Expansion Apr04


IN June 1975, the British people endorsed overwhelmingly the country's continuing membership of the Common Market in a referendum vote called by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson.


In Essex, the result was 67.5% in favour with 32.5% against, while Suffolk voted 72.2% yes and 27.8% no. The population recognised that the country's long term future was to play a full and active role in the economic future of Europe.


Since then, the Common Market has expanded from nine countries - Denmark and the Republic of Ireland had signed the Treaty of Rome in 1973 along with the United Kingdom to join the original six nations - to the current 15 members of the European Union. In just a few weeks another 10 nations, many freed from the yoke of Communist oppression.


We should welcome this expansion of the EU. Through the Single Market, businesses throughout the East of England will be able to benefit from enhanced trading with what are  soon to become vibrant economies.


However, what we don't need is a Constitution to "tidy up" the existing Treaties which currently regulate the way the European Union operates. The EU is not a nation state and therefore it does not require a Constitution. To claim, as the Prime Minister does, that the Constitution is a necessity if the expanded EU is to work is spurious.


The true aim of the architects of the proposed Constitution, due to be approved by European heads of Government in June, is to create the framework for a federal political entity which is alien to everything the British people stand for. Indeed, the Belgian Prime Minister has admitted the Constitution to be the "capstone" of a "federal state."


At least Tony Blair has finally recognised that he must put this "constitutional treaty" to a referendum although he couldn't actually bring himself to utter the word referendum in his statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday.


Those of us who have been campaigning for this moment for years consider it a major victory. But victory belongs also to those from all political parties - and from no parties - who have written letters, who have signed petitions, who have raised the noise level progressively over recent months. It is a victory for the people themselves that the people will finally have their say.


Some newspapers say the Prime Minister has been pushed into this out of weakness. He was actually pushed into it because he was wrong. He tried to maintain that the proposals from Brussels were merely "a tidying-up exercise" rather than a fundamental shift in the way the UK might be governed. The people simply did not believe him. Blair's sudden change of heart shows either that the constitution is a major issue and will involve significant changes, in which case we should reject it, or that this is a crafty attempt by the Government to win over the voters in the lead up to this year's European Elections.


Seven countries have already committed to holding referendums within the coming 12 months: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Their timing is not yet clear, but several have indicated they want it sooner rather than later. Some are certainly looking at a date in summer this year, given that the proposals are due to be signed off by the Council of Ministers in June. This would certainly make sense.


Tony Blair should note this well: the people will not be impressed by a deliberate delay until late 2005.


Meanwhile, European issues are now certain to be headlines in the run-up to the European Parliamentary elections. If this encourages more people to vote in June, it would be good news indeed. There are important issues at stake.