LABOUR EURO-SAFEGUARDS CAMPAIGN

BULLETIN JUNE 1997

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE AMSTERDAM HEADS OF GOVERNMENT CONFERENCE IN JUNE 1997

 

 

 

1. What is in store at the meeting of the EU Heads of Government in Amsterdam in June 1997?

The Heads of Government, including our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, will meet in Amsterdam on 15th June 1997 to discuss and reach conclusions on a new European Treaty. A draft text was published in Brussels on 20th March 1997, together with a number of key amendments which have been proposed and circulated by Member States.

 

2. What is the basic aim of the new Treaty?

It is to take major steps towards the creation of a new state. The European Union, instead of being a community of nation states, will become a "legal personality" in its own right, capable of acting as a single entity in international affairs. For example, it will be able to sign treaties and to conduct negotiations, binding all its constituent Member States. This will be a major further move towards creating a federal European state.

The new Euro state will have its role enhanced by extending the scope of EU law making, increasing the competence of the existing European Court of Justice, which will be renamed the Union Court of Justice. The Council of Ministers will be given powers to impose penalties on any Member State found "in persistent breach of the Treaty" by suspending any of its Treaty rights.

 

 

3. How are these changes to be achieved?

The new Treaty is likely to have seven main provisions. These are:

A. Most of the remaining powers of national veto in the Council of Ministers will be abolished.

B. More power will be given to the European Parliament so that, in legislative matters, its powers will be equal to that of the Council of Ministers.

C. Immigration and asylum policies will be transferred to Brussels from the governments of the Member States, including the issuing of visas and rulings on admissions.

D. The EU will take over competence to deal with nearly all issues to do with human rights, such as matters to do with discrimination, equality and gender, to which national laws, including the UK Common Law, will become subservient.

E. The powers of Europol will be substantially extended, requiring standardisation of procedures, training and organisation. Its operations within Member States will increasingly be directed from Brussels, rather than being controlled at national, regional or local level, as has long been the policing tradition in Britain.

F. A European Foreign Office will be established in Brussels, charged with aligning the foreign policies of Member States. There are also proposals to bring defence policy, now discussed in the separate forum of the Western European Union, under the direct control of the European Union.

G. Voting procedures in the Council of Ministers are to be changed to make it possible for "vanguard states" - those which want to merge more quickly into a United States of Europe - to go ahead without first achieving unanimity among all Member States. This procedure will by-pass the existing veto arrangements. The rules will prohibit any non-vanguard Member State from prejudicing the purposes of such arrangements. It will also require it to accept the rules agreed by the vanguard Members if it decides to join later.

 

4. Are these new changes additional to those proposed in the Maastricht Treaty?

Yes they are. The Maastricht requirements to establish a Single Currency, an independent European Central Bank, and to impose strict limits on the borrowing requirements of the EU Member States still stand, backed up by the penalties laid down in the Stability Pact agreed at Dublin in December 1996.

 

5. How much difference are these proposals likely to make to Britainís ability to act independently in world affairs?

If very substantial further powers are acquired by the European Union at the expense of the countries making up the Union, it clearly will make it much more difficult for Member States to pursue their own separate policy goals. It will also make it difficult for them to retain recognition of their status as sovereign nations in the international community. Specific examples are:

A. It will not be practical for Britain or any of the other fifteen Member States to be represented separately on the International Monetary Fund if they no longer possess a national currency.

B. None of the EU Member States will be able to play a part in the World Bank if more than half of their aid programmes are to be channelled through the European Development Fund.

C. If the EU has a single foreign policy and single defence policy, neither Britain nor France are likely to be able to remain as permanent members, with the power of veto, on the Security Council of the United Nations.

D. As the Commonwealth is an association of sovereign states, there has to be some doubt over Britainís status if it is no longer recognised internationally as a sovereign nation.

 

6. Were all these issues discussed during the recent general election?

Unfortunately, none of the major parties discussed any of these issues seriously during the general election. The only EU matter which was debated to any extent was the Social Chapter, but both the Labour and the Conservative Parties have exaggerated its importance. The Social Chapter is so far responsible for only two measures. One is for the establishment of works councils in large firms and the other requires unpaid paternity leave for fathers of new-born babies.

If the Labour Party wishes to extend provisions to make the workplace fairer and more equitable it has a simple and effective remedy. It can legislate at Westminster for those items in the Social Chapter which it judges to be of benefit to Britain.

 

 

 

7. Where does this leave Britain in Amsterdam?

Britain is going to be faced with an extremely difficult problem. Many of the proposals in the new Treaty were barely mentioned in the general election. They were not in any of the manifesto commitments produced by the Labour Party. Many of the proposals are clearly going to be unpopular with the electorate, which has given no mandate for their endorsement or implementation, nor have they been debated by Parliament. Opinion polls in Britain show that the public is less and less enthusiastic about further moves towards a United States of Europe.

 

8. Is it likely that there will be sufficient opposition to the new Treaty proposals at Amsterdam for them to be delayed or turned down by other Member States?

The proposals to be discussed were aired at the Dublin Summit in December 1996, and it was clear then that there was a wide measure of support for most of them among the other Member States. Britain was almost on its own in opposing nearly all of them.

 

9. What could then be done by the Tony Blair and Robin Cook at Amsterdam?

It is open to Britain, which still retains its veto, to refuse to sign the new Treaty at Amsterdam. In any event, we should insist on its provisions being properly examined and debated in Parliament before there is any question of acceptance. If it comes to a vote, the Tories have already agreed that they will allow a free vote on issues of this kind in the new Parliament. The Labour Party should follow suit.

 

10. If Britain signed up to the Amsterdam Treaty, would this be irreversible?

The rule of the unwritten British constitution is that what one Parliament decides, a successor Parliament can repeal. With European legislation there is no such provision. It is intended to be permanent. The only way of reversing EU law in Britain would be the repeal of the relevant sections of the 1972 Accession Treaty between Britain and what was then the EEC, which provides the legal underpinning for EU law in Britain. The stakes at Amsterdam are therefore very high.

 

 

 

Published by the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign

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