I am fully in favour of us holding a referendum on the European Union's (EU) Reform Treaty AND I favour a "yes" vote in such a referendum.
On Having A Referendum
I have always believed in the case for having referendums BEFORE any significant changes are allowed to be made in EU Treaties, as these effect the very powers of the nations they embrace. We have never had such a referendum in this country. The one under Harold Wilson was organised only after we had already joined what was then the Common Market.
The only thing that would be better than a nationally based referendum, would be a European-wide referendum. But I concede we have some way to go before we can achieve that.
On Voting "Yes"
The major defect of the EU has always been its democratic deficit. In a democracy, decisions should be made by Parliaments elected on a Universal Franchise. This should apply to the European Parliament as well.
But despite a gradual increase in the role of the European Parliament over the years, the main decisions in the EU are still made by Councils of Ministers taken from the Executives of the Member States. There is only a limited control by national parliaments over the way their Minister's operate in such Councils. Finland probably operates the best model for this.
The main body which shapes the agenda of such Councils is the European Commission and not the European or national Parliaments.
Will The New Treaty Tackle The Democratic Deficit?
The answer to my above question is "not completely by any means". But it will provide a number of democratic advances which we can build upon in the future.
In a number of policy areas, such as justice, security and immigration the European Parliament will have the power to approve or reject EU legislation. National Parliaments will also have a voice in the making of EU laws for the first time.
They will receive EU legislative proposals and if a third of the national Parliaments reject a proposal it will be sent back to the Commission for re-drafting. If half the national Parliaments remain opposed, then the measure will be stopped.
Whilst these are obviously limited (but important) democratic gains, they are in the right direction. Democrats need to pocket such proposals, whilst pointing to the need for greater democratic gains.
A Democratic, Social And Confederal Europe?
I have always pressed for the slogan which I have used in the opening title above. But the Reform Treaty provides for the possibility of a country leaving the EU under conditions negotiated with the remaining members. If Nations or States have a right to secede from a Union, they are normally viewed as being part of a Confederation rather than a Federation.
Who knows even Dennis Skinner might like the idea of having the legal right to secede from the EU. I had, therefore, better widen my stance and now call for "A Democratic, Social and Confederal Europe" - seats in all parts.