Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Not an easy decision, but I'm voting No to an EU oligarchy

LIKE everyone else, I am struggling to understand the very complex change on which we are being asked to vote on this June. No one is finding this easy and I don't pretend to find it easy myself.

But the more I look into it the less attractive it becomes. There is a deliberate deception in the way it is being put before the people. It is being offered as something that is absolutely vital and yet it is surrounded by platitudes and assurances that undermine its very credibility.

It will make all the difference, but it won't change our rights. It is a new constitution, it is not a new constitution. It does change the balance of power between individual states like ours but it won't threaten our integrity as a people.

But then, are we a people anymore? What about our citizenship? If we adopt the Lisbon Treaty we will have two citizenships to enjoy, not one. Is that good? How will it work? Will it change the huge and growing democratic deficit in Europe? The answer, of course, is yes. What is not answered is whether this will be by increasing democratic rights or decreasing them. And it seems very obvious that it is the latter that will happen. But this does not appear to be important to those who are so confidently urging us to make the change.

One of the sensible European leaders who has commented on what we are doing is Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg Prime Minister and holder of the EU presidency, who said on 26 May, 2005: "If it's a 'Yes', we will say 'On we go', and if it's a 'No' we will say 'We continue'."

"On we go" is not quite the same as "continue". It suggests a great heave forward instead of just continuing as we are.

I would like to continue as we are until we have absorbed a lot better the two big enlargements that have taken place, one under our presidency, followed by a further addition to the shape of this vast potential "empire" to which we already show remarkable loyalty. I would also like to see the difficulties which the British people are wrestling with -- and have wrestled with more than most other European states -- resolved. Altogether, does this inchoate rushing towards a change no one can explain need blind advancement at this time?

The instinctive answer -- since no better answer presents itself through the unintelligible material being used to urge us forward -- is in favour of voting ourselves into a Europe in which our power as a state will undoubtedly be diminished and that of the large states enhanced. And we appear to be doing this with no real enhancement of our democratic control over what is happening.

The new constitution for Europe will rule us, taking precedence over our Constitution. Perhaps the concept itself is becoming laughable. Perhaps an oligarchy is the only way to work things in what is now a huge, economic empire on which our lives depend. But if this is so, we need to know and confront it as a very fundamental change in our futures. We need to know and understand it before we say yes to it.

As of now, the power over that constitution and its workings will shift away from us, removing for ever the idea of a national veto of some kind that always seemed to be a natural constitutional safeguard of our sovereignty.

These concepts have themselves been obliterated. Major political figures from different countries in Europe have clearly stated what a deception all this is. Valery Giscard D'Estaing, the former French president and chairman of the Convention that drew up the earlier European Union's Constitution, said at the end of October last year: "The difference is one of approach, rather than content.

"The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged. They have simply been dispersed through the old treaties in the form of amendments. Why this subtle change? Above all, to head off any threat of referenda by avoiding any form of constitutional vocabulary ... But lift the lid and look in the toolbox: all the same innovative and effective tools are there, just as they were carefully crafted by the European Convention."

Dick Roche, who has become a powerful and energetic salesman for the Lisbon Treaty, has himself become a victim of this collective deception, presenting the choice in terms of huge, all-embracing benefits at the small cost of taking on trust "a lot of detail and a degree of complexity".

The rewards he offers are immense: 500 million people building on the co-operation that has existed since the end of the Second World War. Climate change, energy, international crime and migration, all will be helped if we vote yes.

In fact all the things laid out in his mission statements -- which are impressive for their zeal and conviction -- have been addressed and helped through Ireland's continuing membership of the European Union. They will go on being addressed whether or not we vote the Lisbon Treaty in, or take the other course of "We continue".

The stealth and the deception have really been exposed and have become part of the debate. What has not been fully enough appreciated is that behind the deception is a serious shift in power by the creation of a federal Europe with a constitution that takes precedence over our own constitution; a fact clearly recognised in the wording of the amendment.

It contains a comprehensive consigning of our independent constitutional status to one where the law-making will be decided under a new constitution. I see no effective democratic enhancement capable of coping with that huge change.

Elected representatives, marginalised enough domestically and largely marginalised in Brussels, are hardly part of the equation at all. They are certainly not part of the news that Messenger Roche brings.

We have a brief enough time for the debate. While I would prefer politics plain and direct, politics never can be plain and direct, there are always complications.

But the note of hilarity about how clever European bureaucrats have been in concealing everything on which we are being urged to vote is a monstrous approach on which to base so big a decision.