|Tuesday, 2 September 2003||
By the time the Iraqi crisis is over, it may already be too late for the Government to stop a political disaster in Europe. The European Union’s first constitution will be a done deal, and, from what we have seen of the text so far, it will usher in a new order that overturns the governing basis of British parliamentary democracy for ever.
The EU will no longer be a treaty organisation in which member states agree to lend power to Brussels for certain purposes, on the understanding that they can take it back again. The EU itself will become the fount of power, with its own legal personality, delegating functions back to Britain. Draft Article 9 puts Brussels at the top of the pyramid. “The Constitution will have primacy over the law of Member States,” it says.
The new order may also be irreversible. Article 46 stipulates that the terms of secession from the EU must be agreed by two thirds of the member states. In other words, one third can impose intolerable conditions [report, 3 April].
A number of fresh articles trickled out two weeks ago, just as the Iraq conflict was erupting, to create what amounts to an EU interior and justice ministry, known as Eurojust, in charge of a proto-FBI – Europol – with the power to launch raids across the EU [report, 19 March]. An EU attorney-general will be able to prosecute “cross-border crime” in British courts, a catch-all term that gives Brussels wider jurisdiction than the US Justice Department currently enjoys after 200 years of encroachment on state power.
Under a new notion called “shared competence”, Brussels takes charge of virtually all areas of national life. Unless the EU chooses to waive its primacy, Westminster will be prohibited from legislating in public health, social policy, transport, justice, agriculture, energy, economic and social cohesion, the environment, internal and external trade, and consumer protection.
The EU will have the power to “co-ordinate the economic policies of the member states” and – showing some chutzpah given what happened over Iraq – “define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy”.
This is not exactly what protesters had in mind when they voted no to the euro in Denmark, and no to Nice in Ireland, or when they tore up Gothenburg in the anti-EU riots in 2001. But it was precisely these outbursts of popular dissent that prompted EU leaders, in December 2001, to launch a convention on the future of Europe.
Vowing to end secrecy in EU treaty talks and throw the process open to the “people”, they summoned 105 “Founding Fathers” for a year-long brain-storming session in Brussels to redesign Europe’s governing machinery. Instead of diplomats, the members were MEPs, as well as MPs and ministers from the EU’s 28 current and future states.
The man chosen to shepherd the “people” and enthuse Europe’s disenchanted youth was the lordly Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who incarnates the elitism of the 1970s French establishment. It went downhill from there.
The two European Commissioners on his 13-member praesidium, France’s Michel Barnier and Portugal’s Antonio Vitorino, have used their inside position to hijack the drafting process and push through articles that go far beyond the proposals of the working groups that toiled through the autumn. Much of the constitution is being written by lawyers on loan from the commission. The “people” have become a sick joke.
Tony Blair was slow to see the threat. Downing Street at first dismissed the convention as a talking shop, but woke up when the French, Spanish, German and Italian governments gave it irresistible authority by appointing to it their foreign or deputy prime ministers.
The Government then fell back to a second self-deception, imagining that France and Spain would join Britain in blocking any major assault on national prerogatives. Peter Hain, Downing Street’s man on the forum, confidently told reporters that the East Europeans would not give away freedoms so recently wrested from the Soviet Union.
None of this has happened. France has abandoned Britain, and her own historical attachment to a Europe where national capitals always have the whip hand over Brussels. They seem to be accepting federalism as the price of relaunching the broken Franco-German axis. As for the Spanish, they are silent.
So are the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and others, who still have a gun pointed to their head. They know that Jacques Chirac could still try to sabotage their admission next year by calling a referendum in France. Those on the convention will soon become MEPs or Eurocrats themselves, and their salaries will jump by as much as 12 times, which concentrates the mind.
It is almost pitiful to read through the long list of amendments put up by Mr Hain. Britain is alone, supported by just a handful of lonely Euro-sceptics.
The Government still insists that this draft text is nothing more than a wish list. Once the convention wraps up its work in June, EU governments will have their say. They alone will decide what is in the second Treaty of Rome this December. Of course, Britain can veto any text it does not like. But equally, we all know that Labour is not going to destroy a six-year effort to place the Government at the heart of Europe. And there is always the implicit threat that 24 other states could create a new union, leaving Britain in an empty shell.
Mr Blair will win a few face-saving concessions. The meaningless term “federal” will be taken out of Article 1. A watchdog may be created to safeguard “subsidiarity”. But in the end he will try to pretend that this monster is more or less what Downing Street wanted all along, even with its legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Only a referendum can stop it now – if the Tories have got the guts to fight for one.
This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.