White Paper plan to curb EU court power

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Political Editor

A comprehensive programme for limiting the powers of the European Court of Justice and European legislation over national governments will be unveiled in the long-awaited White Paper on the European Union's future today.

The White Paper will propose a more ambitious series of reforms than expected, including:

t A requirement for the European Court of Justice to give an opinion on the legal basis of directives before they are enacted.

t Time limiting to prevent actions through the ECJ which would have been out of time if they had been taken to the national courts of the plaintiff.

t A fast-track process for amending law after ECJ judgments which do not appear to reflect the intentions of the Council of Ministers. This could help Britain in the highly controversial case of Spanish fishermen using British quotas, recently vindicated by the ECJ.

t "Sunset" provisions designed to ensure draft directives fall if they are not taken up within two years. This would allow some of the most controversial proposals to be abandoned rather than have an indefinite shelf-life.

t Limitations on community action designed to prevent the EU forcing through legislation under controversial headings. This would, for example, prevent social legislation which would normally require unanimity being forced through as health and safety measures which can be decided by majority voting.

These proposals go well beyond those trailed, like an internal appeals procedure for the ECJ and limits on the court's powers to make retrospective legislation.

The White Paper proposals became clear last night as Tory concerns over the threat posed by Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party were exposed by the leak of a confidential Tory party document estimating that it could deprive the Tories of up to 25 seats.

The warning is contained in a Central Office summary of an earlier, also leaked, briefing paper prepared for Tory MEPs which warns that "the greatest danger to the Conservative Party will be in marginal seats which have been targeted by the [Referendum Party]. Pro-European Conservative candidates in marginal constituencies could see their vote erode significantly."

The briefing paper acknowledges that with the promise that Sir James is prepared to underwrite funding of up to pounds 20m - possibly more than either of the main parties - "the Referendum Party is a serious organisation which is intent on causing damage to the Conservative Party at the next general election".

The White Paper proposals

are unlikely to prevent Euro-sceptic complaints that the Government has not gone nearly far enough in insisting on the repatriation of EU powers. It will, however, restate Britain's opposition to any extension of qualified majority voting and will make an unconditional promise to refuse to surrender the veto in key areas like tax and foreign policy. But the careful wording of the White Paper - by what it does not say rather than by what it does - will leave the Government slender room for a compromise by agreeing to the extension of majority voting in second order policy areas, such as industryand environment. It was confirmed yesterday that the Staffordshire South East byelection, which on present poll projections will reduce the Government's majority from two to one, will take place on 11 April. The byelection is caused by the death of the sitting MP, Sir David Lightbown.