Letter: Disruption of European Community business is a misuse of powers

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Sir: The British government has portrayed its decision to attempt to paralyse all matters in the European Union which require its assent as a lawful and legitimate response to the ban on the export of British beef and beef by-products ("John Major does a Margaret Thatcher", 22 May).

Much comment has already been passed upon the wisdom of this course of action. On a more technical note, it is doubtful whether it is lawful. This is because of the doctrine of misuse of powers, which, as a principle of European Community law, binds both Community institutions and national governments when acting within the Community context. This doctrine, simply stated, provides that an act, which would otherwise be lawful, becomes unlawful if it is used for a purpose other than that for which the Treaty intended. It is difficult to think of a more glaring example of this than a decision to vote against a measure for reasons that have nothing to do with the matter in hand.

One can of course be confident that as the self-proclaimed guardian of law and order, both at home and internationally, this point was taken into account when the Government made its announcement on Tuesday.


Lecturer in Law of the European Union,

London School of Economics and Political Science

London WC2