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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hewitt to chair Europe "manifesto committee"

Interesting snippet in this morning's Telegraph. Patricia Hewitt is leaving the Department of Health to chair a "manifesto committee" developing policy on Europe. A sign - according to the article - that Brown "may opt for an early general election." Its certainly true that the Labour Party does need to do some serious thinking on the EU.

Or could it be that Brown is preparing in case he has to back down and call a referendum? Back in 2005 Hewitt was widely tipped to become "referendum minister" (in the end the job was downgraded to Europe Minister and handed to Douglas Alexander).

Some of our readers might remember that her first move was to brief the press that she would launch the Yes campaign on VE day. It wasn't her finest moment, the Sun responded by mocking up a picture of Tony Blair doing a two-fingered salute to the Union Flag.

If Hewitt goes about her new job in the same style we might be in for some interesting times ahead...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Blair fisk Project part 1

Tony Blair in Parliament yesterday: Our comments in bold.

Before the European Council, I made it clear that the concept of a constitutional treaty for Europe had to be abandoned and that we should agree instead a conventional amending treaty like the Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht treaties and the Single European Act. I also made it clear that the UK had four central demands which had to be met. First, on the charter of fundamental rights, we secured a legally binding protocol, specific to the UK, and applicable both to the British courts and to the European Court of Justice. Let me read the terms.

"the Charter does not extend the ability of the Court of Justice, or any court or tribunal of the United Kingdom, to find that the laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action of the United Kingdom are inconsistent with the fundamental rights, freedoms and principles that the Charter reaffirms. In particular, and for the avoidance of doubt, nothing inthe Charter creates justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom except in so far as the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law.”

However it looks like the UK's "safeguards" on the charter are already unravelling. A leaked analysis from Parliament’s legal expert looks at the claim by Tony Blair that the Charter of Fundamental Rights will not extend the ability of the European Court of Justice to challenge UK laws. It said: "This is a high standard to set, and I doubt if what appears to have been agreed secures this result."

The Guardian reports that former Justice Commissioner Antonio Vitorino has questioned the legal basis for the British opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, negotiated by Tony Blair at the EU summit. According to the article, the Commission’s legal experts take the same view, and expect the British opt-out eventually to be tested in the courts.

Jacques Ziller, a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, said that the idea of one country opting out of the charter was “nonsense” and would quickly be challenged in the courts. (European Voice, 31 May 2007)

Firms operating in more than one member state would clearly be affected. Migrants coming from another member state to the UK would presumably still be covered. And anyone who travelled to another EU country – e.g. to use health services – would still be able to use the Charter.

It is also curiously worded. It singles out part of the Charter (Title IV), but not all of it to say that it does not create justiciable rights applicable to the United Kingdom “except in so far as the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law.” This itself begs the question – as it will be the European Court of Justice that has do decide fro itself whether the United Kingdom has provided for such rights in its national law.

The Government has potentially created a lawyers paradise with this messy fudge. It has clearly broken its repeated promise that the Charter would not become legally binding.


In respect of our criminal law system and police and judicial processes, we obtained an extension of the opt-in rights that we secured in an earlier treaty on migration, asylum and immigration issues. This means that we have the sovereign right to opt in on individual measures, where we consider it would be in the British interest to do so, but also to stay out, if we want to. It is precisely the pick and choose policy often advocated. It gives us complete freedom to protect our common law system, but it also allows us to participate in areas where co-operation advances British interests. In asylum and immigration, for example, we have opted in on measures dealing with illegal immigration, and in measures allowing us to return asylum seekers to other European countries—both unquestionably in Britain’s interests. But it will be within our exclusive power to decide on a case-by-case basis, which is exactly what we wanted.

This does not mention the one of the single biggest things the UK has given way of -Giving the European Court of Justice full jurisdiction over justice and policing. This clearly breaches previous promises from which is clearly a crossing of this red line. The Government themselves admitted that it was a big transfer of national sovereignty:

"The Government does not accept that we should agree to extend full ECJ jurisdiction over the very sensitive areas covered by the Third Pillar. These raise sensitive issues relating to national sovereignty — law and order and the criminal justice process.

"An acceptance of extended jurisdiction would have to be on a "once and for all" basis. This would be a significant extension of the ECJ's legal responsibilities. In any event, there is already some scope for the review or interpretation of Third Pillar measures by the ECJ, at the suit of the Commission or the Member States, pursuant to Article 35(6) and (7) TEU."

This is a really big deal. Giving the Court competence is an even bigger transfer of power than giving up the veto. At least if there is a majority vote we can try to get other countries to support us and block things we don't like. But if the court makes a judgement we don't like there is simply no comeback.

No one knows for sure what EU judges might do with their new powers.

On the Today programme on 14 June 2006, BBC Europe Editor Mark Mardell reported that if criminal justice was transferred to the first pillar: “A Commission spokesman was telling me, well we’d want to look at things like Belmarsh, can you hold foreign suspects indefinitely? The Commission don’t like it so Britain could get hammered.”

The Government also previously admitted that it would mean many more costly appeals in immigration cases:

“The Minister informed us that the UK had chosen not to opt in to the Commission's proposal (Q 28). While he acknowledged that there could be a benefit for parties faced with genuinely difficult questions of interpretation of EC law, "there is clearly a risk that adding what is in effect an avenue of appeal at a very early stage in the process might be an opportunity of further complicating our existing asylum and immigration processes" (Q 28).

The Blair fisk project part 2

In respect of social security, we negotiated a provision which allows us to insist on unanimity in any case where we—that is, Britain—declare that any proposal from the Commission would affect important aspects of our social security system, including its scope, cost, or financial structure or balance. Our social security and benefits system is therefore completely protected.

While the Government has an “emergency brake” on one article dealing with social security (as in the original constitution) there are several other new powers for the EU in social security.

For example, article II-94.2 of the old constitution, (which is likely to be attached to Article 137 or 140 of the new Treaty on the Functioning of the Union) states that “Everyone residing and moving legally within the European Union is entitled to social security benefits and social advantages”. This is a major step away from the current treaties, which stress free movement for workers, and limit access to other countries’ social security and welfare systems to those who are in work.


As for the common foreign and security policy, the basis of this will now remain unchanged in a separate treaty, and a separate pillar, from the first pillar Community method. The essential features of the CFSP remain as they were. Unanimity voting is the rule. There is no sole right of initiative for the Commission. There is no role for the European Parliament in decision taking. There is no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice, except in the particular case of safeguarding the rights of individuals subject to EU sanctions.


This is very misleading - particularly the claim that unanimity is the rule. The key thing is the enormous exceptions to this "rule"

In fact there are several moves to qualified majority voting in the new version of the constitutional treaty. For instance:

(1) On Proposals from the EU foreign minister. The most important introduction of QMV relates to the new Foreign Minister. Article III-300 (2) stipulates that the Council shall act by qualified majority, “when adopting a European decision defining a Union action or position, on a proposal which the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs has presented following a specific request to him or her from the European Council, made on its own initiative or that of the Minister”. So we could (unanimously) ask him to come up with a plan but then, if we don’t like what he comes back with, find that we were into majority voting – e.g. on the squabble between NATO and EU over who will supply air transport to the AU troops in Darfur we might not be able to block the EU from pointlessly duplicating NATO is this was being done – if this was proposed as part of a plan proposed by Solana.

(2) On the diplomatic service. Article III-296 also allows the organisation and functioning of the new EU diplomatic service to be decided by QMV.

(3) On Setting up an inner core in defence. Under Article III-312, the decision to set up the “permanent structured cooperation” group would also be taken by QMV, as would subsequent decisions to expel members, or to admit new ones to the group.

(4) On terrorism & mutual defence. Article III-329 stipulates that the detail and meaning of the “terrorism solidarity clause” is to be decided by QMV. This is important because the Government has clear reservations about this article. A proposed amendment by Peter Hain called for the key provision of the article - that “Should a Member State fall victim to a terrorist attack, the other Member States shall assist it” - to be deleted. In a separate proposal, the Government asked for the new EU power to “prevent” terrorist threats to also be deleted. At a plenary session of the European Convention Hain objected that, “if it carries real military obligations to offer military assistance it is duplicating the NATO guarantee. If it does not … it is empty rhetoric.” His objection has been ignored.

(5) Majority voting on the new Foreign Policy Fund

(6) Majority voting on urgent humanitarian aid (e.g. this might have been used to decide whether the union should continue to fund the Palestinian Authority after the elections which returned Hamas to power – the UK and other Member States disagreed about this, and the UK was keen only to fund NGOs and not the Hamas-led authority.

Also interesting that Blair talks about there being "no sole right of initiative". This implies very strongly that the Government accepts that the new Foreign Minister will have a right of initiative for the first time, as (1) above suggests.


The two jobs of Commissioner for External Relations and High Representative which, of course, exist already, will be amalgamated in a single job. But this reform does not extend the EU’s substantive powers to act in foreign policy. In particular, the Union Representative, when working on common foreign and security policy issues, will operate within a policy framework set by the European Union Foreign Ministers, by unanimity.


The UK government has had to give the Foreign Minister far more powers than it wanted to. The UK was so focusssed on getting the name changed it lost out on the substance.

For example, against the UK Government’s wishes, the Constitution proposed that the EU Foreign Minister would automatically represent member states in international meetings, particularly at the United Nations Security Council. Article III-305 (2) of the constitutional treaty proposed that, “When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs be asked to present the Union's position.”

Peter Hain wrote an amendment arguing that “The UK cannot accept any language which implies that it would not retain the right to speak in a national capacity on the UN Security Council.” However the text remains.

Also, as the Guardian notes: "Britain said the new official should not chair regular meetings of EU foreign ministers, nor take over the resources of the European Commissioner for external affairs. It lost."

The UK Government also originally opposed the EU Diplomatic Service. In the negotiations on the draft constitutional treaty Denis MacShane said, “We believe that it remains for EU Member States to organise their respective bilateral diplomatic services at the national level.” (Hansard Written Answer, 17 June 2002) But again the UK has given way.


All these guarantees not merely remain in the new treaty, but are reinforced in a new overview articlethat reaffirms them and has full legal force. For the avoidance of doubt, we also obtained a declaration that sets out the unanimous view of all member states about the meaning of those guarantees. That declaration, which then informs the detailed negotiation of the intergovernmental conference, states that the common and foreign security policies of the treaty, including in respect of the office of Union Representative and the external action service:

“will not affect the existing legal basis, responsibilities, and powers of each Member State in relation to the formulation and conduct of its foreign policy, its national diplomatic service, relations with third countries, and participation in international organisations, including a Member State’s membership of the Security Council of the UN.”

This is typical of Blair's negotiating approach: a totally non-binding declaration which says the opposite of what his actually happeneing. In effect the mouth denies what the hands are doing.

The Blair fisk project part 3

There was also a discussion at the Council about competition. The treaties have always made it clearthat competition in the internal market should notbe distorted. The now defunct constitutional treaty’s objectives would have included new wording about “free and undistorted competition”. When the treaty was set aside, that provision was lost, but we agreed on a new and legally binding protocol to be annexed to the treaties, which reaffirms the commitment to ensuring that competition is not distorted, and the other references to competition in the existing treaties will remain: for example, articles 4, 27, 34, 81 to 89, 96, 98, 105 and 157 from the European Community treaty. The legal position in relation to competition therefore remains unchanged.

This is genuinely unclear. It certainly worries the CBI, and the UK clearly dropped the ball (it was rescued by Prodi, of all people, after a phone call from someone sharp eyed at Goldman Sachs). But how big its effect is remains to be seen. Perhaps we will need to see some more legal evidence.

Alongside meeting our four essential requirements, we secured a number of further improvements. The new treaty will confirm for the first time, explicitly, that national security is the sole responsibility of member states.

Again, more warm words. But the IGC mandate states that, "The Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall cover all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union's security, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence." The word "might" is changed from "will" in the original constitution. But do we really want to commit to "the progressive framing of a common defence policy that might lead to a common defence?"

Surely we should be clear about this now. The disappointing thing is that the UK tried to get all these words deleted during the European Convention: Peter Hain wrote that: "Common defence, including as a form of enhanced cooperation, is divisive and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 of the 25 Member States will enjoy through NATO."


The Union already signs international agreements, but the treaty formalises its legal personality. However, we have now agreed a declaration by all countries for this intergovernmental conference confirming that the fact of this legal personality does not authorise the Union in any way to legislate or act beyond the powers conferred on it by member states in the treaties.

Actually this is a big deal and again the Government were opposed to it. It basically means extending the EU's legal personality to justicwe and police and foreign affairs issues.

Talking about the original version of the constitution, Italian PM Romano Prodi said that this change was “A gigantic leap forward. Europe can now play its role on the world stage thanks to its legal personality". The French Government’s referendum website argued that, “The European Union naturally has a vocation to be a permanent member of the Security Council, and the Constitution will allow it to be, by giving it legal personality.”

Even the UK Government admitted that it could cause problems. In particular he said that the Government could only accept legal personality for the EU if it was not combined with pillar collapse. When the constitution was first being drafted Peter Hain said that “We can only accept a single legal personality for the Union if the special arrangements for CFSP and some aspects of JHA are protected.” But the JHA pillar has been collapsed. This strongly implies that over time

Hain told MPs: “we could support a single legal personality for the EU but not if it jeopardises the national representations of member states in international bodies; not if it means a Euro-army; not if it means giving up our seat on the United Nations Security Council; and not if it means a Euro-FBI or a Euro police force."

The Blair fisk Project part 4

There are also new powers for national Parliaments to object to Commission proposals on subsidiarity grounds.

But these are meaningless - even more so than in the original constitution.

Compared to the 2004 text the protocol on parliaments has been altered so that half of national parliaments need to object to trigger the process rather than ‘just’ a third.

In the unlikely event that fourteen national parliaments all vote against their Governments on the same proposal, on subsidiarity grounds, during a eight week window, then the Commission has to ‘reconsider’ - but it can still override national parliaments. Which is exactly what happened the very first time the mechanism was given a ‘trial run’ several years ago. On the upside the time for them to try to use this ludicrous process has been extended from six to eight weeks (woo-hoo!)

Such proposals are actively damaging, because they give the impression of accountability without the reality, and are used to fob off proposals for real democracy in Europe.


There are a number of extensions of qualified majority voting. In the most sensitive areas of QMV—justice and home affairs, and social security—we obtained the right either not to participate or to insist on unanimity. In addition, a number of other QMV measures—for example, those about rules within the eurozone, or those in justice and home affairs—do not apply to us. As for the rest, we have agreed them, because qualified majority voting is often in Britain’s interest. The biggest move to qualified majority voting in Europe’s history was the Single European Act, but this allowed the creation of one of Europe’s greatest achievements: the single European market. More recently, we have secured reforms such as the services directive and other liberalising measures through QMV, including the lifting of the beef ban, when they would almost certainly have been blocked through unanimity. Among the QMV provisions in the treaty is one that provides a new legal base and QMV for energy market liberalisation, and another that provides QMV for decisions on emergency humanitarian aid to third countries—both of them manifestly in the UK’s national interest.

There are plenty of moves to QMV. As noted above, even seemingly nice things like urgent humanitarian aid have clear downsides (e.g. aid to Hamas)

You can get a list of all of them on our analysis of the IGC mandate.

The claim that "The biggest move to qualified majority voting in Europe’s history was the Single European Act" looks wrong to us. There are far more moves under the new constitution. I don't understand how the Government can stack this up. Blair said later in the debate that there were 49 moves to QMV in the "new" treaty. But the Government also admits that there were only 12 moves to QMV in the SEA. We would love a reply from our regular at the Foreign Office on that one...


The other main reform is the fixed term, two-and-a-half-year presidency of the European Council, replacing the current rotating six-monthly arrangements. This is necessary for the Union’s efficiency, but does not involve any extension of presidency powers. The President of the European Council will remain the servant of the leaders of the member states.


Again, actually this is a big deal. The constitutional treaty would create powerful new positions and institutions, making the EU institutions more powerful in relation to the member states. These institutions are likely to grow in strength over time. Control of the 3,500 civil servants in the Council Secretariat would give the President a substantial power base – and the president would have an incentive to expand its own powers.

The new President would fundamentally change the nature of the legislative process in Brussels. Instead of negotiations between the supranational Commission and a national head of Government with a vented interest in protecting the rights of member states, negotiations would in future take place between one unelected, independent Brussels institution and another.

It has already been suggested that the new President of the European Council will be merged with the President of the Commission to create a US-style President for Europe. Sarkozy has called for the President to eventually be directly elected, as in the US.


The most important aspect of the new treaty is that it allows the European Union to move on to the issues that really matter. For too many years, we have been bogged down in a debate about institutions. Withthe increase from 15 to 27 member states, change is essential, but with this agreement, we can now concentrate on issues that really matter: energy security, organised crime and terrorism, globalisation, further enlargement and making Europe’s voice more effective internationally.


This is pathetic.

The lazy, hazy, argument that the new constitutional treaty is needed to make the EU work is not backed up by the facts. The EU is passing laws 25% faster since enlargement.

The vague arguement that this will somehow "let the EU fight terrorism" or save the planet is worthless too. What new power will the EU have to so this? Isn't the truth that the EU doesn't need more power to sort out its lamentable environmental record, but the will to sort out failing policies like the EU Emissiions Trading Scheme?


This agenda is surely quintessentially one in Britain’s interests. Over the past 10 years, Britain has moved from the margins of European debate to the centre. This is absolutely right for Britain. Whether indefence or economic reform or in energy policy orthe environment, or of course most particularly in enlargement and the appointment of the new Commission President, Britain has for a decade been in a leadership position in Europe. That is exactly where we should stay. I commend this agreement to the House.


A leadership position in Europe? What on earth?

This is from the Government that:

(a) Said there would never be a European Constitution. Keith Vaz, then Europe Minister said in Parliament, “the hon. Member for Ludlow said that the charter represented the beginning of a European constitution. If a telephone directory were published in Brussels, the hon. Gentleman would believe that it was the forerunner of a European Constitution. We are not going to have such a constitution” He said that the suggestion that there would be a European Constitution was “the last euro myth”. (Hansard, 22 November 2000)

(b) Promised the Charter would not be made legally binding. “Our case is that it should not have legal status and we do not intend it to”
- Tony Blair, 11 December 2000

(c) Said it would not give up the rebate - but then did. Tony Blair said "The UK rebate will remain and we will not negotiate it away. Period." (Hansard, 8 June)

But the Government did give away 7 billion pounds of the rebate in return ffor nothing other thann the promise of a "review" of EU spending later. As German newspaper Die Welt noted at the time: "Tony Blair began the EU presidency as a tiger and ended it as a doormat."

Anyway - you get the general idea. We could go on and on about the Government's u-turns.

The Government's case against a referendum is pathetic. Every single serious EU leader says it is exactly the same as the old EU constitution.

But the Government's calculation is that while people don't like it, they won't care enough to make a difference. Proving them wrong is what the next six months are all about.

Monday, June 25, 2007

EU leaders admit: it's the old constitution by another name

Bad news for Brown:

Other EU politicians are being more honest than the British government. All over the continent they are freely ‘fessing up that the supposedly ‘new’ treaty is almost no different to the old constitution that was overwhelmingly voted down by French and Dutch voters…

Brown is also talking about an early election - so the attempt to dump the referendum promise will become even more politically toxic...

What people are saying around Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
“The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part… We have renounced everything that makes people think of a state, like the flag and the national anthem.” El Pais (25 June)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the mandate approved by the EU will “preserve the substance of the constitutional treaty”. Agence Europe (25 June)

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero
"A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties”, Zapatero said. “Everyone has conceded a little so that we all gain a lot”, added Zapatero. El Pais (25 June)

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
“Given the fact that there was strong legal advice that the draft constitution in 2004 would require a referendum in Ireland, and given the fact that these changes haven't made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004, I think it is likely that a referendum will be held... thankfully they haven't changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there."

On the change of name for the EU Foreign Minister he said: "It's the original job as proposed but they just put on this long title - High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also vice President of the Commission. It's the same job […] it's still going to be the same position." Irish Independent (24 June)

Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “The good thing is...that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core - is left." Jyllands-Posten (25 June)

Finland’s Europe Minister
Finland’s Europe Minister Astrid Thors: “There’s nothing from the original institutional package that has been changed” TV-Nytt, (23 June)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has claimed victory, saying, “This was France’s idea from the start.” Libération (25 June)

During a press conference Sarkozy said “Competition is no longer an objective in itself – it’s a tool at the service of the internal market but is no longer an objective of the Union… for the first time… the Union has to help ensure the protection of citizens… the word protection is no longer taboo.”

At the Paris Air Show Sarkozy also said that Britain keeping the pound amounted to unfair competition. He said other countries, “can't go on imposing social, environmental, fiscal and monetary dumping' on Europe. I ask that we do with the euro with the US does with the dollar or even what our English friends do with the pound.” CNBC (24 June)

Sarkozy also dismissed the change of the EU Foreign Minister’s name as of no significance. "What does it matter what we call him?" Telegraph (24 June)

Commission President Jose Barroso
Barroso said he was happy that his son was studying law, because under the new treaty: "lawyers have a beautiful future.” Süddeutsche Zeitung (25 June)

Other comments

France

A headline in Le Monde reads: “The symbols have disappeared, the fundamentals remain.” A leader in Le Monde notes that all the “the institutional advances brought by the Constitution have been maintained. While the symbols – anthem, flag etc – have officially disappeared, the permanent presidency remains; and while the minister of foreign affairs has gone back to high representative, he keeps all the new powers that Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s text gave him.” (25 June)

An article in Libération reports that “In the end, the Brussels agreement is unexpected, since the essential of the advances of the Constitution are safeguarded, even if it is horribly complex.” (25 June)

A leader in Le Figaro argues that, “the essentials of the institutional advances have been preserved.”

Germany

Leading MEP Elmar Brok, the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed the outcome of the Summit and said: “Despite all the compromises, the substance of the draft EU Constitution has been safeguarded.” Euractiv (25 June)

Handelsblatt describes the deal as a "diplomatic coup" for Angela Merkel.

Spain

Diego Lopez Garrido, the Socialists’ parliamentary spokesman, was euphoric: “Europe is our strategic bet for the 21st century and from this point of view the summit has been a total success. The referendum which the Spanish approved the Constitution has been decisive, and 99% of its content has survived.” El Pais (25 June)

Spanish diplomats have also dismissed the change in the name of the new EU Foreign Minister. One said: "We have exactly what we wanted. The foreign minister will have the political clout necessary to do his job and will control the administrative services too. Blair was worried about this, but over lunch he calmed down… If your name is Maria, you can call yourself Jane, but you will still do Maria's job." Telegraph (24 June)

Netherlands

According to Het Financieele Dagblad – the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times: “Jan Peter Balkenenende's government will ask the Dutch council of state for a recommendation on the new treaty. In 2003, the highest advisory body of the Dutch government recommended to organize the referendum specifically because of the charter of fundamental rights. If the council of state stays with this position - and it's difficult to see why not - then it will be very hard for the government not to organize another referendum. That makes it uncertain if the new European treaty can be put into force." (25 June)

Belgium

The Belgian minister of foreign affairs Karel De Gucht has complained that the new treaty seems to have the goal, "of being as illegible as possible". Süddeutsche Zeitung (24 June)

Britain

A leader in the Financial Times admits: “Mr Blair tried to prevent the charter on fundamental rights from being made legally binding. He failed. But he has won a lengthy protocol insisting that it cannot be used to challenge UK laws: in effect, it is another opt-out.” However it notes “It may not be legally enforceable, for it discriminates in the application of fundamental rights.”

Labour MEP Richard Corbett admitted on friday that the new treaty could be as little as 5% different to the old constitution: “The 5% that has been dropped – and I think it is probably more – is actually the crucial bit – the bits that caused people to worry, and they will go.” (BBC PM, 22 June)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Irish: telling it like it is

Thank God for the Irish. Instead of the nonsense that gets talked in the UK, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is telling it like it is:

"I think all the changes that we've made are all changes for the worse but thankfully they haven't changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there."

On the change of name for the EU Foreign Minister he said: "It's the original job as proposed but they just put on this long title - High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also vice President of the Commission. "It's the same job - it's to avoid the rest of the world not having an easy contact point [for the EU] - it's still going to be the same position." (Irish Independent)

Oh, and he also promised to hold a referendum.

We're going to move to Dublin...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

proper names

Isn't there something a bit peculiar about this sentance:

"The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs will be called High Representative of the Union for Foriegn Affairs and Security policy"

It might - to the uninitiated - suggest a rather cynical approach, based on not calling things what they really are.

In fact the IGC mandate is absolutely festooned with instances in which the main text says one thing and the footnotes (mostly non-legally-binding sops to the Brits) say another. The mandate is now up on the web in the European Council conclusions.

They say that the IGC will start at the end of July and is supposed to wrap by the end of the year so that the new constitutional treaty can be ratified and in force before the next European elections (indeed, its the proximity between putting the Constitution through parliament and those elections that might prove tricky for Brown).

Its quite interesting to look at the heat and light generated by the talks on the new constitutional treaty in comparison to the day to day activity of the EU, as summed up in the rest of the Council conclusions. For example these conclusions note that, "The European Council reaffirms its commitment to realising, as part of the comprehensive European migration policy, the Common European Asylum System by the end of 2010." Very few lobby journalists in Britain even realise that this is happening, and still less has been written about it.

Its that gradual "competence creep" that makes the proposals in the IGC mandate for a
"simplified revision proceedure" so alarming. If the treaties can just be gradually amended, and further vetoes given up without a new treaty then things will just happen gradually, below the radar, with no scrutiny and no input from the public.

Perhaps that is what Gordon Brown will rip out of the text. He will certainly wait to see what emerges as the biggest point of concern - and then get it taken out.

As it stands, the proposal is sinply just to implement the whole EU constitution as a series of amendments to the existing treaties. That's no good for Brown. He needs blood on the carpet. His spinner has already briefed everyone about how he slapped down Blair over Sarkozy's demands. Next he will want to be able to arge that he has brutally "defeated" Sarko or Merkel on something. They have probably already agreed over a good dinner about what it will be.

Virtual organisation

An agreement has finally been reached. Predictably the Government has claimed victory and is attempting to persuade us it has secured its so-called "red lines".

The reality is that new treaty contains at least 90 -100% of the substance of the old Constitution.

The tough talking and the bluster in the press about red lines was a transparent attempt by the government to create a fake debate in order to appear tough for its domestic audience.

Unfortunately for the Government, it won't wash. Everyone knows that the ludicrous "red lines" were just a distraction. For example - Blair was the only person in Europe talking about giving up the veto on tax. For an analysis of the revised Constitutional Treaty download our new report - "The Constitution by any other name".

Our phones haven't stopped ringing as the press attempts to decipher exactly what the Government gave away in the negotiations. It's strange then that the groups acting as cheerleaders for the new Constitutional Treaty are uncontactable. The BBC has even had to resort to asking us to find people who actually support the new treaty because virtual organisations such as Business for New Europe have gone AWOL on the busiest day of EU news since the French and Dutch no votes two years ago.

Is it possible that their business leaders are finding it difficult to bring themselves to publicly support a new treaty which - despite the Government's promises - will make the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding in the UK for the first time?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Interesting timing (2)

While EU leaders are at the navel-gaze-athon in Brussels, the Doha round has finally officially collapsed. When everything at the European Council is over, that will remain a striking disaster.

You can find out more about the EU's role in this monumental political failure here, and also here, and also get a longer pamphlet about what needs to change here.

In summary, the EU is the main obstacle to a successful conclusion to the current Doha round of trade talks - because of its incredibly limited offer on both tariff and subsidy cuts. A spokesman for Peter Mandselson told the Guardian: “Nothing as part of the EU's offer in world trade talks will reduce overall levels of EU farm spending by one cent.” So why even pretend to negotiate?

Nicolas Sarkozy, has said that he wants the EU to offer even less. He has said that he will veto any more ambitious offer because he will never “sacrifice French agriculture on the altar of liberalisation”. He said the current level of spending on the CAP was “neither excessive nor unjustified.”

More generally he says that “Controlling globalisation means re-establishing Community preference… Europe must buy European… A Europe without borders, that has trade agreements with China, Brazil and India is not what we want. We want a Europe with borders.” Of course, he then said that: “This does not mean a return to protectionism...” Well, you could have fooled us.

There is a large poster in the OE office of the famous passage from Keynes' Economic Consequences of the Peace:

What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914... The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend.

He could secure, forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.

But most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement.

That is perhaps how politicians have regarded globalisation and the WTO: normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement.

Undermining the WTO – which is one of the great achievements of the post war world - is really, really, really stupid. The willingness to let the Doha round fail risks unravelling the whole fabric of multilateral trade.

In its place we would see a horribly tangled web of inferior bilateral deals. The world’s leading economies would compete to gain preferential market access by signing bilateral deals with weaker countries. If we go down this route low income countries will become marginalised ‘spokes’ around the ‘hubs’ of the EU, US, and China, and they will suffer trade diversion as a result.

Some interest groups and countries in the EU seem to actually want this to happen. The EU is currently negotiating bilateral deals with India, the ASEAN countries and South Korea under what it calls the “competitiveness agenda”.

Peter Thomson, in charge of the negotiations at the Commission's DG trade admitted at a recent seminar we organised that the EU’s bilateral deals with countries like South Africa are “not entirely development-driven.” While he said countries like the UK wanted it to be, the EU as a whole has a "mercantilist" approach.

Worse still, by the end of this year the EU wants to agree controversial Economic Partnership Agreements - which will require African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to get rid of 80% of their tariffs against the EU over the course of the next ten years. But the track record of outside organisations imposing this kind of shock therapy on poor countries is mixed at best.

Despite a lot of warm words, the motivation behind this all does seem to be essentially a mercantilist one. The EU sometimes seems to be running a 17th century trade policy in the 21st century.

So what is the underlying problem here? One is that several of the EU members still have quite a protectionist culture. But another problem is that there is a head on conflict between the idea of an open Europe and the idea of a tightly integrated European block. As the former European trade commissioner Willy De Clerk said: “We have not created the single market to turn it over to greedy foreigners”

Many people in the EU seem to worry that if you just have complete global free trade then the EU would become irrelevant. For these people integration is an end in itself – and that’s the main difference between today’s EU and an open Europe.

Interesting timing (1)

Strangely enough, the row over who-said-what-to-when in the Lib-Dem / Labour / Paddy Ashdown row might have some impact of the other row de jour - over whether there should be a referendum over the new constitutional treaty.

Ming had been thinking about playing nice to Brown and not calling for a referendum on the new text - with a view to coalition negotiations after the next elections.

Our new poll shows that Lib Dem voters are among the keenest for a referendum. And Lib Dem MPs sat on narrow majorities (particularly out west) do not want to go round the doorstops having people saying that (a) they have wriggled out of their previous support for a referendum and (b) are cosying up to Gordon ahead of a coalition. Total nightmare.

Ming will now want to be seen to take a tougher line on Labour for a bit. Perhaps an early test of how tough exactly will be the question of a referendum.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First draft - key points

Feral media? Feral media????

We wish it was. The reality of the media in Brussels is that the politicians have journos over a barrel.

The EU is like one of its own buildings: huge, monolithic and mirror-surfaced. Unlike in national politics you don't have so many of the internal political rivalries that lead to lovely leaks. Most people in the system tend to believe in what the EU is doing.

The EU is also very keen to try and squeeze out independent platforms. So it funds "Eur-activ" to compete with the independent EU Observer. It funds the ludicrous "Euronews" to compete (ha ha) with BBC News 24 and CNN.

There is no "official opposition", and the EU institutions have all the information - so they are the ones you need to cultivate to get ahead. We recall that one senior member of Brussels press core once wrote a ludicrously fawning piece off the back of a commission briefing. Speaking to him the next day he explained: "well, if you don't give them a good plug once in a while you just don't get anything."

So it is this evening. Journos have been waiting to pounce on the first draft of an agreement, circulated by Angela Merkel. But it is being held back. So print journalists have had to rely on bits and pieces read out to them by various sources - which is far from ideal. That gives them a horrible choice between being left behind or having to rely on official sources.

The draft sounds interesting to say the least. But not something that the UK Government would realistically sign up to. Proposals (apparently) include:

* Making the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding by means of a reference to it in the text, and giving the UK a face-saving compromise in the form of some words about restricting its scope.

* Some people say legal personality is in, others seem to think its out.

* Having the supremacy of EU law in a protocol (surely this is just being thrown up to be shot down by Brown?)

* Using a new form of enhanced cooperation to smooth the giving up of lots of vetoes. So members wouldn't have to take part, but could not stop decisions being made.

* Keeping "the specificity of CFSP decisions" but merging the Council and Commission roles in to a single EU Foreign Minister. Changing the name of the Foreign Minister to... well, it just says "XXX" in the current text.

* Not collapsing the pillars, but perhaps fudging the issue by moving some of the third pillar into the first, so that for example the Foreign Minister might gain some right of initiative, even if the court does not get jurisdiction.

Many of these things - Charter, Legal Personality, etc - would be a disaster for Brown. We don't believe he will accept them.

The devil will be in the detail. And we’ll only find that out once our “feral” politicians stop negotiating in secret and give us a text.

Beckett morphs into Chemical Ali

Mindboggling scenes at the Foreign Affairs Committee where Margaret Beckett has been speaking.

She is still claiming that there have been no real negotiations so far.

“You say there have been negotiations between other countries – I don’t believe that is so. What there has been is a dialogue.”

Er...

“To my mind the process of actual negotiation begins when you are invited to set out your core demands with a partner with whom you are negotiating…”

When put to her that she had said last week there had been no discussions, and therefore perhaps she had lied, she said, “Very unlikely, if I may say so.”

She insisted: “there still haven’t been discussions around the Council table” on the treaty, and explained, more than once, that “perhaps we were at cross purposes” – insisting that what she had meant was that there had been no negotiations in Council.

Asked what exactly it was in the original treaty that made the Government promise a referendum in the first place, she said, “…symbolic gestures – the flag, the anthem… there was a belief that this, as a whole, did perhaps represent quite a transfer of responsibilities – but that package is no longer in front of us.”

The idea that it was the inclusion of the (existing) EU flag or (existing) EU anthem that triggered the referendum promise is obviously nuts. And the Government did not go around at the time fessing up to anyone who would listen that it was "did perhaps represent quite a transfer of responsibilities." In fact they said it was a "tidying up excercise".

Beckett claimed: “Not one of us have said that there will not be a referendum.” However, she did say that if there is agreement at the summit then the Government should be able to say by Monday whether or not it thinks we need a referendum.

We say - bring it on. At least once the Government officially tries to rule out a referendum we will have clarity - rather than endless, ludicrous nonsense about how "no negotiations are going on." They will try to take away our right to a vote. But hopefully at least they'll stop taking the mickey.

Pull the other one!

The Government is literally all over the place on the revised Constitutional Treaty. It's difficult to keep up with the multitude of different positions they've had - of which the latest Brown-Blair "rows" are just the latest example.

As Lord Owen wrote in the Evening Standard yesterday "We need to hear again the convoluted illogicality of how our diplomats explain why constitutional changes were thought not to need a referendum in 2003, then how a referendum was promised in 2004, even if the French or Dutch voted no, only for the pledge to be withdrawn and replaced with the promise of a referendum in the 2005 general election - only in 2007 for Blair to say no referendum once again. Perhaps Gordon Brown will have enough sense to realise that the British people cannot be treated with contempt like this."

If that is the case, no-one seems to have told the Prime Minister's spokesman. At the press briefing yesterday afternoon he claimed that there was no need to hold a referendum this time because the name had been changed and the flag and anthem were being deleted.

According to the Downing Street website:

"Asked what it was in 2005 that required a referendum, and what were the elements of the constitution, the PMOS replied they were elements such as flags, national anthems, etc."

Which is funny, because we're sure there were some more important elements in the Constitution than the flag and the anthem... The EU President and the EU Foreign Minister perhaps?

As someone from the Commission helpfully told Le Figaro yesterday:

"It’s no great loss! The European flag already exists anyway..."

Monday, June 18, 2007

CBI turns against new EU treaty

A few extracts from CBI Director General Richard Lambert's speech at an event organised by pro-euro groups Centre for European Reform and Business for New Europe, 18 June:


After talking to hundreds of companies around the UK in the last twelve months here’s my view on how British business views treaty changes, which are going to be discussed this weekend. The fact is the subject almost never comes up. Most companies I’ve talked to think it’s pretty much irrelevant. The reasons for that are pretty plain – if they think of treaty change at all they think of it more in terms of risks than opportunities. They see few potential benefits for business and some potential hazards.”

“And some business people ask the question: do we need these treaties anyway? The failure of the draft Constitution has not has catastrophic consequences, the eurozone economy has been rising at its briskest pace over the last nine months for the first time in some years… the union continues to function, despite the accession of twelve more countries over the last three years. The institutional framework continues to operate, the European Court has not collapsed into chaos, laws get passed, decisions get made. So the question people ask is: isn’t just this all just a total waste of time, a distraction from the real big issues which the union has to face: the current failing trade round, budget reform, energy security and climate change”

“But being on the margins of the treaty change debate does not mean that business is detached from European debates as a whole – far from it.”

“Until the matter is resolved one way or another, the treaty debate is not going to go away. Europe’s leaders will just go on gazing at their navels, engage in endless - and sometimes irritable – internal debate, ignoring the big issues and opportunities that Europe is facing in the big world.”

“The decisions to be taken over the weekend – if a deal is struck among the member states – those decisions will be intensely political in character and there is no political consensus in British business about what kind of trade offs and compromises might be acceptable next weekend, or about how far Mr Blair and Mr Brown could go without promising a referendum. No consensus – so I’m not going to go down that road this morning.”

“The conclusion is that there is a window of opportunity here – but it’s not as a result of treaty change, but through the shifting courses of European politics. For business I think that means getting more involved in European debates where they matter. Being clear about what would make the single market effective, being clear that its member states who need to raise their game and being clear about where we want Europe to act and not to act.” Focussing on those areas where collective action will do more to further Europe’s position of the global stage than if we just go plodding along in our own merry way. I think it’s these issues that the business community really needs to get stuck into, and let’s hope that this will be possible once the dust that is probably going to be raised in the next few weeks has started to settle.”



This is a major blow to the Government. The CBI previously campaigned for the euro, and the Government were hoping that they could hide behind the CBI on the new version of the constitutional treaty. But it looks like the CBI has wisely decided to steer clear of taking flak for the Government. Given that the new version of the text would still cut Britain’s power to block legislation by 30%, and inevitably mean even more costly EU regulation – it is not surprising that the CBI members have “little zeal” for the new version of the constitutional treaty.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Blair for president of Europe!

Blair has been endorsed as a future President of Europe by Nicolas Sarkozy, according to the FT. And the non-denial-denials coming out of Downing Street this morning are about as strong as a wilted lettuce-leaf.

Well - he has to pay the bills somehow, and that house in Connaught Square isn't cheap.

No-one has really thought about it yet, but what is the 'package' for the new President going to look like? It would have to be bigger than Barroso's surely - after all we can't have the impression that the civil servants are running the whole show (hint: they are).

Jose's basic is about £180,000 a year, and when he retires he can expect a chunky £120,000 a year pension. So no worries about turning up the gas fire a bit then.

He also gets about £27,000 for accommodation and £7000 for entertaining. There may also be some kind of daily allowance.

Also nice - is the 24-hour chauffeur. You get to pick out a car worth up to £75,000. Barroso, being a red-blooded type, has plumped for an environmentally-devastating VW 4x4 Touareg. Blair would presumably want something a bit greener.

Eventually of course the goal is to have a directly elected US-style president. Indeed, Sarkozy backed a directly elected EU President during the French elections, signing a call for one from the NGO Europanova.

Then there will be the most awesome elections. Imagine the auction of contradictory promises that a European Presidential candidate will need to make to win: a promise of sausages for all in Poland, and compulsory vegetarianism in Holland. A super-sensible calvinist clampdown on drinking in Sweden, and a pledge to introduce a two-drink minimum for driving on the roads of southern Italy.

Only one man can make these kind of paradoxical pledges. We'll certainly be backing Blair against Chirac in 2012.

Friday, June 15, 2007

when bombers meet bureaucrats

Ludicrous comment of the day has to go to Lib Dem Euro MP Sarah Ludford:

"While the Brussels machine is deadlocked by the search for 27-country unanimity, the terrorists and criminals are free to bomb their way across Europe"

Oooooh, I bet Bin Laden is quaking in his boots at the thought of more QMV. This, remember, from the organisation that gave us a "non-emotive lexicon" for discussing terrorism.

International agreements are obviously important - but what exactly is it that the EU can't do because of unanimity? To pretend that anyone who questions giving the EU more powers is the "murderers friend" is a typically ludicrous euro-argument.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Merkel memo full text

Introduction

This report from the German presidency is a response to the mandate which was given it by the European Council at its meeting in June 2006. As requested at the time, the Presidency, in the light of very extensive consultations held over the last six months, provides an assessment of the state of discussion with regard to the treaty reform process and explores possible ways forward.

After two years of uncertainty, following the problems encountered in the process of ratification of the Constitutional Treaty, it is clear that there is now a general desire to settle this issue and move on. All Member States recognise that further uncertainty about the treaty reform process would jeopardise the Union’s ability to deliver.

Settling this issue quickly is therefore a priority. This was agreed when Heads of state and Government, together with the President of the European Parliament and the President of the Commission, met in Berlin on the 25 March to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. All were united in the aim of placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009.

The way forward clearly needs to take into account the concerns expressed by citizens during the ratification process on the future direction of the European Union and the effects of globalisation on its core values and policies. At the same time there is a very strong demand for the Union to increase its efficiency, to enhance its democratic functioning, and to improve the coherence of its external action.

Overall assessment

In line with the mandate given to it in June 2006, the Presidency has conducted extensive bilateral consultations with the member states as will as the European Parliament, both at the level of designated “focal points” and between the President of the European Council and her opposite numbers. In addition to these bilateral contacts, the Presidency organised a meeting of “focal points” in Berlin on 15 May, and a further meeting is due to taker place on 19 June. Foreign Ministers have also had the opportunity to take stock of developments at meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

These consultations have proved very useful in giving the Presidency a clear idea of the various concerns of individual member states.

The issues raised during the consultations can be grouped into a number of themes:

A different approach on structure

A certain number of Member States underlined the importance of avoiding the impression which might be given by the symbolism and the title 'Constitution' that the nature of the Union is undergoing radical change. For them this also implies a return to the traditional method of treaty change through an amending treaty, as well a number of changes of terminology, not least the dropping of the title ‘Constitution’.

"Such an approach is not incompatible with the demand from those Member States which have already ratified, that as much of the substance of the Constitutional Treaty as possible should be preserved. They are ready to consider the alternative method of treaty change... They have made it very clear however that this would represent a major concession. They insist on the need to preserve the substance of the innovations agreed upon in the 2004 IGC, and to ensure as far as possible the readability and simplicity of the new Treaty.

Reinforcing the capacity of the Union to act, whilst preserving the identity of the Member States

It is generally recognised that a strengthening of the institutions will help reinforce the capacity of the Union to act, and that the Union therefore has every interest in ensuring that the current Treaties are adapted in order to introduce the set of institutional reforms agreed in the 2004 IGC.

At the same time, there is concern to underline the respect for the identity of the member states and to introduce greater clarity over the delimitation and definition of competences of the Union and the Member States. Furthermore there I a clear demand from some delegations to further enhance the role of national parliaments.

Some delegations have requested that the text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights be removed from the Treaty. Others strongly oppose this move. Most of the latter could however accept it, provided that the legally binding character of the Charter is preserved by means of a cross-reference in the body of the Treaty.

Addressing other concerns

A few delegations have suggested that in several cases the text of the treaties should be amended in order to reflect more recent developments. Many delegations would be ready to examine such amendments if considered helpful by others and provided that no new competences are conferred upon the Union. Specific suggestions include the need to address energy security and climate change. It has been proposed that greater prominence should be given to the “Copenhagen criteria” on enlargement

The way forward

On the basis of its assessment of the positions of different delegations, the Presidency recommends that the June European Council agree to the rapid convening of an IGC. It suggests that the European Council give a precise and comprehensive mandate (on structure and content) to the IGC, thus allowing it to complete its work on a nww treaty by the end of the year.

The Presidency proposes a return to the classical method of treaty change. The IGC would therefore be asked to adopt a Reform Treaty amending the existing treaties rather than repealing them. The Treaty on European Union as modified would keep its present name, while the Treaty establishing the European Community would become the “Treaty on the functioning of the Union”, containing all the detailed implementing provisions, including the legal bases. Both treaties would have the same value. The Union would have a single legal personality.

The mandate for the IGC should set out how the measures agreed in the 2004 IGC with a view to a more capable and democratic Union should be inserted into the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union. The consultations over the past 6 months show that a number of changes will be needed to reach an overall agreement. To that end there should be further discussions with regard to the following issues:

- The question of the symbols and the primacy of EU law

- Possible terminological changes

- The treatment of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

- The specificity of the CFSP

- The delimitation of competences between the EU and the Member States

- The role of national parliaments

Conclusion

The Presidency submits this report to delegations as a basis for reaching agreement on the way forward at the European Council on 21-22 June 2007.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Freedom EU style

We were over in Brussels yesterday testing the temperature before the big summit next week. When EU leaders arrive the entire area around the Council and Commission buildings will be fenced off so that the great unwashed can't get near to the politicians and journalists inside.

But never let it be said that our masters in Brussels don't run a benevolent regime. They have set up a "freedom of expression" zone just up the road where people will be allowed to protest. The catch is that any protest needs to get authorisation from the Brussels police.

As one Brussels punter put it : "freedom of expression... but only with permission".

Blogging about

After our first posting on Conservative Home on Monday one cynical commentator questioned whether we'd become an extension of the Tory party.

No doubt the same reader will accuse us of joining up to Labour because Neil has written a piece on the Guardian website today...

For those of you who aren't avid Con Home readers, here are our posts from Tuesday (on the Government's red lines on the new Constitution) and Wednesday (on why the treaty would be bad for business).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Constitution debate hots up

Blogging is likely to be a bit light on this site for the next week, but we will be putting up a series of posts on Conservative Home on the revised Constitutional Treaty.

Check out the first installment here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

She lied and lied and lied (we're not exaggerating)

It's often said that one of Tony Blair's best assets is his skill at acting. The feigned sincerity, the lump in the throat and -of course- the comedy mockney accent - y'know.

Margaret Beckett's performance in front of the EU scrutiny committee yesterday suggests that his legacy will survive after all when he steps down.

The session began with the Labour Committee Chairman - Michael Connarty - saying that the current negotiations on the EU Constitution were taking place against a "background of non-transparency". This, claimed Beckett, was Berlin's fault. It is the way they wanted to conduct negotiations. Nothing she could do about it.

She then denied that the questionnaire that Merkel had sent to every EU government had any importance ( the letter which set out how they would make "presentational changes... without changing the legal substance" of the Constitution). She said it had “not played any real part in the discussions” on the new treaty.

When asked to give a bit more detail on these discussions she argued -puzzlingly -that there hadn't been any. "Nothing that you could really call negotiations has taken place."

She told MPs that the idea that the Constitution was being resurrected had been made up by the media. She declared that "There is nothing on the table" and that other countries were "in denial" about the Constitution's rejection.

When Bill Cash dared to suggest that she might not have a firm grip on the negotiations, she replied tersely “It’s not that I don’t know what’s going on, it’s just that nothing is going on”.

She carried on: “I’m afraid Mr Cash, you say to me ‘We know there are party-to-party negotiations”. There are not. There have not been. There has been a process whereby member states are occasionally invited to give some views. There have not been negotiations.”

Cash: “So there is something going on” Beckett: [shouting] “There is nothing going on”.

She even refused to be drawn into whether she would support individual proposals from the old Constitution. “Until it is clear that a proposal is being but forward and in what form I will reserve my comments until something is practically proposed. And at the moment nothing is proposed.”

But then the cracks started to appear. First she confused her own interests with the interests of the country as a whole - “I believe it is very much in the interests of those who wish to see British national interests protected and preserved that we do not carry out our negotiations in public” [pause] “Especially when they haven’t started”.

Michael Connarty asked what the sherpas (envoys sent by each country's PM to agree a framework on the new treaty) were discussing.

“Not very much”, she replied as she glanced to her advisers knowingly. She stumbled on: “I accept. I do accept... I know that the committee... I’ve read all manner of things, a number of fascinating articles about the negotiations that are no doubt going on. How the sherpas are beavering away, there will be a text here with brackets." [opening her arms in a dramatic Italian-style gesture while shaking her head] "No."

Then the plot thickened. The reason she couldn't answer any of the committee's questions was that it would make it easier for her to negotiate that way.

“The less I say about what we might in principle accept, and what we might not, the more I preserve the maximum amount of negotiating space to resist anything that I think is not in Britain’s national interest." She added: "we're not going to negotiate in public" (why did you show up then?)

"I appreciate that is unsatisfactory for the committee and I apologise to you for that. But since we are so much in uncharted waters of knowing what may be proposed. The more I say 'we can live with this, we can’t live with that', the more I’m giving away from my negotiating strategy. Which I’m always deeply reluctant to do.”

But she was happy to talk about the parts of the negotiations the Government are happy with. She said the Government could "live with" changes to the voting system and that she would “have sympathy” with proposals to introduce the subsidiarity mechanism from the old Constitution.

She even said it would be “unwise” to add things such as Copenhagen criteria (restricting future enlargement) , as well as clauses on energy and climate change.

The MPs were feeling frustrated. James Clappison said that he was going to ask for her view on the proposed EU President, "but I think I can make an educated guess about what the answer’s going to be”. The Foreign Secretary agreed - he has guessed right that the lady wasn’t for talking.

The whole performance was nicely summed up by her response to Richard Younger-Ross' assertion that there was nothing MPs could do to influence the Government in the negotiations and that the new treaty would be presented as a fait accompli.

She just shrugged her shoulders and looked away ... we wonder if she really has a place in the new 'humble', 'listening and learning' era of politics which Brown has promised...

Meanwhile, while the Foreign Secretary was insisting that the negotiations were "frozen", elsewhere Nicolas Sarkozy was announcing that, "Tony Blair and I have just agreed on what might be the framework for a simplified treaty. " Which doesn't sound very frosty...

The whole thing was like a piece of performance art: 60 long minutes of straightforward, in-your-face refusal to answer any questions. It made the famous Michael Howard Newsnight interview look like an excercise in open government. The only consolation, perhaps, is that soon all ministers will be touring the studios, having similarly difficult interviews, as they attempt to explain why the Government has broken its promise of a referendum. Now that will be fun to watch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

one thing leads to another

There is a lot going on at the moment. But amid all the short term rows about the revised constitutional treaty, the EU institutions are chugging along merrily, doing their long-term integrationist 'thing'.

For example, today the Commission has put out its green paper on the Common European Asylum System. The BBC has a good summary.

It's a classic area where the EU is marching miles ahead of - and indeed maybe not even in the same direction as - public knowledge and public opinion.

We doubt that most journalists, never mind most voters, even know that the EU is trying to set up a Common European Asylum System. Nonetheless the press release blandly states that the "first phase" of the system (the first four bits of legislation) is now complete.

The four building blocks of the first stage of the Common European Asylum System are now in place: Regulation (EC) 343/2003 ("Dublin Regulation"), Directive 2003/9/EC ("Reception Conditions Directive,") Directive 2004/83/EC ("Qualification Directive") and Directive 85/2005/EC ("Asylum Procedures Directive").

These legislative instruments aim at establishing a level playing field: a system which guarantees to persons genuinely in need of protection access to a high level of protection under equivalent conditions in all Member States while at the same time dealing fairly and efficiently with those found not to be in need of protection.


Some of that was controversial enough. Remember when the Commission said during the 2005 election that what the tories were proposing was illegal under EU law? Or the Scandinavians’ objections to a "white list" of ineligible origin countries? But the really tricky bit is the next part:

The ultimate objective of the Common European Asylum System, as envisaged by the Hague Programme, consists in the establishment of a common asylum procedure and a uniform status for persons in need of international protection valid throughout the EU.

In particular:

There is a pressing need for increased solidarity in the area of asylum, so as to ensure that responsibility for processing asylum applications and granting protection in the EU is shared equitably.


Ah - "burden sharing" in other words.

bɜː(r)dɛn shɛə(r)ing , verb: "The point at which things always get tricky in the EU" (think emissions reductions, EU budget etc).

We're always pretty sceptical when people say that the EU will 'never' do such and such a thing. Generally speaking it always ends up doing it in the end. But can this idea really ever fly? Will countries in northern Europe really agree to accept more people to take the pressure off southern member states? Can this project survive exposure to public opinion?

Maybe, maybe not. Some of the suggestions might get through below the radar of public perception, like the suggestion for a "mechanism for the mutual recognition of national asylum decisions and the possibility of transfer of protection responsibilities." However others are likely to trigger a reaction, particularly the suggestion that "Intra-EU resettlement is an important way to pursue."

Asylum is a nice example of how one thing leads to another in the EU. As Richard Williams from ECRE says in the BBC piece: "Once you have a common area of freedom of movement, you have to have common rules and safeguards on who can and cannot come in," he says.

Funnily enough, we thought someone might say that.

Going forward the issue for the UK is that having got the bits of the Common System it likes (particularly Rome) will there now be pressure for a quid pro quo? What if the UK doesn't want to take part in phase two? Opting out of it all might ruffle some feathers, but the trouble with having an opt-in not a veto is that if we agree in principle at the start of the process, there is no way back if we don't like the outcome. Interesting times ahead.

Monday, June 04, 2007

EU clowns

Hidden in the health section of Saturday's Times was the news that the Finnish city of Tampere is employing clowns to boost the health of gloomy council workers, using £17,000 of EU cash. Kirsi Koski, the city of Tampere's personnel chief, told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat (English) that clowns will make workers laugh - and "laughter is the core of wellbeing."

Nice to see the Structural Funds aren't only run by EU clowns but spent on them too..

Holding us back

Back in March some of the UK's leading brewers joined us in criticising the EU for passing a regulation which banned the Crown stamp from British pint glasses and replaced it with the CE mark.

Now the Wiltshire Times reports that this EU regulation has forced a local brewery to abandon plans to sell its new organic beer in Biopack corn starch compostable glasses at the "green" Sunrise festival because they didn't have the correct EU stamps.

Just another in a long line of examples of how the EU's constant drive towards ever greater harmonisation stifles innovation and enterprise in its member states. Isn't this exactly the sort of thing the EU promised us it would sort out through its Lisbon and Better Regulation Agendas?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Summit deal in the balance?

What are the chances of EU leaders reaching agreement at the June EU Summit?

Gideon Rachman informs us that although German foreign policy academics are fairly optimistic that Merkel can broker a deal, Berlin’s foreign ministry officials are less confident. They are giving odds of no more than 50-50.

Contrary to what the European Voice said the other day, of the three ‘problem’ countries – Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland (now apparently referred to by German officials as “the three crazies”) – it is Poland that is viewed as the biggest challenge. Specifically, Berlin fears that Warsaw’s demands on changes to the voting weight system proposed in the original Constitution could unravel the basis for agreement. If the matter of voting weights is opened up for discussion, this could open up a Pandora’s box of other issues that will be put back on the table.

“Poland has just one request – but that request is dynamite”, said one German diplomat.

The Poles seem to be sticking to their guns on this issue. Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said "We are ready to die for this" (Echoing Jan Rokita's call for "Nice or Death" during the Constitution negotiations).

On the other hand, there’s still the possibility of Warsaw being bought off. According to El Mundo, Merkel hopes to win over Poland through a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, using €60bn of EU funds and a possible clause on energy solidarity as bargaining chips with Warsaw.

Meanwhile, we are now beginning to see a consensus crystallize around the idea of Sarkozy’s mini-Constitution, which appeared to have already received the consent of Berlin. Even the Belgians, Italians and Spanish now seem ready to fall into line behind the French idea, despite their previously strong opposition to anything that smacked of a “minimalist” treaty. Reuters quoted a senior EU official earlier in the week as saying: "Merkel knows what she's doing and the puzzle's mostly done".

bad timing

The wheels of Europe turn slow - and the Financial Perspective for 2007-13, which was first agreed in December 2005, has now finally had all of its numbers finally agreed by governments and eurocrats.

Which means it will be up for parliamentary ratification in the next parliamentary session according to a letter from the treasury to the Democracy Movement - who have been running a "stop the cheques" campaign.

That's less than ideal timing from the Government's point of view. Firstly, it will come during what Brown is promising will be an eye-wateringly tight public spending round (he wants the left to squeal, in order to counter the tories 'lurch to the left' stuff). Given that context, a big increase in what we spend on the EU will not go down too well with 100% of Labour backbenchers.

Secondly, it may well be in the middle of an intergovernmental conference on the new mini-constitution. What better reminder of where exactly Blair's approach of "going with the flow" in Europe has got us?

The debate as it goes through parliament should be a good opportunity to pick over some interesting issues. Why for example is Ireland still a net recipient, despite being the second richest member state? Why is Spain the biggest absolute recipient, given that it is no longer a poor country?

Why was it necessary to spend a billion euros on political sweeteners in order to (as Geoff Hoon put it) "generate a political consensus for an agreement" on the deal? Isn't there a better way to spend 864 billion euros than on the CAP, and a series of failing regional policies? Our take is here.