It is the least cited passage in the Treaty of Rome – so at odds with the rest of the text, in fact, that when I quote it, my fellow Eurocrats usually think I am making it up. It comes in the Preamble as one of the founding objectives of the European Economic Community, and it reads as follows:
Desiring to contribute, by means of a common commercial policy, to the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade.
Of course, if this objective were ever fulfilled, the EU would have no raison d’etre. In a world without tariffs, there would be no need for customs unions. Indeed, for many Euro-enthusiasts, the whole purpose of integration is to give the EU clout against its trading rivals, and to protect Europe’s social model from lower cost economies.
Hence Peter Mandelson’s preposterous decision to slap a punitive tariff of 5 per cent, rising to 20 per cent in the coming months, on shoes from China and Vietnam – a ruling that will add around £7.00 to the price of a pair of shoes. The Trade Commissioner argues that this is an anti-dumping measure, which is what the EU invariably says when it wants to protect inefficient industries within its borders. But let us give Mr Mandelson the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the Chinese really are subsidising their cobblers. If so, the more fool them. It means that, every time we buy a pair of their shoes, we are picking up a subsidy from the Chinese taxpayer.
No British interest is served by this protectionism. Again and again, our consumers are expected to suffer for the sake of backward producers on the Continent. EU tariffs are highest in the fields of agriculture, textiles, steel and road vehicles – all areas where, in effect, British shoppers are being asked to prop up hopeless Continental manufacturers.
You might regard this as unfortunate; but your opinions don’t count. Britain has had no commercial policy since 1 January 1973, when our trade was wholly contracted out to Brussels. The entire show has been removed from our elected representatives and placed in the hands of an unelected functionary who, when he was a politician, twice had to resign in disgrace. You might have very strong views about commercial policy. You might want us to open our markets to struggling African producers. You might, for all I know, have been one of the millions of people who jumped up and down at the Live8 concert. But there is absolutely nothing you can do about it as long as we are in the EU. Some democracy.