Power-share plan to fuel Europe dispute

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Far-reaching proposals for new European power-sharing, to be presented to foreign ministers in Brussels today, will fuel controversy in Britain over the agenda for European reform. The proposals, drafted by the Irish presidency, focus on these key areas:

Immigration and asylum

New treaty articles are suggested for creation of an area of "freedom, security and justice". The new procedures should all be enacted in phases and all should be in place by 2001.

Countries should first abolish all border controls for citizens of the European Union and third-country nationals moving between internal EU frontiers. States should enforce joint measures on controlling the entry of third-country nationals at external frontiers. This would include new EU laws enforcing common rules on visas. Countries should then adopt common rules on asylum and arrangements for receiving asylum-seekers. Rules for accepting immigrants should be harmonised for entry and residence. Nationals of third countries living in the EU to have common rights. European Commission to have wide new powers to propose measures in these areas. European Court of Justice to have new power of enforcement. Possibility of some states opting out of the measures is considered.

Policing and security

A European police force and a criminal intelligence bureau along the lines of the United States FBI are proposed. Europol, the existing data network, should develop "operational" powers, which would include "operational actions of joint teams" from different member states.

The new force would have powers to act against drug traffickers, international criminals, terrorist groups and sex-offender networks. States should harmonise criminal laws to improve cross-border co-operation in combating international crime. Prosecuting authorities and justice ministries should establish close ties to share information.

Human rights and equality

New treaty articles to ensure all member states observe agreed human- rights standards. Action could be taken against states that breach the rules.

The EU's Council of Ministers would have powers to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic or social origin, religious belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. More power for European Commission to propose measures to ensure the application of equal opportunities and treatment at work, including equal pay. Policy enacted by the Council of Ministers by qualified majority.

Foreign policy and defence

A more coherent joint foreign policy for Europe. The draft text says a high-level figure should be appointed to co-ordinate European foreign policy to give EU greater "standing and visibility". A policy-planning unit with "early warning" capacity to predict flashpoints to be set up in Brussels. The practice of appointing a "troika" of three foreign ministers to represent Europe abroad should be abolished and the country holding the presidency would represent the union abroad.

The use of the veto in foreign policy to be drastically reduced. Even for votes taken by unanimity, member states would be unable to block others from going ahead with a policy decision. "Constructive abstention" would allow a country which objects the right not to take part in a foreign policy action, but not to stop others enforcing it. Where members are considering military action or when defence questions are at issue the veto could be used "for national policy".

Security and defence

The draft states that there is "convergence towards the view" that the union should have power to use "military means" to pursue humanitarian and peace-keeping tasks. The Western European Union, the EU's military arm, would carry out these tasks.

Employment

The draft treaty notes that every member state except Britain wants to bring social policy into the updated treaty. In effect this would require the scrapping of Britain's social policy opt-out. The Irish presidency, recognising the difficulty this will present, suggests that a full debate on this matter should be postponed until later in the negotiations. To Britain's dismay it has, however, called for the incorporation of a legally binding treaty chapter on employment enshrining the goal of a high level of job creation.

Voting and institutions

Britain comes under intense pressure to agree to an extension of majority voting in the EU's law-making Council of Ministers: "In the view of the Presidency it remains essential to make significant progress on qualified majority voting at the Conference

British demands

Fishery quota-hopping and an amendment to the health and safety provisions of the existing EU treaty - an attempt to negate the effect of the 48- hour working week directive - are noted as specific issues Britain wants addressed in the treaty talks.

European Parliament and Commission

Extension of areas in which the European Parliament shares legislative authority with the Council of Ministers. MEPs to be increased by 74 to 700, to accommodate enlargement of the EU. A wide consensus exists on strengthening the powers of the President of the European Commission, the text says. This could include the power to hire and fire individual commissioners.

Comments