Friday, 17 August 2007

EU Constitution round-up


“An Ipsos Mori poll has shown that 81% of British people want a referendum on the new EU Treaty, with 66% feeling strongly that there should be a vote. Only 17% agreed with Gordon Brown that Parliament should decide.” (Sun, 11 August)

“Several of the leaders who have been closely involved throughout the process of drafting the Constitutional Treaty have produced an analysis of the “new” text, stating that “almost all the innovations” of the old text is preserved. The analysis, put together by the so-called Action Committee for European Democracy – whose members include Chris Patten, Giuliano Amato, Wim Kok and EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom – says, “The proposed new treaty and supplementary protocols take over almost all the innovations contained in the Constitutional Treaty. They only leave aside the symbolic changes which were introduced by the Constitutional Treaty – such as the title of the treaty or the symbols of the union.”

“A memo has revealed that the Government originally was opposed to the extension of European Court of Justice powers under the Constitution over “very sensitive areas” such as criminal justice, policing, asylum and immigration. The memo stated that “These raise sensitive issues relating to national sovereignty, law and order and the criminal justice process. This would be a significant extension of the Court’s legal responsibility.” Asylum seekers, for example, could circumvent British rules by taking their case to the ECJ. The content of the memo was echoed last year by Former Europe Minister Geoff Hoon, who told the House of Lords committee that the Treaty risked “further complicating our existing asylum and immigration process.” (News of the World, 12 August)

“The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering, said of the ‘reform treaty’ that the “essentials had been saved” from the Constitution and that the treaty will “allow us to keep the advances that we would not have dared present directly.” The EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Mariann Fischer Boel, admitted that the old and new versions were “as close to each other as was possible.” (Politiken, 27 July)

“Meanwhile the British Government continues to insist the opposite: days after Boel’s comments, Europe Minister Jim Murphy argued, “the documents are entirely different on defence, on foreign policy, tax, social security and home affairs.” In a later interview, when asked if the British people deserved a say on the treaty, Murphy said, “if it had still been the previous constitutional treaty, then the answer would have been yes.” Murphy also claimed that “In the UK we have signed up to a different treaty. Different from the old Constitution and different from what other nations have signed up to. We will not transfer any substantial part of our sovereignty as a consequence of this treaty”. (BBC News, 2 August)

“Gordon Brown responded to opposition calls for a referendum by accusing the Conservatives of returning to the “old agenda on Europe.” However, Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Edgbaston said, “the issue has nothing to do with the so-called ‘old Tory agenda’. It has everything to do with the new Labour agenda: there was a manifesto commitment to a referendum on the EU constitution. All Labour MPs were elected in 2005 on that manifesto commitment.” (Sunday Telegraph, 29 July) Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey and Frank Field are amongst the Labour MPs who have publicly called for a referendum in recent weeks. Unions GMB, T&G have already come out in favour of a referendum, while the Transport and General Workers Union opposes the treaty. On 26 July, Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock joined fellow Lib Dem John Hemming in calling for a referendum.

“Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton argued that “the re-
emergence of a European ‘constitution’ – under whatever name – has brought Britain to a clear decision point” on the future of the transatlantic relationship. He said that Washington needs an answer to the question that Miliband has so far “dodged,” namely where Britain’s most important diplomatic relationship lies. Bolton warned, “What London needs to know is that its answer will have consequences.” (FT, 1 August)

“EU officials have welcomed a “simplified revision procedure” taken from clauses of the old Constitution – sometimes described as the “ratchet clause”. An EU official told the Telegraph, “we can look at policies on a case by case basis without having to engage in navel-gazing institutional debates.” The ratchet clause would allow meetings of European leaders to scrap individual national vetoes, without the need for wholesale treaty change or the consent of parliament, effectively allowing them to circumvent demands for referendums. (3 August)

“The EU Commission has claimed that the new Constitutional Treaty could pave the way for a single European prosecutor with powers to initiate and proceed with the investigation of cross-border crimes. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the new treaty would allow the EU to strengthen the powers of Eurojust, the bloc’s judicial body, which currently has an advisory role. “Once the treaty is adopted and enters into force, we will start talking about Eurojust having the power and the responsibility of initiating an investigation, not only of coordinating [it],” he said. Johannes Thuy, a spokesman for Eurojust, confirmed that the “end goal” was for the body to evolve into a public prosecutor’s office. “We could compel the British police to make a prosecution,” he admitted. (Sunday Times, 5 August)

“Concerns have also emerged over the implications of the Constitutional Treaty for the European Central Bank. Last week, the President of the ECB, Jean-Claude Trichet, warned in a letter to the Portuguese EU Presidency that the new EU Treaty will erode his institution’s independence. Trichet is unhappy that the definitions of the bank’s status, enshrined in the draft EU Constitution, were rewritten without consultation and has demanded that the text is returned to the original during negotiations next month. (Telegraph, 11 August).

This round-up first appeared on Open Europe.