"TRICK OR TREATY?"
Why the coming Treaty of Nice affects you.
Peter Mandelson was in charge of building the Dome. Now he's pushing for "the building of Europe" with Britain In Europe.
"An area of freedom, security and justice" says the Foreign Office on some of the Treaty proposals. We ask questions that the Government should be putting to a full public debate
1. "Why is the forthcoming Treaty important to local people, businesses & taxpayers?"
As part of "modernisation" the Government tells us how important consultation is on issues that affect local communities, employees, and other groups. Our Government also claims to be committed to "freedom of information". However it has been relatively quiet on a proposed international Treaty that could make far-reaching changes to our rights and our lives. It refused to be drawn on many issues.
2. "What is the stated reason for the Treaty?"
The Treaty is a successor to the Maastricht Treaty that set up the European Union and the Euro. It is claimed that it is needed to enable more decision-making at European level and the admission of new countries to the EU. Some politicians also want a binding Constitution for Europe.
Strangely, the Treaty will do nothing to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. This costs the UK a large proportion of our £13 Billion-a-year (estimated) EU contribution and is seen as the main obstacle to other countries joining.
3. "What areas of national decision making does the Government say that it wants to keep?"
Defence. Social Security. Taxation, including taxes paid to the EU. Proposals tabled on 3.11.00 intended to remove our ability to refuse some measures on social security and taxes like VAT. These intended to give the EU powers over direct taxation (read: income tax & company taxes). They were dropped after protest. However small print proposals elsewhere give the EU the right to suspend national votes & vetoes. This either for breaches of EU rules or even without any actual evidence of wrongdoing!
We must ask: Why were such powers to be included if there was absolutely no intention to use them?
4. "What other financial areas are at risk?"
By having a generally-lighter tax regime, and less bureaucracy, the UK currently enjoys significant advantages in financial services and attracting investment. Our finance sector provides many jobs.
The EU is seeking a "common commercial policy" to cover services and investment. It is also seeking powers to impose "uniform rules" that prevent "discrimination" (read: a more favourable tax regime) and tackle "tax avoidance". (The latter is nothing illegal, it simply means missing opportunities for people to pay more tax). A recent case in Sweden [Safir] shows that approach taken by the supreme EU Court, the "European Court of Justice". It has been prepared to be very creative in interpreting areas where a "tax veto" was thought to exist - and its decision is final, without any right of appeal.
5. "It is well known that the UK is better placed than her neighbours over the "time bomb" concerning future liabilities for under-funded pensions. Could there be any impact here?".
The Government has already naively signed up "in principle" for the harmonisation of "social systems", living and working conditions. This could lead to obligations in funding continental pensions. Although a current veto might be read on specific actions, a loophole is proposed under new "Social Cohesion" provisions without any veto. The EU has been creative in getting controversial proposals (such as the Working Time Directive that has cost the UK £billions) through under measures that cannot be vetoed.
The supreme EU Court has also ruled that member states are bound by the aims of a Treaty.
6. "What will we gain from a Charter of Fundamental Rights?"
The Government claimed that in October it signed up for a declaration that gives us no new rights and will not be legally binding as part of the Treaty. However the European Commission disagreed, stating that governments should reasonably expect it to be binding as the supreme EU Court interprets it. Power to overturn domestic laws matters as the Charter gives the EU the right to "limit" our rights!
Strangely the Charter claims that having political parties at EU level meets the "will" of the peoples of Europe and the Treaty proposes funding for them. This is a joke given a low voter turnout across Europe in the 1999 European elections, but indicates how the politicians give themselves "rights" while the ordinary taxpayer inherits the "right" to pay for them.
At the same time the EU would gain powers to suspend any "political parties" if they did not share its point of view. (The term also includes some public campaigning groups that don't contest elections).
7. "Does the Charter guarantee the freedom of the press?"
Bernard Connolly, the former EU economist who published his doubts over the single currency recently pointed out that the Charter allowed the "suspension" of the freedom of the press if the authorities see this as being in the "general interests of the European Union". Even for fair comment?
8. "Will the Treaty see a move towards a single EU legal system?"
In 1997, an EU committee called for a European criminal code, Corpus Juris, at odds with the English legal safeguards of Trial By Jury and Habeas Corpus - the right to a public trial without delay. A newly created European Public Prosecutor (EPP) could detain suspects indefinitely without firm evidence. He would be assisted by continental-style "professional judges" rather than juries or lay magistrates.
Original Commission proposals for the Treaty included an EPP with powers to be decided, and virtually unaccountable. On 15.11.2000, minister Charles Clarke MP reported that following objections from the majority of EU member states they would not be part of the Treaty. However a compromise, 'Eurojust, was set up to 'co-ordinate prosecutions', and the Government has 'separately' been airing plans to restrict Trial by Jury and abolish lay magistrates in favour of "professionals". Apparently Lord Justice Auld has hinted that there is an EU connection. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office effectively called for civil law to be harmonised and an end to differences in national judicial systems.
9. "What assurances can we believe that the proposed Treaty does not set up a "superstate"? "
The German MEP behind part of the new Treaty, Jo Leinen, made an interesting remark, 19.10.2000: "A right of the citizen is a right against the authorities. So believing that the Charter is the beginning of a superstate is wrong" As it is fairer to say that the "citizen" may lose rights, the reverse is true.
Tony Blair was unguarded to a Polish (non-EU) audience on 6.10.2000: "The difficulty however with the view of Europe [read "the EU"] as a superstate, subsuming nations into a politics dominated by supra-national institutions, is that it, too, fails the test of the people"
Given that much EU business is already run by "supra-national" institutions that can tell countries what to do, and the "small print" of the Treaty stands to remove remaining safeguards, what is proposed is by his definition a "superstate" - failing the test of the people.
10. "Where does this leave the British government?"
The Government also claimed that it would oppose proposals for "fast track federalism" allowing some countries extra decision making, but then gave in. It will be urged by continental politicians to fall in with the rest of the Treaty. But if Mr Blair signs it, he will be in breach of his own principles. The Treaty needs to be ratified by 15 states, but was rejected by an Irish referendum on 7.6.01. To respect the wishes of another country it should be dropped. Instead, pressure is to be subtly applied so that the Republic votes again.
There is no public demand for the Treaty. The EU's own figures show only 25% of voters now believe EU membership to be a good thing, and in a MORI poll (10.00), a clear majority rejected it altogether. Yet Mr Blair wants to sign a blank cheque book for our future during a time of national distraction by world events. He should put it to the "test of the people" - starting with a full and open debate on all the alternatives.
This page updated: 23 October 2001 (Third edition; Second edition - 19 November 2000)