Sunday 13 February 2011

Article 49

Although I support an 'in or out' referendum on EU membership, I remain cautious of its outcome. As I've blogged here, the result (despite the unpopularity of the EU in the polls) is not, for various reasons, a foregone conclusion.

One of the most powerful problems in arguing for exit is the fear of the unknown. Holding onto nurse will be a seductive argument and one which will be reinforced by scaremongering, for example:
Leaving the EU would be absolutely disastrous for our economy.
This has been echoed by a comment left on Autonomous Mind's fine post about the EU and the Tories:
...or get out altogether, and the latter would, at this point, be disasterous as we would be exposed as a very small player literally farting against an economic powerhouse. Getting out at this point would damage the UK economy termnally [sic].
It's another example of the language that will be used during any campaign that tries to conjure up an image of the four horsemen traipsing over the horizon towards us, should we decide to leave. And it would be used time and time again. To suggest that it would be disastrous economically for the UK to leave when it is one of world's leading economies, a member of NATO, the UN, G8, G20 etc, and when other non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland exist quite happily, seems rather overblown. But it does hide a more accurate argument; would we be better off or worse off?

I believe we would be better off, others do not. However the world, and especially the EU, has moved on since we joined in 1973 so for all the arguments over trade figures and regulation, in truth there is now only one way to find out. It's akin to asking a captain how deep can his submarine really go, he doesn't know until he tries it.

So why not try it? There's the implication that if we did exit then that would be final. In other words if we ended up worse off then there's no turning back. But that's not true and this is where Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty comes in, which says:
Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by an absolute majority of its component members. The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.
In short it's a mechanism by which countries can apply to join the EU. So if the UK left and found that being outside was more disadvantageous than being in, it can hold its hands up and say; "sorry, we were wrong" and reapply for membership under Article 49. Not only can we leave but we can rejoin and it's a way of finding out for sure which side of the argument is correct.

Now I appreciate that I have taken a simplistic nature to the implications of leaving; the upheaval politically and economically for both the EU and the UK would be tremendous, but the essential point remains, our exit may not have to be final. There is a mechanism to backtrack and this can help resolve one of the most poisonous divisions that infect our politics.


  1. And the argument about staying in being more beneficial on economic terms is simply answered - give us a cost/benefit analysis!

    And not one government has as they fear the findings would not be beneficial to their point of view!

  2. BF, that's a good point, but I doubt that leaving would be an economic upheaval. As to 'political upheaval' that's their problem, not ours :-)

    Sure, the French would do a blockade of UK beef or something (which they do now and then anyway) but by and large most people wouldn't notice. Spain will still be happy for UK tourist money and the NHS will still employ Spanish nurses. Show offs will still buy French wine and German cars and European banks will still base themselves in London; British pop music will still sell well in the EU and tourists will still come to London to see musicals etc etc.

    Whoever is in government might invent a whole new raft of rules and regulations on imports and exports and free movement of people and businesses, or they might just scrap as many as possible, that we do not know*, but this is a separate issue.

    * Some people who oppose EU membership are avowed protectionists, whether left or right wing, and others (like me) are avowed free marketeers.

  3. @WfW, IIRC Lord Pearson has requested a cost/benefit analysis in the Lords, but didn't recieve one. As you say those that support our membership are always fearful that they may be proved wrong.

    @Mark Wadsworth, Good points, though I meant economic upheaval in the short term (sorry I didn't make that clear) - the EU will not take to us leaving lightly. We are very likely to be screwed over during the process of leaving.