Europe's Tug of War between National, Supranational ; Britain Lifted a Ban on Gays in Military Jan. 12 Due to a European

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Gay groups and their supporters are applauding last week's decision by Britain to lift its ban on homosexuals in the armed forces.

The controversial move followed a ruling in September by the European Court of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government says it is "happy" to comply with the court's judgment, but the opposition Conservative Party hinted it might reconsider the issue if returned to power. Conservative member of Parliament Iain Duncan Smith told the House of Commons: "I believe that we should follow the advice of the armed forces, which has always been that lifting the ban would adversely affect operational effectiveness."

The implied threat chimed with what appears to be a developing sense in other European capitals, that supranational laws and regulations can be pushed too hard and too far.

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the end of the ban Jan. 12, adding that any personnel forced to leave the military for this reason could apply for reenlistment. But service sources say Mr. Hoon was acting against the advice of his military high command. Senior officers in the Royal Navy, in particular, are said to be hostile to the policy reversal.

Hoon also unveiled a new military code of conduct, warning that disciplinary action would be taken if a personal relationship or an individual's behavior damaged "efficiency or operational effectiveness." He said the code, which bans public displays of affection, would apply equally to all.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, Hoon made it clear that Britain had been forced into the decision by the European Court of Human Rights.

As members of the 39-nation Council of Europe, Britain and its continental neighbors are constitutionally bound to accept judgments handed down by the human-rights court, headquartered in Strasbourg, France. The 15 members of the European Union are also supposed to be bound by judgments of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg - in effect, the EU's supreme court.

But in the past few years, evidence has begun to pile up suggesting that individual governments increasingly would prefer to put their own national interests first, even if it means defying the collective will of European institutions.

Currently, France is refusing to recognize a decision by the European Commission (the EU's ruling body), that British beef is safe to eat again, in the wake of a scare over "mad cow" disease. …