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Is this wise?

Posted by Richard Friday, August 03, 2007 ,

Again to give credit to the media, they are pushing the agenda on the EU treaty, well into the "silly season", far beyond the point when one would have thought they would have forgotten about it.

Today, it is the turn of the Daily Mail, which picks up on William Hague's interview with the BBC yesterday (without actually revealing that that is the source).

Under the headline, "Britain powerless to lose further vetoes in EU constitution, say Tories," the Mail tells us that Britain could surrender the right to veto diktats from Brussels in a vast range of new areas under the terms of the revived European constitution.

The Tories, we are told, said the small print of the draft "reform treaty" would allow the EU to extend its powers further in the future, without having to draw up any new agreement.

This is the framing for the "warning" from Hague that a little-noticed (really?) "ratchet clause" in the treaty would allow the EU to abolish vetoes in almost all areas where unanimous agreement is still specified in the new treaty.

Hague is cited as saying, "Member states would not have to ratify a new agreement even in their national parliaments, but would simply have to notify MPs of what was happening … All vetoes other than over defence can be abolished by agreements between European governments in future, without having to go through the whole process of negotiating a fresh treaty or ratifying that in any formal way."

Now, while Hague is perfectly right to draw attention to this provision in the new treaty – a new Article 33 – what he is saying about ratification is simply not true. For sure, in the treaty, it is stated that any decision to abolish a veto must be notified to all national Parliaments. But it does not stop there. The treaty continues:

If a national Parliament makes known its opposition within six months of the date of such notification, the decision referred to in the first or the second subparagraph shall not be adopted.
In other words, any one of the 27 national parliaments has a veto on the provision and can stop it dead in its tracks.

This is certainly less secure that a full IGC process and national ratification – which the procedure replaces – but it is a far cry from the simple notification of MPs that Hague asserts. Even bearing in mind that he is playing a propaganda game, one still wonders whether it is wise to over-egg the pudding, making assertions that are not only wrong, but can be easily rebutted.

Furthermore, decisions to abolish vetoes are not taken by "agreements between European governments," as Hague also claims, but by the European Council which, as we have explained, is an institution of the Union – part of the government of the Union.

One also wonders, therefore, whether Hague fully understands what he is saying, and whether he has picked up the importance of the changes to the status of the European Council.

And, while it is possible to be too pedantic when dealing with the rough and tumble of politics, it does seem better tactics to make accusations watertight, allowing the enemy no wriggle room. In this instance, Hague is in danger of letting Brown off the hook.

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