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Missing the point?

Posted by Richard Sunday, October 24, 2004

The lurid headline in The Mail on Sunday today is perhaps a tad misleading. It may warm the hearts of yer average Eurosceptic to see "Surrender" emblazoned all over the front page, and the strap leaves little to the imagination: "After a thousand years of history, David Blunkett finally hands control of Britain’s borders over to Brussels… RIP Britannia".

But actually, I’m not sure they’ve got it right. Although the Mail doesn’t say so, this all relates to the Hague Programme, which was the subject of an earlier Blog. Referring to that document (link on the earlier Blog) one sees a clearer picture than the Mail provides.

There, one sees that this is the Amsterdam Treaty, writ large, as amended by Nice, the former introducing asylum policy for the first time, the latter making provisions for qualified majority voting. And it is in that context that the Mail is getting excited.

The point at issue is that, currently, decisions on asylum and immigration control must be unanimous but, in the Nice Treaty (Art 67 TEC) there is a provision for making decisions by QMV. This kicked in five years after Amsterdam came into force (on 1 May 1999), but it requires that the Council, acting unanimously, may decide to make these policy areas subject to QMV.

This is precisely what the Hague Programme is suggesting, followed by the approval of an Asylum Procedures Directive by the spring of 2005 at the latest.

However, Blunkett has already made it clear that he has no intention whatsoever of voting for the Art 67 procedure and, even if he did, there are more than a few of the other 25 member states who would vote against. Therefore, the provision is a dead duck and the Mail is being unduly alarmist.

Action on immigration and asylum will remain – for the time being at least – subject to voluntary co-operation, subject to the Geneva Convention of 1951, and the UK will retain its power to block measures of which it disapproves. Whether it will be robust enough is another matter, as the current government has an unfortunate habit of giving away too much when it does not need to – but that is another story.

Nevertheless, the Mail piece, however, is not without its danger. By overstating the case, it leaves itself (and the Eurosceptic movement) open to attack for being alarmist and – perhaps more importantly – in focusing in the emotive subjects of asylum and immigration, it ignores other proposals in the Hague Programme which are more sinister and certainly more dangerous.

One of those is dealt with today by Booker in his column, the insidious creep of backdoor police harmonisation – another issue also rehearsed in this Blog.

When you add up the programme for the harmonisation of civil and criminal law, the European public prosecutor, Eurojust and the development of Europol into a fully-fledged federal police force, there is much to be concerned about, which the Mail is not addressing.

Thus, while the point is made that the EU is starting to implement the constitution before it has been ratified, the points made in our Blog are not addressed. This incremental programme of further integration is far wider than justice and home affairs, and is something about which the media should be screaming.

However, the failure of the media to spot a good story is legion, so hats off to Allister Heath in The Business for picking up on the story that the Pentagon is prepared to shoot down EU satellites. Now that really would have been worth a splash headline on the front page of the Mail. Instead, as it does so often, it seems to have missed the point.