Magazine article The Spectator

Beware the Fundamentalists

Magazine article The Spectator

Beware the Fundamentalists

Article excerpt

IMAGINE that you are a committed European federalist. What single item would you most want to see included in the next EU Treaty? A common tax policy? A European army? A police force? All these matters are on the agenda. But there is one prize greater than all of them: a prize for which Euro-nationalists would be prepared to make almost any concession. They want the EU to be given that final and definitive attribute of statehood: a written constitution.

A constitutional convention has been at work in Brussels since December. It comprises 62 representatives from the European Parliament, national parliaments and member governments, and plans to complete its work by the end of the year, in time for the new constitution to be incorporated into the Treaty of Nice.

You may be wondering how something so monumental has passed you by. The short answer is that the EU has learnt to disguise its most ambitious projects as something else. Instead of calling its nascent constitution a constitution, it refers to it as a `Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms'. Brilliant! Who could be against fundamental rights? Any Euro-sceptic who ventures to oppose the scheme can now be howled down as an opponent of fair trials, freedom of worship and the rest of it. One can imagine the Eurocrats giggling at their own cleverness like Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows.

So, let us be clear from the outset. What is going on has nothing to do with basic freedoms. Every member of the EU is already covered by the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN's Universal Declaration and a series of lesser accords. The charter has been proposed, not in response to some monstrous human-rights violation in Western Europe, but because its exponents want it to be justiciable before the European Court of Justice. At this stage it would cease to be a declaration and become a constitution. Europe's judges would be empowered - or, rather, obliged - to strike down any national legislation which they deemed to contravene its principles.

This seems obvious to everyone except Tony Blair. The Prime Minister has been reduced to repeating, over and over again, that the charter won't have any binding force. It'll just be a declaration, he says: a sort of signpost, pointing Europe's citizens towards the rights they already enjoy.

One sometimes has to gawk admiringly at Mr Blair's brazenness. He doesn't believe for one moment that the other governments are going to put in a year's work merely to come up with a document that restates their adherence to existing accords. And, even if they did, it is inconceivable that the Euro judges would allow matters to rest there. As far as they are concerned, a charter is a charter. It doesn't matter whether it takes the form of an annex to the treaties or a declaration by the heads of government. Once it's there, they will begin to build its principles into their rulings.

So, what are these principles? Some of them are uncontentious: equality before the law, no wrongful imprisonment and so on. But the charter is a child of its time, and its framers are much concerned with such matters as social entitlements, the rights of asylum-seekers and the treatment of minorities. In one early version, there was even a proposal for mandatory maternity leave of a specified length. …

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