Decisions must benefit security and prosperity

JOHN RENTOUL outlines the key elements in the Government White Paper: `A Partnership of Nations'
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Defending Britain's veto

At present, Britain can be outvoted in decisions on the Single Market, external trade questions, agriculture, transport and most decisions on environmental issues and research and development. On everything else Britain, and other member states, can veto proposals.

The White Paper does not absolutely rule out proposals to extend majority voting and erode Britain's power of veto: "Common European decision-making, as opposed to co-operation, can only be justified where it brings benefits for British security, prosperity and quality of life which are so significant that they justify some loss of unfettered national control over decision-making in the area concerned." But it goes on to say: "The Government will ... oppose further extension of qualified majority voting."

Backdoor ways round the veto

The Government is "considering ideas" for preventing social policy - such as the 48-hour week - being brought in under the health and safety provisions of the Single Market, on which Britain does not have a veto. It also wants to stop tax measures being "tacked onto" Single Market or environmental proposals.

The majority voting system

The Government wants the four larger countries - Germany, Britain, France and Italy - to have more votes under the system of weighted voting. The White Paper says nothing about reducing the majority required to make decisions when more countries join the EU.

European Court of Justice

The EU's supreme court, regarded by Euro-sceptics as the "engine of federalism", provoked fury on Conservative backbenches for rulings in favour of the Spanish fishing industry last week and against the British government over the 48-hour week yesterday.

The White Paper promises a Memorandum "shortly" to flesh out its proposals, which include

limiting retrospective judgments, creating an appeals procedure, a fast- track process for "time-sensitive" cases, applying national time limits to cases and making allowance for states which have "made every effort to meet their EC obligations" These fall far short of the demands of Tory sceptics.

Common Foreign and

Defence Policy

The White Paper rejects majority voting in this area: "Where specific British interests are at stake we shall insist upon retaining our freedom of action." But it enraged Tory Euro-sceptics by accepting the idea of appointing an EU foreign affairs spokesman. Sceptics were not satisfied by the White Paper demand for a guarantee that "such a figure was fully answerable to the Council of Ministers, representing the collective views of member states, not deciding them".

The Social Chapter

The White Paper says laws could be brought in under majority voting if Britain signed up to the Social Chapter as Labour promises to do. "To accede to the Social Chapter could generate a one-way process in which European employment laws were increasingly imposed on the UK ... The potential costs, in money and in jobs, are enormous. The UK will not give up its opt-out and cannot be forced to do so."

Fish

The White Paper says the Government will demand reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy to end "quota-hopping", under which Spaniards have used British-registered boats to catch part of Britain's quota.

Animal welfare

After public concern about veal crates and long-distance animal transportation, the Government says it will seek "to incorporate the principle of animal welfare in the Treaty".

Role of national

parliaments

The Government at one point built up expectations of new plans to beef up Westminster scrutiny of EU law-making, but the White Paper says only that it is "considering a range of ideas", including a minimum period for parliaments to scrutinise draft EU laws.

Comments