There is a danger in the ongoing storm over the new EU Reform Treaty, (substantially equivalent to the rejected Constitution), that we get bogged down in talk of red lines, Labour Party manifesto commitments and the whole process of negotiation, and don’t properly tell the British people what is actually in the Treaty.
As a member of the Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee, I have seen how our influential report has dominated the news agenda on the Treaty in the last three weeks. However, even that report does not fully explain what the impact of the Treaty will be.
The first thing to note about it is that it is likely to be the last Treaty of its kind. It includes provisions that allow future European Councils to amend the existing EU Treaties without the need to get ratification from national parliaments or their electorates. In other words, there will be no future Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties, just more powers being handed over to the unelected European Commission in meetings behind closed doors.
Second, national parliaments – including our own, the mother of all parliaments – will have a duty to “contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union.” Nobody can predict accurately what this will mean in practice, but criticism of the European Commission and its decisions by our elected representatives in our own Parliament might be out of order.
Third, decisions on energy will in the future be subject to Qualified Majority Voting, or QMV. Supporters of this change argue that it will allow the EU to formulate a common stance against e.g. Russia in matters of energy security. Equally, the UK is for the moment at least, the EU’s only significant oil producer, and we will be vulnerable to being outvoted in energy matters by the oil consumers, who form the vast majority of the EU’s 27 members.
Finally, and probably most importantly, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), will take from the UK Parliament a significant amount of our ability to govern ourselves, especially in areas of criminal justice and home affairs. In the not distant future (around 5 years from now), the UK will be obliged to choose whether it accepts the powers of the ECJ and the Commission in relation to EU measures in justice and home affairs it has already agreed. We can, of course, say no. But if we do, then we say no to any and all EU framework decisions on e.g counter-terrorism measures or anything else that currently might be in the UK’s interests. Not only then, other EU members can determine – again by QMV without the UK even having a vote – that they have been disadvantaged by the UK not opting in, and determine financial penalties against us.
We also lose around 50 vetoes in areas including health, energy and laws for the self-employed.
In the coming months, we need to explain the Treaty and win more public support against this naked power grab by the unelected in Brussels.