Tuesday, 22 March 2005

BRUSSELS: A note from Daniel Hannan MEP

An occasional euro-briefing from Daniel Hannan MEP.


Regular recipients of these bulletins may remember reading about some of the more colourful ways in which the EU tries to buy itself popularity. There was, for example, the infamous booklet aimed at young children, entitled “Let’s draw Europe together”, whose opening exercise involved writing “Europe – my country” in the various official languages. There was the fund dedicated to flying local and national journalists out to Brussels and showing them a good time. There were the bungs given to federalist pressure groups, such as the European Movement. And – my personal favourite, this – there was the hilarious Tintin-style comic book, Troubled Waters, featuring the adventures of a feisty MEP called Irina. This, you may recall, was the book that contained such sizzling lines as “You can laugh! Wait till you’ve seen my amendments to the Commission proposal!”

Over the past four years, I and other Conservative MEPs have tried – without much success, I’m afraid – to reduce the amount of your money being spent on all this. Yet it now turns out that much of the EU’s propaganda is not only irksome, but illegal. Don’t take my word for it: listen to the EU itself. The following excerpt is from a legislative proposal “to promote active European citizenship” which is currently clunking its way through the Brussels machinery:

“For several years, support has been provided for promoting active European citizenship, especially under headings in Part A of the budget:
· Heading A-3020 co-finances the costs of the “Our Europe” Association
· Heading A-3021 co-finances the operating costs of European think-tanks and organisations advancing the idea of Europe
· Heading A-3024 co-finances the activities of associations and federations of European interest
· Heading A-3030 co-finances the operating costs of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles
· Heading 3036 co-finances the operating costs of the Jean Monnet House and the Robert Schuman House
· Article A-321 supports town-twinning schemes in the European Union
Most of these operations have hitherto been carried out without any legal basis.” [emphasis added]

What is most striking about this is the blatancy. There is nothing new, alas, in the EU acting first and legislating later. On the contrary, this is the normal way for it to proceed. The extension of Brussels jurisdiction into environmental policy happened during the early 1980s, and was retrospectively legalised in the Single European Act. The Common Foreign and Security Policy was forged during the late 1980s, but only formally recognised in Maastricht. The integration of justice and home affairs had begun well before it was given a legal basis in Amsterdam. As often as not, new European treaties are there to give de jure approval to a de facto extension of EU competence.

But I can’t remember seeing such a brazen admission before. Here is the EU saying, in effect: “Oh dear: we’ve been spending all this money to make people love us without any basis in the treaties. But rather than now complying with the law, we will change the law so as to comply with what we are doing”.

Is it surprising that an organisation which takes such a casual view of its own rules is rather hopeless at cracking down on fraud, corruption and other abuses? Is it wise for Britain, which has a strong tradition of the rule of law, to hand more and more powers over to such a body? Is it sensible to be part of a project which proceeds on the basis of making up the rules as it goes along?

If you know of anyone else who might like to receive these bulletins, please email their address to dhannan@europarl.eu.int

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