Thursday, January 27, 2005

The propaganda flows

To coincide with the publication of the EU constitution ratification Bill, Jack Straw yesterday issued a written statement to the House of Commons, announcing that he was making available a commentary on the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

This commentary is to be distributed to "the media and key opinion formers, including academics, think tanks and business organisations", and will be distributed to central libraries across the UK. It is also available on the FCO website.

In 493 pages, the document is a comprehensive analysis of the EU constitution, although it is in fact less comprehensive than the British Management Data Foundation (BMDF) version.

Nevertheless, it includes the full text of the constitution, including protocols and declarations. It purports to explain "what each article does where this is not obvious from the text... where the treaty provision derives from if it is not new, and... where legislative procedures have changed."

As one has come to expect expect, this is a highly partisan document, no more so than the foreword by Jack Straw himself, which repeats the myths that the government intends to promote during the course of the referendum campaign.

What is particularly objectionable, amongst many things, is the claim by Straw that the constitution "for the first time… gives national parliaments the power to scrutinise proposed EU legislation at the draft stage and to sent it back if they are not satisfied the Union needs to act."

Two points arise here. Firstly, our parliament already has that power and can scrutinise anything it wishes. It is an impertinence on the part of the member states of the European Union that they feel they can bestow on a sovereign parliament a power that it already possesses. But, in so doing, of course, they take "ownership" of that power – and what can be bestowed can be withdrawn.

The second point is that the "power" is illusory. Scrutiny is not power, unless you are then able to impose the views derived from that scrutiny. But all that is on offer in the constitution is "permission" to the national parliaments to send to the EU institutions – including the commission - a "reasoned opinion" on "whether a draft European legislative act complies with the principle of subsidiarity".

This is set out in a protocol to the constitution (page 127 in the BMDF version) and a further protocol (p. 129) requires the institutions to "take account" of the reasoned opinions. In this context, parliaments are allocated "votes" and if the reasoned opinions represent at least one third of the votes allocated, the commission is obliged to “review” the draft.

That is it. The commission is not obliged to withdraw the draft, or change it and, if it decides to re-issue the draft unchanged, there is nothing whatsoever any national parliament can do about it. When it comes from the EU as fully fledged law, each will be required to approve it.

That is the nature of the propaganda stemming from the pen (or word processor) of Jack Straw Esq – more likely, from his officials, although he has put his name to it. There is little point in protesting, although ritual protests have already been made about public money being spent on promoting the government's view.

As far as Straw is concerned, he is telling the "truth" and, as does larva pour from an active volcano, so will the propaganda continue to flow.

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