Sunday, February 13, 2005

Myth seven: qualified majority voting hands power to Brussels

The FCO has posted what is mercifullythe last of its myth rebuttals on its website. This went up yesterday, the "myth" being: "Qualified Majority Voting hands power to Brussels".

The "facts", according to the FCO, are that "National Governments make the decisions". Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) applies to national governments negotiating in the Council. It is national Ministers who vote and decide on European policy, not 'Brussels'.

Once again, however, we are not dealing with facts, but lies. National governments do not make the decisions. As the FCO says, the Council does… in this case the Council of Ministers.

What the FCO is doing is eliding the two, but the Council is an EU institution, bound by the rules of the constitution, acting within the framework of EU law and subject to the European Court of Justice.

Furthermore, the glosses over the plural: “national governments”. That means that all the national government of the EU – all 25 of them, within the framework of the Council – make decisions which affect the UK. In other words, we are subject not to the decisions of our own elected government, but to decisions of 25 governments, 24 of which we did not elect and had no part in electing.

As to the phrasing: "It is national Ministers who vote and decide on European policy, not 'Brussels'", yet again we are dealing with advanced "weasel wordery". What the FCO asserts is simply not the case but, in making the assertion, it does have the aid of the constitution. This, in Article I-23 does state that the Council shall "carry out policy-making… as laid down in the constitution".

However, in only one instance does the constitution specifically set out a policy-making role for the Council. That is in relation to the common foreign and security policy and then the Council is empowered only to act within the framework set by the European Council, which in turn must work within the framework set by the constitution.

In respect of the areas where the Union has exclusive competence, which comprise the customs union; competition rules; monetary policy for the member states whose currency is the euro; conservation of marine resources; the common commercial policy; and the framing of certain international agreements, the Commission is the policy-making body.

Furthermore, that policy-making remit extends to areas of shared competence, where the commission decides it will act, which comprises internal market; aspects of social policy; economic, social and territorial cohesion; agriculture and fisheries, the environment; consumer protection; transport; trans-European networks; energy; the area of freedom, security and justice; and common safety concerns in public health matters.

The commission also sets Union policy in the areas of research, technological development and space, and in development co-operation and humanitarian aid, except that member states are allowed also to have their national policies.

In all those areas, the full measure of the Commission’s roles can be seen in the constitution, and in particular Title V, Chapter 1 of Part 1. Consider:

Article I-34 (1) European laws and frameworks laws shall be adopted, on the basis of proposals from the commission, jointly by the European parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure as set out in Article III-396.

Article I-35 (3) The Council shall adopt recommendations. It shall act on a proposal from the Commission in all cases where the Constitution provides that it shall adopt acts on a proposal from the Commission…
Now look at the powers of the Commission, set out Article I-26.

1. The Commission shall promote the general interest of the Union and take appropriate initiatives to that end. It shall ensure the application of the Constitution, and measures adopted by the institutions pursuant to the Constitution. It shall oversee the application of Union law under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union. It shall execute the budget and manage programmes. It shall exercise coordinating, executive and management functions, as laid down in the Constitution. With the exception of the common foreign and security policy, and other cases provided for in the Constitution, it shall ensure the Union's external representation. It shall initiate the Union's annual and multiannual programming with a view to achieving interinstitutional agreements.

2. Union legislative acts may be adopted only on the basis of a Commission proposal, except where the Constitution provides otherwise. Other acts shall be adopted on the basis of a Commission proposal where the Constitution so provides.
From all of the above, could anyone honestly say that, "It is national Ministers who… decide on European policy, not 'Brussels'"?

As it stands, therefore, the Commission essentially sets the agenda and the Council reacts to it. But what are the decisions about?

Here is the rub. The treaties set out areas in which the Union may act, but the power transfer does not actually occur until there is a legislative act. And which institution, in the first place, decides on the nature, content and scope of the legislative acts? - the commission, of course.

In this context, the decisions made by the Council are confined to whether or not to give the Commission the powers it asks for, with or without amendments, which the commission if free to accept or reject. And once the power is given to the Council, it has no further role. The power belongs to the Commission and it can act entirely without reference to the Council.

Now, herein lies the problem. The assertions are easily made. Their deconstruction has taken a considerable volume of text. Brevity, in this instance, favours the liar, on which the FCO also relies in its next assertion, that: "Majority Voting helps Britain get what it wants". Says the FCO:

Removing national vetoes helps the UK push reform in Europe. For example, without Qualified Majority Voting we could not have secured important reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy or the liberalisation of European energy markets. We are rarely outvoted.

What ever happened to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Yes, it is true that QMV can help the UK get what it wants, although it could get much of that if it was not shackled by EU membership. But, within the framework of the EU, it also means that the other countries – all 24 of them – can get what they want, even if the UK objects.

As for the UK rarely being outvoted, this claim is disingenuous as it does not reflect the way the EU works. Basically, if there is any danger of the UK being outvoted, it will either abstain or even vote for the proposal – anything to avoid the ignominy of being outvoted.

So the lies continue, as with the next FCO assertion which invites us to look at what the new areas of QMV cover. Many of the changes in the new Treaty are technical changes, it claims. Yes, again, there is some truth here but many are not "technical", such as extending QMV to the co-ordination of economic policy.

The Government, in its commentary on the constitution, lists 63 areas of additional QMV – not including economic policy – which include such high-spending areas such as space policy, the European Research Area, Transport (including road safety) police co-operation, Europol, urgent financing of CFSP measures, and even the appointment of the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs (Art I-28).

Through this latter provision, the UK could end up being represented by an EU foreign minister whose appointment it had not agreed.

Concluding a very long piece, we now deal with the two remaining FCO arguments. The first is that: "The new voting system better reflects the UK's relative size". That may be the case, on the population basis. But all this means is that the UK vote increases from nine to 13 percent

Finally, says the FCO, "We keep the veto in key areas". The UK insisted that unanimous agreement is still required in key areas of national interest including defence, foreign policy, tax and social security. Yes, but…

We will deal with this issue in a separate post.

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