22 September 2006

The sky is not falling in…

If nothing else, the alarums over the meeting of justice ministers of EU member states in Tampere, Finland, over yesterday and today, provide an object lesson in the difficulties in campaigning against the steady march of European integration.

We all (well some of us) know the end destination but that is either denied or not believed, so if you shout too loudly, you are crying "wolf" – and when it finally does arrive, the further cries go unheeded. On the other hand, if you just highlight the latest step in a slow, methodical process – a series of marginal, technical moves – no one, least of all the media, is going to get the least bit excited.

Essentially, when it comes to pressing the panic button, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Certainly, to look at yesterday's carefully phrased press releases emanating from the Finnish Ministry of Justice, there is little to worry about. The first states that "EU Justice Ministers were today agreed on the necessity of further strengthening co-operation in criminal matters". It was a "constructive meeting" which showed that:

…in spite of recent difficulties, the principle of direct cross-border enforcement of decisions issued by judicial authorities in the Member States, settled here in Tampere seven years ago, still forms the basis of judicial cooperation in criminal matters within the EU…
Thus, the ministers decided:

…to intensify negotiations on the drafting process of legislation and, at the same time, to seek other ways of finding solutions to our common problems, for instance, by observing more closely how the acts are being implemented and applied in the Member States.
The discussions, we are told:

…included the framework decision on data protection, intended to regulate the protection of personal data considered within the EU police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The aim is to ensure that the different levels of data protection prevailing in the Member States will not hamper the exchange of information. The project also aims at ensuring that the fundamental rights of EU citizens, above all the right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data, will be respected in the consideration of these data.
More detail can be gleaned from the original letter sent out by the Finnish presidency in June and from the presidency website.

This latter document talks about recapturing the Tampere spirit in the co-operation in justice and home affairs, following on from Tampere in 1999, during the previous Finnish Presidency that the European Council drew up the guidelines for the development of justice and home affairs.

Again in Tampere, the EU presidency was to:

…launch a discussion on how decision-making in police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters can be made more efficient. The currently valid Treaties make it possible for decisions on these matters to be made by qualified majority and together with the European Parliament. Today, decisions on police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters can be made only if all 25 Member States are unanimous. This has hampered progress in these matters. The reform would significantly change the decision-making system of the Union. Both Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will participate in the discussion on Friday 22 September.

At the meeting on Thursday morning 21 September the Ministers will, under the direction of the Minister of Justice, Ms Leena Luhtanen, discuss intensification of cooperation in civil law and criminal law, and, under the direction of the Minister of the Interior, Mr Kari Rajamäki, improvement of the implementation of the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy in the light of the recent serious attempts at terrorist acts in the EU area.

In the afternoon the Ministers will, under the direction of Minister Rajamäki, seek a common understanding as to how best to promote a common European asylum system. Minister Rajamäki will, in the context of EU immigration management, present an initiative of the Presidency on extended European solidarity in immigration, border control and asylum policies. Under the direction of Minister Rajamäki the meeting will also discuss the strategic guidelines on the EU's integrated management system for external borders and the intensification of the operational activities of the EU law enforcement authorities.
Now compare all that with the "take" from The Times which headlines, "Britain set to give up its EU veto on law and order" and then read The Guardian that has it that home secretary Reid "leads fight to retain EU veto".

Now season lightly with the dusting from the David Rennie's blog on the Telegraph website where he tells you: "I have a hunch that this is a pretty good reason why the UK is not going to back this proposal in the long run...". Flashback to the day before yesterday and Heffer's stark warning that "Britons could all too soon become slaves of Europe" and then read the report from EUpolitix which tells us: "The tide has turned against 'resistance' to reduced national vetoes on EU justice decisions, the European commission said on Wednesday."

This is one of these issues where the more you know, the less you know. American Thinker has a good stab at analysing the dynamic, writing:

Oh, well, you might say, it's just a "proposal." And it's "subject to a series of conditions." But then you don't know Eurospeak. In the Orwellian language of the EU, a proposal means a done deal. To make something "subject to series of conditions" is to get it passed without a raising a fuss among the ordinary people who vote. The mythical "conditions" will gradually disappear one by one, much like some pieces of the US Constitution and a good chunk of academic freedom. That's how the EU has operated for decades. That's how this new surrender of a critical feature of sovereignty will happen, because that's how the EU always does it.
There you have your problem. The one thing we know already, even as the Friday meeting continues, is that the sky is not falling in. But it is lowering gently... only when we're not looking. Gaze upwards and it stops moving.

The process has been going on since 1999 and will continue onwards at its current glacial pace and it may be decades before the decisions made become obvious to the man and woman in the street, by which time it will be too late to do anything.

How we convey that to the general public – which is only marginally interested at best – goodness only knows. How do you stop a slow-motion coup d'etat?

Update: article from David Rennie in today's Daily Telegraph plus a leader here. Meanwhile, Ireland's RTE News reports that, "Ireland, Britain and Germany will oppose EU plans to scrap the national veto over decision-making on police and judicial co-operation."