Judging by the Tory annual conference, it seems fair to say that Britain is heading, one way or the other, towards a referendum on the European Union. Of course, there’s still a huge debate to be had over what exactly Brits will be voting for: a simple in/out, or to endorse a new form of membership negotiated by Cameron, or maybe even the biggest cop-out of all, a “mandate” to renegotiate. Whatever way it goes, Britain’s membership is up for a fundamental debate.
Pro-Europeans should not be afraid of this. In fact, we should welcome it, for two reasons. The first is that there is no universal agreement as to how this shapes up. Don’t forget, eurosceptics are terrified of losing a referendum in Britain. But more importantly, the future of the EU needs to be endorsed democratically by the people it effects. People say that issue should be decided in a general election, but that is nonsense, especially in a country that uses the monkey-throwing-faeces-at-a-wall voting system of first past the post. The people need to be consulted, and not just in Britain.
It’s time that the real options are put to the people in each country: a federal union based around the euro with mutualised debt and federal controls on overspending (including ceding the right to borrow), an outer “common market” ring which has single market access but no commissioners or access to EU funds like CAP, and exit from European integration itself. All voted on the same day in each member state, with the exception of Germany which, as the one vital nation, will have to vote earlier.
Such an idea tends to horrify my fellow pro-Europeans, especially those in Brussels, but the reality is that this union does not belong to the Berlaymont. It can only exist with the consent of the people, and that includes eurosceptics too.