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Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend remind the House that that Government promise was not made exclusively on 13 May this year? It was made on 18 April by the Prime Minister and was stated formally by him to the House on 20 April 2004 at column 164 of Hansard in a reply to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). In those circumstances, what credibility does my hon. Friend attach to the formal promises made by the Prime Minister?
Dr. Fox: I gave up attaching any credibility whatsoever to the Prime Minister's words a long time ago. One difficulty that I experienced in preparing my contribution for today's debate was the fact that the Prime Minister gave that promise on so many occasions that it was difficult to know which one to pick. My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right that the Prime Minister promised on many occasions that we would hold a referendum in any event, irrespective of what anyone else voted for. Surely, even for him, that must be difficult to wriggle out of.
There are areas where we must not pool our sovereignty any further. It was into those areas that the now defunct constitution wished to trespass, and which the Commission is most likely to want to cherry-pick. We cannot simply sit back and allow the European Union to acquire the trappings of statehood, such as a single diplomatic service and a president, without giving the British people a voice. It would be unthinkable to allow the European Union to sign treaties as a single legal entitythe definition of a nation statewithout the people having a chance to veto such a development. The development of the post of Foreign Minister and an EU diplomatic service are part of a much longer-term plan. Let us remember what the constitution does. It proposes to give the Union increasing responsibility for the foreign and defence policies of all member states. It would allow the EU to define the collective strategic interests of member states. It would create an EU Foreign Minister to formulate and implement EU foreign policy and represent the union diplomatically. It would require member states to
to integrate and harmonise member states' defence capabilities and to provide for concerted action in the
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case of conflict. That represents a profound change for Britain and Europe. It is intellectually legitimate to have a vision of a united Europe. I profoundly disagree with that vision, but let us not pretend that it is an efficiency measure.
Ms Stuart : A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman started to say something interesting when he defined what kind of Europe the Opposition want. Pan-European problems may require pan-European solutions. Is he saying that we should deal with asylumnot immigration and asylumat the European level, because that would be in our collective national interests? Is that his vision of Europe?
Dr. Fox: No; it is not. Powers over immigration and asylum should be determined by each nation state. I believe in a Europe of nation states co-operating where it is in their mutual interests to do so, but being able to act separately when their national interest requires it. On asylum and immigration, our national interest requires us to be able to act separately. The hon. Lady and I differ because she thinks that those powers should be exercised in Brussels, whereas I think that they should be exercised in this House of Commons.
No one disagrees with the proposition that an EU of 25 needs different working relationships from an EU of six. Although "institutional reform" sounds bland, it means much more than motherhood and apple pie. What is actually being proposed is the transfer of yet more powers from the people of Britain to Brussels, with the veto being given up in 63 individual areas. The reform of qualified majority voting, and with it the removal of the veto over key areas such as criminal law and justice, is another element of the constitution on which the British people must have their say.
The legal systems of the 25 current members and of possible future members vary widely in both procedure and substance. Those differences matter, because they reflect deep, culturally determined attitudes to the relationship between the citizen and the state. Beyond the specific international crimes discussed in the document, the broad notion of "judicial co-operation" challenges member states' unique approaches to criminal law. In particular, the constitution will create a European prosecutor, who will investigate and try certain types of cases. On the surface, the proposal does not sound so objectionable, but the constitution would expand the prosecutor's jurisdiction to include
At that level of generality, virtually all crimes occurring in the Union, and some that occur outside it, affect the Union's interests. Given that EU institutions would therefore be responsible for interpreting the extent of their own jurisdiction, the proposal is an unwarranted intrusion into our legal traditions and independence.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
On the European public prosecutor, the hon. Gentleman often discusses fraud in the EU in public, on the television and radio and in this House. He knows that 85 per cent. of EU-related fraud is perpetrated within member states when member states spend EU money and that a European public prosecutor is the only way to tackle those cases. Why will he not agree to such a post?
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Dr. Fox: There is no logic to that argument. The situation would be better if the EU Commissioners tackled fraud in the EU rather than whistleblowers. All too often, those who run the EUin particular, the Commissionersturn a blind eye to endemic fraud and waste because it does not suit their short-term political agenda to deal with it. The EU needs a system in which the Court of Auditors is willing to sign off the accounts, which did not happen for 10 years under the current system. If that were to happen to a British company, we all know what the consequences would be. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has made his intervention, and I am sure that he will make an interesting speech that keeps hon. Members glued to their seats.
The constitution would also build on the European convention on human rights, with the proposed charter of fundamental rights as the bedrock of constitutional law in the EU. Judges in Brussels would accrue immense power over the interpretation of legislation, and thus over the people of this country. Once again, power would be transferred, and it is yet another element of the constitution on which the British people should have their say.
"As we all know, the American Bill of Rights is couched mostly in negative terms, forbidding government from certain action. The European charter, however, is couched in positive terms, bestowing rights upon citizens by the grace of its actions . . . The EU constitution is in many ways the complete opposite of the US Constitution. It protects institutions' powers and enumerates rights. It limits its member states' freedom while accruing powers based on one political world view to the centre".
"the charter contains a get-out clause. Any of these rights may be limited in the interest of meeting 'objectives of general interest recognised by the Union.' A raison d'etat is thereby enshrined in the constitution. Presumably this is how the EU will reconcile its actions against 'xenophobia' with the general principle of freedom of expression."
But one of the best summaries of the failures of the constitution that I have yet readit is available from the Librarycame from Jonathan Kallmer, an attorney in Washington who practises international litigation and arbitration. He wrote:
"The problem is not precisely that the constitution is too ambitious; constitutions should be ambitious. The problem is that it is ambitious in ways that exacerbate the problems it was meant to remedy. The European Union has achieved great things, but part of the virtue of doing great things is recognising what cannot be done. All of the draft constitution's flaws flow directly or indirectly from its framers' failure to recognise limits."
"The essential merits of a constitution are found as much in the process as in the substance. An effective constitutional document not only sets out the core rights of citizens and the basic structures of government, but does so in a way that is clear, concise, and accessible. A constitution is for people, not bureaucrats, and it is imperative that it speaks as plainly as possible. The European draft constitution shows few of these procedural virtues."
"At over 200 pages the document is simply too long. If it takes that much paper to discuss fundamental values and a clear institutional structure, it is likely that the values are not fundamental and the institutional structure is not clear."
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