Friday, 13 January 2012

Was Cameron's veto for nothing?

Daniel Hannan writes:

Twenty-six EU leaders are reported to have agreed a new draft for the FU Treaty. Although the text is not yet available, it apparently still makes references to the EU institutions. On what possible legal basis, though, can it do so? This is supposed to be an accord among 26 states (though it will almost certainly be fewer in the end) which just happen to be members of the EU. They can no more decree meetings with the European Parliament than with the Majlis of Oman; no more lay down that the ECJ should arbitrate their disputes than that the Idaho Supreme Court should do so.

If they want to use EU institutions, they need the permission of all 27 members. Yet they have made clear that they are unwilling to meet even the token price that David Cameron had demanded in return, namely a guarantee that future regulations in the field of financial services couldn't be imposed without Britain's consent. The PM cannot possibly concede this point: doing so would reverse his veto – the single most popular act of his premiership. Nor can he allow the precedent to be set that the EU's mechanisms and procedures might be accessed without the explicit permission of all 27 members. If he did so, there would in practice be no more vetoes any more – ever. Any countries wanting to adopt some new integrationist measure would simply sign a treaty among themselves, and carry on using the Brussels institutions.


The correct course is also clear:
to encourage the FU, rather than the EU, to become the main forum for integration. After all, if 26 (or 22 or 20 or however many) states have agreed to common economic government, doesn't it make sense for tax harmonisation to take place within that framework? Why not, for example, apply the Tobin Tax through the FU, whose members seem to want it?

Rather than obliging the FU states to establish a wholly new institutional structure from scratch, why not simply transfer departments from the existing EU institutions to the FU? Let the FU run Eurojust; let it run the European External Action Service; let it run the Agriculture and Fisheries DGs at the European Commission; let it take over, bit by bit, the functions of the EU that have to do with political union. And, once all this has happened, let it assume control over the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, leaving non-participant states in alooser arrangement along the lines of the present-day European Economic Area.
Hannan finishes with a beautiful metaphor:
You wouldn't even need to call it leaving the EU. The EU might still survive, like the shell of an egg sucked dry by a weasel, its function reduced to maintenance of a single market and enhanced intergovernmental co-operation. At that stage, though, it might make sense to give it a new name. How about European Free Trade Association?

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