Monday, June 21, 2004

Red lines wavering

Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph did us all a favour by listing those famous and completely unmemorable “red lines” as well as explaining what happened to them. Since all sorts of things have been named as Tony Blair’s “red lines” – are these different from lines in the sand, one wonders – we should all take the opportunity to glance at the original short list.

The first “red line”, which many of us have forgotten and the government has carefully not mentioned for some time, was the creation of a European Public Prosecutor. “Unacceptable” thundered Blair and Straw. Hmmm. Well, apparently, a corpus of EU law with its own prosecuting authority is acceptable. The nascent European police force, mentioned by the Sunday Telegraph leader was set up a little while ago, with all sorts of rights and privileges. [see III-174(2) on page 20 of the Brussels document but also III-174 and 175 in the apparently unaltered text of of the draft Constitution]

Article III-175(2) of the draft text states:

“The European Public Prosecutor’s Office shall be responsible for investigating, prosecuting and bringing to judgement, where appropriate in liaison with Europol, the perpetrators of and accomplices in serious crimes affecting more than one Member State and of offences against the Union’s financial interests, as determined by the European law provided for in paragraph 1. It shall exercise the functions of prosecutor in the competent courts of the Member States in relation to such offences.”

So far as we know that has not been amended, much less deleted from the text. Nor was the position and existence of the European Public Prosecutor discussed at the Summit last week.

The second “red line” was the non-judiciability of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Though the slightly amended text appears to make various rather vague references to the courts and judicial procedures of the member states, and the need “to give due” regard to the Charter in these courts, the senior judge at the ECJ has said that he would regard that document as legally binding. Experience tells one that judges of ECJ tend to win those tugs-of-war.

What, indeed, could it be, but “legally binding”? If it is not that, then what is it doing in the Constitution?

The third “red line” was foreign and security policy. Though nominally the unanimity has been secured for the framework policies (there has been QMV for individual decisions for some time with a proviso for countries opting out if they felt their national interests were at stake), the relevant text, as quoted by the Sunday Telegraph, is revealing:

“The common foreign and security policy shall cover all aspects of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union’s security. Member States shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly.”

One should recall that the nascent EU force was created for peace-keeping, peace-making, carrying out the Petersberg tasks (another one of those documents nobody can quite remember) and promote the common foreign and security policy.

It is also worth remembering, as the Wall Street Journal Europe pointed out on Thursday, June 17, that no matter what the Constitution says or does not say, the European Defence Agency and the European Foreign Service are going ahead. Had Mr Blair really wanted to defend that “red line”, he might have considered stopping procedures there.

The European Defence Agency, to be operational by the end of the year, is intended to be a common agency for defence capabilities development, research, procurement and armaments. When one adds to that our increasing involvement in the Galileo surveillance system, the EU’s rival to the American GPS, which is available free to end users, the notion of keeping control of our security policy becomes tenuous.

The European Foreign Service has existed, barely noticed, for a number of years. At first, the funding for these offices, some of which were headed by people with ambassadorial ranks, was buried among the various “lines” (though not red ones). Under some pressure the Commission separated the accounts out.

Now the EU corps of diplomats, to be answerable to the EU Foreign Minister, is being created as an official entity. There is no intention to wait for the Constitution to create that particular job. The assumption of its existence is there and his diplomats will descend on all the nicer capitals of the world (there seem to be no plans to open offices in neighbouring Moldova or Belarus), to duplicate or supersede the national embassies.

That leaves “red line” number four, fiscal sovereignty, taxation to you and me. Mr Blair did not preserve that “red line” because it was not on the agenda in Brussels. A number of other member states protested and the issue was quietly dropped as Bertie Ahern was adding up his air miles.

So, the British government is in charge of taxation in Britain? Up to a point. The point being: common rules on VAT, external tariffs, duty free and tax evasion, as well as permissible budget deficits. The individual states in America have more fiscal sovereignty than that.

Furthermore, it is worth remembering, as few journalists have done, that fiscal policy cannot be separated from economic. And what does the Brussels document say on that:

Article I-11 (3)
3. The Member States shall coordinate their economic and employment policies within arrangements as determined by Part III, which the Union shall have competence to provide.

Article I-14 (1)
1. The Member States shall coordinate their economic policies within the Union. To this end, the Council shall adopt measures, in particular broad guidelines for these policies.

As another Prime Minister once said: game, set and match. Unfortunately, British politicians and negotiators do nor seem to do any better than British tennis players. Worse, if anything.

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