Alas, now we know William Hague has joined the list – and it’s a long list – of British government ministers who do not understand how the European Union works. His idea that national parliaments should demand a ‘red card’ system so they can block unwanted EU legislation is muddled in several ways.
First is that, if national parliaments are where EU laws should be vetoed, where does that leave the prime ministers who make up the European Council? Prime ministers – and foreign ministers, and agricultural ministers, and the rest -- go to Brussels and put their vote or their veto (when they’ve got one) on the table when there is any EU legislation that has to be approved. If the British Government says yes to a piece of EU legislation, and then the British parliament says red-card no, who gets to claim democratic legitimacy? Will the government have to resign?
Second, Hague’s plan in no way would return sovereignty to parliament. A system in which the Commons could veto EU legislation only when other parliaments agree is no more the sign of an independent state than is the present system.
Now obnoxious EU laws get through because the European Commission, the council and the European Parliament agree. Under Hague’s system, laws which are obnoxious to the Commons will still get through unless the British Government can herd together an ever-changing mix of votes in the German Bundestag, the Finnish Eduskunta, the Parlamento Italiano, or any of the other 26 and rising number of national parliaments (good luck on lobbying the Serbs and Turks when the time comes).
Such a system would be no more be the sign of a sovereign parliament than having Britain’s legislation controlled from the European Commission headquarters.
Thirdly, there is the curse of comitology. These are the labyrinths of committees within the commission which take agreed legislation and come up with ‘implementing measures.’ These means of implementing the directive can change it in ways never imagined by the ministers who voted the law though in the council.
We can imagine – indeed, ought to assume – that even if enough parliamentary red cards threw an objectionable piece of EU legislation back to the commission, the eurocrats would just go into their committees-in-private and re-jig it until it got what they wanted, but with a different title.
Remember, that is what they did with the European Constitution. The people of France and the Netherlands rejected it in referenda. The eurocrats took the constitution away, changed the title page to read Lisbon Treaty, and made sure there were no more referenda in any important countries to stop it.
More, you need to remember Hague’s response was to that. I have no doubt Brussels does. Hague supported David Cameron in abandoning the ‘cast iron guarantee’ the Tories made that the British would be allowed a referendum on the treaty.
So I’d say that while Hague doesn’t understand how the EU works, the EU understands how he, and the Tory leadership, work: in the end, they do it the Brussels way. Always have.