Thursday, February 01, 2007

Law in the European Union - you and whose army?

The EU is a slippery little blighter. The laws, treaties, regulations and directives spin by in something of a blur - easy to get confused over whether, for example, the Maastricht Treaty is still actually in force (it isn't) or whether Britain could regain her opt-out on the Social Chapter (she can't - it's now in the Treaty of Amsterdam). The DK is therefore right to detect a trace of humbug about the Conservative's plans to rejig elements of Britain's involvement in the EU - from the Social Chapter to the Common Fisheries Policy.

Except that the European Union has very little concept of legal sovereignty - or indeed accountability. The European Court does not recognise precedent for example, and it decides on a teleological basis - not what the law says, but what it was supposed to say. So there is a potential method that the Tories could take to withdraw from unwelcome elements of the European law, without following the letter of the Treaties. Ignore them.

It's what the French have done repeatedly. The European Court will declare Britain to be in breach. Britain can then ignore it. The possibility of fines can be raised. Britain can ignore them. Suspension of membership? Never going to happen. The rule of Europe is a rule by consent - there is nothing by way of effective sanction unless Member States play along. It would raise tensions in Europe, raise worries about Britian being 'sidelined', but the bottom line is that the EU cannot afford to kick Britain out - Britain is not in the position of a supplicant here, it has a very strong bargaining position.
While Britain's basic negotiating position is that of a reluctant child, being dragged into things mostly against its will, it has very little chance of success. So act like France under De Gaulle - stomp around and throw its weight around - refuse to co-operate unless you get your way, insist that things are done your way or not at all, ignore rulings that go against you. It's obstructive, and 'un-European' but that's fine - most of us are already.

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