Saturday, June 14, 2008

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

53.4% to 46.6% - the jury, in Ireland at least, has returned on the Lisbon Treaty. Time will tell whether other EU leaders subscribe to Jose Manuel Barroso's view that "...the treaty is not dead". It may not be dead, but surely it's time to show some respect for the people and at least ask them if the actions of their leaders, allegedly on behalf of the people, is actually what the people want?

Both France and Germany have described the result as "a serious blow" - yet they still resolutely want the EU to forge ahead. It speaks volumes about the quality of our democratic systems that, devoid of a true current mandate, our leaders wish the EU to lumber on regardless. At best, this is surely an expensive "members' club" whose exclusivity, not to mention effectiveness, dwindles with every new tranche of applicants.

At the last count, the cost of EU membership to the UK was in the region of £16,000,000 each and every day. Cast aside for a moment the "what else could we do with the money" argument, (an endless wish list of schools, hospitals, elderly care homes, roads, pavements, police...) can the Commission really tell us they've done and are doing everything they can to root out corruption and ensure that costs are pared to the bone? I think we all know the answer to that one; not a week goes by without another story in the press about MEPs or bureaucrats enjoying first class gravy train tickets at our expense.

I recall some years ago an an "Innovation Forum" formed out of the 22 top performing local councils in the UK. Within just a couple of years this had expanded to around 150 authorities, from tiny district and borough councils to the largest county and unitary authorities. It did strike me at the time that the issues faced by this range of bodies - some strategic, some local, some with a budget in tens of millions, some with billions - might be difficult to manage or indeed reach a concensus.

There is a stark similarity in the EU. The purpose behind its formation, the reasons for its continuance, even the objectives of those states seeking to join its ranks, are a world away from the initial mandate. The people are increasingly tiring of an arrogant "we know best what's good for our citizens" view adopted by most of the other leaders.

Czech President Vaclav Claus - whose forthright views on technology I had the pleasure to hear at during a dinner in the Royal Palace on the hill in Prague a few years ago - at least has the courage to admit that "the Treaty is dead". Our own David Miliband however states "...the UK will continue to press on with its ratification".

France and Holland, when allowed to voice their opinion came out massively against, and rebranding the old Constitution into the new Lisbon treaty will make little difference.

What's the old saying? "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...". But what do you think?

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