Magazine article The Spectator

Parliament of Eunuchs

Magazine article The Spectator

Parliament of Eunuchs

Article excerpt

If you are a Christian Aider worried that free trade is worse than slavery, where should you put your X? What if you are a workaholic wanting to preserve the right to put in as many hours of overtime as you want? What if you are an art dealer angered at being compelled to give a percentage to the undeserving descendants of dead painters every time a picture is sold? Should you vote Tory, Labour or Liberal Democrat?

Actually, for all the say your MP will have on these policies, you might as well vote Monster Raving Loony party. Once, in my naive cynicism, I believed the golden rule of politics was that the main aim of all institutions was to accrue power. And then I moved to Brussels. It is not the EU institutions that shy away from the Darwinian struggle for power, of course. From Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, one can only watch in admiration the deft and determined way Eurocrats talk about, plan and succeed in taking power from national parliaments in their campaign for the 'construction of Europe'.

The House of Commons and our humble MPs, on the other hand, have apparently given up the will to legislate. Like teenagers terrified of responsibility, most MPs actively support giving away their power: they support more Europe, which inevitably means less Westminster.

Before we joined the Common Market in 1973, Parliament was sovereign, proud that it could and did debate and legislate on just about everything. So sovereign was it that children were taught that no Parliament could bind the hands of its successors. But being an MP ain't what it used to be. Today, the Mother of Parliaments has lost half its power, with Brussels making half of British laws. In some areas - such as environmental and consumer protection - Brussels makes the overwhelming majority. In other areas, it makes all of them. The European constitution confirms that 'the Union shall have exclusive competence' in customs, including trade; cross-border competition policy; and conservation of 'marine biological resources' that's fish. It is actually illegal - a breach of treaty punishable by the European Court of Justice - for Westminster MPs to pass laws on these issues.

The constitution also sets out 'shared competences' - where Westminster can legislate only when Brussels has decided not to - in internal market, economic cohesion, agriculture, environment, consumer protection, transport, energy, security and justice, and some areas of public health and social policy. A series of parliamentary answers has started revealing the extent of EU power. Between 1997 and 2003 the number of regulations, directives and decisions passed by the EU increased by 4,807. According to the Cabinet Office's regulatory impact unit, 'around half of all new legislation with a significant impact on business, charities and the voluntary sector now emanates from the EU'.

The array of EU regulation is bewildering. It governs such matters as working time, ground water standards, food labelling, data protection, animal by-products, employment relations, fire precautions, proceeds from crime, car tax, parental leave and TV advertising. When the Commission legislation factory recently announced a bonfire of red tape, the only law it said it could do without was harmonisation of the size of packets of chicory coffee.

The EU, which only started thinking about the economic burden of its legislation this year, passes far more costly legislation than Westminster. According to a study by the British Chambers of Commerce, the total cost of regulation introduced since 1998 is £30 billion, of which £24. …

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