Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Elections? What Elections?

The leaders of formerly free Europe are meeting for a final agreement on the European Constitution. For observers of the European scene, this is not news. Blair, in his response to the toothless lobby, gave little away and decided not to modify his position. Apart from a flanking movement to undermine Digby Jones at the CBI by attempting to retain Britain's labour laws, his supine attitude towards the other redlines is fairly clear.

Asked to explain our problems with the Charter in terms of the UK's employment laws, the PMOS said that the Charter codified existing rights. It did not create new ones. We wanted to be absolutely clear that it would not impinge on our laws relating to strikes. Asked why the Prime Minister was so concerned about this particular issue, the PMOS said we wanted to be sure that nothing in the Charter would impact on national law regarding strikes. Clarification was therefore critical in the negotiating process.

Even this is a half-truth since the powers contained in the Constitution allow the European Commission/Parliament/Council to legislate on industrial relations, if they view this as a core competence.

The continuous meetings of the foreign ministers have laid the groundwork for a common consensus in many areas, by adopting qualified majority voting as the main modus operandi. They have agreed the following issues:

the creation of the posts of Council President and EU Foreign Minister;
qualified majority voting (QMV) to become the normal voting procedure while unanimity voting will continue to remain in the financial, foreign policy, social policy and common commercial policy in the domain of cultural and audiovisual services;
the budgetary powers of Parliament and Council;
inclusion of a solidarity cause in case of a terrorist attack;
possibility to allow the emergence of an avant-garde of countries in the field of defence;
possibility of one million citizens to request the Commission to initiate a legislative proposal.

The remaining disagreements are based upon how votes will be cast in the Council of Ministers, the composition of the Commission and the minimum number of MEPs for smaller Member States. The first is the perennial hardy championed by Poland - the other two are the areas where the smaller countries can hope to retain their power and influence within the redesigned constitutional structure. In the United States, smaller regions are given equal representation in the Senate to ensure another check in favour of constitutional republicanism and against jacobin democracy. In Europe, the process of centralisation appears to favour democracy (as in the block vote beloved of the trade unions) to wear down the influence of the smaller Member States, and reduce their ability to act as a check upon the bigger countries or the central institutions, except acting in concert.

Blair is hoping that the divisions of the other countries will enflame passions and prevent the meeting singling out the famous 'redlines'. However, since he has always refused to stand out as a force of one, we can expect concessins to be spun as triumph, in order to ensure that Britain is not cast as the odd man out.

(22.46, 16th June 2004)


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