Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Hague Programme

While attention was, quite understandably, focused mainly on the great constitutional drama during the meeting of heads of state and government in Brussels last June, we were not alone in warning that the constitution was not the only business at hand.

In our Blog of 22 June, we pointed out that dirty deeds were afoot, not least relating to the appointment of a European prosecutor, about which the government was decidedly shifty when questioned in the House of Lords.

But now it has come to pass that the full agenda has been revealed, in a document released by the Dutch Presidency on 15 October, which labours under the somewhat unwieldy title of "Draft multiannual programme: "The Hague Programme; strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union".

Known by its short title as "The Hague Programme", this is a stunning document, some of which contents are revealed today by The Times, under the front-page headline "Britain to give up asylum veto"referring to those sections which deal with harmonising asylum policy.

But this limited headline (and story) does not even begin to do the document justice. It essentially sets out the programme for harmonising and amalgamating civil and legal law, policing, and the administration of justice throughout the EU, in what is an unashamedly federalising move, clearly set on establishing a federal structure for justice, policing and related issues.

For all the claptrap from Prodi, Stephens, and others, about the march of integration being over, this is serious federalism, naked in tooth and claw.

What I find particularly offensive are comments (on page 3), where it is blithely declared: "The security of the European Union and its Member States has acquired a new urgency…", and then:

The citizens of Europe rightly expect the European Union, while guaranteeing respect for fundamental freedoms and rights, to take a more effective, joint approach to cross-border problems such as terrorism, organised crime, irregular migratory flows and smuggling of human beings as well as the prevention thereof…
EXCUSE ME! The European Union is its Member States. The EU does not have a separate identity over and over its members, yet here the authors of the document clearly make that assumption.

As to the "citizens of Europe", there are none. There are citizens (and subjects) of the member states. By what right does the European Union claim that its citizens expect anything of it?
Much of the document continues in the same vein, but particularly chilling is the assertion on page 4 that:
The Treaty establishing a Constitution of Europe (hereinafter the Constitutional Treaty) served as a guideline for the levels of ambition, but the existing Treaties provide the legal basis for Council action until such time as the Constitutional Treaty Takes effect. Accordingly, the various policy areas have been examined to determine whether preparatory work or studies could already commence, so that measures provided for in the Constitutional Treaty can be taken as soon as it comes into force.
The arrogance of this statement almost beggars belief: "…when the Constitutional Treaty comes into force…". At least ten countries are having referendums, and all 25, democratically elected parliaments of the member states have to ratify the treaty. The presumption in the statement betrays an utter contempt for the democratic process.

So bald is this that even the self appointed "Vote-No" campaign have noticed something amiss, with Neil O’Brien, its spokesman, telling The Times, "They’re implementing the constitution ahead of schedule - it will make the referendum seem a bit of a joke", something on which we remarked in our Blog on 14 October. Better late than never, I suppose.

The document is now to be discussed at the European Council on 25 and 26 October, and then at the "summit" on 4/5 November, about which my colleague was perhaps a little too dismissive.

These "European Councils", strictly speaking, are not summits. They are meetings of the government of Europe (one of them, at least – the other is the commission), and some of the decisions they are making, as the Hague Programme demonstrates, can have profound consequences.