Charles Kennedy: Bury the treaty and create a new vision for Europe

I believe passionately that it is within Europe Britain's interests are best protected

Share

The rejection of the EU constitution in the French and Dutch referendums means that the Brussels summit this week is a pivotal moment in the history of European co-operation. While Tony Blair was right yesterday to call for a "pause for reflection", that is no excuse for a lack of a proper strategy. It is time for a dose of realism - particularly from pro-Europeans like myself.

The rejection of the EU constitution in the French and Dutch referendums means that the Brussels summit this week is a pivotal moment in the history of European co-operation. While Tony Blair was right yesterday to call for a "pause for reflection", that is no excuse for a lack of a proper strategy. It is time for a dose of realism - particularly from pro-Europeans like myself.

In my view the constitution remains a laudable attempt at making the EU that bit more accountable, efficient and transparent. But we European nations are democracies. There is little likelihood of the people of France and the Netherlands reversing their vote in further referendums. Without them this treaty cannot be enacted. So the first dose of realism is this. In practical terms the EU constitution is dead, if not yet buried. The European Council should recognise that fact and the ratification process should be suspended.

The problems that the Constitution was created to address remain. So at some point we will have to revisit the powers of the Union. But the overwhelming need is to re-establish the trust of the people in the EU. In the past two decades the Union has been transformed. The European public, especially in Britain, have rarely been engaged in the process. So another dose of realism means that there should now be a moratorium on significant treaty revision. We need a period of stability, removed from the constant churn of treaty upon treaty that we have lived through over the past decades.

The institutions will have to be adjusted to cope with enlargement - particularly the impending accession of Romania and Bulgaria. Non-controversial reforms which help to achieve greater transparency and efficiency should be explored. But any significant change in the relationship between the Union, the member states and its citizens should only be approved in Britain through a referendum. Any reform undertaken during the moratorium should not involve the transfer of power to the EU from national governments.

This does not mean that the EU stands still. There is much of the necessary reform agenda that can be achieved within the existing treaties. And nowhere is there greater need for reform than in the EU budget itself. The Government is right to resist renegotiation of the British rebate, unless it goes hand in hand with thorough reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The structural problems in some EU economies, notably France and Italy, are not of the EU's making, but the EU can promote reform by taking forward the Lisbon agenda under its current powers. We can extend the single market. We can pursue a liberal, outward-looking, free and fair trade policy towards the rest of the world, especially developing countries. There should be a greater application of subsidiarity in fields such as social policy, where variations of the European "social model" are best expressed at national level. If there is no clear case for EU action, then the EU should not act. This moratorium - and the EU's concentration on its core responsibilities - is necessary because the overwhelming task must be to re-establish public confidencein the European Union - especially in Britain.

The "no" votes are a salutary lesson in just how far the European political class has allowed the Union to become distanced from the public. Europe and its citizens have been ill-served by the current crop of national leaders. National governments are failing to address the real concerns of people, allowing those concerns to find outlet in short-termism, nationalism and fear. The EU has become a convenient whipping boy.

I believe passionately that it is within Europe that Britain's interests are best protected. My greatest fear is that without a referendum in the UK, the Government will allow the pro-European argument to wither. That cannot be allowed. In Britain, and across Europe, we need to re-engage the interest and awareness of the people in what the Union is - and what it is not. For the Liberal Democrats that means setting out our pro-Europe, pro-reform agenda.

Across Europe there is a whiff of regime change in the air. Several national leaders are fast approaching their democratic sell-by-date. Chirac, Schröder and Berlusconi are all on the way out. Even here in Britain, the Blair years are fast coming to an end. A treaty moratorium will allow new political blood, new ideas and a new vision of Europe to come to the fore. And that new blood is essential. The third dose of realism that must be faced by pro- and anti-Europeans alike is that the world will not stand still and wait for us Europeans to sort ourselves out.

The author is leader of the Liberal Democrats

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing