I had a look today at the website of Dan Hannan MEP
. Dan is a leading Conservative euro-sceptic and ardent campaigner against its new constitution in particular. He is also a leader writer for the Daily Telegraph
So, I thought that what he wrote on the European constitution would be full of incisive arguments and devastating insights into the constitution as he sees it – or, at least, a reasonably coherent exposition of the eurosceptic standpoint.
But I was wrong. Instead, I was disappointed to find only a set of 10 bullet points
, every single one of which is either wrong, misleading, or portraying as negative something which should be celebrated as a significant advance.
Let's examine them in more detail.
This constitution shall have primacy over the laws of the member states (Article 5a)
Well, yes. The primacy of European law over national law was established well before we joined the EU - it's not something new created by the constitution.
But it also makes absolute sense. What on earth would be the point of agreeing common laws with our neighbouring countries if any one of us was then free to ignore them? This clause isn't saying that new laws can be handed down from "Brussels" and imposed on us; it's just saying that, when we make an agreement, we're expected to stick to it.
And it's as well to remember that European law can only be adopted
- on those subjects where we have all agreed that the EU should have competence, and
- with the agreement of the EU Council of Ministers, i.e. elected national governments.
The European Commission will be given power over Britain's economic and employment policies, making the question of whether we keep the pound largely redundant
This is mischief making at its worst. I can't see anything in the new constitution - or in the current treaties, which are virtually the same regarding this policy area - which gives the European Commission any such powers.
The treaties do already
provide for member states to co-ordinate their economic policies when their finance ministers meet in the Council. But this is something that's up to the member states themselves to agree. It gives absolutely no policy-making powers to the European Commission.
The constitution creates a European foreign policy, complete with an EU Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps
No. It was the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, not the new constitution, that created a "Common Foreign and Security Policy" for the European Union - but only in those policy areas where every single member state agrees a common position
. Where we don't agree, there is no common policy. Where we do agree, Europe's voice in the world is amplified. How can this be a problem?
As to the so-called "Foreign Minister", this new post is simply a merger between the existing High Representative for foreign policy (Javier Solana) and the existing Commissioner for External Relations (until recently Chris Patten). The new "minister" has no new powers. He or she can speak for the Union only where member states have already
agreed a common policy.
So the only really significant change here is that the field of external representations, currently carried out by the Commission, will instead be given to the new "foreign minister" who is accountable directly to national governments.
Member states shall support the EU's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity (Article 15)
Yes, absolutely. If member states jointly agree on a common foreign and security position then of course they should support it. Not to do so would be double standards - agreeing one thing with our neighbouring countries and then doing the opposite. But let me emphasise again that the common policy will only exist when member states agree that it should. When they don't agree, we can each go our own way.
The clause quoted, by the way, has been in the treaties since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. It's not new in the constitution.
The constitution creates a European criminal justice system, with a European Public Prosecutor and an EU legal code; this runs directly counter to our own common law tradition
No, the constitution does not
create a European criminal justice "system". All it does is enable member states to cooperate
in this field - as they should when facing a growing number of transnational problems, including transnational criminal gangs, traffickers and terrorists.
But, as ever, it is member states themselves who remain in control of what common rules we agree at EU level. Where there is majority voting, there is also an "emergency brake" allowing any country to block a decision and refer it to the European Council which acts by unanimity.
As to the European Public Prosecutor, this is not "created" by the Constitution. The Constitution merely enables the Council to set one up in the future - but only if every single member state agrees!
43 national vetoes will be abolished, and the powers of MEPs extended to 36 new areas
Well, there are two points here.
First, on the veto: yes, there will be an extension of QMV - but it is in those areas where Britain wanted
it to be extended. After all, the veto is a double-edged sword. If we have one, then so does every other of the 24 member states, allowing them to block things that we want. This is something that has consistenly worked against Britain in the past.
On the other hand, we retain unanimity (i.e. the veto) in every single one
of the 'red line' areas specified by the British government: including over tax, social security, foreign policy, defence and changes to the treaty itself. (Martin Stabe
has posted a revealing analysis on just how powerful Britain's position is in this respect.)
As to the extension of the powers of the European Parliament, this is something that even eurosceptics should welcome - because it represents an additional safeguard. New EU legislation needs to be vetted and approved not only by elected governments but also by directly elected MEPs in the European Parliament. Two checks, two balances, two quality controls. And rightly so: we should be extra-careful before adopting legislation which applies to a whole continent. That's why the safeguards - high majorities in Council, and approved by Parliament - are built in.
Brussels jurisdiction is specified in virtually every area of government policy: transport, energy, public health, trade, employment, social policy, competition, agriculture, fisheries, defence, foreign affairs, asylum and immigration, space exploration, criminal justice
Ah, "Brussels jurisdiction" - a favourite term of the eurosceptics! But who is "Brussels"? Is it an alien external body imposing its will on member states?
No. It's simply the place where the member states themselves meet to agree (or not) on areas of cooperation.
So of course the list of subjects where we may wish to co-operate is a long one. In today's world, there are very few areas of policy where we are entirely unaffected by what our neighbours do. But it is up to the member states to determine the degree and intensity of EU action in each area. In many of these areas, EU action is simply co-ordinating or supporting what individual member states choose to do. In others, we co-operate more closely to ensure that our joint actions are effective. This is entirely as it should be.
But it is not the Commission that adopts legislation. The Commission merely proposes: it's the Council of Ministers, members of national governments accountable to national parliaments, that decides - and this must also be double-checked by the European Parliament.
Member states shall exercise their competence to the extent that the EU ceases to exercise, or chooses no longer to exercise, its competence (Article 11)
This reflects exactly the same principle. If member states do not chose to exercise competencies jointly at EU level, or if they cease to wish to do so, then of course it should be up to each country individually to exercise these competencies.
The day that the constitution enters into force, all previous EU treaties will be dissolved; the Union will cease to be an association of states bound by international treaties, and become a state in its own right
Now this comment really is
The constitutional treaty will indeed replace all previous EU treaties, which are to a large extent codified within it. But quite how this is supposed to change the nature
of the Union into "a state in its own right" is anyone's guess.
After all, the new constitution is itself an international treaty, signed and ratified by sovereign states, just like all the other treaties have been. If Dan objects to the word "constitutional" in its title, and thinks that means that it is a state, then how does he account for the fact that the World Health Organisation and the Universal Postal Union both have "constitutions", without anyone thinking that they might be a state?
States have a standing army, powers to tax, a serious central budget and administration. The EU has, and will have, none of these things:
- There is no EU army. There are joint EU forces which member states may, if they so wish, contribute to, just like UN forces. We already have EU peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Macedonia.
- There is no central power of taxation.
- The EU budget is a mere 1% of public expenditure (compare that to any centralised or even federal state!).
- The central administration has fewer employees than Leeds City Council. So much for the mythical centralised superstate!
The Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to carry through its policies and pursue its objectives (Article 52)
Of course, when our countries establish common policies at EU level they must at the same time provide the means to carry them through. There would, for example, have been no point in agreeing to send a joint peacekeeping force to Bosnia if no member state wished to supply any troops.
All Dan's objections are based on a single flawed premise: that "the Union" (or "Brussels") is some sinister external entity, imposing its will on member states. But this is entirely backward. The Union is created by the member states, has only the responsibilities and powers that member states agree to give it, and can act only under the control of the member states themselves through the Council.
The EU is nothing more than an extensive co-operative system that we have built up in our continent over the last half century. To turn our back on it now would be madness. Not only has the EU helped create an area of peace and stability in Europe, in contrast to so much of our history, but it is also a sensible, pragmatic mechanism for coping with - and taking advantage of - our inevitable interdependence. It is the forum where we agree common policies, and sometimes common rules, with our neighbouring countries, in areas where this is of mutual benefit: common rules for the common market, environmental legislation and so on. It is the generator of much of our economic prosperity - and vital for Britain with nearly 60% of our trade being with the rest of the EU.
To tear up this co-operative system and to walk away would seriously undermine Britain's national interest. To turn our back on a new treaty which most of Europe considers to have been a triumph for British negotiators would confirm to the rest of Europe that our country has fallen into the hands of swivel-eyed, nationalistic europhobes who are totally divorced from reality.
Sadly, Dan Hannan's website is an example of those views.