In his review of Peter Wilson’s recently published The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s History, (Allen Lane), 2016, John Adamson began by stating: ‘Surveying the various models available in 1787 for governing the still-constitution-less United States, James Madison, perhaps the shrewdest of the Founding Fathers, was certain of one thing: the Holy Roman Empire, at that date the largest of all European states, exemplified the one type of federal constitution that he most wanted to avoid. The Empire was a body, he concluded, ‘incapable of regulating its own members; insecure against external dangers’, and with a history marked by ‘general imbecility, confusion and misery’. It is no coincidence that the Holy Roman Empire has acquired a new and topical prominence in Eurosceptic punditry as a mirror for the ills of the European Union. Like the Holy Roman Empire of old, the EU is hard put to regulate its own members, incapable of securing its internal or external borders, and beset with consensus-obsessed processes of decision-making that render decisive collective action all but impossible. The lessons of history are clear, it is claimed: supranational federalism has been tried before – and it doesn’t work.’
The coronation of Charlemagne
Yesterday, the draft settlement defining Britain’s relationship with the EU was published and a couple of hours ago David Cameron made a statement to the House of Commons. It is an important document as a statement of principles about the future direction of the EU but whether it will have a significant impact on the referendum is more debatable. As I have said before I think that people’s decision for or against Brexit comes down to those who are, as yet undecided. For those in favour of Brexit, what the Prime Minister was able to renegotiate really doesn’t matter as they have already made up their minds. In many respects, the same can be said for those in favour of remaining in the EU. Yes, they want reforms but are prepared to accept anything that David Cameron can negotiate. It’s those who are not decided or who are persuadable either way who are the key to the result. Jeremy Corbyn is in many respects right when he dismissed the negotiations as a ‘smoke and mirror sideshow’. Despite his assertion that Britain could have the ‘best of both worlds’ by giving it access to the single market and a voice around the top EU table, while retaining its status as a ‘proud independent country not part of a superstate’, critics say that the draft deal, thrashed out with European Council President, Donald Tusk, fell far short of what Mr Cameron had originally promised. Reading the draft settlement is a bit like reading a statement of intent rather than a clear statement of where Britain wants to go with the EU.
The problem, and it’s been a problem since the 1970s, is one of the ‘democratic deficit’ at the heart of the whole EU project. It is not a project that is based on a consensus of the European peoples but a consensus only among EU technocrats and officials who come hell or high water, political crises or referendums to push the principles of the Treaty of Rome into practice. They have an ideological commitment to their cause that they are unwilling to compromise irrespective of what ‘the people’ say or how they vote in referendums insisting, as in the case of Ireland, that the country has a second referendum after its proposals were comprehensively rejected in the first. What will be interesting is, should Britain vote for Brexit, whether the EU will suggest a second referendum after further negotiation?