Friday, November 09, 2007

Limiting EU competences - not a “superstate”

Constitutional Treaty in blue
Reform Treaty in red

15. It would guarantee that the Union will never be a centralised all-powerful ‘superstate’ by laying down:
(a) the obligation to “respect the national identities of member states, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional”;
(b) the principle of conferred powers (whereby the Union has only those competencies bestowed on it by the member states);
(c) the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, limiting EU action to the minimum necessary to achieve the objectives agreed by member states;
(d) the participation of member states themselves in the decision taking system of the Union;
(e) the principle of “unity with diversity”.


16. It would merge the confusingly overlapping “European Community” and “European Union” into a single legal entity and structure.


17. It would provide a clear definition of the field of competence of the EU, without conferring any new fields of responsibility upon it.

REINFORCED. In fact, an additional declaration has been added to emphasise the limitations on the EU’s competences.

18. It would replace the complex and overlapping set of EU treaties with a single document spelling out clearly the powers of the EU and their limits.

CHANGED. Scrapped in favour of an “amending treaty”, in the same format and style as previous treaties such as Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice.

19. It would simplify EU instruments and their terminology, replacing jargon with more easily understandable terms (EU regulations become “EU laws”, EU directives become “EU framework laws”, and so on).

CHANGED. The old terminology is retained.

20. It would maintain the EU’s tough and effective powers over competition policy.

UNCHANGED. A new protocol to the treaty makes clear that the change in the wording of the preamble does not affect the existing policies, case law nor operational methods of EU competition policy.


Tristan said...

This is what concerns me in the long term. I don't place much faith in treaties or constitutions to protect us.

The US Constitution was meant to represent a union of individual, independent, states with some powers delegated to the unions ruling body.

What has happened is its become a super state which has become ever more centralised and more and more power being taken by the central government.

The EU is similar, and I think will be subject to similar pressures if we're not careful. Especially given our European faith in the state.

The EU needs to closely look at itself and we need to ask whether each thing it does is necessary.
I believe some things are useful to do at the EU level, other things however aren't.
The EU also needs to move to a more liberal model, free trade with the outside world for example, more localism, less mandatory targets and a more representative, less arbitrary governance.

It looks like some moves are being made though.

Thanks for this series though, its interesting.

Richard Corbett MEP said...

Richard said:

Tristan's fears are unwarranted, as the EU has safeguards against over-centralisation that are not present in the US constitution: its basic textes (the treaties) can only be amended (eg to increase its competences or powers) with the agreement of every single Member State; the adoption of any legislation requires the approval of the Council of ministers, who are members of national governments accountable to national parliaments (and you need a pretty hefty majority - and on sensitive matters unanimity - to agree on any action); the budget cannot rise beyond 1.27% of GDP without the agreement of every single Member State government and parliament; the Member States are culturally (eg linguistically) much more diverse than US states and attached to their identities; its "supreme court" is appointed by the Member states, not by the federal institutions; and so on...

Of course "The EU needs to closely look at itself and we need to ask whether each thing it does is necessary" It indeed cannot do anything without such an examination, either legally (subsidiarity test required by law) or politically (approval of any policy by Council and, usually, the elected EP - little leeway given to the central administration - the Commission, whose staff, by the way, is smaller than Leeds city Council - to act alone)

As to free trade, it has created the world's largest single market, which is also an open one absorbing more third world exports than the USA, Japan, Russia, and ANZAC combined.

Tristan said...

Richard - forgive me if I disagree.

The US consistution in theory has a clause which should prevent the increased centralisation - specifically the tenth ammendment combined with the constitutional need for every state to ratify any amendments. This has clearly failed. I fear it could fail in the case of the EU.

It seems to me that the EU exceeds what it needs to do, it does things because it can, as all legislative bodies will do (this is not an attack specific to the EU). I fail to see why any government needs to regulate banana size (I do realise that the UK government had the current EU regulations before the EU adopted them). Or why the EU needs to tell us how much to recycle and how much biofuel to use. These are both best dictated by market conditions in which externalities are internalised.

As for free trade, the EU trading block is a start, but it is simply a trading block, and attempts to increase free trade within the EU are met with stiff resistance and the EU is committed to protectionism outside its borders.

Its no good just having free trade for those in the club, it should be unilateral free trade. The people of the EU and the world would benefit enormously from unilateral free trade. The protectionist forces within the EU are too strong for this however, as witnessed by the tariffs on energy saving lightbulbs and the clothing debacle.

The EU is also seeking to protect itself from tax competition and seeking to attack countries which have lower taxes. That is hardly open market policy (if higher taxes leads to greater wellbeing then people will choose them given free movement of people).