Logical fallacies and euroscepticism

For the millionth time I’ve read this reported as fact:

The new Lisbon Treaty is largely the same as the defeated constitution…

So, for all those hard of thinking journalists out there and everyone else for that matter who seems to misunderstand it, I thought I’d draw you a handy diagram:
EU treaty diagram
You can say that the addition of Lisbon means that the combined treaties are roughly equivalent to the stalled constitutional treaty. You cannot say that Lisbon itself is roughly equivalent to the stalled constitutional treaty. To claim otherwise it to be a fool.

Let’s put it another way: an iced cake with “Happy Birthday” written on it is roughly the same thing as an iced cake with “Happy Christmas” written on it. If you claimed that the icing itself was more or less the same thing as the whole cake, you could reasonably expect to be put into a rubber room.

I know this is the height of pedantry, but it is an important distinction and anyone who contests it loses the moral right to call other people “dishonest”.

What I find most amazing about all this is the way the Eurosceptics have, in effect, ceded the argument over all the other treaties which, in the past, they insisted (with the same level of shoutiness as now) were about to “abolish” Britain. Equally amazing is the fact that, four years ago there was a real opportunity to effectively renegotiate those past treaties via the constitutional process. The shadowy forces behind iwantareferendum and the combined Murdoch, Rothermere and (then) Black press could have insisted on a public debate and a more open process from the government. They did no such thing. Even if you agree that treaties like this should be ratified by referendum – as I do – don’t for a second kid yourself that these people have our best interests at heart.


  1. But the “shift” happened with the SEA and Maastricht – everything since then including Lisbon has been minor in comparison. Lisbon in particular introduces a whole range of democratic checks and balances we never had before.

    What makes me laugh the hollowest is when Eurosceptics simultaneously cite the CAP as a disastrous policy and howl with outrage that Lisbon is going to make agriculture a co-decision area. You can’t have it both ways. Either inter-governmental policy making is the best route – and thus the CAP is near perfect – or co-decision is a better route for policy making.

  2. Surely, though, considering that we have already ratified all of those other treaties, the question is really what difference ratifying this one or not will make, be it in the old ‘constitution’ form or the new ‘treaty’ form.

    How different would the legal structures of the EU be between implementing (a) the constitution as-was and (b) the treaty as-is. It is my feeling that the net result of ratifying either would be broadly very similar indeed, and that the results of not ratifying would be even more similar again (that the EU would stay just as it is).

    Surely this is the important point?

  3. That may be the important point, but it isn’t the point which Eurosceptics choose to make, for the simple reason that it would force attention away from us having an evil, sinister “constitution” “imposed” on “us” and force us to debate the actual detail. Inevitably then we’d have to start talking about citizens’ initiatives, Member States’ Parliaments having more say, greater powers for the European Parliament, the merits of co-decision and the value of having the EU’s work limited by a Charter of Fundamental Rights which stops it from being able to impose unjust and unreasonable laws on us. Such a debate would be fatal for the Eurosceptics.

    (Sadly, the pro-Europeans are guilty of being lax in making this case as well).

  4. Sorry, I think I was unclear – either that or I’m being dumb and not getting your response. Very tired today!

    Your diagram shows a big WTF next to the proposal that Lisbon is 95% similar to the Constitutional Treaty. But my point is that applying the Constitutional Treaty to what we’ve currently got (all them other treaties) is 95% similar to applying the Lisbon Treaty to what we’ve currently got.

    So, although you’re right to say that Lisbon is quite unlike the Constitution on the basis that it does not include all the other treaties (which is what I think you’re saying), I believe that that, while true, doesn’t really mean very much because we’ve already got all of those other treaties, and we already had all of those other treaties in 2005 when the Lib Dem manifesto promised a referendum on the constitution.

    To me, that makes the Lisbon treaty and the old Constitution functionally equivalent, and so I disagree (strongly) with your claim that they are different.

  5. So what is it that’s in the Lisbon Treaty that you consider to be a major change in a way that Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht and the Single European Act weren’t?

    Please don’t bore me with stuff about manifesto commitments – opposition parties always break manifesto commitments; they have to. I’m interested in the claim that Lisbon is sui generis from the other treaties.

    Personally I support a referendum, but I wouldn’t start from here. A referendum, for it to be a meaningful democratic tool, has to come at the end of a process in which the public is involved every step of the way. I don’t hear anyone from the Eurosceptic camp making this point and they certainly weren’t making this point four years ago when it would have been meaningful.

    It isn’t enough to talk about a referendum for Lisbon, pat yourself on the back about you being a democrat, and then taking no other interest in such issues. The Lib Dem agenda for democratic engagement is far more meaningful and relevant than anything the Tories have to say. They jump up and down about this one treaty as a smokescreen to kid people into thinking they’re democrats; they are not. I’m not asking you to oppose a treaty referendum on Lisbon – I don’t. I am asking you to recognise the huge amount of cant being uttered by the Eurosceptic press which is at best misleading and at worst downright lies.

  6. So what is it that’s in the Lisbon Treaty that you consider to be a major change in a way that Nice, Amsterdam, Maastricht and the Single European Act weren’t?

    I don’t think that’s really relevant to my own viewpoint – if I was around and interested in politics at the time those other treaties were being negotiated, then I may well have been “pro” having a referendum on those too. I just don’t know.

    However, the Liberal Democrats were (correct me if I’m wrong) around when those treaties were being negotiated. Did they call for a referendum on them then? If not, why not, and why did they give a commitment to have one on the constitution? (rhetorical question – I don’t expect you to know, and I certainly don’t hold you to account for the contents of the Lib Dem manifesto!!)

    I am asking you to recognise the huge amount of cant being uttered by the Eurosceptic press which is at best misleading and at worst downright lies.

    But what I am attempting to argue here (and failing, clearly!) is that the claim you quoted, “The new Lisbon Treaty is largely the same as the defeated constitution” is actually true in the effect that it would have on the institutions of the EU, considering that we already have approved (though clearly not by referendum) all those other treaties. I am not for a second suggesting that the Eurosceptic press would not lie about matters European; I am just saying that in my opinion, this time they don’t have to.

    I am, honestly, thoroughly ambivalent on whether there should be a referendum or not – what I am miffed by is the U-turn by the Lib Dem leadership. We didn’t have to put that sentence in the manifesto, but we did. And we should be honest enough as a party to stick by our promises. That’s what grinds my gears, so to speak.

  7. If we can’t agree that icing a cake is not the same thing as the whole cake, then there is no point in continuing this discussion.

    For the record, the Lib Dems were in favour of a referendum for Maastricht – something the Conservatives opposed. The Single European Act, by far the most the significant of the other treaties, wafted through Parliament with very little controversy. Amsterdam and Nice were of minor impact. Lisbon is perhaps a little more significant than either of them but not by much.

    The reason why the Constitutional Treaty was different was that it was a constitutional treaty. That sounds tautological because it is. It incorporated the entirety of EU constitutional law into a single treaty. It was unarguably sui generis from any of the other treaties.

    If you’re so exercised by the Lib Dems breaking manifesto *yawn* pledges (something which they technically can’t do since they lost the election and thus have no mandate to implement the manifesto), then why is this pledge any different from, say, our commitment to a 50p rate of income tax? Or the Conservatives’ opposition to tuition fees?

    If your only argument for a referendum on this treaty boils down to manifesto pledges, you have a spectacularly weak argument. Either holding a referendum is the correct policy in principle, or it isn’t.

  8. ON CAKE

    I think that your cake analogy is flawed. I would rather analogize that we already have an un-iced cake, and one person wants to ice the cake we’ve got for us, and the other person wants to take away the cake we’ve got and give us back a cake that is the same in every single way as the cake that has been taken away, except for the fact that it has been iced.

    Either way, we end up with an iced cake.

    So if someone asks me “would you like me to put icing on that cake for you?” and then actually takes the cake away, and returns with an identical cake that has been iced, then it would be very churlish of me to complain.


    The form of the constitutional treaty was different, sure. Up until the eurocrats realized that it wouldn’t get passed because there were too many countries voting “no” in the referenda that they had been promised.

    And so the constitution was reworked solely in order that it could be passed without referendum. Surely this reason alone should be enough to have every right-thinking democrat jumping up and down and demanding a referendum??

  9. Sandy, either you accept that A+B+C+D+E ≈X in which case E cannot be approximately the same as X or you simply don’t have any regard for the facts at all. I’m not disputing “the effect of” it is similar – my beef is that people consistently claim that it is the same thing. I’ve given you a precise quote above. Go over to iwantareferendum for other examples.

    You can claim it is pedantic or irrelevant, but to claim this is a “flawed” argument is simply astonishing.

    And so the constitution was reworked solely in order that it could be passed without referendum. Surely this reason alone should be enough to have every right-thinking democrat jumping up and down and demanding a referendum??

    The treaty was drafted in order to ensure that a referendum would not be necessary therefore a referendum is necessary? Do you have any idea how oxymoronic that argument is? It’s also a completely different argument to the one you were making earlier.

    Again I ask you: name one thing in the Lisbon treaty that you think requires a referendum. What is the principle governments should use when deciding if something requires a referendum or not? And what should Europe do if the UK (or any other member state) fails to ratify the treaty?

  10. If the effects of applying either treaty are the same, and the effects of not applying either treaty are the same, then they are functionally equivalent. I’m quite happy with people in that situation claiming that they are “the same”, because they do the same things.

    Sure, the Lisbon Treaty would be meaningless without all the other prior treaties, and the Constitution would not – but the only reason that the Constitution has come to pass is all of those other treaties, which have all already been passed. So whether one passes them again in their embedded form is totally immaterial.

    The only substantive difference between the two is that Lisbon has been designed explicitly to avoid the referenda that had been promised.

    The treaty was drafted in order to ensure that a referendum would not be necessary therefore a referendum is necessary? Do you have any idea how oxymoronic that argument is?

    Well, except that’s not quite the entire assertion, is it? Politically speaking, the constitution was drafted, everyone (our side of the pond) said “we’ll have a referendum on that”, the eurocrats started losing those referenda, and so instead of having the honesty to say “well, actually, looks like some people don’t like this, we’d better rethink”, they thought “hmmm, people don’t like this, how can we ram it down their throats?”. The latter is not particularly democratic, is it? Changing the process in order to suit one’s own ends instead of the will of the people.

  11. Again I ask you: name one thing in the Lisbon treaty that you think requires a referendum. What is the principle governments should use when deciding if something requires a referendum or not? And what should Europe do if the UK (or any other member state) fails to ratify the treaty?

    I think that changing the office of the presidency from “rotating country control” to “single person representative” is a large enough change to warrant a referendum. Creation of a single “high representative for foreign affairs not a foreign minister at all no guv honest” would also probably be enough.

    In principle, I think that any treaty that changes the structure of government of the EU should require a referendum, and I also believe that the same should apply at home. It should not be the Commons deciding on the composition of the Lords, the body designed to oversee them! That way madness lies, and yet it is the path often trodden in this country.

  12. We already have a High Representative: his name is Javier Solana. Why is his mention here more significant than creating his post in the first place?

    Regarding the presidency, this is the guy who will chair the Council of Ministers. Of the three EU presidents we have (there are actually more, but lets leave it to the big three for now), the Council President is the least powerful. We already have a 2.5 year term for the President of the Parliament – why didn’t the creation of that role warrant a referendum? We already have a five year term for the President of the European Commission – a role which is far more powerful.

  13. It probably did warrant a referendum. I mean, it would clearly be impractical to have a referendum for each and every change, which is why it’s reasonable to batch them up into treaties to be voted on.

  14. Your original diagram is pretty but it is nonsense.
    It should show:
    previous treaties etc + Constitutional Treaty = x
    Lisbon treaty = 95% of Constitutional Treaty
    previous treaties etc + Lisbon = more than 95% of x

  15. Duncan @ 9.33pm 14/2 … I think the proof is different, isn’t it?


    PT Previous Treaties etc
    CT Constitutional Treaty
    LT Lisbon Treaty
    X The Blueprint for a Modern Eurotopia / The first steps to a totalitarian European Police State (depending on your view)


    PT + CT = X


    LT = 0.95 * CT

    which implies

    CT = 1.052632 * LT

    then if

    PT + LT = PT + 0.95 * CT

    which in fact means that

    PT + LT < X

    and it therefore follows that

    PT + LT < PT + CT

    which means that

    … I don’t know what it means, but I liked the original diagram

  16. I hardly ever bother with Lib Dem blogs … now it’s hit me why. Lib Dems are so utterly confused!
    Its really quite simple.

    The Lisbon Treaty = the Constitution because it can only be read in conjunction with all the previous treaties.
    The previous constitution collapsed all the treaties into one document. The Lisbon Treaty simply takes all the points of the defunct constitution and smatters them among the previous treaties, where they will have exactly the same effect as the constitution. Whats the difference? It will have exactly the same effect! If it quacks like a duck etc….

  17. Your statement is legalistically meaningless. Everyone is fully cognisant of the fact that this is an amending treaty which changes the past treaties. The point is, the past treaties have to be there in the first place to BE amended. Ergo a vote on all the past treaties AND the Lisbon treaty is NOT the same as a vote on the Lisbon treaty – and just stating that it is “really quite simple” does not make it true.

    It’s like arguing that having a vote on whether or not to pass Statutory Instrument number 3687 amending the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act is the same as having a vote on the Act itself. This would be the case whether SI 3687 amended one line of the Act or changed its whole purpose.

  18. What is all this about????
    Is this exercise fine hair-splitting the only way you can find to justify the Lib Dems breaking their manifesto promise??

    Here’s what one of your ex leader’s said a few months back.

    “If any Government propose to agree to a major shift in control or any transfer of significant powers from member states to European institutions, or to agree to any alteration in the existing balance between member states and those institutions, there should be a referendum of the British people. The draft treaty fulfils those criteria. As I have said on the four or five occasions when we have debated this matter in the past five or six months, there should be a referendum on the constitutional proposals that are likely to emerge from Brussels”.
    Menzies Campbell

  19. Blurted out by Clegg during his Newsnight interview last night, 27:32 in, here:


    “Jeremy, am I supposed to be surprised that the Labour party, that has reneged on its commitment to a referendum, and doesn’t want to have a referendum of any sort … ”

    As the Lib Dem commitment was the same as the Labour party commitment, “logically” (to use one of his favourite words) this is an admission that the Lib Dems are also reneging on their commitment – notwithstanding all his sophistry about the Lisbon Treaty being very different to the Constitutional Treaty, not being the treaty mentioned in the Lib Dem manifesto because it didn’t even exist at that time, etc etc.

  20. Try this one then.

    “We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain’s interest – but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people”.
    Liberal Democrat 2005 election manifesto.

  21. Right. An elementary guide to political discourse:

    1. There is what YOU think.

    2. There is what OTHER PEOPLE think.

    YOU think the Lisbon treaty is the same as the constitution, and that by not backing a referendum on the treaty the Lib Dems are breaking their manifesto commitment

    NICK CLEGG thinks that the Lisbon treaty is NOT the same as the constitution, for reasons I have already stated, furthermore that a referendum on the treaty is a distraction and waste of time, and that therefore the Lib Dems are NOT breaking their manifesto commitment. Nick Clegg thinks the only way to fulfil the commitment is to go for the full in-or-out question.

    Now then. You may well think he is wrong. You may well say, “I believe something different” and attempt to argue your case (and seemingly fail thus far, judging by the number of authorities you’ve had to invoke in quick succession). But you CANNOT say, Nick Clegg does not agree with me, and therefore the whole thing is a lie and a travesty and a failure and froth-froth froth-oops-one-of-my-eyeballs-has-fallen-out.

  22. Clegg is wrong. There are major constitutional implications in the Lisbon Treaty.
    Booker gives one here:

    The publication last week in Brussels of the first official English text of the EU treaty confirms what everyone except Gordon Brown and the Foreign Office has been saying – that the new 277-page treaty is almost exactly the same as the old constitution. However, amid the dawning realisation that the attempt to ram through this treaty in 10 weeks is an immense new EU power grab, one crucial feature has attracted little notice – not least because to grasp it one must put together a series of articles scattered through the text.

    In effect, the new treaty formally sets up the body known as the European Council as the government of Europe. It was the European Council which in June took an unprecedented step, not only deciding the treaty’s text in advance but issuing a “mandate” that scarcely a word can be changed by that intergovernmental conference which is to present it for final signature in October.

    The first point to note is that this treaty for the first time formally includes the European Council among “the Union’s institutions” (Article 9). The European Council is not to be confused with the Council of Ministers (which has lately, very confusingly, renamed itself “the Council of the European Union”). It was originally set up in 1974 as a series of regular informal get-togethers between heads of government, as suggested by Jean Monnet, the mastermind behind the entire “European project”, although he called it “the provisional government of Europe”.

    Since then these meetings of the European Council (still often misleadingly referred to as “summits”) have become arguably the most important engine of the EU’s political integration. But only now is the council being formally incorporated into the EU’s structure. This is not least significant since, as the new treaty makes clear, when the heads of government meet in council they are no longer to represent their own countries. Like the members of all other “Union institutions”, their first loyalty will now be to the EU. To “promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests” takes precedence over any national loyalty.

    Turn back to Article 3 of the new treaty, which sets out the “objectives of the Union”, and we see that it has been extended since the draft constitution. It is now drawn so widely that there is virtually nothing which cannot be regarded as an EU objective, and the council’s prime function is to promote those objectives. As this and other parts of the treaty make clear, the Union will have power to shape and decide policy in almost every field, from defence and foreign affairs to how national economies should be run.

    Furthermore, if the union wishes to take any powers not specifically authorised by the treaty, it will be able to do so under a new version of Article 308. Until now this applied only to measures needed to promote the “common market”, but its new wording amounts to a blank cheque. It will be allowed new powers over anything it wants, in accordance with those all-embracing “objectives of the union”. One of the biggest potential bombshells is hidden away in Article 262, which says that, by decision of the European Council, the EU “may establish new categories of own resources”. In other words, it will have the power to levy its own taxes.

    What all this amounts to is that the European Union finally wishes to set itself up as the supreme government of Britain and 26 other countries, with unlimited powers over every aspect of our lives: a government we cannot dismiss and which is unaccountable. It is nothing less than a complete coup d’etat. And Gordon Brown wishes to see this imposed on us without allowing us a referendum, in direct breach of a promise on which he was elected, and now on the basis of the transparent lie that it has no bearing on our constitutional rights. It should be enough to blow the minds of everyone in Britain.

  23. A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.

    I will go into this a bit later, but first I would like to put to bed the difference between a treaty and a constitution – a treaty is the expression of sovereign power, a constitution is itself the repository of sovereign power, i.e. without sovereign power you cannot exercise an expression of that sovereignty by making a treaty.

    Things now get a bit complicated because we have a situation with the European Project where sovereign states make a treaty between themselves to pass a proportion of their sovereignty to a supranational third party, that treaty then becomes the constitution of the third party. The founding treaty of the UN, the WTO, the Council of Europe etc. fall into the same category, as they all become the constitution of the third party.

    Now it begins to get very complicated because in the case of the EU unlike the other international organisations the power does not remain at all times within in member state, whereas with the other organisations it does or to be honest is has so far. In the UN for instance the power to veto any proposal always stays within the member state.

    The basic difference is in the foundations of the Project the framers of the Project constructed a supranational, not an intergovernmental, set of institutions, the EU is what is known as, path-dependent, in that all the institutions of today were there in embryo form in the original treaties constitution of the Project.

    When one starts to talk about percentage change it should be remembered that only slight changes to clauses can make a great deal of difference to the meaning and the following actions that will result from the commitment made by our government when signing the treaties.

    As illustration only: the Maastricht treaty states:

    The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.

    This is changed slightly in the Amsterdam treaty and again in the Nice treaty, by the time of the Constitution it has become a different animal from a very vague provision in Maastricht, this has firmed up substantially: “might in time” has become “will”.

    The common foreign and security policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.

    You have asked several time in the comments what are the major difference between the previous treaties and Lisbon/Constitution there are so many that it would be impossible to list them all here, but the real major change is the Constitution and Lisbon both fundamentally change the basic structure of the EU and its relationship to its member states.

    Its laws and its Constitution are made superior to those of the member states. Please do not fall into the trap of arguing that EU law has always been superior to state law it has not, because it has never been in any of the other treaties.

    The EU becomes an actor on the international stage in its own right and is invested with the power for the first time to both join international organisations such as the UN and to make international treaties in own right.

    The Council of the EU becomes an institution of the EU and is obliged to act in the interests of the EU first.

    Our own parliament is obliged to consider the interests of the EU.
    Our nations foreign policy is weakened considerably in that we mat not take any action without first consulting our partners in the EU with the intention of ensuring that the EU`s interest is promoted.

    The reason we should have a referendum on this treaty is because it radically changes our own Constitution, this is not a Eurosceptic myth, but a fact which is proven by the Irish having to hold referendum, because it is written into its constitution that changes can only be made after holding a referendum, also the French have just recently voted to change their constitution to allow for the introduction of the Lisbon treaty.

    Sorry this was so long, but I was struck by your contention that EU sceptics were guilty of a logical fallacy, something I knew to be wrong and I wondered how you could have reached that conclusion, you did so by making the basic assumption with the original post, that the Constitution was 95% the same as the treaties, it is not, it is radically different and as the Lisbon treaty makes all the institutional changes that were in the Constitution it too is radically different. After ratification we will be in a totally different EU with a totally different balance of powers between the supranational and the national governments.

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