Monday, October 18, 2010

Seriously, what is the point?

Lord Tebbit is rather worried about what William Hague is not telling us...
What brought the greatest cheers from the assembled Tory activists was Mr Hague’s final assurance: “A sovereignty clause on EU law will place on the statute book this eternal truth: what a sovereign parliament can do, a sovereign parliament can also undo”. That really does worry me. It is a general rule of life that if a man in a pub declares loudly that he is stone cold sober, the odds are that he is drunk.

A parliament which is sovereign has no more need to legislate to declare that to be so than a sober man has to announce his sobriety. Indeed, by so doing it casts doubts on whether it is or was sovereign.

Indeed. The simple fact is that our Parliament is not sovereign—it gave our powers away, and it will continue to do so.

I've given up trying to work out why, and I am currently past caring.

The Coalition is working out to be a massive pile of crap and I see nothing better on the horizon. All we can try to do is to carry on with our lives until the axe—fiscal or legal—finally falls.


Anonymous said...

Errr 'the simple fact' is that Parliament is sovereign - it retains the right to withdraw UK membership at any time. There's no room for debate. Parliament is sovereign - whatever powers it concedes to Brussels.

Eurogoblin said...

Devil, I don't understand why - as a libertarian - you keep banging on about the sovereignty of the state when you should be talking about the freedom of the individual.

Undoubtedly, the British state has sacrificed a small amount of sovereignty (of course I, as an individual, have sacrificed a great deal of sovereignty to conform to the laws of state). However, the British people have correspondingly gained greater freedom to travel, trade and work wherever they want in Europe. The Single Market should be celebrated by those of a libertarian bent, instead it's accused of multiplying red-tape (as if conforming to 27 different bureaucratic regimes would be easier than conforming to 1).

Face it, you also can't come up with a serious alternative to the EU in terms of opening up free-trade around the world. WTO talks are stalled - and have been for years. Bilateral arrangements are going nowhere. The EU's recent South Korea FTA is the third largest such deal in history (whereas the US deal with South Korea was stalled by congress). Similar FTAs will soon be signed with Malaysia and India. The EU is the single biggest force opening up free trade around the world. Why don't you give it credit as such? Or propose an alternative that would work just as fast and is not the WTO or bilateral agreements.

I'm an old-fashioned economic liberal. For me, this part of the EU is simply stunning. I agree with you about the bureaucracy and the waste of the EU, and it should be roundly criticised for not being transparent or democratic enough. However - credit where credit is due.

Blue Eyes said...

DK, you seem to argue that parliament should be sovereign except when it decides to act in a way that you don't like. Parliament is free to withdraw from any international agreement it likes at any time. In fact, there is a stated mechanism for withdrawing from most treaties.

You also often argue that an overarching constitution should limit the powers of what parliament can do, to ensure that it does not trample on individual freedoms.

Which is it?

john in cheshire said...

The EU is malign in intent. It may be that sometimes evil people and organisations do 'good' things. It doesn't make them less evil.

Eurogoblin said...

Eh? Far from being "evil" in intent, the separation of powers in the EU is so bloody effective that there really is no "intent" to speak of. Where is this "intent" supposed to be coming from? The Commission? That's really not where the power lies in the EU - especially with Barroso as Commission President. The real power is shifting to the Council - and there is certainly no unified "intent" from that body. The Parliament is also a much more powerful institution than many give it credit for - and there's certainly no unified "intent" from there, either.

Eurogoblin said...

Or, perhaps I should put it another way: what the hell is the "evil" EU's "malign intent"? Federalism? Never gonna happen. The UK and others don't want it - nor do the people of Europe. That particular utopia is (thankfully) dead in the water - and we (including sceptics) need to move on now. The EU is a different beast with a different goal - part intergovernmental, part supranational, with the emphasis currently firmly on the intergovernmental.

What is the EU's "intent," then? Completion of the single market? Boo! Hiss! Increased defence co-operation? Oh noes! Promoting free trade? Terror! If you look at EU policies, you will see they are clearly being driven by co-operation between member-states.

Onus Probandy said...

While the rhetoric and central point of Lord Tebbit's missive is true; the evidence he bases it on is just silly. It's a shame because it's a lovely idea, and it's a well made point. It's just not true.

As every logician knows, "beware the false analogy". Countries and parliaments are not men in pubs and sovereignty is not sobriety.

"A parliament which is sovereign has no more need to legislate to declare that to be so than a sober man has to announce his sobriety."

I'll deal with the last half first. I've never announced my sobriety in a pub, but I've certainly been asked "are you okay to drive?"

The first half is utterly contradicted by...

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Of course, they had no need to write this down did they?

FlipC said...

For sheer amusement value one could point out that using this very clause the next parliament could have it removed with zero effect on anything.

Cuffleyburgers said...

@ Eurogoblin

Uo to a point, and it is true that the European countries operating as a trading bloc wield more influence in trade negotiations than single countries would.

However the bilateral FTAs you cite are a distraction, and the real benefits can only be realized by a successful global outcome to the WTO trade talks, something the EU has never pursued energetically thanks to the visceral opposition of the French to freeing up farm trade.

On issues other than trade - you cannot deny that national sovereignties have been hijacked by the Lisbon treaty, in explicit denial of the will of all the people of Europe, especially the few who were asked. There is no point in pretending the Irish result was anything other than a fix, and the vote was effectively bought.

The continual deepening and extension of the misnamed "competencies" of the EU by means of Lisbon cannot be other than a worry. If the purpose is not a federal state what is it? The best case scenario would seem to be that it is a way of creating a supranational political class in Europe beholden only to itself, free to plunder the Euro-tapayer for whatever it need to cosset itself in suitable style and periodically to purchase votes where required.

The certainty is that the EURO is bound to come under further strain and the most likely outcome by far is for it to break up, the outcome of which is likely to involve considerable disturbance and probably violence.

The farm policies and fisheries policies of the Union are disastrous for African farmers and the worlds fish in general, whilst ensuring high prices for consumers. Actually these are the most unforgiveable of all because they are really killing people here.

So E.goblin - small amounts of partial truth in what you wrote, but the truth is the EU is deeply malevolent.

Eurogoblin said...

Haha, really? Sorry, how long has the Doha round dragged on for? Nine years, is it? The WTO talks have descended into farce - and that's your best hope? The EU FTAs - unlike the Doha round - are actually producing solid results. You might think them to be a "distraction" - but the WTO talks are what is called a "non-event." Personally, give me actual, existing free-trade agreements over empty words and hot air any day.

I also don't think we can blame the French for the mess - the US, China and India are the biggest obstacles here. Even if the French were successfully stalling the WTO talks, wouldn't that imply that sovereignty was alive and kicking in the EU?

As for non-trade policies being "hijacked" by the EU - no, generally they're not. The EU is competent mostly in technical cross-border issues which the UK public couldn't give a toss about.

As for CAP - yes, it's undoubtedly a crap policy. But non-EU states such as the US also subsidise their agricultural sectors to the detriment of farmers in the developing world. Would subsidies stop if the EU fell apart? No. Instead of one CAP, we'd have 27.

I know that your mental image of the EU is of an evil organisation driving towards federalism, and peopled by eurolunatics who share that demented dream. But that's not what the EU actually looks like. Member-states hold the power, and they're not interested in federalism (see French reactions to the condemnation of their Roma expulsions, or German reactions to the Greek bail-out). Federalism is dead. Accept it and move on.

dan said...


The EU takes political power even further away from the individual and puts it into the hands of remote bureaucrats even less accountable than those in London. Economically it's a joke too, the Agriculture and Fisheries policies being a prime example.

We don't need a political organisation to have free movement and trade.

Eurogoblin said...


Right... except, yes - we apparently do need a political organisation to have free movement and trade. First, see my answer above about the Doha round dragging on for nine years. There is no alternative to EU FTAs. Secondly, there are non-tariff barriers to trade which it's very difficult (if not impossible) to regulate through something like the WTO. See - for example - recent French attempts to block the purchase of German trains (something which could end up in front of the ECJ).

The idea that the EU takes political power away from individuals and puts it into the hands of remote bureaucrats is also deceptive. The "remote bureaucrats" are not the ones with power. The Council - comprised of the elected heads of the governments of member-states - is where the power really lies. The European Parliament - directly elected (albeit with a pathetic voter turn-out) - also has significant power.

Finally, how is CAP an example of the EU being a "joke" economically? Surely the fact that the Euro is still (despite the crisis) one of the world's main reserve currencies is more telling. Or the fact the the EU is the largest market on Earth, and - as a group - the EU has the highest GDP in the world. Those might be, on balance, slightly more important factors.

Elby the Beserk said...

@Anon, comment #1

Wrong. Since Lisbon we cannot leave without the say so of the other nations.

FlipC said...

@Eurogoblin - You do realise it seems as if your argument is that we need a political organisation to have free movement and trade on the grounds that political organisations are hampering the process?

nbc said...


I do not trust any organization that is unable to audit and sign off its own budget, and you want us to trust it with trade negotiations?

I find your faith in the EU disturbing.

Eurogoblin said...

@Elby - No, that's rubbish. Read article 50, paragraph 3 of the Lisbon Treaty:

"The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of
the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2"

@nbc - The fact the Court of Auditors can't sign off the EU's annual accounts isn't so important. It doesn't mean fraud is taking place - it means the majority of EU spending is "delivered by national governments and regional authorities." It's a consequence of complexity and red tape, not corruption. Would the UK be able to sign off its own accounts if it instituted the same rules as the EU?

@FlipC - Oh, yes, silly me. I hadn't spotted the logical contradiction in my argument. Let me rephrase it: the WTO isn't working - the Doha round has been stalled for 9 years. The EU is working - it's signing some of the biggest free-trade deals in history. Let's do what works.

Mr Ecks said...


You are a troll mate.

The EU is going down regardless of your crap.

Eurogoblin said...

Mr Ecks,

No, I'm not a troll, old chap, I'm a goblin. Though I'll accept I'm being a tad bellicose tonight. But if we can't debate these issues vigorously, what's the point in politics?

zaphod said...

I have an opinion on the EU. I can find lots of good reasons which support my instinct, and ignore lots of good reasons which don't. I am not alone in this.

The big question is,
whether it's good or bad, why do any politicians want to give away their power? Why would turkeys vote for christmas? I really don't get it. Any convincing ideas?

AKM said...

@zaphod - I've run into that problem trying to explain the EU to North Americans. I suspect the answer is that they see themselves as some sort of hero's building a new superpower that will dominate the 21st century and beyond. Europe's answer to the USA, with themselves as the founding fathers of this wondrous institution.

richard allan said...

But non-EU states such as the US also subsidise their agricultural sectors to the detriment of farmers in the developing world.

This is a classic fallacy, refuted here (PDF). It's the poor countries' protectionism that hurts them. Rich country protectionism is actually a net benefit from their perspective.

And that's why multilateral trade negotiations are unnecessary. We could simply liberalise our trade unilaterally. We would then capture all of the gains, and anyone who wished to recapture some of them would be forced to liberalise as well. If they didn't, that's essentially none of our concern - we would hope that they would, for the benefit of their own citizens, but the best way of getting that is to stop treating protectionism as an arms-race when it really isn't.

Devil's Kitchen said...


"You also often argue that an overarching constitution should limit the powers of what parliament can do, to ensure that it does not trample on individual freedoms."

Um... No I haven't. In fact, I have repeatedly argued against a constitution.


P.S. EuroGoblin: still composing my reply to you—it won't be up until tomorrow evening (bit busy at present).

Eurogoblin said...

@Devil - Looking forward to it!

@Richard - A fairly robust critique of the paper you just cited can be found in an academic response here (PDF). Essentially, the "rise in demand for SSA [i.e. Sub-Saharan African] exports enjoying little or no preferential access more than outweighs the reduced earnings from their exports that have been enjoying substantial preferences."

You're also slightly misrepresenting Panagariya's argument when you say it is "poor countries' protectionism that hurts them." He argues the opposite - that poor countries should, in fact, "impose countervailing duties" and that it is rather supply-side constraints that are hurting them.

Finally, I'm not sure Panagariya is correct to argue that removing EU export subsidies would automatically lead to a price hike. I've spoken with people over at CAP Reform who argue that reform would increase efficiency by allowing small and medium farms to conglomerate, improving yields and therefore lowering prices (but, importantly, not necessarily for certain key export crops which LDC countries have a natural advantage in - coffee and sugar spring to mind).

tomsmith said...

" Let me rephrase it: the WTO isn't working - the Doha round has been stalled for 9 years. The EU is working - it's signing some of the biggest free-trade deals in history. Let's do what works"

This is still a claim that we need a certain political organisation to promote free trade on the basis that some other political organisation isn't working. It isn't clear that we need political intervention at all.

FlipC said...

Yet at the same time we could also see this as a potential problem for non-political organisations.

Anyone disagreeing that the two basic principles that 'free-trade' negotiators try to adhere to are

1 - The ability to export our goods, services and labour to other countries without hindrance.

2 - The ability to prevent everyone else from exporting their goods, services, and labour.

The EU simply provides a bigger block to present to the external countries while at the same time those internal countries with clout simply ignore or fudge the rules.

mikedee said...

I fail to understand the crap that is Spouted by "eurgobler" and his ilk. The EU ended its tenure as a trade body when it unilaterally changed to the European Union !

I have also seen comments about the USA perception of the EU. Let it be stated here that there are movements in the US (Google Alex Jones) that think that the population is being take for a ride by big banks (Rothschild etc)

Please Devil, illuminate your sheeple more!

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