Phil Pedley is currently based in Spain where he is managing director of a marketing company, although will be returning to the UK shortly. He has been a Conservative Party activist for many years and is a former local councillor and parliamentary candidate.
Yes, I admit it, I was a big fan of the European Union. As National Chairman of the Young Conservatives and later as Chairman of the Tory Reform Group, I was a Euro-enthusiast. Not any more.
I don’t know when the doubts set in… certainly a few years back. I suspect it was whilst I was on holiday in the States in 2002. A strange place, you might think, to have second thoughts about a lifelong commitment to Europe, but perhaps not.
We were staying with relatives of my wife’s in leafy Pennsylvania. One humid evening, sat out on the veranda with my host, Mike, the conversation turned to politics. Whilst our kids chased the fireflies on the lawn, Mike explained his fears of big government, his disillusionment at the centralising, authoritarian thrust of the new Bush Administration. Having been a supporter of Reagan’s attack on federal big government, he had flirted briefly with the Libertarian Party and the American Conservative Party.
Bush, he explained, was stripping citizens of their basic rights in the name of the War on Terror: ancient rights that were rooted in English Common Law, enshrined in the Magna Carta and which the Founding Fathers of the fledgling USA used to underlay the US Constitution. More power was being given to the Feds at the expense of individual States and individual citizens. A plethora of Federal agencies were growing ever more powerful, able to act with impunity across state boundaries on a range of issues.
The trend towards untrammelled Federal Agency power had, Mike argued, found its expression in two incidents: Ruby Ridge and Waco when paramilitary Feds (the FBI and the ATF-Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) had ended up killing citizenry they were meant to serve. Only by invoking the Constitution and the Supreme Court was there a chance that these centralizing tendencies could be held in check.
It’s easy to forget that the American colonies declared their independence from Britain not because they disagreed with the liberties enshrined in English Law, but because they wanted them respected. English Common Law forms the basis of the liberty encapsulated by the US Constitution: Habeas Corpus, trial by Jury, innocent until proven guilty and perhaps most important of all, the concept of limited government and a government that is itself subject to Law.
"You’re lucky in England, you don’t have a Federal government with armed paramilitaries that think they are the law," said my host.
I had felt a little uneasy; wasn’t there a proposal to do just that under the new EU ‘Corpus Juris’ proposals? A new Civil Code for a uniform law across the EU?
I thought no more of it until I moved to Spain back in 2004. Immediately I sensed a difference in my relationship as a ‘citizen’ and any government agency you could care to mention. There was a distinct arrogance that permeated one’s dealings with bureaucrats, nor was it aimed at foreigners: this was something fundamental and pervasive. The agencies weren’t there to serve the people… they were there to bend citizens to their will. The contempt was tangible and at its most alarming in the attitude of the law enforcement agencies: the police and the courts. Was this legacy of Spain’s Franco era or was it commonplace across Europe?
The answer is that Spain, along with the rest of continental Europe has at the base of its law a Code based on the Civil Law of Napoleon. Civil Law is the very opposite of Common Law. The fundamental assumption of the Civil Law is that all activities must be licensed by the Government and the individual must be bent to the stated aims of the Government. The Government is the Law and the citizen should know his/her place.
The concept of Common Law establishes law as a set of principles independent of governing authority and the Magna Carta established the idea that not only is the law independent but that the Government is subject to the law itself. In short, the Government should know its place.
So what relevance does this have to Europe today? The relevance is profound. The idea that the citizen must be bent to policy of government is what drives the political elite of Europe. Their swaggering arrogance, their belief that they know best, the refusal to consult, the dismissal of referendums… all this comes from the Civil Law approach.
More disturbingly, it is what lies behind Corpus Juris… the creation of a legal framework based on the Napoleonic Code. Here’s just a flavour:
Arrest without charge
"Powers of investigation of the European Public Prosecutor (EPP) .."will include g) To make requests for a person's remand in custody… for a period of up to 6 months, renewable for 3 months”
Trans European arrest warrants (no Habeas Corpus)
"A European warrant for arrest, issued on the instructions of the EPP by a national judge, is valid across the whole territory; any person arrested thus may be transferred to the territory of a state where he is required to be" during the preparatory stage or at trial.
Abolition of Jury Trials
"The Courts must consist of professional judges… and not simple jurors or lay magistrates".
So do you think these things can happen in 21st Century Europe? In Spain I have seen for myself how the system works. I can’t express it better than Chris Lees’ experience of arrest and detention.
And it’s not just Spain… this is the norm. Consider this breathtaking insight from a French Traffic Policeman:
"In France, under French law, and in my position, everything I say is the truth. There is no requirement for me to provide a driver with a photograph of himself breaking the law. We need no pictures, nothing! If he disputes that I am telling the truth, then he has to prove that I lied."
Could this upside down Civil Code be applied in the UK? Yes! The appalling fact is that we are slowly creating European institutions, including a paramilitary force that will ultimately have the right to operate across borders to deal with ‘Federal’ crimes: the European Gendarmarie.
If the Government of the day says so, this force could operate in the UK: no Act of Parliament, just a simple yes to a force who once here are not obliged to leave.
Is it desirable to create a Federal paramilitary force operating to a different legal standard, in contradiction to the legal basis of our own historic safeguards? Whereas in the United Sates, there is the protection of the Common Law basis of their Constitution, we are abandoning those self-same safeguards?
David Cameron has pulled our Party out of the EPP and made common cause with those parties that favour ‘state rights’. Good. To those of my friends and colleagues who have worked so hard for the cause of Europe I would say look closely at entity we have created and have the honestly to see it for what has become.