16 MAR 2011
Where’s the problem in giving the British public a say in our membership of the EU, asks Mark Seddon.
By Mark Seddon | The Telegraph
I am old enough – just – to remember Britain’s one and only referendum on whether we should remain a member of what was then called the Common Market, back in 1975. Having decided that we should, Britons watched as the Common Market became the European Economic Community, then the European Community, and finally the European Union.
A Europe-wide free trade area has become a sprawling political union, drawing huge economic and social power to its centre. Even with an elected European Parliament, there are more than 20 unelected EU Commissioners, including the foreign policy supremo, our own Baroness Ashton – who only recently was lecturing Hosni Mubarak on the need for democratic reform, while the organisation she represents dithered horribly over what to do in practical support of the popular uprisings across north Africa and the Middle East.
For good or ill, depending on your view, the trajectory of the European Union has had – and will continue to have – major constitutional implications for each member state. But the point is that unless you are at least in your mid-fifties, you have never been asked to approve any of them: there has been an extraordinary lack of accountability. From the Maastricht Treaty to the Lisbon Treaty, politicians in opposition promised referendums, but once in power reneged on those promises. The Irish were allowed a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but having had the temerity to vote against, were then obliged to vote again until they managed to get it right. In Britain today, the political class allows us referendums in order to cement political deals among themselves, such as over a new voting system. But it balks at allowing people to vote on issues of any greater constitutional import than, say, the handing of greater powers to the Welsh Assembly – a recent referendum that was remarkable only for its derisory turn-out.
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