European Union: an inconvenient truth

THE one prediction I can make confidently about next month's European Parliament elections is that the turnout in the UK will be derisory.Across most of the 26 nations, there be queues at the polling stations, but the UK will be lucky if it has an average much above 30%,It's no use British politicians tut-tutting about this democratic deficit.

Graham Dines

THE one prediction I can make confidently about next month's European Parliament elections is that the turnout in the UK will be derisory.

Across most of the 26 nations, there be queues at the polling stations, but the UK will be lucky if it has an average much above 30%,

It's no use British politicians tut-tutting about this democratic deficit. No matter which party has been in government or opposition, none of them has conducted a conversation with the British people on the benefits or otherwise of European membership since the referendum 34 years' ago.


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In those days Harold Wilson was prime minister and Europe was called the Common Market, a trading bloc of nine nations where the word federalism was to be heard nowhere.

In 2009, we have left the Common Market and the European Economic Community behind and, along with the other member states, are rushing headlong into a federation which idealists believe should have a standing army and common defence and foreign policies with a non-elected potentate strutting around the world stage.

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For the past 12 years, Labour has claimed it has moved the UK closer to the heart of Europe, playing a full role in shaping the future of the EU. The trouble is the electorate, far from approving this path, has become ever more Eurosceptic.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have never dared suggest we sign us up to the single currency. Labour has ducked and dived over the failed Constitution and its replacement document, the Treaty of Lisbon, refusing to give British voters the opportunity to say “yes” to closer integration.

Despite pleas from leading European politicians, the British will not turn out in droves to back Europe next month. This is partly because of cynicism with politics in general following Westminster MPs expenses and the Smeargate scandal, and also because they don't think that “Europe” is relevant.

But it is. Luc Van den Brande, president of the committee of the regions - one of the many spin-offs from the EU and the Parliament - says: “We have to make sure that voters are aware of what is at stake and that we explain to them exactly what the role of the European Parliament and how it makes use of its legislative powers.”

He then proudly confirms what Eurosceptics have been saying but which our leaders never, ever admit to British voters: “How many voters know that between 60% and 80% of national legislation is directly influenced by the European Parliament?”

Monsieur Brande will not be conscious of the irony of that statement. By admitting that it's right and proper that “between 60% and 80% of national legislation is directly influenced by the European Parliament,” it plays right into the hands of the European naysayers, which is why you have never heard a British cabinet minister say it.

If our ministers acknowledge the truth of that statement in private, why not say so in public? Hiding behind a veil of obfuscation will never win the argument.

To most Britons, sovereignty matters. If Europe is so fundamental to the prosperity of the UK, then ministers of the Crown should be campaigning up and down the land in the next six weeks and getting the message across to voters.

But no, between now and June 4, Labour will embark on some half-hearted, half-baked campaign which will hardly ever mention the word Europe and will never say federalism.

There are only two really honest positions in Britain over Europe - totally in the EU and signing up to the exciting dawn of a European super state, or pulling out.

The Liberal Democrats nationally are honest. They are federalists, but won't tell the voters the truth on the doorstep.

The UK Independence Party is honest. It believes that the UK is “better off out,” a message supported last time by 20% of the electorate. But because there are so many minor parties standing in this election all railing against Europe, then UKIP will do well to repeat its triumph of 2004.

The nonsense pedalled by the Tories since William Hague's days as leader - “in Europe, but not run by Europe” - is meaningless. There can be no half-way house because the other countries in the EU will not allow us to be an associate member shouting from the sidelines.

Labour and the Conservatives must start a conversation with the electorate. If Labour truly believes in Europe and all that it entails - the eventual creation of a federal States of Europe - it needs to convince the public that that is Britain's only hope for the future.

If the Conservatives believe they can convince the other member states that the UK should have a looser relationship - remaining a free trade partner but never political integration - without isolating us, they must set out how they think they can achieve that.

I remain highly sceptical that David Cameron can deliver, especially as the Tories are preparing to cut themselves off from their Christian Democrat partners in Europe after the election to form a new alliance on the fringes of European politics.

Yesterday I attended a media briefing in the London office of the European Parliament ahead of the European elections. Accordingly, this column was written a day early.

BREAK OUT QUOTE PLEASE:

The truth which dare not speak its name in the UK:

“How many voters know that between 60% and 80% of national legislation is directly influenced by the European Parliament?”

- the proud boast of Luc Van den Brande, president of the committee of the regions

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