Sunday, August 19, 2007

I must thank the waitress the other day who seated me at a restaurant table where, lo and behold! The Redwood briefing on deregulation had been left for all and sundry to see. That was lucky.

Being rather interested in how Redwood was proposing to do all these promises, including opting out of all this EU legislation, I decided to have a peek. Well, no harm would be done, would it?

I'm glad I did in a way, but also cross that once again I know that the Tories are getting coverage for proposing to do something that they can't do without a huge legal battle. Namely, opt out of EU legislation which is incorporated into Treaties we have signed, unilaterally. Let me explain:

The regulatory cost to businesses in the UK is estimated by the EU to be £70 billion. The Conservative Party wish to change that through a series of deregulatory alterations in structure and legislation. As most of this regulation comes from the EU, there are mountains to climb if they wish to achieve their goal.

Over half the regulations applying to businesses in the UK are from the EU. The proposals to seek opt outs from the areas of regulation considered 'most damaging' are wishful thinking given the reality of the EU and our membership thereof.

The areas mainly focussed on by these proposals are those pertaining to employment legislation and social policy. The headline calls are for opting back out of the Social Chapter whilst remaining part of the EU which in itself is ridiculous.

When the Maastrict Treaty was signed by the Conservative Party they secured an 'opt out' of what was then known as the 'Social Chapter'. The Amsterdam Treaty, signed by the Labour government in 2000 allowed the full incorporation of the agreement into the new document.

The feasibility of a Member State withdrawing from the Social Chapter under the current treaties is limited: In a reply to this question, the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso, wrote:

'The Commission assumes that when the honourable member refers to the Social Chapter in the Treaties, he is referring to the social provisions contained in Articles 136 to 145 of the EC Treaty. These provisions are part of the whole Treaty and cannot be isolated. All member states are bound by the Treaties they have signed and ratified and which have entered into force, including the social provisions they contain. Consequently, a withdrawal from these provisions by a Member State would require an amendment of the EU Treaty in accordance with Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union.'

Article 48 states that:

'The government of any Member State of the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties on which the Union is founded.

If the Council, after consulting the European Parliament and, where appropriate, the Commission, delivers an opinion in favour of calling a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States, the conference shall be convened by the President of the Council for the purpose of determining by common accord the amendments to be made to those Treaties...

The amendments shall enter into force after being ratified by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.'

In short, the Social Chapter does not exist and is now part of the Acquis Communautaire. It is not possible for one country to 'opt out' of a section of the Treaty without the Treaty being altered which requires unanimity in the Council of Ministers: 27 countries agreeing to the same thing.

The proposals by the Conservatives that

'We should legislate in the UK if our partners do not grant us reasonable opt outs from the regulations we find are most damaging. This could be done, as a last resort, by means of an amendment to the 1972 European Communities Act to allow the UK to dis apply EU regulation unilaterally where we think it is against our national interest to apply it.'

Apart from this being a very ambiguous way of deciding which regulations to opt out of, it is also rather risky for a party wishing to stay members of the EU.

It is perfectly possible for the amendments to the Act of Parliament to be made in this country, but the impacts, of course, are not limited to the borders of the UK. Such amendments would constitute a breach of the Treaty of Rome and the European Commission would be able to take the UK to the European Court of Justice which, is the highest court in the EU. According to the Factortame case (1990) national courts can dis apply domestic legislation that contravenes EU law, thus reaffirming the primacy of EU law over UK law.

Even if by some miracle, Call-me-Dave did agree to these proposals, it would in all probability end up in a costly legal battle with the EU in the ECJ. Given that Dave isn't really a eurosceptic, I can't see the Tories actually going through with any of this. In fact, all I can really see this as is a way for the Shadow Cabinet to gag John Redwood into any more attacks on the party leadership and meaningless headlines to stop people leaving the Tory party by lying to them that they are actually going to so something about these montrous EU regulations, many of which their MEPs voted for.

In the case of some of the financial ones, the former MEP Theresa Villiers, now MP, was instrumental in the Financial Services Action Plan. (She, of course, said on Question Time that she thought that holocaust denial should be a crime so is evidently not in favour of freedom of speech...or maybe she is, but she just represents a constituency with a large Jewish community?).

It's much the same as these tax cuts. Lots of lovely headlines about getting rid of IHT (a UKIP proposal which was launched last October with no corresponding increases in other taxes) but how far does one have to read to find out that these will be 'offset' by Environmental Taxes? So, the Tories have still not got to grips with this idea that tax cutting is expansionary fiscal policy, and think that they can only cut taxes when the economy is doing a bit better.

Surely, given the demostration of the last 10 years when we are told that our standards of living are rising, yet more and more people are deep in the red, young people can't get on the housing ladder and recently a flagship NHS hospital did not have any trained medical staff to help a woman give birth, we can read this as being complete crap. The rises in tax on everything from income to ice cream, savings to stockings and that pound down the side of your sofa have resulted in a worse standard of living.

The government simply cannot run every aspect of our lives. We need the state to be rolled back. We need less government, less tax and less meaningless spin. We need action, not words and someone to stand up to these politicians and tell them that they are speaking shit, and we're sick of being patronised and lied to.

Any offers?


Carnivore said...

Look on the bright side. I know it's very unlikely to happen but if you wanted to force a confrontation with the EU with a view to leaving it without people shouting 'EVIL EUROSCEPTIC NUTTER!' before you got started, what better way to go about it?

the late tin drummer said...

Well I may have croaked it, but I'm glad you're still going, Trixy. Ace post.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed, totally agreed.