Sunday, March 09, 2003
Peter Hain's Publicity Offensive - 9th March 2003, 20.35

Peter Hain has been very busy these last few days, giving interviews with the Times and the Telegraph, in order to set out the government's stall on the Convention. Whilst Hain is naturally opposed to the centralised draft of Giscard D'Estaing published recently, he does not provide much relief with Britain's detailed alternatives.

He is quite clear that the government would veto any move to harmonise taxes, economic policy and foreign policy. Britain will support an elected President of the European Commission by the European Parliament , an elected Chairman of the European Council answerable to the head of states and a strengthened 'foreign policy supremo'. The Charter of Fundamental Rights would not be applied at a national level and all policies would have to pass a test of proportionality to see if they could be applied more effectively at a national level.

To enhance Britain's influence, Hain announced that these proposals were supported by the accession countries. However, they have little influence in the Convention at the moment because they are not members of the European Union. Hain indicated that Britain has signed up to the agenda of the larger countries with powers exercised by the nation states through the European Council rather than through the more federalist European Commission.

Nevertheless, Hain's interjections in the Convention show that Britain still retains the greatest attachment to national sovereignty amongst the countries of the European Union. The Constitution agreed upon by the other countries will be far more centralised in tone with greater harmonisation over economic and fiscal policies than Hain is willing to admit in public. After all, D'Estaing and the Convention have published an extreme, centralised model of the Union in order to shape the agenda of negotiations and increase the influence of the European institutions at the expense of the nation states.

If a document is agreed upon that the government assesses as inimical to British interests, will we veto?

Would Britain leave or become an "associate member" of the EU rather than sign up to a final version with which it disagreed? "I don't think that's going to happen," Mr Hain insists. "We've got huge influence because we're recognisably pro-European. We're not patsies, but we're not moaning minnies either."

Hain is probably being honest here. The government considers Britain to be an indispensable part of the European Union and appears to be unable to imagine a scenario where other countries agree upon a Constitution that is incompatible with our interests. Of course, six months ago, very few pundits could have imagined America or Britain walking out of the United Nations.


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