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The most dangerously naive politician in the EU?

Owen Paterson, former UK Conservative cabinet minister and hardline eurosceptic has recently given one of the most unsophisticated speeches on UK policy towards the EU. His central point involves invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty that in reality hands over the decision to remain in the EU by giving a veto to any one of other 27 EU leaders, writes chief political correspondent Tim McNamara.

He also believes that a nirvana exists for the UK outside of the EU. He explicitly states that the UK will be able to have cost-free access to the single market without any of the obligations that are associated with it. Like many eurosceptics he states that Norway is a perfect example of this.

He went on to claim that a UK outside of the EU would be able to have greater influence on the world stage if it negotiated alone. Quoting several small countries who chair minor multilateral organisations.

Paterson’s ‘strategy’ is to establish a fait accompli before any referendum is held. In reality removing any voter choice on the matter. His demand that the UK invokes Article 50 in 2015 would mean handing over of the fate of the UK’s EU membership to mavericks such as Viktor Orban of Hungary.

It also means that any major political upheaval in any member state (France and Marine Le Pen?) could have the ultimate decision. It should be noted that the French Presidential election will be held in 2017.

After his speech to the eurosceptic organisation ‘Business for Britain’, he told the BBC that Britain had come to a “fork in the road” in its relationship with the EU. He said: “To sort out the nightmare of the euro, they have got to form a cohesive, effective new state.” He went on to claim that the eurozone had left the EU and that left UK in a different relationship with other member states. “We are not going to join the euro, we are never going to join this ‘new country’. They are effectively leaving us”.

He went on to say, “And meanwhile, we withdraw from the political arrangements and we concentrate on trade, which gives us an opportunity to get our seat back on the supra-national bodies which actually decide regulation affecting virtually every business in this country.”

In an outstanding piece of intellectual inconsistency he also said in the same speech “I would like to see our government brought back within the control of our Parliament. Ministers should be accountable to Parliament for all aspects of government.’

Paterson entirely misses the irony of leaving the EU because of sovereignty issues and then argues for greater influence on supra-national bodies that as he claims “decide regulation affecting virtually every business in this country.”

In regard to these so-called supra-national bodies, he fails to realise that negotiations in international organisations take the form of blocs of countries negotiating together, for example in the World Trade Organisation, the EU’s 28 member states negotiate as one bloc on all international trade issues. Only the USA and China are powerful enough to negotiate solely in their own interest. This goes for most international multilateral bodies.

For example before any meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (a United Nations body), all of the EU member states have a strategy meeting to iron out common positions. This magnifies the EU’s influence as anyone adopting a ‘divide and rule’ strategy is bound to fail. The UK would be a very small fish in a very big pond if it was outside of the EU.

Paterson cites Norway’s chair of the Codex Alimentairius as an example of a small country  having a powerful role. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the World Health Organisation in 1963 develops harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.

Again Paterson demonstrates his naivety when it comes to international affairs. Norway chairs the organisation precisely because it is a small country and acting as a chair has to behave in a neutral manner. Rather than being an expression of power on the international stage it is in fact power muted. Like the secretary-general post of the UN, international positions are often decided by giving power to people from small countries who are beholden to the the major powers, such as the USA, China and the EU.

Citing Norway as an example of an independent country enjoying access to the single market, he foolishly skates over the costs of that access. Norway has to make very sizeable contributions to the EU budget. It also has to allow for free movement of people from the 28 EU member states to live and work in Norway. The biggest immigrant population in Norway, at present, is Polish.

The Norwegians play very little part in formulating the EU’s regulations and directives, no Norwegian staff work in the European Commission, there is no Norwegian Commissioner, there are no Norwegian Members of the European Parliament (MEPs),  Norway has no votes in the in the various Council formations, the Norwegian Prime Minister is not invited to the high level meetings of the EU’s political leaders. The country even has to pay the translation costs for the appropriate legislation to be transposed into domestic law.

Paterson’s political philosophy when it comes to EU matters owes more to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice through the looking glass” than to any serious contemplation based on sound research. Yet, in the febrile atmosphere of british politics when it comes to EU matters, Paterson’s simplistic analysis will carry some weight unless ruthlessly exposed.

  1. The UK needs another ‘Better Together’ campaign.

    Better Together in Europe.

    Comment by David Brunnen on November 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm
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