Monday, 24 November 2014

Article 50 Is Not A Blunt Negotiating Tool

I am old enough to remember the Maastricht Treaty, and this was the era when Euroscepticism took hold in the Conservative party, with one buzzword being "renegotiation". The logic went like this:

No, we're talking about renegotiation, not withdrawal. All we want is some reasonable changes to the Treaties so we are treated fairly. But if the other member states behave unreasonably, then we will have to look at leaving.

Translation - let's make some demands the others will never agree to, and shed a few crocodile tears when leaving.

In an article in The Times (€), Owen Paterson, the former Environment & Rural Affairs Secretary, is calling for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be a manifesto commitment:

He will argue that, in order to present the best possible alternative to EU membership, Mr Cameron must trigger the formal mechanism for cutting ties with Brussels.

He will call on the prime minister to make a manifesto pledge to invoke immediately article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty if he wins a second term in office. The clause allows member states to activate a two-year process for leaving the union. Mr Paterson will say this was the only “legally binding” way to make the EU enter meaningful negotiations.

Following negotiations, he proposes an in/out referendum in 2017 offering voters a stark choice: fully integrated European membership, including joining the euro, or leaving the European political project and retaining only a trade agreement similar to the one enjoyed by Norway.

“The eurozone has already embarked upon a path that we can never follow,” Mr Paterson will say. “We are simply recognising that reality. We must either be fully committed to ‘Le Project’ or we must build an entirely new relationship. The British people must be allowed to make that decision. Article 50 is the only way of making that happen.”

So, invoking Article 50 in May 2015 will enable us to open up negotiations and then have an in/out referendum in 2017, will it? Let's look at what it says:

1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

It is immediately clear that this is not about renegotiation the Treaties and then deciding whether to stay or not - its purpose is for a nation that has already decided to leave to negotiate not its EU membership but its relationship with the EU after it has left.

Invoking Article 50 will not be a give-us-a-better-deal-or-we're-out threat. It will be telling the rest of the EU that we are going by May 2017. No ifs, no buts, no referendums.

A Conservative manifesto with invoking Article 50 in it is one that is committed to withdrawal from the EU, but would be dressing it up in misleading language of "negotiation".

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