David Cameron was right to declare yesterday that, with Czech ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, a British referendum is no longer an option. The Conservative leader's new warning, however, that he will seek to "repatriate" powers from Brussels to London is no more realistic than the referendum he has just given up on.
The division of legal competences between the European Union and its 27 member states is laid down by the EU treaties. Any change in the relationship would formally require a modification of those treaties, which means that this would first have to be unanimously supported by all EU member states.
We would then have to organise comprehensive renegotiation on the nature, scope and the modalities of these new EU reforms. We would be forced to organise a new convention of the kind that preceded the Lisbon treaty, a framework for all the debate on a new draft reform treaty.
After long-lasting negotiations, we would once again have to ensure the full ratification of this treaty by all 27 EU states. Unfortunately for Mr Cameron and his election campaign, I do not see any chance of passing even the very first step of such a process.
The entry into force of the Lisbon treaty concludes nine years of hard work and negotiation. The aim of all this was to adapt the EU institutional structure to enlargement, and more generally to the challenges of the new global order. We have now achieved this.
The EU will, as a result, be more democratic, more capable of acting and more transparent, because the treaty will strengthen the principle of subsidiarity as well as the role of national parliaments. This is the biggest paradox of Mr Cameron's stance: the Lisbon treaty will actually massively strengthen the role of Westminster.
The process that has led to the Lisbon treaty was democratic and transparent; it involved at every stage representatives of the UK government, parliament and British members of the European Parliament. It was in no way a technocratic process conducted by Brussels as Eurosceptic politicians allege.
Now those that are complaining about unending EU discussions and decisions are trying to relaunch the institutional debate we have just completed, instead of concentrating on the concerns of ordinary citizens.
Again this will not be the only paradox surrounding the view of Britain's Conservatives on Europe. We should remember a very simple fact: the biggest transfers of British sovereignty to the EU were made with the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty – under the Conservative leaders John Major, and Margaret Thatcher.
Elmar Brok, a leading German Christian Democrat, is an MEP and former chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
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