A report is doing the rounds via Twitter and various blogs (e.g. Inquiringminds and pjcjournal) about changes in the European Union in November 2014 that will mean the end of British sovereignty. They also claim that the Prime Minister’s promise to hold an in/out referendum by 2017 is spurious because it would be “illegal” under EU law. Many constituents have contacted their MP about the report, wanting to know if it is true, according to Second Reading, the blog run by staff at the House of Commons library.
Their verdict: It isn’t and it won’t.
Before we go on, it would be wise to point out that the House of Commons Library is not in any way subservient to any political party or philosophy. It provides impartial research and information services to MPs and their staff.
The article states [all bolding mine]: “The report points to 43 or so areas of EU policy areas that are subject to a system of voting called Qualified Majority Voting or QMV in the EU’s legislative body, the Council, which comprises government ministers from the 28 EU Member States. The report accuses David Cameron of being determined ‘to delay our referendum beyond that date, tying Britain for ever within the non-democratic, totalitarian and now clearly despotic EU’.”
Doesn’t this look like a UKIP plot?
“QMV has been a feature of EU decision-making since the birth of the EEC in 1957. With various EU Treaty amendments, more EU policy areas have moved from governments agreeing by unanimity to agreeing by QMV, largely so that decisions can be made more easily in an expanding EU and not be held up by a need for consensus. QMV has been particularly useful i adopting laws to establish the single market.
“The increased use of QMV does have implications for national sovereignty, because it means individual governments can’t veto proposals they disagree with. However, they do not mean the end of the UK Government or Parliament, as claimed on blogs.
“Individual States’ powers of veto have been removed in some of the 43 areas, where unanimous agreement has been replaced with agreement by a qualified majority. This means governments have to work harder to form coalitions, find allies and negotiate compromises.
“In many of these areas the UK is not affected by any changes to voting because it has an opt-out from that policy area. So the list of items (as reported on blogs) over which it is claimed the UK will have no control is misleading and in some cases wrong:
- The UK has an opt-in or opt-out option to EU measures concerning asylum, border controls, crime prevention, criminal justice cooperation, criminal law, Eurojust, Europol, freedom security and justice evaluation, immigration and police cooperation. This means the UK can choose whether or not to participate in decisions on these matters (but if we choose to participate, then we have to abide by the QMV rule).
- This arrangement applies to 11 of the items in the list.
- The UK has an opt-out from the Euro and Eurozone representation.
- In two cases – concerning freedom of movement for workers and social security – there is an ‘emergency brake’, which means that if a Member State objects to a proposal on grounds of important national concerns, the decision is taken by unanimity.
- Common defence policy: any move towards achieving a common defence policy will be by unanimity. QMV can be used only to establish ‘structured cooperation’ in defence, whereby a group of like-minded Member States choose to cooperate in a defence-related matter. If the UK does not want to participate, it does not have to.
- European Court of Justice: QMV is used only to amend the Court Statute.
- Culture: QMV is used for incentive measures only.
- Freedom to establish a business: QMV was used before the Lisbon Treaty.
- The EU Armaments Agency was not in the Nice Treaty as stated in the blogs. The reference is to the European Defence Agency, which was established in 2004. The European Council (heads of state and government) decided unanimously in June 2003 to ask the “appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments”.
- Funding the Common Foreign and Security Policy: only urgent start-up funds for emergency situations are subject to QMV.
- Sport was not covered by the EU Treaty before Lisbon so the reference to the Nice Treaty is wrong.”
Finally, on the subject of the referendum:
“A UK referendum vote on EU membership will not be ‘illegal’ and the UK will not be prevented from leaving the EU in the event of a negative vote in 2017.
“Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides for a Member State to leave the EU if it wishes, without needing the permission of the other Member States. QMV would be used by the other Member States to agree the terms of exit for the withdrawing State.”
So there you have it. British sovereignty is safe and any promise of an in-out referendum on the European Union – by David Cameron or any other UK Prime Minister – is supported, not banned, by EU law.
You can read the full article, Extending Qualified Majority Voting in the European Union: does this mean the end of British sovereignty?, on the Second Reading blog site.
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