If You Ask Me July 2015

Prime minister’s questions

Abe stirs up controversy, Cameron faces a challenge

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has staked a great deal on his desire to make significant changes to the Japanese Constitution; changes that opinion polls suggest are not universally popular. Indeed, a majority of those surveyed in one recent poll were against the changes entirely and, in mid June, thousands took to the streets to demonstrate their opposition.

Having failed to gain sufficient support to amend the Constitution outright, Abe has introduced legislation that would amend 10 security-related laws and introduce a new one, all of which is designed to achieve the same outcome.

Of particular concern is his determination to make changes to Article 9, which states:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Opponents of the changes charge that they will move Japan away from its self-professed pacifism and could lead to the nation’s armed forces becoming involved in unconstitutional foreign military activities. Supporters, meanwhile, claim that Article 9 denies Japan the right to collective self-defence, something that is guaranteed to all sovereign states under the Charter of the United Nations.

It is not only public opinion that is hostile to the changes. A majority of constitutional scholars are also of the view that what Abe is proposing is unconstitutional. Speaking to the Kochi Shimbun, Yasuo Hasebe of Waseda University put the figure of those espousing that view at 99%.

Similarly, experts have pointed out that Abe’s citing of the so-called Sunagawa Incident—in which a 1959 court ruling is the sole verdict in which Japan’s self-defence was mentioned—is flawed because the dispute in that case was whether or not the US military presence in Japan violated Article 9. It did not touch on the activity of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

But Abe is not giving in easily. So determined is he to have his way that he and his coalition partner Natsuo Yamaguchi of New Komeito have taken the decision to extend the current session of the Diet to September—the longest ever post-war extension—in order to buy more time. The debate goes on.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron faces challenges of his own, and they largely centre on Europe. Committed to an in/out referendum by 2017, Cameron lost no time after the recent general election in the UK, visiting other European capitals in an attempt to gather support for the changes he seeks in EU treaties.

These are changes that he hopes will make remaining in the EU palatable to a majority. But he faces an uphill battle with a number of EU leaders already rejecting his demands. According to campaign group Business for Britain, the required changes are clear and they have articulated them in a paper entitled Change, or go.

Essentially the authors focus on 10 areas, from the need for Britain to be exempt from the “ever closer union” commitment, to the reintroduction of some form of national veto. There are calls for mechanisms to reduce the burden of regulation on businesses and for social and employment laws to be returned to the member states.

The report points out that EU laws have become damaging to Britain’s financial sector and some form of veto (similar to that which France has over the Common Agricultural Policy) should be instated.

Of great importance is a demand for a permanent and lasting reduction in the EU budget. Over the decade to 2013 the UK’s contribution to the EU ballooned from £3bn to £11bn, while at the same time the value of the UK’s rebate has seen a drop of more than £10bn. This, the report argues, must be reversed. It is not surprising that the authors call for strict measures to deal with immigration and a return to nation states of migration policy.

These, of course, are recommendations and it is not known just how far Cameron agrees with all of them. For the Eurosceptics, however, Change, or go provides plenty of cannon fodder. If Cameron is to stand a chance of succeeding in his quest, he must at least make a show of slaying the various dragons he faces across the EU zone.