Nirj Deva MEP: Who really governs Europe? Early challenges for the European Conservatives and Reformist Group
The European Union, first established as the EEC in Jan 1958 comprises of three separate but interdependent institutions. First the European Commission - the super civil service of the European Union; second, the legislative lower House called the European Council representing the Ministers of the 27 Member States and third, the legislative Senate of the EU – called the European Parliament, a body directly elected according to party lines which purports to represent the interests of the 500 million people of Europe.
I was recently elected for a third term in the European Parliament and, like all British MEPs, was elected from a closed party list system which still, after ten years, bewilders even the most dedicated of voters. My South East of England constituency – the unwieldy yet nevertheless beautiful creation of Tony Blair’s first government - is larger than all but twelve of America’s fifty states and roughly the same size as Israel.
As a MEP elected from South East England by an electorate of 7.5 million people to the European Parliament I legislate not only for my electorate here in the UK, but also for Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Malta - and for the peoples of all these countries.
In legislating for these 500 million people my primary duty is to first determine what is best for my own constituents in the South East of England, what next is best for my party the Conservative Party and third what is best for all the peoples of Europe whose interest are represented by the European Parliament.
This is no more different than a Member of the Indian Parliament from Mumbai going to Delhi every week and representing first his electorate and then the interest of the whole of India or a United States Senator from California going to Washington every week and voting to protect the interest of California and then that of the United States according to his party interest be they Democrat or Republican.
However, having said that, the question must now be asked: does the European Parliament now legislate in more areas of policy making over the lives of ordinary Britons than say the United States Senate or the US House of Representative over lives of the people of California?
In other words, is the European Parliament and the European Council more powerful over the lives of an ordinary British citizen than Britain’s own Parliament – the House of Commons - and in comparison is the United States Senate and House of Representative more powerful over the lives of a Californian whose own state legislature in Sacramento also makes laws on his behalf?
The answer to the first question, after sixty years of the EU, is that more than 75% of the laws that an ordinary British or German or French or Latvian person now lives under is indeed first made in the Europe, drafted by the Commission; voted in or modified by the Council (Lower House) and the European Parliament (the Senate) and automatically transposed without change into British or German or French or Latvian law under the Treaties which made European Law superior and which supersedes any law made by any National Parliament including the House of Commons in London, the Bundestag in Berlin, the National Assembly in Paris or the Saeima in Riga.
In other words, any European Law thus passed overrides any legislation made by the British Parliament or any other Member State Parliament in the areas where Europe has the superior competence given it by the Treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and now, lurking ominously in the wings, the Treaty of Lisbon.
The answer to the second question is that the European Institutions in Brussels now have more legislative power over the lives of ordinary citizens in a Member State than the US Congress and White House over the lives of ordinary citizens in California or Texas or any US state.
In my opinion, power is shared roughly 50:50 in the United State between the fifty states and Washington DC and in India between Delhi and the twenty eight state capitals, whereas in Europe the balance has shifted radically in Brussels’ favour with the EU passing 75% of the laws (and increasing) while the role and power of the twenty-seven Member State Parliaments has alarmingly diminished.
As a European Court of Justice (the Supreme Court of Europe) judgment Ruling of 1991 R v Secretary of State for Transport ex-parte Factortame Ltd ECJ 213/89 clearly demonstrated “where a British Act of Parliament conflicts with European legislation, the Act of Parliament is not enforceable in the courts”
Last year alone, over 5000 statutory instruments were pushed through the House of Commons by Ministers, many of them involved with the direct transposition of European directives and regulations and almost all of them rushed through without proper debate or parliamentary scrutiny.
Borrowing from my pamphlet Who Really Governs Britain? (first published by the Bow Group back in 2001), it would be useful here to delineate which areas now have European dominance and initiation and which policy areas are still under the control of National Parliaments without any supervision from Brussels – and how the Lisbon Treaty affects those legislative competences:
It is clear that, at present, the EU has few powers of legislative initiation over UK home and judicial affairs, economic, monetary and tax policy, foreign affairs and defence, education, sports, media and health. These are still largely the purview of Whitehall and the House of Commons.
However, if the European Constitutional Treaty (Lisbon Treaty) is ratified enormous powers over energy policy, foreign affairs, the judiciary, policing, immigration and asylum policy and culture and media will be handed over to the Brussels institutions.
There will be a Common Energy Policy for the whole of the EU, the EU will have a legal personality and will be able to sign treaties with third parties in its own right, there will be a foreign policy supremo who will coordinate and create a Common Foreign and Security Policy from among the foreign ministers of the member states and enforce this through the newly minted EU Diplomatic External Action Service. A European Army Navy and Air Force will come into being.
The current UK veto will be replaced by majority decision on matters relating to common judicial, policing, immigration, border control, asylum policies with Brussels having powers of initiation of these new policies and amazingly culture and media policies will also move from the national stage to European legislative initiation.
On the anvil of 'harmonisation', the powers of the trans-national institutions have been inexorably extended to encompass an all-pervasive legislative and executive role for the EU concurrently with National Parliaments surrendering their historic and traditional law making roles.
The EU now has a flag, an anthem, a parliament, a central bank, a single currency, a supreme court, a powerful Civil Service (the Commission), an infant army, external embassies and ambassadors, a constitution and, if the Lisbon treaty is ratified, treaty-signing powers, a legal personality, a single foreign minister and President.
So how do we fight back?
Firstly, like all British Conservatives, I am working tirelessly to demand that Prime Minister Brown deliver upon his party’s manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on the European Constitution. It is a travesty of political and common law justice to deny the British people and (peoples of other nations) a say in how they should be governed.
Secondly, the importance of the party’s new European Conservative and Reformists Group in the European Parliament – the body’s first ‘official opposition’ - should not be underestimated. As British Conservatives, we are an outward looking, free-market oriented and in favour of greater individual freedom and less regulation. For the first time, the European Parliament has a group which shares our credo – and a genuine commitment to reform.
In the early days of the group, we should now be asking the following questions:
- How do we reform the EU to bring about smaller government and more powerful citizens?
- How should Europe do less – and how should they do it better?
- Recognizing that an average birth rate of 1.5 will leave a deficit of skills talents and a depopulated internal market, how do we deregulate the EU?
- How do we develop new safeguards for the rights of member states?
- How should subsidiarity be strengthened: by a subsidiarity panel, new treaty provisions on interpretation or a ‘states' rights' clause?
- What legislative areas should we repatriate and how?
- How can – and how far should – National Parliaments otherwise be more closely involved in EU decision-making (by pre-Council meeting mandates for ministers, for example) or by sitting as the revising Upper Chamber of the European Parliament to review subsidiarity and intergovernmental pillars or through a permanent "Congress of National Parliaments" to review subsidiarity and pass treaty amendments (except those of "constitutional" nature)?
- How do we open up the Council of Ministers? Should its legislative work be held in public?
- How should we increase the reporting requirements to national parliaments of ministers before and after they attend the Council of Ministers?
- How do we make enterprise, employment growth and wealth creation central to the EU's instincts and philosophy?
- Should we make even greater use of "mutual recognition and cooperation" rather than "harmonisation", in completing the single market?
- Is there much further scope for self-regulation by sectors on the basis of EU-wide guidelines and codes of conduct?
- Which European social legislation poses the biggest burden on the labour market and needs to be repealed?
- Is further action needed to tackle the continuing problem of anti-competitive price differentials across Europe, as Conservative manifestos have proposed?
- How much co-financing or re-nationalisation of the CAP should there be?
- How far should the CAP provide financial incentives for environmental protection?
- Should the CFP be abolished? If so, what should replace it?
- How do we allow two-way flexibility, with opt-outs available to member states in policy areas other than internal market, competition policy and trade?
These are but some of the challenges facing my political generation. If we do not address them, future generations will not thank us for leaving behind a Europe of turmoil, chaos, failing birth rates, debt, low employment and even conflict - the very thing the founding fathers of the EU set out to eliminate forever, when they created the current unstable, undemocratic, unrepresentative edifice.