The EU is conducting one of its periodic public debates, this time on the Lisbon Treaty, or as we know it, the Renamed Constitution. As usual, it has invited a raft of pro-EU organisations, many actually funded by the Commission itself, to a two-day meeting on Nov 8/9th. As a member of the European parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, I asked for a number of UK organisations to be invited, and was surprised to find that the “AGORA Team” invited The Freedom Association, of which I happen to be Honorary Chairman.As part of the process, I have submitted the following observations to the AGORA web-site ahead of the meetings, covering the areas for discussion proposed by the AGORA Team (www.europarl.europa.eu/agora).
The Future of Europe
The EU claims to be “a Union of values based on democracy and the rule of law”. Yet its rejection of the NO votes on the Constitution in France and Holland in 2005, its cynical reintroduction of essentially the same measures under a different name, and its clear determination to force through the Renamed Constitution without referenda and in the teeth of public opposition in several member states, shows extraordinary contempt for democratic values and for the will of the people. Recent opinion polls show that while 74% of the British people want a referendum, even more of the German people (75%) want one. Yet both governments are determined to deny the people a say. This is a negation of democratic values. It is an outrage against freedom that significant changes should be made to the basis on which we are governed, without our consent.
Recent small-scale polls in the UK, under the auspices of the 1972 Local Government Act, including several in my own East Midlands region, show that over 90% of the people want to vote on the EU Constitution. Other polls indicate that in a referendum, at least two thirds would vote against it.
Most of the people I represent actually want the kind of Europe they thought they were voting for in 1975 — a Europe based on Free Trade and voluntary inter-governmental cooperation. They did not distinguish between a free trade area and a customs union, but those who understand the issue think that Customs Unions are old-fashioned and sub-optimal, while free trade areas work much better. We need a wholesale devolution of powers back to member states, and a new Europe based on nothing more than free trade and cooperation.
Tasks and Missions
Social Dimension: This is a blatant attempt to enforce the European Social Model on countries with more flexible, “Anglo-Saxon” economies. These should be national competences. The EU should have no say in them.
Climate Protection: This should be a national matter, with nations engaging in international conventions like the Kyoto Protocol if their democratically-elected governments choose to do so.
Energy Policy: This is critical for the UK, which continues to be the largest oil producer in the EU. This is a national asset, and should be no concern of the EU. The British people are well aware that the EU took control of our North Sea fisheries in 1973, and have damaged them almost beyond repair. We take a dim view of this new power-grab for our North Sea oil.
Immigration policy: Immigration, and the rights of citizens vis-à-vis non-citizens, lies at the heart of national responsibility. With half of new immigrants to the UK now coming from the EU, the time has come to introduce restrictions on immigration from both inside and outside the EU. The EU should have no place in this policy area.
We at The Freedom Association (TFA) believe that our rights derive from having been born free men and women in the UK, and that they are protected both by our Common Law system, and by a range of measures — habeus corpus, trial by jury — which ensure them. We do not believe that our rights derive from governments, or from Charters or Conventions or Declarations.
We believe that the so-called Charter of Fundamental Rights exists only as a cosmetic device to attempt to persuade citizens that the EU delivers some benefits, somewhere. We believe it is counter-productive in a range of ways:
It creates a “culture of rights”, leading to a compensation culture, and undermines initiative and responsibility.
It undermines the role of the nation-state by confusing the rights of citizens with those of non-citizens.
It passes law-making powers from elected representatives to unelected and unaccountable judges, opening the way for judicial activism.
It creates rights which on some interpretations may conflict. For example the “Right to Human Dignity” may be argued in favour of euthanasia, while “The Right to Life” may be urged to the contrary.
TFA argues that the process of EU integration has made the British people less free and less democratic, and that the Renamed Constitution will make matters very much worse. We demand a referendum.
Tools and competences
Procedure for nominating The Commission President and Commissioners: TFA does not believe that fundamentally undemocratic institutions can be justified by a democratic fig-leaf, such as electing a President by universal suffrage, or in the European parliament. In the EU, across 27 member-states, the common public opinion necessary for representative government cannot exist, and therefore “Democracy at the European level” is a contradiction in terms. We want the EU changed to a Free Trade Area, and the Commission would therefore become a minor secretariat, or would cease to exist entirely.
Universal legislative co-decision: It is an affront to democracy that any democratic national government should be obliged to accept the decisions of foreign institutions with which it may not agree. This is profoundly wrong and anti-democratic. Europe must be based on voluntary inter-governmental cooperation, so that no government has to accept any imposition based on majority voting.
Transparency of the Council’s Legislative Process: We do not want the Council to have a legislative process, but we agree that, to the extent that it continues to have such a process, it should be public and transparent.
Borders and Frontiers
EU Diplomatic Corps: TFA does not want to see the EU “enhance its geo-political role”, which can only happen at the expense of the independence of member-states. We are absolutely opposed to the creation of an EU Foreign Minister (under this or any other name), and to an EU diplomatic service. The objective is the further erosion of the nation state.
Criteria for accession: In the Europe of free trade which we envisage, the only criteria for accession would be democratic governance and free and open markets. However in a political union in which each new entrant further dilutes the remaining influence of existing members, we oppose enlargement.
Neighbourhood relations: Member-states should conduct their own foreign policies. This does not, of course, preclude ad hoc voluntary cooperation. Same comments apply to “support for democratisation processes”.
Ways of consulting and informing the peoples of Europe: We already have methods to do this. We inform the peoples of Europe through a free press and free media, and we consult them through national and local elections. TFA is particularly opposed to the flood of EU propaganda which currently affects our schools, our local authorities and other aspects of national life. But we take comfort and encouragement from the fact that far from endearing the EU to the people, this activity seems to be having the reverse effect.
Structure of European civil society: There is of course no “European civil society”. There are institutions and organisations and customs in member states which have evolved over time and seem to serve their purposes tolerably well. The last thing we need now is an attempt to impose new EU structures from above. Such an attempt would continue to feed resentment of, and opposition to, the European project.
Simplifying the machinery of Europe’s Institutions: If we follow the TFA prescription of abandoning pretensions to political union, and turning the European Union into the simple Free Trade Area which the people of Britain thought they were joining in 1973, then the scope for simplification would be vast. We would need occasional intergovernmental meetings supported by a limited secretariat. The parliament, the Commission and much of the other in institutional framework could be closed entirely.
ROGER HELMER MEP 05 November 2007
The Freedom Association