The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Subsidiarity and the Illusion of Democratic Control

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MONDAY 10TH NOVEMBER 2003

The third of the Bruges Group’s papers on the draft EU Constitution studies the cloak of subsidiarity – the Eurospeak term – used to disguise the ever-increasing arrogation of powers to the institutions of the European Union. John Bercow, a long-standing critic of European integration and associate of the Bruges Group, seeks to analyse the history of subsidiarity and rebut the claim that the EU Constitution safeguards the role of national Parliaments. He also provides further evidence that the Constitution does not define the limitations and extent of EU power and that it is not just another power grab. According to John Bercow it also enables the EU to further expand its power to unprecedented and virtually limitless proportions. In short, the EU Constitution will accelerate the EU’s legislative imperialism.

The high fulutin’ declarations in the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties that subsidiarity and proportionality will return the balance of power in the EU to the nation state are bogus. Subsidiarity has in fact not stopped a single directive or regulation. Against this backdrop we are told by the EU Constitutions proponents that the Protocol in the Draft Constitutional Treaty will safeguard the role of national Parliaments in Giscard’s Brave New Europe.

However, the EU Constitution has no acknowledgement of European over-regulation. There is no acknowledgement of the need for decentralisation. There is no acknowledgement that the EU has done too much too badly and should do rather less rather better.

The new draft Protocol specifies that the case for action at Union level “must be substantiated by qualitative and, wherever possible, quantitative indicators.” The new draft Protocol requires the Commission to take account of the need for any burden of a proposal to be kept to the minimum necessary to achieve its objective. It stipulates that “before proposing legislative acts, the Commission shall consult widely.”

The Protocol will operate when an objection, supported by at least one third of the voting strength of the Member States, is made to a Commission proposal, then “the Commission shall review its proposal”. Ministers have trumpeted their backing for this idea. Yet the idea amounts to very little for the text of the draft Constitution goes on to state that “after such review, the Commission may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw its proposal”, limply adding that “the Commission shall give reasons for its decision.”

This by no stretch of the imagination is an adequate safeguard.

John Bercow clearly outlines where future threats to British legislative freedom will emerge. Firstly, on top of the expected relinquishment of the national veto in more than 30 areas, the so-called passerelle clause (Article 1-24 (4) ) will enable the European Council to abolish the remaining national vetos, decreeing that it be subject instead to qualified majority voting. “Neither the House of Commons nor the British people would have any say in the matter.”

Secondly, John Bercow analyses the potential impact of Article 17 the bizarrely titled “Flexibility Clause”. It prescribes that,

“If action by the Union should prove necessary...to attain one of the objectives set by the Constitution, and the Constitution has not provided the necessary powers, the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, shall take the appropriate measures”.

These clauses will pose a continuing and increasing menace to the autonomy of the nation-state. John Bercow warns that, “Democratically elected Members of national Parliaments would be impotent to do anything about them… The effrontery is breathtaking, yet the British Government remains untroubled by it.”

In conclusion John Bercow argues that “It is time to stop and to reverse the ratchet whereby the United Kingdom is drifting towards a European State. There is a noble alternative – to develop the European Union as a partnership of free trading outward looking nation states, which co-operate with each other when it is necessary and compete with each other when it is not.”

And he states that the current apathy in British politics is in part a result of our relations with the EU. “It is hardly surprising that there is a pervasive public cynicism about politics as millions of people see the EU developing in a way that they had not expected, that they do not want, but that they are largely powerless to resist.”