Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Myth Three

The FCO has posted again on its website, and this one is a corker. Today's "myth" is: "Primacy" means that the EU controls our laws".

For sheer chutzpah, you really have to give it to Jack Straw and his merry men: "EU law", says the FCO, "protects British business and consumers." Tell that to the fishermen.

Protection like that, they don't need – nor do we need the "food supplements" directive,which is going to prevent us buying thousands of different vitamin preparations, or the meat hygiene regulations, which have closed down more than four-fifths of our slaughterhouses, or the egg regulations which stop shopkeepers selling loose eggs in a basket, or the droit de suite directive, that is going to mess up the UK art market, costing thousands of jobs, or the "metric" directive, which makes it a criminal offence to sell bananas by the pound... and so on.

And now for the fun bit. Says the FCO:

Britain agrees rules with other European countries covering trade, access to markets and common standards. We need those rules to enjoy the benefits of Europe's single market of 450 million people, the largest in the world. They create one rulebook for 25 countries to follow. These rules aren't inflicted on us – we help write them. 'Primacy' of European law means nations can't use domestic rules as an excuse to get around those promises.
The lies here are both by act and omission. The omissions are glaring. The whole focus is on trade. But what about environment, immigration, road safety, passports, fishing, agriculture, competition, state aid, and so on?

As to agreeing the rules with other European (he means EU member states) – well, what about qualified majority voting, where we don’t agree the rules but are outvoted. What about all the times when, in anticipation of being outvoted, we stage a tactical retreat and either abstain or vote for a proposal, simply so as to avoid expending political capital?

No Mr Straw, many of the rule do not agree, or would not if we were free agents.

"Primacy", the FCO then says, "simply means everybody sticking to the rules that we agree at European level." Well, notwithstanding that we don't always agree the rules, there is nothing "simply" about it. This is far too neutral a way of putting it. We are forced to obey the rules, on plain of whacking penalties if we do not comply.

And now for a straight lie: "Where we have not agreed to act together at European level, there is no EU primacy." That is the point of primacy. Even where we do not agree, the law can be imposed on us and we have no choice but to obey. Having been outvoted, we cannot "take our bat home" and ignore the law. We are still bound by it.

"Without primacy of EU law," the FCO explains, making the point for us, "governments could use national laws to get around common trade rules and standards." Precisely the point. WE no longer have freedom to act.

And the lies go on. "Without primacy, we could not guarantee a level playing field for British business in Europe or common standards for British consumers," the FCO claims. The point here is that, even with primacy, there is no guaranteed level playing field. More to the point, because other member state – and to an extent even the UK – evades the laws, there can never be a level playing field. The pursuit of the idea is facile.

The FCO must also rely on us having bad memories: "Without primacy, we could not have turned to the European Court of Justice to overturn the French ban on British beef." Er… yes, the ECJ overturned the ban. And then what happened? The French government ignored the ECJ. Fat lot of good that did us.

On one point though, we can agree – although some don't – that "Primacy of European Law is not new. It was already well established as a central principle of the single market well before the UK joined the EEC in 1973 and has been reflected in UK law ever since." That we do not dispute.

And now for some more weasel words from your sponsors:

No international organisation could function if domestic law undermined treaties. Whether it's the WTO, the UN, NATO or the EU, no international organisation could function if its members used national laws to get around international commitments. Once made, agreements with other nations must be kept in good faith and domestic law must respect them.
This is an old trick, trying to equate the different international organisations. But take Nato, for instance, this is an intergovernmental organisation. All decisions are by unanimity. No decision may be forced on an unwilling member. The EU is supranational. It can impose its will on member states.

Take the WTO. There is no ECJ – merely a disputes procedure. The panel can only hear a case if all parties to the case agree and then the court cannot impose penalties. It can only allow one or more party to impose penalties against offending parties.

Take the UN: again, an intergovernmental organisation. Britain has an absolute veto on the Security Council. The UN cannot impose its will on the UK. The EU can. The comparisons are dishonest in the extreme.

And now for the finale.

The European Court of Justice defends those rules. The ECJ decides whether countries have broken the rules. It interprets the laws agreed by the national Governments, reaches judgements and can impose penalties. In recent years the Court has reached verdicts including upholding bathing water rules and penalising toxic waste dumping.
No, the ECJ enforces the rule. It interprets the treat and, as we know, makes up rules on the hoof, indulging in what is known as "legal adventurism" (and here). It is not a judicial but a political court, dedicated to furthering the cause of European integration.

So, Mr Straw, you need to try harder. My guess, though, is you have played your strongest cards. It is now downhill all the way.

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