Convention on the Future of Europe
European Journal, March 3rd 2003
Many of us have long feared the end game in the creation of an EU federal state. We have opposed the long diminution of our power to govern ourselves through successive Treaties and decisions. But now we have finally reached the end game: the Convention on the Future of Europe.
Worse still, reading the drafts coming out of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the end game is not the creation of a federal state. It is the creation of a strong centralised bureaucracy. It devours your cash, regulates your life and does not answer to you. This unelected Commission will have wide ranging powers to make laws, enter treaties, spend money and conduct a foreign policy with no direct democratic accountability. As we approach 25 member states, each one will find it can do little to arrest the progress of centralisation, or to change the decisions that the Commission has determined upon.
The draft constitution sets out to change the present three pillar structure of the EU. The idea was that the single market and economic matters should be more centralised than foreign policy or criminal law. These latter two were left as inter-governmental, where each country preserved a veto or opt out to respect the different legal traditions and differing views on world problems. The EU has begun to erode this structure. We already have a High Representative, an EU official, travelling to world projecting an EU wide foreign policy. Now we are asked to create 32 important offences as EU crimes, where an EUI arrest warrant can be used to take suspects to trial across frontiers.
Now we are to see the pillars pulled down. All foreign policy and all criminal law will become Union matters, where the EU will decide what the Union will do and how much discretion is left to member states. Great nations will be expected to swear allegiance to the foreign policy of the Union, and to accept the senior criminal jurisdiction of the EU.
The architecture of the old EU is to be stood on its head under the proposed arrangements. At the moment the member states contract together to grant powers to the EU institutions. In the draft constitution the EU has a legal personality of its own, with wide ranging powers. The EU grants rights and powers to citizens and nations on its chosen basis.
The EU has decided to assert itself as the sole power in areas like the regulation of industry, trade and commerce, and the negotiation of international agreements. In many other areas like health, the environment and transport, it accepts a shared competence or power. Sharing is not quite the friendly arrangement you might imagine, for if the EU decides to occupy ground or legislates in a shared arena it is no longer open to the member state to intervene or make its own decisions.
The EU plans a new way to legislate. It wishes to introduce regulations or "non legislative acts" that will directly operate in each and every member state. These will be determined by the Commission alone. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be incorporated into the constitution.
Many people will ask Does all this matter? It sounds arcane. The prose is prolix and tedious. Some of the language bears a family relationship to language we have seen before in older treaties. Will it really make any difference to someone's pay packet, or to their health service, their transport system or their liberties?
We must tell them it will and it does. We must fight for our freedoms , as our pragmatic, liberty-loving, flexible and historic British constitution is rolled up to be replaced by this very different continental model. It would mean that General Elections could not change many laws we did not like, because they would be made in Europe. It means we will have to obey laws that we had little or no part in fashioning. It means we will no longer be masters of our own destiny, capable of governing ourselves.
No-one should doubt how radical or serious this document is. As it states "The constitution, and law adopted by the Union institutions in exercising competences conferred on it by the Constitution, shall have primacy over the law of the Member states.". The powers are wide ranging and fundamental. They include "the competence to coordinate the economic policies of member states", "the competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy" and exclusive competence "for the conclusion of an international agreement".
We have been warned. Four years ago I asked if we were witnessing the death of Britain, as power was taken away. This Constitution will represent the burial of Britain. These leaden words will intern our once free, proud and independent country.