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Kirkhope: More pillars for a European Community

Speech to the European Parliament

There are many aspects of the Working Group report on Legal Personality which I welcome. In particular, I welcome the commitment throughout the report to clarifying and simplifying the existing Treaties to make the structure of the European Union more comprehensible to the peoples of Europe. As I have said before at the Convention, all governing bodies across the European Union, at all levels of government, have a duty to make their functioning more understandable in order to reconnect with their constituencies and defeat the apathy which pervades politics at present.

However, one area where I fundamentally disagree with the report's conclusions is the notion that a single legal personality should go hand-in-hand with an abolition of the current pillared structure of the EU. As the report itself says on page six, "neither the merger of legal personalities nor the merger of the Treaties [has], in itself, any effect on the pillar structure." However, the group felt that "the way in which the pillar structure was presented in the present TEU would seem outdated, not to say obsolete, in a new, single Treaty."

As I said, this is one area where I fundamentally disagree with the report's conclusions.

The pillar structure guarantees that the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs remain matters for intergovernmental negotiation rather that supranational governance. It is on the basis of this guarantee that the British people accepted European Union involvement in these matters and it is a guarantee on which future British involvement in these areas stands. There is great scope for further co-operation in these matters without the need to press divisive harmonisation.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that the pillared structure could be extended to new policy areas. European integration is increasingly on an opt-in basis. The United Kingdom has chosen not to opt-in to the Schengen Agreement; Denmark have voted against membership of the Euro and Ireland maintain their neutrality from the European Defence Initiative.

There are other issues where the pillared structure could apply especially as enlargement proceeds. In my area of expertise - Justice and Home Affairs - some countries want a Common Asylum and Immigration Policy whilst other do not. Why not make it a pillar of the EU and allow individual countries to decide whether they want to opt-in or opt-out?

Obviously, there are issues that should remain in the first pillar. Issues such as the single market, the environment and some transport matters are examples of policy areas which should be compulsory to membership of the Union. But on other issues, such as foreign policy and home affairs issues, negotiations should be on an intergovernmental basis.

Mr President, in your speech yesterday to the College of Europe in Bruges you raised as one of the options the possibility of Europe resuming as the "European Community". I would welcome this because we are a community of nations co-operating together with an acquis communautaire - a community body of law.

So why not more pillars for the European Community? In Britain, the greatest complement you can pay someone is to call them a "pillar of the community." Let our pillars be pillars of our Community, respected and accepted by all our peoples as instruments for the common good and confirmed and enshrined in a future Basic Treaty.

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