1 How much difference is the Treaty of Nice really going to make?

Beware. Because of the protracted, and sometimes chaotic proceedings at Nice, the impression has sometimes been given that not much happened there. Nothing could be further from the truth. Still less is it the case that the outcome was a move to the kind of Europe which the vast majority of people in Britain - and many other Member States - want, which is a Europe of sovereign states co-operating together wherever this makes sense, but without all the supra-national, centralising paraphernalia which is the hallmark of the EU. In fact the outcome at Nice, both in the Treaty and in collateral negotiations, consisted of a blueprint for another major advance towards the Single European State, which has always been the goal of most leading politicians in the EU.


2. Were the Treaty negotiations mainly about enlargement?

We were told that the major theme of the Nice negotiations was to prepare the EU for enlargement, and some of the proposed changes, particularly to do with voting rights, had this in mind. If, however, those at Nice were really serious about both enlargement, and making sure that this was to happen on fair and reasonable terms for the applicant countries, the top item on the agenda ought to have been reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. In fact, nothing was done about the CAP at all, leaving the major obstacle to enlargement still in place. Poland, for example, has more farmers than the whole of the existing EU. Behind the enlargement smokescreen, however, plenty was done to consolidate and strengthen the role and position of the existing core Member States at the expense of everyone else, including Britain, whose interests and objectives are by no means the same as theirs. All too significantly, Brussels gets its new powers as soon as the Treaty is ratified, but enlargement is still years away.


3. What happened to our rights of veto?

In the draft Nice Treaty, Britain gives up the right of veto in a total of 39 policy areas. Some of these are relatively insignificant, but many are not, including appointments to senior positions such as the EU’s Chief Executive, control of the EU budget, state aid for industry, regulation of EU wide political parties, trade in financial services and - in 2007 - the distribution of aid to poor regions. Member States retained their right of unanimity on taxation, social security and most immigration policies, but why - in what is supposed to be a union of sovereign states - should giving up the veto in vital policy areas such as these ever have been on the agenda in the first place? We can only wonder, too, whether sufficient resistance to giving up the unanimity rule in these cases would ever have been mustered without the vocal opposition to such concessions, which has materialised so strongly both in Britain and in other countries in the EU.


4. How strong are our remaining veto powers?

We might feel more confident about our remaining veto powers but for a particular change in the voting procedure adopted for dealing with countries which elect political parties which other EU states regard as unacceptable - the so-called Austrian issue. Now, solely by Qualified Majority Vote, any Member State can be effectively ostracised, thereby losing all its voting powers, and thus making its veto inoperative. Given enough goodwill all round, no doubt we could hope that this procedure would never be used to ram through policy changes wanted by all but one or two countries. How confident, however, can we be that this much goodwill would always be there? In any event, what sort of democracy is it when the voters of one Member State can be punished and disenfranchised for voting for parties disapproved of by others? ?


5. What about Enhanced Co-operation?

Another very important development has been the abandonment of the veto on allowing Member States to proceed towards integration at varying paces. Up to now, the EU has been a partnership of equals. The rules have precluded a "two speed" EU developing, with a group of core states setting the pace, leaving those not included with peripheral and second class status. Now this is to be allowed - even encouraged - to happen. In abandoning the veto in this respect, we have given up a critically important bargaining card, for which we have received nothing in return. The danger now is that the core axis between Germany and France is reinforced, leaving Britain and other states outside the central group. There is little doubt that this development is partly a reaction to the problems of accommodating a large number of applicant states. "Enhanced co-operation" will enable the rich and powerful EU core states to continue to call the shots, moulding the EU in directions which they perceive as suiting them best, leaving those outside with little choice but to go along with what they decide, whether or not it is in their interests to do so.

6. What does Qualified Majority Voting on EU wide political parties mean?

Other potentially very significant developments relate to proposed regulations for EU wide political parties. It is intended that only those with appropriate pro-EU policies should be allowed anywhere near the levers of power. Funding, and perhaps the right to fight elections at all, is to be confined to parties which both operate on a cross-national basis, and support EU objectives - a thinly disguised euphemism for further integration and development of centralised EU institutions and powers. Political organisations opposed to seeing the EU develop in this way - which could well include mainstream parties in Britain and other Member States - would then find themselves at a major disadvantage, allowed to campaign only at national level, from where power is steadily to be ceded to Brussels.


7. What has happened to our voting power in the EU?

The development of Qualified Majority Voting, and the changes in the voting powers of Member States negotiated at Nice, need then to be seen clearly for what it is. At present Britain has 10 votes out of 87 in the Council of Ministers, which is 11.5%. With the new system, before enlargement, we will have 29 votes out of 237, i.e. 12.2%, but if enlargement is completed, and EU membership rises to 27 countries, we will have 29 votes of 345, which is only 8.4% of the total. Bearing in mind the extent to which our interests often diverge from those of countries on the continent for reasons of geography, history and legal traditions, let alone trade, agriculture, fisheries and natural resources, do we really want to finish up in an organisation with ever widening powers where we have 8.4% of the votes?


8. What is happening to the EU legal system?

At the same time, an EU wide legal framework is developing. On the criminal side, it started with the apparently harmless aim of co-operation to fight international crime, but this is a slippery definition, which can readily be made to encompass a wider and wider range of activity. Now there is to be a European public prosecutor at the head of Europol, as EU wide police powers are strengthened, and legal processes are harmonised with the continental, Roman based legal system, replacing Britain's Common Law. On the civil side, there are also significant moves towards an EU wide system of justice. Central to this is the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is given no more than declaratory status in the Nice Treaty, but the British government, as well as many others, widely expect it to be taken into account in establishing case law by the European Court of Justice, thus making it justiciable.


9. What about the European Army?

Moves towards the creation of a European Rapid Reaction Force are not part of the Nice Treaty itself, but negotiations to create it have been taking place in parallel. The major issue here, apart from all the usual important - and, as yet unresolved - questions of cost, availability of troops, logistics, co-ordination and control, are whether it makes any sense for the EU to try to become a military power in its own right. The only justification for it doing so is if it is to attempt to become a super-state, rivalling the USA. There is little doubt that this is the intention of many of its proponents, particularly in France, where co-operation with the USA through NATO has never been favoured. The danger of destabilising NATO as a result of this initiative is very real, however, and it is far from clear that the world is going to be a safer place if the EU tries to rival American power, promoting just the sort of arms race which the end of the Cold War ought to have made unnecessary.


10. What are the next steps?

It is also important to realise that the proposed Treaty of Nice is by no means the end of the road to EU integration. Nice built on a succession of previously held Inter-Governmental Conferences held at Maastricht, Amsterdam and elsewhere. Already another Inter-Governmental Conference is planned for 2004, where further steps towards integration will no doubt be on the table. The reality is that the process of turning the EU into a fully fledged state will move forward remorselessly unless effective action is mobilised to prevent this happening.


11. So, what can be done?

Plenty. First, the Nice Treaty, to be effective, has to be ratified by all the existing Member States, and it is not certain that it will be. Referendums may be required in Ireland and Denmark, and possibly Austria too. Especially after the Danish "no" to the euro, a "yes" vote on Nice is by no means a foregone conclusion. In Britain, though the House of Commons is almost certainly a lost cause, it is possible that the House of Lords may resist. Second, it is clear that opposition to the Treaty of Nice is widespread across the EU. A majority of the political elite may want to see it endorsed, but the electorates are much less enthusiastic. The urgent need now is to co-ordinate effective opposition across the whole of the EU and applicant countries. If the peoples of Europe do not want a super-state, there is no reason why their political leaders should be allowed to foist one upon them. It is now up to popular pressure to show that this is not the way ahead, and that there is a better future for Europe with a looser structure of willing and peaceful co-operation between sovereign states. This is what most people really want - not an out of touch, over-centralised super-state, over which adequate democratic control is sadly lacking, and by which democracy itself is threatened.


Published by the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign

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