Sunday, May 23, 2004

And we still think we’re an independent country?

Early birds may well have caught the news that the EU’s commission is calling on the UK to introduce random breath tests to catch drink-drivers. As we all know, police at the moment can only demand a breath test if they have "reasonable suspicion" that a driver has been consuming alcohol.

So far, we have had a robust statement from the Home Office, which insists that random tests are not an efficient way of catching drink-drivers. It sees not need for them to be introduced. However – and here is the crunch - the president of Tispol, the European Traffic Police Network, said the commission would attempt to make its recommendation a directive if it is not followed.

Says Ad Hellemons, also Dutch Assistant Commissioner of Police, talking to BBC Radio Five Live Five: "This is the first time the European Commission has made such a recommendation. The vast majority of member states already carry out random breath tests. We can’t understand why governments would want to protect drink-drivers".

"The European Commission has made it clear that they expect this recommendation to be followed. If not they will try to make it a directive". There you have it – you will do as we "recommend", or we will make it compulsory.

However, there is even more to this than the headline story makes out. In fact, quietly and very much behind the scenes, the EU has been conducting wide-ranging studies on road traffic law enforcement.

Between 1998–2002, as part of the European fourth framework programme (DG TREND), information was gathered and assessed concerning police enforcement strategies and effects throughout Europe for the EU research project ESCAPE (Enhanced Safety Coming from Appropriate Police Enforcement).

This "ESCAPE" project was itself a follow-on from another EU project called GADGET, funded under the "4th Framework Programme project", with the sinister title of "Legal measures and enforcement". This and other EU projects "prepare the groundwork for implementing Europe-wide demonstration projects in enforcement".

For its powers, the EU is relying on the Maastricht treaty, which included an explicit requirement in the modified Article 75 that Common Transport Policy should also include measures to promote transport safety. That the commission intended to make use of this provision was flagged up in 1993 in an obscure commission paper, "The future development of the common transport policy", in which "road safety issues" were "recognised" as being a major health problem in the EU area.

At that time, however, the commission was not prepared to launch a programme on road safety and has left it for ten years before starting to make formal moves. This is absolutely typical of the way the EU works. As we earnestly discuss the next treaty, the last treaty but two is still not yet being fully implemented.

However, with the authority of the Maastricht Treaty behind it, slowly, steadily and insistently, the EU is moving towards taking over the whole of policy domain on road safety policy and law enforcement throughout the 25 member states, Britain included. Today’s story was only the tip of a huge iceberg, the outcome of which will be that, in the fullness of time, the Home Office - whether it likes it or it - is going to have to do as it is told.

And we still think we are an independent country?

Anyone wanting to read the full EU report, "Traffic enforcement in Europe: effects, measures, needs and future", click here. (Warning: pdf file – 138 pages long.)

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