Leading article: A pointless gesture that pleases no one

Share

Gordon Brown's absence from the official signing of the new European Union treaty today promises to be an embarrassment. Every other EU leader plans to be present at the Jerónimos monastery in Lisbon. Mr Brown should be there, too. The Prime Minister has only himself to blame for this debacle.

Downing Street's citing of a clash with a Commons committee meeting is a red herring. The truth is that Mr Brown and his advisers got themselves in a muddle trying to appease Britain's anti-European press, which has been waging a campaign for a referendum on the treaty. Mr Brown thought it would be clever to miss the ceremony so as not to be photographed in the act of signing the document.

This is cowardly and cynical. It is also spectacularly pointless. The anti-European newspapers, having got wind of what Mr Brown is up to, have merely been provoked further. They are now accusing him of seeking to shirk his responsibilities. The Prime Minister has ended up pleasing no one. And his absence from the ceremony has become far more contentious than if he had actually turned up and signed the treaty.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this affair is that it once again distracts attention from the significance of what is actually in the document. Some have pointed out that the Union has managed to function smoothly enough since the rejection of the ill-fated EU Constitution by France and the Netherlands in 2005. That may be true, but this calm would never have lasted. EU enlargement would eventually have placed the existing governing structures under unbearable strain. Two inevitable conflict points would have been the voting rights of member states and the national allocation of posts on the European Commission.

The new arrangements will defuse those two problems and also help to forge a more streamlined and efficient Europe through the creation of a permanent EU President and "foreign minister". And on the economic side, Britain has nothing to complain about. The treaty envisages a competitive and flexible European economy. Indeed, it is a curious fact that those who castigate the treaty usually fail to acknowledge the extent to which its contents are inspired by a traditional British conception of the EU.

We must hope that, after today's signing, we will hear no more about the Government's "red lines". This sort of language reflects the poisonous idea that the EU is some sort of advancing army intent on stealing British sovereignty and dismantling our traditions. Thanks to the Government's abject failure to argue the positive case for further integration and co-operation, the terms of the debate in Britain are hopelessly skewed against the EU.

An intelligent national debate on the issue of Europe is long overdue. Since no serious figures in the House of Commons advocate Britain's withdrawal from the EU, this should be over how the EU's institutions can be made to operate more effectively, and what Europe ought to be attempting to achieve in the wider world.

There is hardly a shortage of challenges facing the bloc. A major crisis seems poised to erupt on its doorstep over Kosovo's planned declaration of independence from Serbia. Meanwhile, the global strategic position of the EU is in flux. The recent fractious EU-Africa summit served to emphasise just how rapidly China's influence in Africa is replacing that of Europe's. Meanwhile, internally, the EU needs to work a lot harder if it is to meet its targets of cutting carbon emissions and building up the renewable energy sector.

Such concerns should be at the centre of our national discussion about Europe. How ridiculous it is that our leaders are instead clashing over a missed photo-call.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones