Was Gordon foolish not to sign the EU treaty along with the other heads of state, as almost everyone seems to think? I’m not so sure. When British people are pressed to think through what they want out of Europe, a sensible majority grudgingly accept the benefits of the single market and the need to pool sovereignty on some things – but what the British have always been allergic to is the supranational aspects of EU symbolism, precisely those things on display in Lisbon today. So for Gordon to distance himself from the pomp and ceremony while still signing up to what is valuable about the EU may be populist, but it is not completely unreasonable.
In any case, it turns out that the whole premise of the treaty was false. The EU is not suffering from gridlock as a result of enlargement, as many predicted; indeed, if anything, it is working better now with 27 members than it did when it had 15. This is not what either Eurosceptics or Europhiles want to hear; the former never accept the EU might be working well, and the latter are wedded to the logic of “gridlock” as a justification for the latest round of institutional reform. That is why a remarkable report by Helen Wallace, the noted pro-EU academic at the LSE, got so little publicity earlier this week. Wallace points out that of the EU decisions that are subject to complex co-decision rules, the number that went through on the first go actually rose from 34 per cent in 2003 to 64 per cent in 2005 (easing to 59 per cent in 2006), after the first wave of enlargement. Moreover, about 90 per cent of EU decisions continue to be made by consensus and the number of pending cases at the European court of justice is falling. Even the arrival of Romania and Bulgaria is failing to screw things up.