Another fine mess

PETER Hain, anti-apartheid campaigner and former left-wing firebrand, is not the ideal choice for Tony Blair to appoint his spokesman on the proposed European Union constitution.

By Graham Dines

PETER Hain, anti-apartheid campaigner and former left-wing firebrand, is not the ideal choice for Tony Blair to appoint his spokesman on the proposed European Union constitution.

The document, which critics say will be the death knell of the United Kingdom as a nation state as we it consumes us into the flames of Europeans federalism, is potentially a bigger threat for the Prime Minister than the single currency.

There is no way the British electorate would ever vote "yes" to adopt the constitution – and the Prime Minister is privately acknowledging this by his refusal to accept demands for a referendum.

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It is not just the Tories who want a plebiscite. There are deep concerns among some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs and activists that the constitution is the beginning of the formation of a United States of Europe.

One national newspaper is organising its own nationwide vote on the subject and other leading papers and magazines have called for the Government to allow a referendum.

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Britain's representative on the Convention is Welsh Secretary Peter Hain – perhaps an indication that his main job is basically redundant following devolution.

He is insists there is no need for a referendum, as the constitution "does not involve fundamental changes" to the way Britain is governed."

He then made the following assertion: "In the end, if people don't like what they get, they can vote against the Government in the European elections next year. They will more or less coincide with the end of this constitution.

"I would be quite happy to fight the next European elections on a Labour platform endorsing this treaty, and the Conservatives can oppose it, and then the people will decide."

They'll be no surer way of giving the Tories an electoral boost next June than for the Government to fight the elections on the Convention. There are tens of thousands of pro-Europeans in Britain who are totally opposed to some, most, or even all of the proposed document.

These people are not inclined to support the Tory Party of Iain Duncan Smith – but in a set of elections which most British people regard as irrelevant, they may be tempted to vote Tory to kill off the constitution.

If the Tories – as they did at the last Euro poll in 1999 – poll far more votes than Labour, is Mr Hain promising that Britain will veto the constitution? Mr Hain has made the rash promise – he'll have to live with it.

West Chelmsford Tory MP Simon Burns, not known for bouts of anti-European ranting – sums up the feelings of what appears to be the overwhelming majority of voters when he contradicts Peter Hain. "It is a significant constitutional change which fills me with fear because of its federalist nature.

"I am utterly opposed to a United States of Europe and this constitution appears to me to be a giant step towards its creation. It is imperative that any decision is made with the wholehearted consent, or otherwise, of the British people through a referendum."

Mr Burns said if the Government refused to allow the people to decide on what will significantly change their lives, then the House of Lords must protect Britain's interests and throw out any legislation that would incorporate the constitution into British law.

It's likely to be at least another year before the fate of the constitution for Europe is decided. The publication this week of the draft text of a treaty marked the final phase of the work of the 105-strong Convention that has been thrashing out the issue for the last 15 months.

EU leaders will convene an "intergovernmental conference" to start meeting in the autumn for six months, with the aim of reaching full agreement on the terms of the new Treaty, replacing the existing EU rule book and streamlining procedures to avoid bureaucratic gridlock in a Union of 25 member states.

Once European leaders agree unanimously on the contents – not just the present 15 EU heads, but also those of the 10 countries which join on May 1 next year – then most nations will offer their electorates a referendum.

It seems the best way for Tony Blair to get out of the hole he has dug is for voters in France, Ireland, Denmark, Italy and other states planning a plebiscite to reject the document.

THE latest version of the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union unveiled in Brussels sets out the aims of the EU, the areas where the nation states have sole powers, and the areas where the EU should act together.

Proposals include:

The Union shall have legal personality. The Union shall recognise the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which constitutes the second part of this Constitution. (This gives legal force to the Charter which sets out human rights and freedoms, including in social policy).

The Constitution, and law adopted by the Union's institutions in exercising competences conferred on it, shall have primacy over the law of the member states.

The Union shall have competence to co-ordinate the economic and employment policies of the member states.

The Union shall have competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.

Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to undermine its effectiveness.

The EU shall conduct a common foreign and security policy based on the development of mutual political solidarity among member states, the identification of questions of general interest and the achievement of an ever-increasing degree of convergence of member states' actions.

Before undertaking any action on the international scene or any commitment which could affect the Union's interests, each member state shall consult the others.

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