Leading article: A pointless gesture that pleases no one


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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?