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Bill Cash MP
for Stone

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British interests at risk: a warning against Europe's creeping federalism

An article by Bill Cash published in The Times on 23 June 1988

As European government leaders get down to detailed business at the European summit in Hanover next week, we should not lose sight of the long-term shift which is transferring power from the parliaments of member nations to the bureaucracies of Brussels and Strasbourg. The British Empire was formed' . in a fit of absence of mind". Will the same apply to Europe?

 

The creation of Europe by stealth Is inimical to the British approach. We need to look at not what people have said the words' . European Union" mean, but the actual practical and legislative effects of what Is being done. A substantial amount of this is for the good but the institutional changes themselves require great scrutiny. 

 

The Internal market, free trade, competition, deregulation and 1992 must be pursued vigorously. The creation of a single market will stimulate prosperity for the people of Europe unless it creates a political and institutional remoteness and complexity which is counter-productive. 

 

At present there is insufficient control by elected representatives over decisions vital to our commercial and industrial future and far too much official secrecy in all the early stages of legislation. There is a growing Ing tendency for powers to be delegated by the Council of Ministers to the Commission. This, combined with an increase In the use of regulations, Increases the bypassing of national parliaments. 

 

This "democratic deficit" as it is called In the jargon has been increased by the more frequent majority voting introduced under the Single European Act. 

One result of this is a growing popularity for a form of federalism for Europe. Members of the European Parliament and others who are enthUSiasts for a more federally-based system are making greater claims for more power to be transferred from the national parliaments to the European Parliament and, indeed, to the European Commission itself. 

 

A detailed survey by Professor Philip Taylor of the preferences of influential Eurocrats found that 31 out of 50, asked what they conSidered the best possible system for European union, supported at the very least a federal system, whereas only three out of the 50 were content with a loose form of union. 

 

A recent European Commission paper states: .. Indeed the true Interests of Europe demand that one should go even further in improving the effectiveness of the institutional triangle composed of the Council, Parliament and the Commission". 

 

These claims for a federal system must not go unchallenged. It has not escaped notice that the weaker the political tradition of a given country or Institution, the more likely it is to embrace federalism. Spain and Italy, for example, have backed the European Parliament declaration recently on political union in Europe. 

 

In the United States there is an increasingly vocal body of opinion which wants constitutional reform not least because the federal system precludes the kind of swift response to constitutional and legislative change required in the modern worid. The increasing frustration felt by those attempting to effect change can lead to the taking of short cuts instead of sticking to the strict rules of the system. 

 

The insufficient democracy in Europe should be countered not by looking to federalism but to greater involvement on the part of sovereign states. Involvement (the key word) is a precondition of acceptance and of greater commitment. Involvement means full and immediate access to decision makers, the right to question and the opportunity for government to consult, listen and respond. 

 

Westminster should have improved scrutiny procedures in the earlier stages of proposed legislation and before the die Is cast. The Select Committee on European Legislation in the House of Commons is actively considering ways and means of improving the scrutiny process and the relationship between Government and Parliament in the United Kingdom.

 

The plain fact is that neither under the terms of the Single European Act, nor in practice, can the European Parliament provide the degree of effective monitoring which is required to protect British interests, nor to fill the .. democratic deficit" without creating a remote and inadequate political forum. To ensure greater contact with people we need more, not less, direct Involvement. This is not in any way to diminish the proper role which the European Parliament may perform but simply to put the matter into practical perspective. There are, of course, practical problems in referring matters back to national parliaments in the making of European legislation, but proper democratic scrutiny and accountability must be maintained.

 

One way of proceeding would be for relevant departmental select committees, with the European Legislation Committee acting as a liaison body for this process, to report on proposals before they go to the Council of Ministers for adoption and in good time to enable representations, particularly on the basis of amended proposals, to be fully considered and if need be, debated.

 

At present, ever greater power is going to the Commission itself and it is already acquiring some of the characteristics of a benevolent despotism. In time, this will lead to resistance to the EEC and its possible breakup, with disastrous consequences.

 

Clear statements at Hanover by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers that there is no intention to proceed to a federal Europe would be one way of dealing with the matter. The British government view on this question is quite clear: there is to be no federalism but it needs to be spelt out by the Council as a whole.

 

The time for visions and dreams of a European political superstructure reminiscent of Charlemagne or the Austro-Hungarian Empire Is over. The time is now ripe for a practical and pragmatic approach to improving the quality and efficiency of the legislative process in Europe, to ensure that the interests of the individual electorates are properly safeguarded while maintaining the integrity of the EEC as a whole. 


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