The Constitutional Convention now taking place has been set up to provide a political and economic framework within which all the new and existing states which are now prospective EU Members can operate. Although its proposals may be implemented as early as the end of 2003, however, it is completely failing to take the shape which most people in the existing EU Member States, let alone those in the applicant countries, would like to see. There are two main reasons for this. One is that the proceedings have been largely high-jacked by the Commission, whose insatiable lust for increasing its powers is all too evident in the centralising and undemocratic proposals now emerging. The other is that the founder members of the EU have seized the opportunity provided to them by the Convention to try to stitch up the future by writing in for themselves dominant advantages in terms of power and control both in relation to existing Member States, including Britain, and to applicant countries. A particularly striking proposal is one which, without a two thirds majority, would make it impossible for any Member State to secede from the EU. As a major contributor to the EU budget, it is extremely unlikely that there would ever be the required balance of Member States in favour of Britain leaving the Union, even if this is what the British people wanted.
The first draft of the Convention proposals, published in March 2003, is deliberately designed to be the death knell of the concept of the EU as one in which independent sovereign countries come together to share certain competences for their mutual benefit. Instead, we have a blueprint for a United States of Europe, rivalling the USA, although the Convention proposals actually give much more power to the centre than does the US constitution. Using weasel technical concepts such as "exclusive competence", the Constitution proposals entail a massive centralisation of power in Brussels. The EU is to assume a "legal personality" which will over-ride that of its Member States, all of whom will have a "duty of loyalty" to the EU, designed to stifle effective opposition to the stripping of power from EU Member States, so that it can be passed to Brussels. There is to be no separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial functions, as underlines all genuine democratic arrangements. Instead, the overlapping functions of the various EU institutions will continue to provide an opaque mask behind which the Commission pulls nearly all the strings.
Whether what emerges is called the United States of Europe or something different, this is the objective which those now master-minding the Convention have in mind. The pretence - long maintained by far too many people in Britain who either knew or ought to have known that this was an entirely fraudulent prospectus - that the EU is largely about trade, can no longer be maintained. The dominant political classes in the EU have always wanted ever closer integration, leading to a unitary European state. The Convention has provided them with just the opportunity they wanted to impose a structure on the EU which reflects their wishes, whatever EU electorates may think. This is why the Convention has operated in a way which has been almost entirely divorced from contact with any representative groups opposed to the integrationist developments now proposed - an utterly undemocratic process.
The EU already possesses very substantial economic power over what Member States can do. These are now to be extended. In future, it is to have "exclusive competence" over the movement of persons, goods, services and capital. It will determine competition rules and decide on mergers. It will run the customs union and handle all trade negotiations. At least for the countries in the euro-zone, it already has complete control over monetary policy. The EU has long been responsible for both the disastrous Common Agricultural Policy and the even worse Common Fisheries Policy. Now Member States are explicitly to be made junior partners in a long range of other economic fields including transport, the environment, public health and consumer protection. It is to impose a guiding role over research, technology and space. It already exerts a major influence on aid to developing countries. The effect of transfers of power on this scale is to leave national governments as little more than agents for implementing vital decisions taken in Brussels about our future prosperity. It is hard indeed to believe that this is what everyone in Britain wants - let alone the citizens of most other countries in the EU.
A major objective of the Convention proposals is to enhance the diplomatic and military power of the EU, so that it can rival that of the USA. Despite the deep divisions that exist between European states on a wide range of foreign policy and military issues, it is proposed that all these divergent views should be corralled into a unified policy which can be backed up by military force. The treaties of Amsterdam and Nice already empower the EU to engage in military action anywhere in the world. Now new "implementing procedures in the sphere of common defence policy" would extend the role of the Rapid Reaction Force, which is nothing less than an embryo EU army, albeit woefully short of military capability. The fact that at least four EU Member States, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, all have strong traditions opposed to the use of military force is to be brushed on one side, in the interests of promoting whatever policies the most powerful EU countries might think appropriate.
When the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was first produced we were assured that it had no more than declaratory status, so that its contents would not become legally binding. Entirely predictably, enshrining it into law is now to happen. The Charter is to become enshrined in EU law as part of the Constitution, duplicating the European Convention on Human Rights, established by a non-EU organisation, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, to which all 15 EU Member States have long voluntarily subscribed. Incorporating the Charter into law provides the scope for more decisions by the EU Court of Justice designed to drive all the legal systems within the EU into a single format, covering all EU Member States. This is bound to mean the gradual abandonment in Britain of the Anglo Saxon concepts of rights and common law, trial by jury and habeas corpus, which have served us well for hundreds of years. We will inevitably gradually be compelled to restructure our legal system along continental lines.
The Convention also proposes to extend the powers of the Commission over a whole range of social policies, some of which, such as those concerning freedom, security, justice and the development of EU wide powers of arrest, overlap with its enhanced legal powers. Others include education, vocational training, youth, culture, sport and the prevention of disasters. The EU's powers over the economy already have a major impact on the lives of ordinary people through its policies on employment and economic growth, both of which have been singularly unsuccessful. The fact that most social policies are best implemented on as devolved a basis as possible, taking account of local circumstances and requirements, is totally ignored.
If the outcome of the Convention proposals is going to result in a huge further transfer of powers to Brussels, where does this leave Parliament? The answer is that the institution at the centre of our democratic system is inevitably going to become increasingly powerless. It will become little more than a rubber stamping talking shop as more and more important decisions are taken in Brussels and fewer and fewer of any significance are determined at national level. Even more important than Parliament, however, is what is happening to democracy. The Convention proposals provide no acceptable way of controlling what is done in our name by the EU. They provide no effective EU wide democratic method of allowing the people to choose what policies they want to see implemented. Centralising more power within the Commission - which meets in secret - and the political elite in Brussels is no substitute for the representative democracy which has been painfully built up over centuries in Britain and elsewhere. The real power in the EU - and increasingly so if the Convention proposals go through - lies with the Commission whom we do not elect and whose members we cannot remove. The EU itself is not a democracy, even if its Member States are. The European Union always has been a bureaucratic organisation with the trappings of democracy kept in place to delude the unwary. The Convention proposals, far from dealing with the EU's widely recognised democratic deficit, simply reinforce it.
Because of its threat to our democracy, the Convention proposals represent a huge threat to our future governance. Momentous changes to the way we are to be ruled are in prospect, most of which are both counter to our vital interests and go strongly against the grain of what almost everyone wants. The British government has absolutely no mandate for agreeing to these developments, which are likely to have even more impact on our future than would joining the euro. If a Referendum is required before we join the Single Currency, therefore, surely it is still more important that the British people should be entitled to decide for themselves whether or not to give the government authority to surrender our national identity, our constitution, our way of running our economy, and our ability to rule ourselves. This is why we need a referendum on the Convention proposals so urgently. Accepting the radical changes in prospect without one, would be a deep betrayal of our democracy and a disgraceful misuse of constitutional powers which belong to the people of Britain, not to the present or any other government. The British people cannot allow this to happen.
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