Europe’s political leaders seem unwilling to take "no" for
an answer. It is like they don’t understand our vocabulary. For them
the European Constitution matters more than the people’s views, which
is why they are bringing its provisions in bit by bit.
Giscard’s Constitution was Plan A, now we have Plan B: Barroso’s
stealth version of the constitution which is proving far more effective
at driving European integration and growing the European superstate.
two major issues identified by the European Commission as excuses for
concentrating ever more powers centrally are saving the planet and
fighting international terrorism. For the Commission, these are great
excuses because who is going to argue against collective action on both
Those of us who have little admiration for the
European project have to start by making our position clear. We love
the planet and we hate terrorism. We think co-operation is necessary to
combat these scourges. It’s just that we think democracy should play a
bigger part in bringing about such co-operation.
I believe that we can punish environmental crime in the UK without having Europe set the criminal tariff for us; that is why I have spoken out against plans to set EU-wide criminal penalties for environmental crimes. I believe we can increase the take-up of energy efficient light bulbs in Britain but not before the industry has innovated sufficiently to convince consumers that the light they emit is just as powerful as the old ones. It is fine to debate in Europe what we should be doing together to save the planet but it is so much more important to have laws which are respected and obeyed at the local level if they are to be effective.
But it is in using the excuse of terrorism where I fear that we could see even bigger shifts in power away from national governments and towards Big Brother Europe.
It is so easy to take away people’s freedoms in response to a perceived or actual threat, only to make it harder in the long run to combat the threat and to return freedom to the people. That is why the worst authoritarian regimes often began as free societies – before the people sleepwalked into tyranny.
When I meet with representatives of the European Commission or the British Government, they argue that without a single European fingerprint database, or cross-border hot pursuit, they may not be able to catch every single terrorist or organized criminal gang. When I point out that we probably won’t manage to catch every single terrorist or organized gang anyway and that we may be at the thin end of a tyrannical wedge, I am met with a nonplussed stare.
The EU is advancing its own controls over counter-terrorism and the police functions of the state by claiming that it can perform these functions more efficiently than by international cooperation. But if there is one area that defines a state’s sovereignty, surely it is the government’s ability to control its own security services.
Our Government is quite willing to let the EU get away with it. Look at the identity cards debate and you see confirmation of Labour’s ambitions. With Oyster cards and his plans to launch a satellite, even Ken Livingstone is well on his way to knowing exactly where you are, what route you take to work and even what you had for breakfast. But at least Londoners are able to vote out their Mayor. The bureaucrats pushing for more power in Europol – the European Police force – are far less democratically accountable.
Proposals to strengthen Europol are currently passing through the EU. Although it was created 12 years ago, its legal basis was a Convention between member states. But Brussels now wants it formally established on the basis of a so-called ‘Council decision’.
The devil in these proposals is in the detail. Among the most concerning is Article 10(2), which says, "Europol may process data for the purpose of determining whether such data are relevant for its tasks, and can be included in one of its information systems." This effectively hands Europol a carte blanche to collect and store whatever information it wants.
The Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, who has an excellent grasp on justice and home affairs issues, recently ran a story highlighting how the proposals could see EU police storing our loyalty card data and subsequently our shopping lists – to search for tell-tale signs that we might be a dissident, and to build ethnic or religious profiles on us. For example, if you purchase Kosher meat and do not shop on the Sabbath, or if you purchase halal meat and not alcohol, it becomes very easy for European authorities to place you on a watch list and monitor and scrutinize every purchase you make. Can we genuinely call this a free society?
Shopping data is not all they want. The Prum treaty was initially a voluntary agreement between Germany, Spain, France, Luxemburg, Holland and Austria, which gave national police the ability to cross borders when in ‘hot pursuit’, while providing a mechanism to share reference data on DNA, and records from other agencies such as their equivalent to the DVLA. The Convention, which was signed in May 2005, stipulates that an EU-level initiative will be brought forward within three years to incorporate the convention into EU law, and that is exactly what the German Presidency is seeking to do before it passes the reins to Portugal in July.
When I raised these concerns with Her Majesty’s Government, they insisted foreign police forces would only be able to access reference data (i.e. they won’t be able to see your name, just whether the DNA sample they have matches a file on the UK database – called a hit). Then it is for the UK Government to decide whether the name, address etc is released. But whatever the safeguards, this convention is one the UK never chose to sign up to, and which turns the traditional manner of information exchange on its head. EU countries will no longer be able to deny information to another Prum signatory without an exceptional reason. The decision to share information should rest with the individual, not the national government or the EU.
Before the ink had even dried on the Prum proposals, the Commission slipped out proposals in its Annual Policy Strategy "to create an EU-wide central fingerprint database by 2008". Give a Eurocrat an inch, and he’ll take a kilometre!
Some people argue the only way to overcome this ‘coercion over cooperation’ agenda is to leave the EU altogether. While this may be true, we should remember that for constitutional changes to take effect, they must be agreed unanimously by all national governments. What we really need is a British government that will stop surrendering our freedoms, and seek to protect people without destroying our very way of life.