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Blue Print for a Superstate
It took 10 months of backroom dealing, but the leaders of the European Union have finally agreed to a Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter's supporters claim it will strengthen the civil rights of EU citizens. It will not. What it will do is damage job creation and democratic accountability. Worse, it will aid those who are relentlessly pursuing political centralization across Europe's borders, languages and cultures. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is, in fact, a blueprint for an EU superstate.
The Charter, which began life at the EU Cologne summit in June 1999 and will be finalized at the Nice summit in December, was conceived as a way of increasing the EU's popularity. The current draft now lists 54 rights, the legal status of which will only be determined after it has been signed. But it is already clear that it will have a significant influence on the European Court of Justice. France, Germany and the European Commission have all said that the Charter is intended to become a key constitutional document. With its hallmark display of casual mendacity, Tony Blair's Labour Government in Britain is pretending that the Charter will never have legal status. If only that were true.
There are many flaws with the Charter. It is sloppily written and vague. It would take from elected national parliaments lawmaking powers on issues from health to education and welfare and would hand them to unelected -- and politically like-minded -- EU judges. The Charter is a mix of serious rights that have already been protected for centuries, some items straight out of a trade-union wish list, and some worthy but vague aspirations.
Fighting Past Battles
Take Article 29, which calls for a universal "right of access to a free placement service." Or Article 38, which says the EU "shall ensure a high level of consumer protection." Or Article 36, which calls for the right to "access of services of general economic interest."
Then too, some of the most basic rights in the Charter raise more questions than they answer. Article One states that "Human Dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected." Fine words, but what do they mean in legal terms? From an economic point of view, the Charter is an attempt to lock Europe -- from free-market Ireland and Britain in the West, to post-communist Poland and Hungary in the East -- into a failing center-left economic and social model. The Charter is fighting past battles. It is an attempt to shut out globalization by an intellectually bankrupt political elite that does not understand the past and is fearful of the future.
But the document should not only alarm economic liberals. It should also scare anyone who wants to see real human rights protected. Article 52 says the rights of EU citizens may be limited if they violate "objectives of general interest recognized by the Union." This appears to mean that the rights of Europeans whose countries are members of the EU will no longer be guaranteed by their parliaments or governments, but by the EU, which has given itself the power to rescind those rights.
In Britain, our rights have been protected for centuries by a rich web of common law, statute law and the occasional Bill of Rights. Yet the impression now given is that these rights are ours thanks to EU institutions: The same institutions that are held in deep disregard because of their chronic lack of democratic accountability, their endless ambition, and their endemic corruption.
We need the EU to work. We are committed to making the EU work. The EU has achieved great goals, such as the ever-closer relationship between France and Germany. But for the EU to survive as something more than a 20th-century anachronism, it badly needs reform. That means speaking honestly about its limitations. The Charter is part of a wider problem for the EU; that of a deficit of accountability and legitimacy.
Enlargement to the east means that the EU has reached a fork in the road. It must choose one of two routes. One route leads to an open, flexible and free-enterprise Europe; a Europe that celebrates diversity. The second route leads to uniformity and uniform integration. It is in that spirit that the Charter has been written. It is designed to be part of an EU with its own constitution, government, taxes, foreign policy, criminal-justice system, citizenship, as well as its own currency. This would be "bloc Europe," a single European superstate.
Mr. Blair has reacted to this state of affairs by doing what comes naturally to him. He tells different people different things. To Britain's dwindling band of intellectual europhiles, for whom eurofederalism is the fashionable ideology, the British government indicates that its support of the Charter is a sign that Britain is on course to be a key player in this federal EU superstate.
A Child's Comic
But to the majority of Britons, who are emphatically opposed to further EU encroachment, Mr. Blair's ministers say the Charter is toothless. A junior minister even claimed that the Charter would have no more legal influence than a child's comic. He has since been contradicted by statements made by EU Commission President Romano Prodi, French President Jacques Chirac and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
The irony is that while the EU's great and good spend their days arguing over the wording of unnecessary documents such as the Charter, reform of the EU becomes ever more pressing. We need to reform the absurdly wasteful Common Agricultural Policy. We need to reform the Common Fisheries Policy. We need to reform the EU's aid policy, which takes on average four years to spend money collected for natural disasters.
Yet instead of actually tackling what needs to be done, EU leaders waste their time trying to pretend the world hasn't changed in the past 30 years. If it wasn't so potentially damaging, the Charter would represent a 21st-century version of those futile medieval debates about angels on pinheads.
Let's veto this Charter and get to grips fixing Europe's real problems.
Nice one from Maude
TONIGHT in Berlin, Francis Maude will propose that Parliament should not ratify the outcome of the Nice summit before voters have had their say, either in a general election or a referendum. The Shadow Foreign Secretary's speech, to be delivered at Humboldt University, is welcome on two counts. First, it challenges the Government to submit the next stage of European integration to the popular will, rather than pushing it through a legislature that it dominates.
At Nice in December, the EU will decide on changes to its procedures, including an extension of qualified majority voting, in preparation for an influx of new members. Mr Maude has rightly sharpened Conservative opposition to a further erosion of national sovereignty which Labour would prefer to introduce by stealth.
Second, the silence in this country over a provocative speech last month by Joschka Fischer is unhealthy for the future of Europe. The German foreign minister said the EU should handle expansion by creating a European federation with a bi-cameral legislature and the option of a directly elected president. From the same stage tonight, in the capital of the most federally minded EU member, Mr Maude will advance a contrasting vision.
He argues for a "network Europe" of co-operating nation states in preference to a "bloc Europe" comprising a single superstate. Looking ahead to the summit, he opposes any extension of qualified majority voting, warns against incorporating the Charter of Fundamental Rights in a treaty, and castigates the European Security and Defence Policy for undermining Nato.
Mr Maude believes that both Germany and France are showing new tolerance for a Europe whose members will move at different speeds. We suspect that any softening of their position towards diversity springs less from magnanimity than a fear that an enlarged Europe will amount to little more than a glorified free trade area. Such a fear explains their determination to form a hard core of single currency states which, while reluctantly accepting variable geometry, will remain the dominant force within the union.
Mr Maude's vision of happy co-existence between different groups of nations combining variously for different purposes begins to look over-optimistic. That said, his Humboldt speech is a bold reply to Mr Fischer which at the same time challenges the British Government to come clean about its intentions.