Did you know that Article 31(1)(e) of the Treaty on European Union – the Maastricht Treaty (formerly Article K.3) - provides for the gradual adoption of "measures establishing minimum rules relating to the constituent elements of criminal acts and to penalties" in certain fields?
If the answer is: no I bloody didn’t, then you probably have a great deal in common with most of the population of the United Kingdom and also with most of the other citizens of EU member states.
The "certain fields" relate to organised crime (whatever that means - is there such a thing as "disorganised crime"?), terrorism and drug trafficking, and the original treaty provision has been much amplified by the the "Council and Commission Action Plan" on how best to implement the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam on an area of freedom, security and justice (known as the Vienna Action Plan) and the conclusions of the Tampere European Council.
These provisions, however, currently form part of the "third pillar" of the Maastricht Treaty and are therefore subject to intergovernmental agreements between the member states – a matter of "co-operation" rather than compulsion through EU legislation. Issues are decided by the European Council, on the initiative of a member state, rather than by the Council of Ministers on the initiative of the Commission, and all agreements are subject to unanimity.
That much I did know, but last night I received an e-mail suggesting that I looked at the Green Paper on the approximation, mutual recognition and enforcement of criminal sanctions in the European Union COM(2004)334 final written by the Commission, launching a detailed consultation on this subject.
The paper, 94 pages long, is disturbing in many ways, not least because this area or "pillar" of the treaty is, in theory, none of the Commission’s business – yet here it is launching into a major consultation exercise.
What is more disturbing is that the Commission, in this document, is anticipating the implementation of proposed EU constitution, discussing glibly "framework laws" which are "intended, where necessary, to approximate national laws…", and many such sundry delights, all directed at attaining a "European law-enforcement area."
I seriously do not like the sound of this and my guess is that anyone reading this document will also feel a profound sense of unease.
Readers will, however, be comforted to learn that our Westminster guardians (aka MPs) have already looked at this, and the consultation period was extended to 15 October to allow them to comment. They debated the issue last week, on 15 September in European Standing Committee B – and that’s another thing the media did not tell us about. It was only the e-mail sent to me that alerted me to it.
The debate is worth a read, and so is the Green Paper – but who the hell as got time. Out there, there is a government in waiting, fulminating with plans, itching for the green light afforded by the ratification of the EU Constitution, and it is churning out proposals and ideas so fast and in such volume that it is impossible to keep up with them.
In any democratic system of government, the fundamental changes outlines in the Green Paper would be the subject of a major and prolonged public debate, with full media participation, discussion shows, polls and the rest. But all it gets is a debate in an obscure committee in the House of Commons, whence the deadline for comment will drift past unheeded.
This, as they say, is no way to run a democracy. If anyone needs a reason why the EU Constitution should be rejected, this document alone is enough. It is the thin edge of a very large wedge that has been waiting in the wings since Maastricht, 14 years ago. And you just know that, sooner or later, the ideas in it are going to drift into force, little bit by litle bit, and our nationhood will be that much reduced.
Time to say, I think, we’ve had enough of this game.