So, the deal has been done - in the early hours of this morning. Many of us in the Council building feared that Polish intransigence would last throughout the night and longer, but eventually they too compromised at about three a.m.. I've lost count of the number of interviews I've done for British, French, German, Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg TV and radio throughout the long day and night, but hopefully there will be no need for another summit on these issues for many years to come.
The Constitutional Treaty has been replaced by a practical set of reforms to the current European Union. They will make it work more efficiently and will improve parliamentary scrutiny and democratic accountability. This is a result to be welcomed. Euro-obsessives that want Britain to leave Europe (and, presumably, become part of America) will try to scare people with their ususal froth, but any objective look at the agreement shows that their complaints are fibs or exaggerations. Indeed, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was looking distincly forlorn, not sure what he could complain about, when I debated with him on BBC this morning - he fell back on quoting an article that has been in the treaty since Maastricht, 15 years ago.
Indeed, of the issues that the Eurosceptics focussed on, almost all have disappeared or been neutralized:
* The term "constitution" has been abandoned.
* On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a new clause says "In particular, for the avoidance of doubt, nothing in title 4 of the Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom."
* On the Foreign Minister, the role stays as High Representative, as it is called already now, and EU foreign policy will be decided by "The European Council and the Council acting unanimously", without the European Courts having a say over it. It is specified that none of this will effect the "existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each member state,"
* In the field of justice and home affairs, where there is a switch from unanimity to majority voting, there are opt-outs for Britain.
Curiously, two items which Eurosceptics continue to criticise are things that, if they thought about them for a few seconds, they might appreciate.
* One is the longer-term president of the European Council (30 months instead of six months). This could lead to a strengthening of the intergovernmental European Council presidency at the expense of the Commission presidency. That is certainly why the anti-federalist French support it.
* The other is the "External Action Service". At present, EU external representations across the globe are run by the Commission. This change is designeed to give Council (i.e. national governments) a say in running and staffing them. Another step away from, rather than towards, a federal system.
However, Tory and UKIP critics just don't want to know and are simply focussed on finding fault with any change.
On the other side, federalists will be disappointed. The Italian and Belgian governments are muttering about too much having been sacrificed to placate the Brits, the Dutch, the Poles and the French. The European Parliament will be unhappy, as will the 22 countries who wished to retain the Constitutional Treaty intact.BBC Europe chief and blogger Mark Mardell's assessment is interesting
. Although BBC impartiality means he has to treat the Eurosceptics seriously and give them coverage they don't deserve, he clearly proclaims a victory for the government, saying: "Tony Blair can claim that he has won all his red lines. Of course, many will feel this was utterly predictable and of course Conservatives and other will say that there is plenty here that deserves a referendum. But Mr Blair has made their job that much harder."
Indeed a referendum seems hard to justify. Britain has never had a referendum to ratify an international treaty, and it would be odd to start with a minor one. We similarly have never had a referendum on issues that are far more important and that really interest the public, like the creation of the national health service, compulsory education, university fees, the death penalty, the monarchy. We are a parliamentary democracy - a British tradition we are generally proud of. To argue that a referendum is justified because the president of the European Council will have a 30-month instead of 6-month term of office is ludicrous.
But I predict that it won't stop the Torygraph, the Mail, the Sun, the Express UKIP, the Conservative party and the BNP demanding one!
Labels: BBC, Conservatives, constitution, eurosceptics, Mark Mardell, Nigel Farage, Referendums, reform treaty, summit meetings, Tony Blair, UKIP