Friday, April 08, 2016

After the Dutch "Nee" to Ukraine

I believe that democracy means trusting the people and accepting that, just as the elite sometimes gets it wrong, the people will sometimes get it wrong.

But if you try to infantilise the electorate by taking away their power to make a decision when you don't like it, you discourage people from voting responsibility in future if you succeed. Not to mention opening yourself to charges of outrageous arrogance.

It is a real challenge for democrats to square the circle of respecting a democratic decision with the need to do the right thing, when the electorate votes for something you disagree with as strongly as I disagree with the decision of Dutch voters to blow a raspberry to Brussels and the EU by kicking the people of Ukraine in the teeth. But as it happens, there is a precedent for a solution.

I don't think it would be a good idea for the Netherlands parliament to over-ride the referendum result, although they have the legal authority to, or to try to make the Dutch vote again. That would just reinforce the corrosive impression that the EU and national elites have nothing but contempt for public opinion.

But although the electorate of Holland has the right to say that they don't want to take part in a trade deal with Ukraine, is it necessary or right for them to stop 27 other nations whose parliaments have approved and ratified the deal from taking part in it?

A few years ago, David Cameron vetoed an EU treaty which involved rules whose implementation in this country would have harmed British interests. All the other member states wanted it, so they signed a separate treaty and went ahead without the UK.

There was much chuckling at DC's expense at the time, but actually I am quite relaxed about that solution. Because of DC's veto British businesses did not have to implement a treaty which we thought would damage them, but those countries which wanted to go ahead with it did so.

OK, there was a bit more bureaucracy involved in that solution, but otherwise what's not to like?

And is there any reason why this cannot be a precedent for dealing with Holland and Ukraine?

The treaty with Ukraine is already in provisional effect. Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise a legal procedure by which those member states which have ratified it in it's original form agree to ratify those terms again as a treaty between those 27 EU member states and Ukraine.

It might be necessary to put in a few caveats about not using EU institutions which belong to all 28 members for a treaty which just involves 27. Those caveats would presumably be extremely similar to those which the rest of the EU had to put in when they went ahead with the earlier treaty without Britain. It seems to have worked in that instance: let's try it now.

That way the 27 countries which have voted for a trade deal with Ukraine get the benefits of the deal, Ukraine gets access to the vast majority of the single market, and the people of Holland are not forced to take part in a deal they voted against.

Of course, the architects of the referendum were not really bothered about Ukraine but wanted to send a message to the EU: they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have made their point and forced the EU to devise a mechanism to exclude them the treaty they blocked.

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