied. This outcome will probably prevail. But the problem will not go away.

If the euro area fails to progress towards a closer union of all (or most of) its members, the common currency will fail, and it will not be long before the entire European process falls apart. But if it succeeds, the EU will have to decide what level of political integration will be best suited to fulfil its promise of providing a more secure, socially responsible and democratic environment for its peoples. And this, he concludes, will require not one Europe – but two.

Compared with the facile narrative we are getting from our own media, this is a beacon of light. It presents a clarity of vision which seems entirely beyond our own pundits, grubbing around as they are for the dregs. Their targets are the lowest common denominators of society – themselves.

When the fluff has run its course, and the real story breaks, they won't even have seen it coming. But it is already there, in the here and now, for anyone with the wit to look. In the legacy media, that is a pathetically small number.