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Howell: we should fight for a Europe of democracies

Speech to the Congress for Democracy meeting at Church House, Westminster on the Convention on the Future of Europe

In a matter of weeks the leaders of the Convention on the Future of Europe plan to present their conclusions to the EU Council of Ministers for approval, including a draft new Constitution for the Union and all its members.

Without doubt this will be a defining moment in the history of Europe, in the relationships between modern states throughout the continent and therefore in our own affairs here in the UK. In short it will be for us a moment of the utmost national and constitutional significance.

Government propaganda is now being mounted to deny that this is so, that what lies ahead is just another treaty, that it makes no significant change in the position of member states, that it is just tidying up past EU treaties. The whole process is dismissed as being a mere revision of 'club rules'.

This is totally, entirely, demonstrably false, as I shall show. The proposed Constitutional Treaty will be a blockbuster - replacing ALL previous EU and EC treaties, from the Treaty of Rome onwards. It is NOT just another treaty mildly amending existing EU legislation.

It will be - if things go according to plan - a second Treaty of Rome, and in many ways an even more significant one for us than the first. It will lead directly to much the most important and far-reaching piece of EU legislation ever to come before us, giving the EU institutions a new source of legitimacy ABOVE the nation states.

And it is vastly comprehensive - including a massive new charter of social rights, covering just about everything except the Deity.

For the first time in our history we shall be required to subordinate ourselves to a written Constitutional document, and end up in the Courts if we fail to do so.

Ah but, say the Government, it is still all to be decided. These are just draft proposals. We shall fight the worst ones off when the time comes.

But that, too, is false.

In a speech in Cardiff the Prime Minister specifically called for 'a proper constitution'. The Foreign Secretary wants one - and Ministers have repeatedly confirmed that the Government welcomes an EU constitutional treaty - provided, they say, that it is a clear text and a reference document for the public - something which according to Gisele Stuart , the unquestionably able Labour MP representing the Commons on the Convention , along with equally able Conservative member, David Heathcoat-Amory, they are just not going to get.

Meanwhile the Government is a firm supporter of a new President of the Union, only quibbling about how he or she is selected.

In short a new EU Constitution is already Government policy. So is the proposal for a new President of the EU, so are the proposals for strengthening the remote central institutions of the Union.

It is all fast setting in concrete. We have only a few weeks left to prevent the Government sealing us into a project which is not only unwanted by the British people but obsessionally backward- looking in its thinking. The Conventioneers and Brussels visionaries, with their yearning for stronger central EU institutions , have entirely failed to grasp the new architecture of international relations and the changed nature of nation states which the end of the 20th century has brought about

Then there is the Government claim that the proposed Constitution will clarify who does what, halt the creeping power of Brussels and that foreign and security policy will not be encroached upon.

But the Convention, and the draft Constitution, do indeed encroach massively, as DHA has repeatedly pointed out. They raise new doubts about the role of member states by demanding a whole range of powers to be SHARED between the EU institutions and the member states - including :Foreign policy, security policy, transport, social policy, energy and many other areas.

FAR from decentralising power the DRAFT looks like bringing massive and complex new powers to the centre of the Union.

For example, the draft Constitution now says that:

The Union SHALL coordinate econ policies (Art 13.), 'shall', not 'may', - a huge advance of central powers in taxation, budgets and every thing else.

Then there is the matter of Subsidiarity, the arcane system which is somehow meant to save us from central emasculation. The Conventioneers have made much of the role of National Parliaments - which tend nowadays to be cut out of the blizzard of regulations and laws which blow at us from Brussels.

BUT for all the talk about returning powers to our Parliament only a condescending review by the Commission is on offer should we object to some EU intrusion. (More ambitious plans for actually letting our Parliament, and those of other member states, block over-mighty EU powers and intrusions plan for parliaments have already been thwarted.)

Then there are to be new categories of binding 'non-legislative' Acts. These are to be issued by the Council or the Commission exercising their Executive powers, in effect ukases - not much decentralisation there.

Meanwhile at the CENTRE there is to be a single 'pillar' for everything, - that means a single mighty pyramid of power leading up to the remote heights of the EU institutions - justice, home affairs (now re-named Freedom, Security and Justice), Foreign and Defence Policy - ALL will be swept up under ECJ Jurisdiction. So its goodbye to a separate intergovernmental arrangements in these spheres - and of course to the right of our citizens to hold to account those making all these laws and policies.

And to cap it there will be not only the new President,Euro-Minister of Foreign Affairs reporting to both Commission and Council. This figure will speak for us, whether we agree or not.

Then there is the commitment- again agreed all round - to a single legal personality for the EU - making the EU 'sovereign' and giving it a place in international bodies, including the UN.

And if that sounds fantastic we have the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the EP telling us that Europe only needs one seat at the UN - so that 'Europe's world view would prevail' whatever that is.

Also there is to be a EU Justice and Interior Ministry and an EU Attorney General.

Finally - while the superiority of Community laws is of course already established by case law, it will now be imposed from above by the new EU Constitution - quite a different proposition.

If the the Constitution idea in anything like its present form is backed by the Council of Ministers in June , as scheduled, and then passed to an Autumn Intergovernmental Conference for final blessing in Rome - then the PM should indicate now that if necessary he would be prepared to use his veto.

If he nonetheless lets it all slip through then a referendum in the UK on the proposed Constitution is absolutely essential. It just cannot be denied. We are dealing with matters of a different order of importance from those addressed in, say, the Treaty of Amsterdam or even the Treaty of Nice. Ten other EU states will rightly hold referendums. Are we to be told that it is all too complicated for the British public to get their minds around?

What a patronising insult!

But the new Constitution is not just a matter affecting our own domestic affairs. It is inspired by a much bigger, and even more flawed vision. It is a core part of the plan to make the EU a counterweight to the USA. It is plainly inspired by anti-American, and therefore, anti-Iraq war thinking. And it will make repair of the Trans-Atlantic alliance infinitely harder. There will be no American alliance with a France-dominated old Europe after all this. New bridges will have to be built with a different and re-balanced kind of Europe after the ructions of recent months.

What we have here is a reassertion of centralised 'Old Europe' thinking, And in taking up this stance I believe that both France and Germany, great nations as they are, have made a huge geo-political mistake which will damage not only them but us all - has already done so. They will no doubt throw in their lot with Russia which is becoming their natural partner.

Perhaps that is their so-called 'destiny' - it is certainly not ours.

The concept of a fixed, written constitution is anyway a fossilised and fossilising idea. It is trying to give fixity to what is fluid and ever-changing in the relationships between nations - more so than ever in the network age in which we now live. The ESSENCE of the British constitution has always been that it is in a constant state of development. That is how we have always been so agile at adapting to changing worlds.

I appreciate that other nations may think differently on this aspect, but this is the way we have always managed our affairs, and I think it suits modern conditions admirably.

Down the centuries we have been the best of Europeans. We have spent as much blood and treasure as any of our neighbours in saving Europe from oppression and destruction - if not more. Let no-one ever accuse those of us who want to move on of being anti-Europeans. When one thinks of all the previous generation who gave their lives that Europe might be free, that is a sickening insult which could only come from ignorant minds.

As good Europeans, just as good as most of our neighbours, or better, we want to see democracy and accountability for EU laws and EU derived legislation (now well over 55% of all our laws), restored and strengthened, not taken further away from us.

The EU of the future must be generally decentralised and predominantly intergovernmental. It does NOT need to 'project a single European voice in the world' or 'establish leadership on the world stage'. That is not our 'European destiny'. If only some of the shrill proponents of this course understood, which they do not, how the very word 'destiny' stirs deep and disturbing memories in the British conscience. The destiny merchants of the past have brought nothing but death and destruction.

One thing is clear beyond all doubt. The attempt to replicate the old pattern of the centralised, socialised welfare state on a European scale is doomed to failure.

Today our security and prosperity rest on keeping markets as wide open as possible, on intimate international cooperation on defence and missile technologies, on top quality armed forces and on strong and friendly partnerships not only with the USA and not only with our European neighbours, large and small, but with many other responsible powers such as Japan and our Commonwealth colleagues like India and Australia.

This is the real international pattern of the future. Now we should fight FOR a Europe of democracies, a democratic Europe of states - states on which the international order ultimately rests and always will, - and AGAINST this power-seeking, bureaucratic rigid, European construct with which we are now confronted.

We want a place at the table in the new enlarged Europe, but it must become a table where, instead of constantly trailing along behind big other countries' and too often losing out, we make the running at last with OUR ideas and initiatives for the Union's evolution, in close concert with all the smaller and newer states. - who refuse to keep silent and have shown their determination not to be bullied or muzzled.

That is the essence of the new Europe. Maybe at last, out of the current divisions and turmoil, the time has come to be bold and to make a reality of that better vision.

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