Blair to Fight Rights Charter

Article excerpt

THE government faces its biggest battle in Europe this autumn when it will try to limit the scope of a new charter of rights that opponents say will shackle British business with massive new costs.

The charter, which will include a range of rights to which all European Union citizens are entitled, including the right to strike and join a union as well as rights to asylum and protection against discrimination, is expected to be approved at the Nice summit in December.

What form it takes will be crucial to future employment relations in Britain and the rest of the EU.

Opponents in the UK, including leading business organisations, want Tony Blair to give a guarantee that the charter will not form part of a future treaty and become enshrined in law.

After his notable success with the savings tax, Blair will be keen to show that he can continue to persuade and cajole European partners round to his way of thinking. However, unlike the savings tax, the charter of rights is set to become more of a totem for the left-leaning EU members. That will worry Blair as much as it does business leaders.

The prime minister has been praised for his success in setting the economic agenda at the Lisbon summit earlier this year. That agenda has been described by the CBI as very positive and 'anglophile'. The Francophile agenda France currently holds the EU presidency is far more rooted in social rights. While Britain would settle for a declaratory political statement, France wants a binding agreement.

There is bound to be intense pressure from unions and non-governmental organisations for the charter to become binding. The fear for business is that if the rights get into a declaration thrashed out in December, it would be difficult for those rights to be left out of future social legislation in the UK.

The fears are two-fold. First, that it will reignite the EU social agenda, which will reduce the flexibility of the UK labour market. Second, that, if the declaration becomes legally binding, there is the potential for judicial review of a number of EU directives and potential challenges to UK national law. …