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Who needs the constitution?

Posted by Richard Thursday, October 14, 2004

The front page of the Times business section today (print edition) proclaims: "Britain fingered as the worst for breaches of EU tax laws". The accompanying story is given a different headline in the online edition where it becomes "Breaches of EU tax law could cost UK billions". Either way, the message is clear – the UK is breaching "EU tax law".

But hang on a minute, isn't tax a matter for nation states and wasn't tax one of Blair's "red lines" during the constitutional treaty negotiations? So how come there is such a thing as "EU tax law" - apart from VAT?

Regular readers of this Blog, of course, know the answer to this, as we have dealt with this issue several times (click here) and here. Circumventing the treaties, the commission with the ECJ have gradually, insidiously widened the envelope, using "Single Market" provisions to bring taxation into the net.

But this is by no means the only area. In the field of Justice and Home affairs, we see that, through the outwardly benign mechanism of establishing a European Police College and the development of Europol, the EU is gradually harmonising the police forces in the member states.

Through the Fisheries Control Agency, the EU has designs on setting up its own inspection service equipped with its own patrol vessels and surveillance aircraft – a proto EU navy and airforce and, through the increasing allocation of research funds, the EU is developing its own space programme.

Then there is defence. We warned as recently as yesterday that integration was proceeding apace. But what is particularly chilling – and instructive - is a recently published paper by the European Policy Centre (with the support of the EU commission) entitled "ESDP: The State of Play". Its authors write:

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is beginning to move forward… The EU is moving to implement the proposals contained in the Solana EU Security Strategy (ESS), agreed last December by the European Council. In June the EU agreed a new constitutional treaty that contains far-reaching proposals for “permanent structured cooperation” in defence. Rather than waiting for the eventual full ratification of the new Constitution by the 25, the Member States have already begun to lift key defence provisions for immediate adoption…
That gives the game away. Member states are not waiting for "the eventual full ratification of the new constitution" and are proceeding with political integration. To that extent, the constitution is an irrelevance. It would be nice to have it, but it is not essential. Whether it is ratified or not, the pace of integration will not slacken.

Herein lies the great danger with the stance of the Conservative Party and the self-appointed "Vote-No" campaign on the constitution. By supporting membership of the EU, and drawing the line at the constitution, there is a danger that the resistance becomes akin to the Maginot line, a fixed and useless fortification, made redundant as the forces of integration sweep through the Ardennes. That was the problem with the "No campaign" on the euro and history is being repeated.

That, of course, leaves UKIP to raise the alarm. But, while the news percolated through that the UK government was awarding the contract for British Army trucks to a German firm, with serious consequences for defence and the US special relationship, was this "anti-EU" party raising a storm of protest? Er… silly me for even thinking that. Its MEPs were in Brussels arguing about Kilroy's leadership bid. Much more important, don't you think.