Monday, October 18, 2004

A wake-up call

In and amongst the flurry of press today, not least the superb piece by Ambrose Evans Pritchard on the Tillack affair (which my colleague will be reviewing, when day job permits), is an intriguing piece in the Financial Times headed "Brussels power grab ahead of EU treaty".

This admirably confirms our earlier observations, in stating that "The European Union's new constitution is not yet ratified, but moves are under way in Brussels to anticipate some of its key measures, regardless of whether it ever comes into force."

What has caught the FT’s attention is MEPs, who gain new powers under the constitutional treaty. Yet, despite the constitution still not having been ratified, they are pressing for some of that extra influence now. Political leaders in the European parliament are drawing up a list of reforms they would like to implement immediately, reflecting "the spirit" of the constitution.

They plan to ask European leaders to consult them fully in two areas where they currently have no formal role: reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy, and legislation in justice and home affairs. The treaty would give them a legislative say in both areas, but European parliament officials say MEPs should at least be consulted on them before ratification.

"The parliament will propose making progress in areas where we don't prejudge the ratification of the treaty, but where it seems sensible to take steps forward in the spirit of the constitution," said one parliamentary official, cited by the FT.

At least Andrew Duff, a Lib-Dim member of the parliament's constitutional affairs committee, had enough sense of shame to admit to the FT that: "I think it could look terribly bad if we tried to pick à la carte from the treaty those bits we especially like." Nevertheless, he said the parliament should press the Council of Ministers to pre-empt the treaty by implementing the section which says they should decide new laws in public.

The FT also notes that the European parliament is not alone in its impatience to carry out "reforms" now. Eurozone finance ministers have pre-empted the treaty by appointing Mr Juncker as their semi-permanent president - dubbed "Mr Euro" - a job foreseen in the treaty. An embryonic EU diplomatic service is also being prepared for the time when, or if, a new EU foreign minister is created by the treaty.

But, as this Blog has pointed out, there are many other areas where the commission is pre-empting the constitution. This makes a nonsense of Prodi’s claims in the Sunday Times yesterday that "further integration is off the agenda". In fact, it makes a liar of him. Integration is not off the agenda. It is proceeding apace, constitution or no, and the sooner people wake up to that fact the better.

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