Byline: JOHN LAUGHLAND
Early next month, the 15 EU heads of state and government will meet in Nice to sign a new EU treaty. It is the fourth such treaty in 15 years and the arguments now raging over it in Britain have a familiar ring. But the issue is not whether Britain will have more influence or less; it is not whether British Ministers will snatch this victory or that. It is whether democracy will survive in Europe.
The omens are not good. The driving force behind the inexorable process of European integration, of which Nice is just one more click in the ratchet, is the urge to wield power without responsibility. At Nice, as with every other EU treaty, power will be transferred away from European electorates and parliaments and given to governments or executive bodies they have created.
The EU is just a clever mechanism for governments to make laws among themselves, in secret, instead of having to defend them in front of their own electorates.
There are three main ways in which Nice will reinforce the unaccountability of EU institutions. The first is by expanding the policy areas which are subject to majority voting in the Council of Ministers, led by EU President Romano Prodi. A raft of new policy areas (50 are on the table) are liable to be switched from unanimity to majority vote. Although majority voting requires governments to bargain with other governments, it crucially gives governments lawmaking powers. This freedom to make laws is the main reason governing parties in all European countries love the EU.
In the run-up to Nice, Messrs Blair and Cook have been vaunting the few areas in which they want to keep the national veto. This is just a tactic to obscure all the other policy areas in which they are preparing to forgo the veto. These range from the funding of political parties to immigration and social security. But in the Commons on Thursday, Robin Cook said majority voting would cause British economic policies, which other states would otherwise block, to be adopted in Europe. For example, Greek ferries would be open to competition and the French would be forced to have Hollywood movies in their cinemas. Mr Cook seems to think a British Minister has the right to decide whether a Greek ferry company should go to the wall, or what films the French see.
'Tories who say they want a British veto must also support a Bulgarian veto and a Maltese veto,' Mr Cook jeered, referring to the logjam which Eurocrats predict if small countries that join the EU are left with any control over their own affairs. But surely a democrat would say that, yes, in an enlarged EU, smaller countries should indeed have more freedom, not less. …