Does anyone wish the Treaty of Rome happy birthday?

On this day 51 years ago 6 continental countries signed the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community in Rome.
This document has bedevilled UK politics ever since. It was the subject of a referendum in 1975, when a Labour government asked the UK people if they wished to remain within the framework of this Treaty. The government led by Harold Wilson recommended a “Yes” vote, claiming throughout the debate that it was just about a common market, which would create and guarantee more jobs for the UK. We were told that our sovereignty was not at risk, that our Parliament could continue to make the main decisions for our country.

This very one sided presentation of the case began the long tension between public and politicians on the subject of Europe. The political classes gambled correctly by holding a referendum asking for endorsement of the status quo – the fact we were already in the EEC – and assuming most people would not bother to read the Treaty of Rome. Any cursory reading of that Treaty showed it was not just about a common market as UK politicians liked to state.

You only had to read the Preamble to the long Treaty of Rome to see it was about something much grander than just a common market. It stated:

“Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe….
Anxious to strengthen the unity of their economies and to ensure their harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions….
Intending to confirm the solidarity which binds Europe…”

There were some of the overarching themes that were to be given harder form in subsequent Treaties. They always had in mind a Europe of the regions, with regional policy to try to reduce the differences between them. They always had in mind solidarity to the greater good of the greater Community, and always intended to achieve a high level of policy and legislative control over the EEC economies.

The second article pledged the EEC to “an accelerated raising of the standard of living and closer relations between the states belonging to it.” The crucial Article 3 committed the members to the elimination of trade barriers, the establishment of a common customs tariff and external trade policy, freedom of movement for persons, services and capital, a common agricultural policy, a common transport policy, a common competition policy, “the approximation of the laws of the member states to the extent required for the proper functioning of the common market”, a social fund, and the association of overseas territories. In addition it promised a system to remedy disequilibria in member states’ balance of payments.

Article 235 was a catch all which allowed member states to vote to do anything else under the framework of the EEC if they wished by unanimity to do so. So was born the idea of an institution which would grow its own powers as time passed.

In 1975 I read this document prior to deciding how to vote in the referendum. The gap between what the Treaty envisaged and what the government was telling us about the intent was so huge I felt I had to vote “No”. The irony of the Treaty was that some of its most detailed provisions were not going to be enforced. I remember writing to the Commission to complain that the UK was running a very large balance of payments deficit with the rest of the EEC, and should surely benefit from the Treaty provisions that allowed or required action to bring the balance of payments into better balance. I was told in a delphic reply that not all the Treaty provisions could be enforced when it came to the UK’s balance of payments deficit!

One of the reasons the UK is still so unhappy with its relationship with the EU is that many who voted “Yes” in 1975 did so on the advice of politicians without reading the Treaty. They feel they were misled. Many others are too young to have had the chance of a vote, and understand that the EU is now much changed from the EEC that people voted on in 1975.If the government wants to improve our feelings about the EU it should give us a vote now, so all these issues can be properly aired and the public given a choice.

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21 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Like you I suspect, I'm quite happy to trade freely with the EU (and almost anyone else), but I have confidence in UK elected representatives to pass laws suitable and appropriate for the UK. I have no confidence in often foreign commissioners who I can neither elect nor remove to pass directives that bind UK law.

    If I were unhappy with Mr Mandelson's performance as trade commissioner, or Mr Kinnock's performance at transport, what could I, as a formerly free citizen do, except obey the law or be punished by it ~ there’s a word for such a system isn’t there….

  2. Posted March 25, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    In the 1975 vote, in which I voted no, the population was won over by the much touted prospect of harmonisation of taxes i.e. cheap booze and fags.

  3. Donitz
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    If I may use a retailing analogy on your point on trade.

    Would you rather be part of a large organisation with huge buying power and mass market exposure such as Tesco or as insignificant in a mass market as the corner shop.

    We are either a state of North America or a state of the EU. Alone we will surely perish. How would we trade on an even footing if we stand alone?

    If the price of membership is the loss of accountability, a high price I grant you, then so be it.

    Reply: The EU does not buy things in bulk for us, so I cannot accept your analogy.

  4. Tony Makara
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    We have now reached the stage at which our very membership of the EU is a threat to our sovereignty. The Conservative party position of being in Europe but not run by Europe is flawed. There can be no halfway house with Europe. We are either a sovereign nation loyal to the crown or we are an appendage of the EU superstate. It is a sad state of affairs when the millions of jobless in our country are unable to find work because EU membership means we cannot impose limits on migrant labour. If we cannot control our borders we are no longer in charge of our own country. The EU produces far more negatives than positives and I only wish politicians would emerge with the guts to say 'enough is enough' and lead the call for a full withdrawal from the EU.

  5. Posted March 25, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Most of the wording you quote is fairly unobjectionable. Who can be against "“an accelerated raising of the standard of living"?

    Well actually the Greens. I was recently at a debate where Green MSP Robin Harper said that his support of the EU was because all its regulations would ultimately prevent the "continuous economic expansion" from which we are currently suffering, but from which countries outside the EU are suffering, on average, almost twice as much.

    I also have some doubts if the EU's role in "recognising" the (UNPLEASANT – ED) regimes in Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina & Kosovo can be reconciled with "reducing the differences".

    It seems that anybody who believes in what the EU claims to stand for must now want to leave.

  6. [[NAME EDITED]]
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    "The political classes gambled correctly by holding a referendum asking for endorsement of the status quo." Why should the political classes have preferred one outcome to the other? And would the Conservatives now still prefer that result? Is there any viable political group yet representing the Better Off Outs?

  7. Freeborn John
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I have read your previous comments that Britain should have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty (presumably under a Conservative government), renegotiate, and then have another referendum on the results of the renegotiation.

    While I can see that the 1st of these referendums would strengthen the democratic mandate of the subsequent negotiating position, I do see some problems. With the treaty already ratified Continental countries supporting more integration will not have the same incentives as now in getting a British signature on the Lisbon treaty. They will likely say that then status-quo cannot be touched, daring a Conservative government to withdraw from the treaty (which as I understand it would mean the UK would have to follow the procedures in that treaty for leaving the European Union over a 2-year period). Even if the other EU states agree to negotiation they would have every incentive to drag out the negotiations interminably hoping that a Conservative government may run into trouble thus losing the popular support to push for a substantial return of powers. If such lengthy negotiations produce nothing substantial the UK would be back at square one contemplating treaty withdrawal but now with no hope of negotiating anything better and likely staring at a 2-year notification period for EU exit that would now extend into another Parliament such that it overshadows an election campaign. The Conservatives could easily spend 2 Parliaments in such a drawn our process getting sniped at throughout and eventually achieving nothing.

    Would it not be better for a Conservative government to simply withdraw the UK from the Lisbon treaty at the 1st opportunity, announcing that it would spend only the 2-year period leading towards EU exit entertaining negotiations for something better (e.g. EEA membership but with British representatives in the Council of Ministers and EU Parliament voting on EEA issues only)? Should these hardball negotiating tactics not produce results within 48 months we would effectively have been out of the EU for a couple of years and the public would see that the sky had not fallen in as predicted by federalist scaremongers. At this point a referendum could be promised for the next Parliament on the status-quo (i.e. staying out) or rejoining on the EU’s terms.

    Reply: I THINK THEY WOULD NEGOTIATE SERIOUSLY, AS THEY WOULD NOT WISH TO LOSE THE LARGE CONTRIBUTIONS THE UK MAKES TO THE EU AND THERE ARE STILL INTEGRATION MOVES WHERE WE COULD BLOCK THEIR WAY. WHY NOT TRY IT TO FIND OUT?

  8. Geoff
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    In 1975 I was one year old. I'm now an adult, and, for example, can make toast without hurting myself.

    So why will neither of the two main parties trust me with an In/Out vote or at the very least why doesn't ZaNuLabour keep its manifesto promise (and those yellow ones too) to give us a vote on the EU Constitution?

    I'm a firm Tory and can't see myself ever going over to the Dark Side but I'm also a balding 30-something who is going grey at the edges. I'm grown up and last time I checked I had a brain and some strong opinions inside it: yet I've never ever been given the chance to express my opinion through the ballot box in a referendum about the EU.

    The regrettable thing is that every superstate falls apart in the end – and it is always very messy.

    Tony Makara and I have had numerous disagreements over on ConservativeHome but TM@10:49 is this time, in my opinion, spot on. Well said, Tony.

  9. MartinW
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    No, I do not wish it (or "the colleagues") a happy birthday. Following this and subsequent treaties which have increasingly locked us into the EU super-state, our country can now longer be regarded as sovereign. We are now virtually a province.
    I voted against the Rome Treaty in 1975, doubtless without much knowledge of its implications, but because of a gut-feeling that the country was being tied into a greater entity (and I didn't like the idea).
    My recollection is that the 1975 referendum documentation sent to all voters included three leaflets: a 'Yes' leaflet outlining the case for joining the EEC, a 'No' leaflet outlining the case against, and one from the (Wilson) government saying in effect "We think you should vote Yes". If this is true, then this skewing of information should have made the referendum invalid. I have tried to find a copy of the 1975 referendum documentation in archive libraries but without success. Can anyone confirm that three pieces of duocumentation were sent to voters, or is my memory faulty?

  10. Paul Danon
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    A referendum worries me. Are the people really always right? They may be misled by government again. Better, I suggest, to advocate withdrawal from the union, perhaps into the EEA or NAFTA, or just into independence.

  11. David Hannah
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    You may not wish the Treaty of Rome a happy birthday John, but how many of your colleagues in the Parliamentary party will vote to abrogate it?

    Thus, we have the reason why I will be washing my hair on polling day (as will millions like me).

    Reply: I HAVE JUST VOTED TO RESTORE PARLIAMENTARY SOVEREIGNTY.

  12. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    We ought to just withdraw from the EU ! Economically they need use more than we need them ! Nigel Farage is so honest about the case for getting the UK out of the Federalist nightmare . He states clearly why the EU has failed & why an independent Britain would be far better . I am very tempted to vote UKIP as 80% of our laws get made in Brussels anyway does it really matter if UKIP cost the Tories 50 seats or so at the next general election ( i.e. the UKIP vote being bigger than the Labour or Lib Dem majority ) as Westminster can make such little difference it is a sad joke . The case for an independent Britain is very strong – how about a referendum on EU membership ? But of course the anti-democratic EU elite running the Westminster village would never respect voters enough for that…

    Honestly John we have tried being nice to the EU & it has not worked . Why waste our time on a losers club ?

  13. Freeborn John
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    WHY NOT TRY IT (negotiation) TO FIND OUT?

    I am not arguing against negotiation. Just for setting a strict time-limit (two years as per the Lisbon treaty) and with the clear implication being that if the negotiations fail we will be out. The danger (indeed probability) otherwise is that negotiations will drag on interminably over minor matters with Continental countries not taking a UK exit seriously.

    There is very considerable inertia in the EU system with Brussels barely having used the powers that it acquired under Nice let alone Lisbon. If (say) the Conservatives are in power during 2010-2020 and spend this time being given the run-around in negotiations and then ducking the issue we will end up with say Labour in power during the 2020s and by 2030 we will have had ¼ Century of legislative output from the EU institutions in all the areas where the EU has recently assumed competence, all of which will pre-empt not just national law but also the ability of Parliament to legislate in the area covered by this superior EU law. Come 2030 what will national elections then decide? Our national legislature will be powerless to legislate in very many areas and our elections will decide little more than which party sends ministers to EU meetings to be outvoted. We will not even be able to sanction bad governance because how can ministers be held accountable for measures they voted against but had to accept under QMV? Therefore what the next Conservative government does here is of the utmost importance.

  14. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    We ought to just withdraw from the EU ! Economically they need use more than we need them ! Nigel Farage is so honest about the case for getting the UK out of the Federalist nightmare . He states clearly why the EU has failed & why an independent Britain would be far better . I am very tempted to vote UKIP as 80% of our laws get made in Brussels anyway does it really matter if UKIP cost the Tories 50 seats or so at the next general election ( i.e. the UKIP vote being bigger than the Labour or Lib Dem majority ) as Westminster can make such little difference it is a sad joke . The case for an independent Britain is very strong – how about a referendum on EU membership ? But of course the anti-democratic EU elite running the Westminster village would never respect voters enough for that…

    Honestly John we have tried being nice to the EU & it has not worked . Why waste our time on a losers club ?

  15. Posted March 25, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    He who lies down with dogs gets up with fleas.Our associaltion with the EU has had a corrosive effect -the UK politics is now as corrupt as the rest of Europe!The Tory position is untenable: in the EU but not of the EU. That is is not on the menu. In or out is the only option.Tories should stop nuancing about.

  16. Posted March 25, 2008 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Because the French, Germans, Spanish and others have cheated over single market regulations they have much more invested in the UK than we have in continental Europe. We can use this as a bargaining counter – do they really want to lose their investments. This is a trick the US has played on the UK for decades. It is the pro-EU lot who are little Englanders – because of their cowardice we have traded a world wide role for a minor role in a small and insignificant continent. All our once proud international companies have been taken over by Euro-companies backed by French/German etc taxpayers' money. The EU is a corrupt, anti-democratic institution . (Some comments left out – ed) We can and must leave the EU at the earliest opportunity. But do our political classes have the bottle – I doubt it. This is 1914 all over again. Every time the UK has involved itself in mainland Europen politics it has ended in disaster for us. Mainland Europe has never forgiven us for intervening successfully on two occasions in the 20 th century.

  17. Posted March 26, 2008 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    'Reply: The EU does not buy things in bulk for us, so I cannot accept your analogy.'

    Excellent . People talk about the EU as if it was Europe . Its like talking about the GLA as if it was London. Nothing whatsoever of importance would change without either baring a reallocation of functions here and there
    Norman Baker often assures us here , in the local Press, that the only alternative to the EU is to be a slave to the US. To me it seems our relationship with America is mutual and based on free nations cooperating over defence and trade albeit with varying results .I have often wondered why on earth so many people could be determined to be ruled by foreigners no-one presented with the fact ever likes it and this goes for Liberals as well as Conservatives .We recently discovered this when the E U’s role in the positioning of an incinerator was revealed .

    My impression is that sceptics are far to caught up in the quasi legal and almost mediaeval arguments about our position . I see it all as primarily a political problem With sufficient will what we may have signed has little real importance . What are they going to do invade us ?Hardly; some formula would be found for things to continue as before. The rest is all verbiage designed too confuse and impress the timid….I think, (he said timidly) .
    So I sometimes wonder if a certain cast of mind has more fun pursuing his monkish enquiries than is entirely healthy. The only thing that matters is to convince the public that the EU can be left without pain and we could once again have the right of a free people to determine our future. Its no good blaming David Cameron if that essential stage has not been reached and thus far it has not. A referendum to leave , tomorrow would be lost .This fact must be continually reinserted into the cries of anguish at whatever obfuscation has been insidiously employed

    I believe Mr. R has written a jolly good book describing the golden future that awaits this land inside the global economy and that to me is the argument that must be won . To this end I absolutely must get round to reading it ….( A curse upon squalid trade and its unreasonable demands on my time .)

  18. Posted March 26, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood

    Firstly, i would like to thank you and those others that stood up for the common folk, and their right to have a say in the referendum debates. The result was dissapointing, and a clear indication of the decay of democratic activity in this state.

    For me, the construction of a European superstate and our being sucked into it brings two major problems.

    Firstly, decision making is moved still further away from the citizen.

    Secondly, we will become increasingly reliant on this central power to provide guidance and means.

    I don't know if you are aware that the formation of the North American Union is already being tied together with the EU through legislative and economic ties.

    This is part of a broader agenda to build the one world government, the New World Order that has been quoted by so many prominent players. I'll leave you a quote that indicates the chilling drive for this New Order.

    "In the next century, nations as we know it will be obsolete; all states will recognize a single, global authority. National sovereignty wasn't such a great idea after all."

    – Strobe Talbot, President Clinton's Deputy Secretary of State, Time Magazine, July 20th, l992

  19. Posted March 26, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    LBS asks "Why should the political classes have preferred one outcome to the other?"

    I am hardly authorative but beyond the fact that both Heath & Wilson were supporters is the fact that our leaders, by their nature, meet foreign leaders as equals & generally get to do the most fun bits of government with them. They cannot therefore help but have a more internationalist loyalty than most of us. Beyond this we have deliberately engineered meetings like Bilderberg. You do not have to believe the Bilderbergers run the world to think that politicians, like Adam Smith's merchants "rarely get together, even for social purposes, but that it ends in a conspiracy against the public". Bilderberg was founded to produce European union.

    Beyond that it is often a very good excuse. Government would have to justify our burden of regulations, immigration rate, or lack of death penalty if they couldn't say it was forced on them by the EU. Apparently other EU politicians tell their populations the same.

  20. Susan
    Posted March 26, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I'm just a member of 'the electorate', ie not affiliated in any way to any poltical party.

    I believe it's time people relied on their own sense of what is right and what is wrong rather than electing someone who says he/she will represent their views, but then doesn't.

    Perhaps if some Conservative MPs will publish a list of their own expenses this might go some way to ameliorate the situation. David Cameron did say he would be willing to do so. The words 'money and mouth' spring to mind. The electorate would appreciate this,

    As for Europe, I fear we are lost. Despite the valiant efforts of Mr Redwood and Mr Cash et al, we are lost without the backing of the Lords.

    Is a 'one-world' order the only way forward? Must we amalgamate with the European continent in order to survive? My instinct is 'no' but perhaps I'm just old-fashioned. My feeling is that we would fare better without the EU.

  21. Posted March 27, 2008 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    One worldism seems attractive in many ways. The problem is that it removes any sort of competition between nations. We already have to much of this with intense diplomatic & economic pressure used to enforce obeissance to Kyoto, getting rid of the death penalty & indeed Parliamentary democracy. Even if the last is a good thing having it enforced as the only revealed cookie cutter answer to the problem of government in all societies isn't – the others don't even have that good side.

    If all competition between states is ended this would be the only thing which could stop human progress. Nuclear war would be quicker & perhaps kinder. On the other hand if Ludditism (aka environmentalism) cannot be enforced everywhere it will ultimately fail, as the fact that the EU is visibly failing compared to China proves.

    A Europe without an EU would have more countries than Ireland & the Baltics flourishing & by example, would end up as a centre of innovation & progress – indeed that is how it got where it used to be.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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