Thursday, February 08, 2007

Second time around

The thing about the EU is that, if you miss an issue first time round, you can almost certainly pick it the next time, or the next … and so on. The problem is that, after a while, you get that this terrible sense of déjà vu – especially if you didn't actually miss it first time round.

The issue is the EU commission's right to propose mandatory criminal penalties to certain actions designated as offences in community law. Its first outing was in September 2005 when both I and my colleague did it, here and here after an ECJ judgement.

Now, says the Independent, the commission is flexing its muscles and today is to propose that activities such as releasing toxic chemicals into the environment, dumping hazardous waste and other serious "green crimes" should be punished by up to 10 years in prison and a €1.5m fine anywhere in EU.

The proposal is likely to invoke some opposition, and not a little ill-informed comment, on the lines of "Brussels imposes…". But, when push comes to shove, Brussels can only propose. It is up to the member states to agree the proposal and, if enough tell the commission to get lost, that is the end of the matter.

However, according to commissioner Franco Frattini, the public is so concerned about damage to the environment that the measure will be popular across the continent and few members states will want to be seen in opposition.

Be that as it may, if this development is approved, it will be the governments of the member states that are responsible. It is not what Brussels does to us, but our own political classes.

Still though, the rabid Europhile Timothy Kirkhope, leader of the not-the-Conservative Party MEPs, argues that:

This appears to be a worrying erosion of British sovereignty. Notwithstanding our support for environmental protection, this is a blow to Britain's ability to decide things for ourselves. I fear the Commission sees this as an opportunity to extend its powers and start interfering in the criminal law of member states.
Well now Timmy. This will be a qualified majority voting, so it will be the other member states forcing us to do this against our will, if it ever comes to that. But you are in favour of that aren't you?

That notwithstanding, if the proposal is agreed, we will have the first, specific Euro-crimes. In celebration of that, perhaps we should have dedicated Euro-nicks. With a bit of luck, we could get the one pictured designated as the first - it actually looks quite comfortable. And yes it is a prison - it's the new nick at Doncaster.


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