European Union Act; Safeguarding British Sovereignty or ‘legislative PR’?
During my Masters, my tutor recommended that we all sign up for alerts for FCO press alerts. This is something which has proved invaluable as a tool for me as I quickly found out there you can get much more in-depth knowledge about the events of the world than if you were to rely on the articles found in a lot of newspapers. One such article cropped up in my inbox the other day; the European Union Act has now entered into force. One of the main elements of this piece of legislation is that it is now a legal requirement for the government to hold a referendum before ministers agree for the transfer of any power from Westminster to Brussels. The government argue that in effect it stops future governments from being able to go behind the backs of their people with such things as the Lisbon Treaty.
Any student of International Relations will tell you that in an age of multilateral institutions such as the EU and the UN there really is no such thing as absolute sovereignty for any nation. To be part of these wider reaching organisations is to recognise that they are higher up in the food chain than any individual state, that they are the referee and therefore have the last word. The flip side of this of course, is that, in exchange in the transfer of powers to a central legislative authority, individual member states can potentially influence what happens in neighbouring territories by being part of the governing assembly for that organisation.
The Conservatives have hailed is as something of a success; certainly they have fulfilled an article from their manifesto, and this may go some way towards keep the grass-roots happy, it may even sooth the tempers for some of those within the party who were thinking of defecting to UKIP. This is mostly based on Clause 18, which means that no government can surrender powers to Brussels without national consent. There are some limitations to this act, and I daresay it is not as far-reaching as many Eurosceptics might wish it to be, certainly, leading Eurosceptic Douglas Carswell (who is credited with the ‘legislative PR’ soundbite), et al, have had many things to say about what they see as ‘toothless’ legislation.
It nevertheless sets a precedent which was sadly lacking in the agenda of the previous government; it demonstrates which side of the channel the Coalition is interested in. I know many people who have felt disenfranchised by the number of laws which seem to affect Britons, without their elected leaders doing enough to ensure that their views are heard. It’s not hard to see where they’re coming from, in Britain, the average voter is one in 60 million, or thereabouts; in Europe, each voter is one in about 857 million. It’s enough to make you feel quite insignificant. Sadly the act does not claw back any of the authority that has already been transferred to Brussels, but it can at least stem the flow.
As with most things this government has tried to achieve, the Guardian was on had to pour a generous helping of cold water over the whole thing arguing that the referendum will only happen only if the transfer of power is deemed ‘significant’. It does raise the problematic issue of what constitutes ‘significant’ (if only you knew how many hours worth of postgraduate debate focused around this particular word!), one may argue that any transfer of power is significant enough to warrant a referendum. The rather pointless referendum we had back in May (purely for the benefit of Nick Clegg), told us at great expense to the public purse, what the country already knew. The alternative is that we simply trust those people whom we have elected to the House of Commons to do the thinking for us. Neither option on its own is terribly palatable, and so we shall see what comes of it. I have no doubt the anti-euro lobby will be keeping at least one beady eye on this one!
Posted on September 2, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Conservative Party, Foreign Affairs, General and tagged britain, Brussels, coalition government, david cameron, Douglas Carswell, EU Act 2011, nick clegg, Sovereignty, william hague. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.