Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Adam died on a Zebra Crossing - 9th September 2003, 22.33

Tony Blair, writing in the foreword of the new White Paper on Britain's welcome to the European Constitution, provided little comfort to those who value Britain's sovereignty. Unless the Constitution encroached on the 'redlines' of tax, defence or foreign policy, then all other areas of competence could sail off to Brussels and qualified majority voting without any opposition form this government.

Peter Hain, in the preparatory statement on the paper, was quick to state that the British people would not be allowed a vote on their own future. The hypocrisy of the government was clearly stated in Jack Straw's speech to the House of Commons. The Foreign Secretary spun the same hoary line that the Constitution was merely a response to enlargement and that the Constitutional document that had emerged was a result of modernisation and did not reflect a huge step towards a single European state.

What we did want was a text which brought these treaties together in a single, more coherent whole. We also wanted a treaty which streamlined decision-making to ensure that the Union was able to act effectively at 25. And we wanted reforms which would enable the Union to deal with the problems of today rather than those of 50 years ago, and ensure that the Union delivers for Europe's peoples.

Since the European Constitution made little effort to bridge the "democratic deficit" that has formed one of the main criticisms of the EU from both Left and Right, this provides yet more reasons to distrust the government. It is the old lie of government downplaying integration in order to avoid giving the British electorate any choices in this matter. After all, the people's government knows best the interests of the people.

However, this attempt to argue that the European Constitution allows national parliaments to limit the power of the European Commission is laughable. The Constitution gives them the power to scrutinise but no veto. From the government that ensured parliamentary Select Committees were pliant echo chambers, the ability of national parliaments to appear to oppose must have appeared a godsend.

The text makes clear in Article 9 that the Union's powers derive from the Member States; any powers not explicitly conferred on the Union by the Member States remain with the national governments. This same article then goes on to establish new procedures for giving national parliaments an effective role in policing the Commission's legislative proposals. Under the draft (III - 160 and protocol) all such proposals from the Commission have to be scrutinised by national parliaments for proportionality and subsidiarity: where the national parliament objects, then the Commission has to take the proposal back for review. This significantly strengthens the powers of national parliaments. The House will wish to know that the House of Lords EU Committee, having examined this in considerable detail, has concluded that the effect of this and other measures in the Convention's text mean that 'it is clear that the balance of power in the European Union is going to shift from the Commission in favour of the Member States if the [Convention's] proposals...are adopted...' [HL 105, 15 May 2003, paragraph 11].

Without the power of veto, national parliaments will find their objections lack force, and that a process of review will not substantially change the proposals of the Commission.

The redlines were also set in more detail:

In the IGC we will not support proposals to extend the principle of Qualified Majority Voting to certain key policy areas. We will insist that unanimity remain for Treaty change; and in other areas of vital national interest such as tax, social security, defence, key areas of criminal procedural law and the system of own resources. Unanimity must remain the general rule for Common Foreign and Security Policy, as proposed in the final Convention text. We will not sign up to any Treaty which does not, in our view, advance Britain's national interest.

If these lines are crossed, how stauch will our government be in defending them. It is clear that this government will sign the Constitution unless it is fundamentally changed without reference to the British people. How will the Tories respond to this?


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