Saturday, December 10, 2005

The way we are

Published this morning in The Daily Mail is a piece by Christopher Booker, setting out in stark detail the nature of our current relationship with the European Union.

The headlines may be focussed on next week's showdown between Tony Blair and President Chirac, as they battle over the "UK budget rebate". So clumsily has our prime minister played what once looked like a winning hand that it now looks as though he faces humiliation, angrily opposed by every country in the EU except tiny Malta.

But the real EU story of recent months, as so often before, has not been the one played to the mass-audience but one unfolding largely out of view.

Remember last summer and all the excitement that followed the rejection of the EU constitution by the voters of France and Holland? For two years we had been warned, not least by the Daily Mail, that the constitution heralded the setting up of a "European superstate".

At last, it seemed that vision had suffered a spectacular and permanent reverse. The relentless drive to European integration was seemingly at an end. Tony Blair proclaimed that the peoples of Europe had blown their "trumpets round the city walls" and it was time the EU's leaders paused to listen.

You might therefore be surprised to learn that, since last summer, the building of the "superstate" has, in fact, been powering ahead regardless, and on many different fronts.

In recent months, the way the EU has continued stealthily to take over so many of the powers of our government and Parliament from behind the scenes - with full permission and even encouragement from our own ministers - has reminded me of a popular television science fiction series from years ago, featuring a scientist called Professor Quatermass.

Our hero discovered that Britain was threatened by an extra-terrestrial invasion - but with a vital difference. Instead of arriving in space ships, as bug-eyed aliens, the invaders had the power to take over human beings from within, so that outwardly they seemed unchanged.

When, desperate to wake up the government to the threat, Quatermass went to see all his top-level contacts in Whitehall and Westminster, he was dismayed by their bland assurances that there was nothing to worry about. Then, in each case, he observed from a tell-tale mark on their wrist, that these ministers and top civil servants had been "taken over". Britain was already in the hands of the alien power.

It may seem a lurid parallel, but in recent months I have often been reminded of the Quatermass story, by the way the EU and its allies, including Mr Blair, have been behaving just as though the peoples of Europe had never spoken.

Far from being some kind of setback, the rejection of the new constitution has turned out to be a trigger for one of the EU's biggest power grabs for decades, across a whole range of policy areas, from defence, immigration and taxation, to the way we run our police, our courts and our judicial system.

Most shocking of all is the way most of our politicians at Westminister seem oblivious to what is happening, while our ministers and civil servants - along with those of the other 24 countries in the EU - are actively urging on the drive to integration in all directions.

There are two particular ways in which the building of the "European superstate" has been powering ahead since the supposed collapse of the constitution. First and most shameless has been the sight of the EU's leaders implementing that rejected constitution just as though it was already law.

Britain and other EU countries have already, for instance, been moving to close down many of their embassies across the world, to be replaced by embassies run by the EU’s own world-wide diplomatic service. This process began as soon as the constitution was signed, without waiting for it to be ratified.

Similarly the EU is moving with astonishing speed towards building up its own police force. The new "European Police College", to train senior policemen from all over Europe in "integrated policing methods", is already in place at Bramshill in Hampshire. The 43 police forces of England and Wales are soon to be cut to 12, to match the new "Euro-regions" around which we are reshaping the UK's local government.

We are moving with equal speed towards the "harmonising" of our judicial system, as the EU sets up a "European Public Prosecutor", with power to direct court actions in every country in the EU.

Our ministers have recently agreed to a new "European Evidence Warrant", empowering foreign courts to order British police to seize documents and search premises, even just on the suspicion of an offence which is not necessarily a crime under British law.

Other examples of jumping the gun on the as yet non-existent constitution are even more blatant. Two weeks ago in Brussels, for instance, EU ministers met for what was called the first "European Space Council", to draw up a "European space programme". This is a hugely ambitious attempt to set up the EU in rivalry to the US as a fully-fledged space power, complete with its own ring of satellites, Galileo (which has already cost UK taxpayers £400 million).

But as yet the EU has no legal right to set up its own space programme. This would only be given it by Article 254 of the constitution, once it was legally ratified.

One reason why the EU wants its own satellites, independent of those run by the USA, is that they are designed to play a key role in the future operations of "Europe's" own defence forces. Significantly, a 20 percent in the ownership and running of Galileo has been bought by China, as America's most obvious potential enemy.

In recent months the integration of the EU's armed forces has also been charging ahead, co-ordinated by a Brussels-based body known as the European Defence Agency, set up last January under a former senior civil servant from Britain's Ministry of Defence.

Again, the authorisation for this was to be Article 41 of the constitution, which is not yet law. Legally therefore, the European Defence Agency should not exist. Yet already, in support of the integration the agency represents, the MoD has been pouring billions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money into a series of massive defence contracts, for everything from missiles and trucks to aircraft and ships. These are going to European rather than British or US defence firms, often for equipment which is inferior and much more expensive.

Other examples can be seen in all directions, and at least some of these are at last beginning to attract public attention. But another process whereby the EU is taking over powers wholesale from national governments has gone almost wholly unnoticed. This is the way in which Brussels is setting up its own all-powerful agencies to rule over one important area of activity after another, by acting through national agencies which in effect become just its local branch offices.

When, for instance, the Labour Government set up its Food Standards Agency to supervise Britain's food and hygiene laws, how many people realised that it would merely be acting as a branch office for the EU's new European Food Safety Authority, based in Italy? How many realise that Britain’s largest quango, the Environment Agency, merely exists to enforce laws on pollution and waste deriving wholly from Brussels?

Everything related to aviation in the UK, from deciding which airlines are permitted to use our airports to the certifying of aircraft as fit to fly, used to be the responsibility of Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, respected all over the world. But today we no longer have any of those powers, because they have been handed over to the European Aviation Safety Agency, based in Cologne, under a policy known as "the Single European Sky".

All issues relating to railway safety are about to be handed over to the EU's Railway Agency, based in France. The EU's ports and ships are about to come under the regulatory control of the European Maritime Agency, based in Portugal.

Our chemicals industry, Europe’s largest, will shortly be subjected to a draconian regulatory regime run by the European Chemicals Agency, based in Finland. Even the enforcement of rules in British fishing waters is to be run by the "European Fisheries Agency" in Vigo, a Spanish port famously known as "the world capital of illegal fishing".

The chief reason why this massive takeover of national powers has not been more widely noticed is that the EU exercises its control from behind the scenes, so carefully disguised that even many of those directly affected still think that their own national ministers and agencies are still in charge.

But herein lies what is perhaps the cleverest of all the strategies whereby our new "European" system of government has managed to take ever greater power over our national life. It is the reason par excellence why people have not noticed the extent to which the running of our country has been handed over to this new "supranational" system.

Instead of sweeping away all the existing national institutions in each country, these have all been left standing while being hollowed out from within. Our familiar landscape of Monarchy, Parliament, Civil Service and courts is all still in place, as if nothing had changed. But their power and significance is being gradually sucked out, to be handed over to this mysterious new system of government which not even most of our elected politicians begin to understand.

We have become the victims of a "slow-motion coup d'etat". Watch the dead eyes of our ministers as they reassure us with their jargon-ridden platitudes that everything is fine, and one has chilling a glimpse of what Professor Quatermass felt when, in that science fiction series of long ago, he tried to awaken his fellow-citizens to the terrible danger which was taking their country away from them.

Today, in many respects, the true capital of our country is no longer London. It is Brussels. We are ruled, far more than most people yet realise, by a system of government which is not elected and which therefore we cannot hold to account or dismiss.

In effect, we are thus increasingly coming to live in what amounts to a one-party state. And the fact that some of our fellow-European citizens last summer tried to say "no" to any further European integration now begins to look tragically irrelevant. Our one-party state marches on, as it hopes forever.

The Great Deception: Can The European Union Survive? by Christopher Booker and Richard North is published, revised and updated, by Continuum, £9.99.


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