Who'd Vote for This Vomit of a Dog's Breakfast? REVIEW

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Who'd Vote for This Vomit of a Dog's Breakfast? REVIEW


Byline: WILLIAM REES-MOGG

The Government published its Bill to provide for a referendum on the European Constitution last week. It also published the constitution in its final form, together with a page-by-page commentary.

I have started yet another rereading of this constitution, a task that has now acquired a certain macabre fascination for me.

In theory, we all ought to be doing what I'm doing. As good citizens, we all ought to take our referendum decision after carefully reading the Constitutional Treaty and deciding on its merit.

We should not rely only on opinions, however authoritative, not on the Prime Minister's - heaven forbid - not on Jack Straw's, not on the BBC's, nor, I would add, on mine.

This is quite a formidable task. At university level, I would regard it as a term's study for an industrious undergraduate.

The constitution is a complex and confusing document of some 493 pages, plus the commentary. Yet I think the public will get the gist of it, one way or another.

Each time I read it, I find new problems, some of them dating from the original Treaty of Rome. One of the arguments used by advocates of this constitution is that much of it is already in previous treaties.

That is true, but it is not much of an argument. The previous treaties are a dog's breakfast of ill-digested provisions; the constitution could be described as a vomit of the dog's breakfast.

To analyse any constitution, including the brief and lucid constitution of the United States, one needs to follow the trail of power, just as the analyst of company accounts follows the trail of money. Who has the power to do what? This is the question that constitutions are supposed to answer.

One of the key powers is the right to propose new laws. This is a central power in the proposed European Constitution. It is to be found in article 1-26, paragraph 2: 'Union legislative acts may be adopted only on the basis of a Commission proposal, except when the constitution provides otherwise.'

The commentary notes that this sets out the Commission's 'exclusive right of initiative', and correctly observes that this monopoly is implied in many articles of previous treaties.

The nature of the Commission's monopoly of proposing legislation is not changed in the constitution, but its range would become much greater.

The constitution proposes to broaden the function of the European Union and to expand the area of qualified majority voting, abolishing national vetoes.

The monopoly on proposing law makes the Commission the real boss of the union, despite the powers of the Council of Ministers, the Parliament and the subordinate parliaments of the individual nations.

Without the Commission, nothing can be done.

Article 1-6 of the constitution states: 'The constitution and law adopted by the institution of the Union in exercising competences (powers) conferred on it shall have primacy over the law of the member states.' This is not new, although it has never before been stated in a European treaty.

Again, the apologists for the constitution say this is old stuff, and so it is. But when it was first laid down by the European Court of Justice, the primacy of European law covered only a narrow area, that of a common market or an economic community.

Now it would cover a wide area in which Europe is claiming exclusive, or shared, responsibility.

If this constitution is ratified, the power to make laws will finally be transferred from Westminster to Brussels and the power to interpret these laws will also belong to Europe - to the European Court of Justice, not to our own courts. …

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Who'd Vote for This Vomit of a Dog's Breakfast? REVIEW
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