I am often asked about Britain’s membership of the European Union, and its legal and constitutional impact on Australia. More recently, people are asking how the EU’s draft constitution will affect the role of the Crown in our constitutions, state and federal. The draft constitution is not as the British government suggests, no more than a document setting out what is the present status of the Union. It takes it further, the Union looking suspiciously like a federated republic.
It is truly extraordinary that Tony Blair is refusing to hold a referendum on this - which demonstrates once again the wisdom of our Australian Founding Fathers in requiring that any change to our constitution be put to a referendum, and not, incidentally, to that spin doctors’ dream, a plebiscite.
And why not a plebiscite?
Because the Founders were aware that in a plebiscite the government first asks a cleverly designed question, and then fills in the details later. It is the equivalent of a blank cheque on the constitution.
But returning to the UK, a London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, in its edition of 16 October 2003, reported that Buckingham Palace is growing more and more concerned about the draft European constitution, and especially about Article 10. This provides that not only the constitution, but also European law will have” primacy over the law of the member states”!
If ratified, will this not undermine the Queen’s supreme authority as the guardian of the British constitution, asserted as it is through the sovereignty of Parliament? Will not the Queen be reduced to the status of a princeling, and the UK to that of a mere principality or province, like those of the old German Empire that Bismarck had long conspired to create with his “blood and iron” policy? This necessitated the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, which was the precursor of those two terrible World Wars.
Sadly, the answer is obvious. So while the British people are to be consulted- at some, as yet unspecified, time in the future- on whether to replace the pound sterling with the Euro, they are not to be asked whether the constitution is to be ratified and whether their country, undefeated since 1066, should be swallowed up into a vast bureaucratically managed entity, governed according to broad policies settled in Paris and Berlin. Forget the wars against the dictators that sought to conquer all Europe. These may one day be seen, in the long tide of history, as mere skirmishes on the path to continental domination, a domination chosen by the elites without the consent of the people.
So when I am questioned about this, I say that if I were a citizen of the UK, I would be outraged, and I would protest strongly about this. And I would oppose substituting the Euro for the pound, too. That the monetary union is run for the benefit of France and Germany is clearly demonstrated by the cavalier way the deficit limits in the so called Stability Pact - which was to have been the guarantee of the integrity of the system - have been ignored by both. And how can you possibly have the same monetary policy for so many countries when some economies are booming and others have little or no growth and high unemployment? A first year student in economics would know that radically different policies are required for each.
It should be recalled that the UK entered the EEC (then not much more than a customs union - Bismarck’s German Empire started with one of those too, the Zollverein) on the promise, or rather the vain hope, of the British elites that the UK would be at the centre of Europe, in the “driving seat” as they say. Not so. The driving seat was well and truly occupied, and after all, three is a crowd. The EU was, is, and for the foreseeable future will be, governed according to the wishes of the Franco-German directoire. In the meantime the unfortunate citizens of Germany and the UK remain the principal source of the largesse which is lavished on every one else in the EU and also used to finance Third World support in ensuring a smooth path in matters diplomatic. This was well demonstrated during Australia’s last and unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the Security Council, as the Tasmanian Governor Richard Butler will immediately recall - he was then our ambassador.
Nevertheless, since Margaret Thatcher brought her admirable good sense to the governance of the United Kingdom, the British economy has done quite well, although this may now be changing.
Imagine just how much better she would have done without the cost of the protectionist Common Agricultural Policy – to say nothing of its deleterious impact on the UK environment, the health of its people (wasn’t Mad Cow Disease the result, in part at least, of the intensive forms of farming that the CAP encourages?) and the economies of Third World countries. The UK could have secured all the access she wanted to Europe through a Free Trade Agreement, as Norway and Switzerland have. Neither have to subsidize the CAP. And her market would have remained open to Australian and other produce priced competitively. True, the UK would not be in the EU driving seat - but she is not now and in fact will never be, at least if her French and German allies have anything to do with it!
But what is there in this for us and the other realms, including Canada and New Zealand? The Queen is sovereign of each, but as the High Court has found, unanimously, the Australian Crown is a completely separate institution.
This article was first published in the Australians For Constitutional Monarchy e-newsletter, Hot News on 3 November 2003.