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Tackling myths about the European Constitutional Treaty

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has launched a series of factsheets tackling common myths about the European Constitution. Launching the first factsheet on 6 February 2005, the Foreign Secretary said: 'In the public debate over the European Treaty, we will be making the patriotic case for a strong British role in the European Union. And we will make clear to the British public how the constitution gives us our kind of Europe, based firmly on the power and legitimacy of the nations of Europe. We will firmly be taking on the mythology of the eurosceptics which distort so much of the European Union.' (Read the full statement by the Foreign Secretary...)

Read the factsheets below (a new factsheet will be added each day of the week beginning 6 February).

Myth One: Britain would lose control of Foreign Policy

Myth Two: The Constitutional Treaty will create a European Army

Myth Three: 'Primacy' means that the EU controls our laws

Myth Four: The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be used to change Britain's labour laws

Myth Five: The Constitutional Treaty creates a European superstate

Myth Six: Europe will control our economy

Myth Seven: Qualified Majority Voting hands power to Brussels

Myth One: Britain would lose control of Foreign Policy under the Constitutional Treaty

The Facts

Common foreign policy isn't new
Common foreign policy was introduced in the Maastricht Treaty a decade ago. Ten years on, we also still have a thriving British foreign policy. Because we have a veto in foreign policy there is only an EU common policy where we all agree. But where we don't, there is no EU policy.

It strengthens Britain's influence in the world
It has meant that we have the combined foreign policy strength of 25 Member States. Through the EU we're closely involved with the US, UN and Russia in the tackling the Middle East Peace Process. The European initiative on Iran led by Britain, France and Germany has carried much more weight than any one of us could have carried alone.

We won't be forced to follow an EU policy through 'loyal cooperation'.
The principal of 'loyal cooperation' was part of the Maastricht Treaty.
Treaty of Maastricht (Article 11(2))
'The Member States shall support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.'
New Treaty Article (III-294.2)
'The Member States shall support the common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity.'
The new European Foreign Minister works for the Foreign Secretary and other Foreign Ministers
The Treaty states explicitly that the European Foreign Minister works for national Foreign Ministers: 'The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs shall conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy. He or she shall contribute by his or her proposals to the development of that policy, which he or she shall carry out as mandated by the Council' (Article I-28).

The EU can't take our seat at the UN
The UN Charter does not allow for organisations such as the EU to become members. Britain will keep its permanent Security Council seat and continue to represent Britain at the UN. In New York UN members are even looking at adding another EU member state, Germany, to the list of Permanent Security Council members.

The European Commission already negotiates treaties for the UK
For example the EU represents its members in World Trade Organisation negotiations, where we are more influential negotiating as a bloc than we would be alone.



Myth Two: The Constitutional Treaty will create a European Army

The Facts

British armed forces will remain under British control
Just as in NATO, our armed forces are deployed only with our Government's agreement. We choose whether to deploy them as part of an EU force.

It adds another layer to our security
European defence cooperation allows us to mount peacekeeping and conflict prevention missions using European military forces. We have already launched three such operations, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Bosnia. We have also mounted civilian operations in Macedonia, Bosnia, Georgia and are about to do so in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Britain keeps its veto over European defence
We negotiated successfully to keep our veto, allowing Britain to decide when the EU should act and only where NATO chooses not to.

European Defence does not undermine NATO
The Treaty is clear: for those states which are members of NATO, it 'remains the foundation of their collective defence' (Article I-41.7). Any development of a European common defence must be passed unanimously by the Council (Article I-41.2)

The European Defence Agency is not building a European Army
The Agency, led by a British Chief Executive, is designed to help Member States develop their own capabilities and ensure that those capabilities are deployable, sustainable and able to operate together.



Myth Three: 'Primacy' means that the EU controls our laws

The Facts

EU law protects British business and consumers. Britain agrees rules with other European countries covering trade, access to markets and common standards. We need those rules to enjoy the benefits of Europe's single market of 450 million people, the largest in the world. They create one rulebook for 25 countries to follow. These rules aren't inflicted on us – we help write them. 'Primacy' of European law means nations can't use domestic rules as an excuse to get around those promises.

Primacy simply means everybody sticking to the rules that we agree at European level. Where we have not agreed to act together at European level, there is no EU primacy. Without primacy of EU law, Governments could use national laws to get around common trade rules and standards. Without primacy, we could not guarantee a level playing field for British business in Europe or common standards for British consumers. Without primacy, we could not have turned to the European Court of Justice to overturn the French ban on British beef.

Primacy of European Law is not new. It was already well established as a central principle of the single market well before the UK joined the EEC in 1973 and has been reflected in UK law ever since.

No international organisation could function if domestic law undermined treaties. Whether it's the WTO, the UN, NATO or the EU, no international organisation could function if its members used national laws to get around international commitments. Once made, agreements with other nations must be kept in good faith and domestic law must respect them.

The European Court of Justice defends those rules. The ECJ decides whether countries have broken the rules. It interprets the laws agreed by the national Governments, reaches judgements and can impose penalties. In recent years the Court has reached verdicts including upholding bathing water rules and penalising toxic waste dumping.




Myth Four: The Charter of Fundamental Rights will be used to change Britain's labour laws

The Facts

The Charter makes clear that EU institutions must respect people's rights… Until now EU institutions like the Commission have not had clear rules ensuring they respect people's fundamental rights. Treaties like the European Convention on Human Rights have applied directly only to member states. The Constitutional Treaty contains a Charter of Fundamental Rights which, for the first time, sets out exactly what rights, freedoms and principles apply at EU level.

... but for Member States, the Charter will apply only when they are implementing Union law, and cannot extend EU powers. The Charter make clear that it doesn't affect the UK when it is not implementing EU law, and also that it cannot extend EU powers or competences.

The Charter creates no new rights. Britain negotiated successfully over many months to ensure that the Charter does not create new rights. Each right in the Charter has a corresponding explanation which pins down the origin of that right, its meaning and how it should be understood. The Constitutional Treaty instructs the European Court of Justice to interpret the Charter through those explanations.

It will not create a right to strike in the UK. The Treaty is clear: a right to strike only exists 'in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices' (Article II-88). The corresponding explanation reinforces that point: 'The modalities and limits for the exercise of collective action, including strike action, come under national laws and practices'.

Nor will the Charter prevent women-only swimming sessions, outlaw Sunday School or other such claims. The explanations to the Charter make it clear that such interpretations of rights are not applicable.


Myth Five: The Constitutional Treaty creates a European superstate

THE FACTS

The EU is an international organisation
The first article of the Treaty (Article I-1) defines the European Union 'on which Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common'. The EU has no powers of its own, only those which the UK and the other members have agreed to share.

The limits of EU authority are set out clearly for the first time
The Treaty sets out where the EU can act. Powers not conferred on the EU remain for the nations to exercise.

Nation states set the agenda
The Treaty creates the new post of President of the European Council (the decision-making body of national Governments). The full-time President would replace the current rotating system of six-monthly Presidencies. This will make the Council more coherent and more effective. Britain was a strong supporter of this idea. It will mean national governments working in the Council will be better able to set Europe's long term agenda and ensure it is delivered.

National Parliaments have a direct say for the first time
The Treaty gives national parliaments new rights to scrutinise proposals for legislation, to ensure that the EU acts only where it will add value. If a third of national parliaments reject to a proposal, it is sent back to the European Commission for review.

The Queen will remain the Head of State
The President of the European Council will not replace any head of State or Government. He or she will not act as Head of State or outrank Heads of State, including The Queen.

We keep national vetoes over key areas
Over the most important areas – tax, social security, foreign policy, defence and the UK's contribution to the EU budget – unanimous agreement is still required. Over asylum and immigration we remain out, only exercising our right to opt-in when it is in Britain's interest.



Myth Six: Europe will control our economy

THE FACTS

Our rebate remains protected
We keep a veto over the UK's contributions to the EU budget. That means we can block any attempt to end our rebate.

We control tax and social security
The Government negotiated successfully to keep a national veto over tax proposals. Social Security proposals are subject to an effective veto through a national 'emergency brake' mechanism allowing any Member State to refer a proposed law to the European Council (the body composed of national heads of state/government) for decision by consensus.

We will not be forced to join the Euro
The UK's Protocol on Economic and Monetary Union makes it clear that the UK is under no obligation to join the single currency. The Constitution does not change the terms of this protocol.

We keep control of our natural resources
Article III-256.2 makes it clear that EU laws 'shall not affect a Member State's right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply'.

What does 'economic co-ordination' mean?
Article I-15 says 'The Member States shall co-ordinate their economic policies within the Union'. This happens in the European Union now. It obviously makes sense for countries within the world’s largest trade bloc to discuss economic policies. But this does not mean that the UK can be forced to join the euro, nor that we can be forced to change our tax, social security or interest rates.



Myth Seven: Qualified Majority Voting hands power to Brussels

The facts

National Governments make the decisions
Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) applies to national governments negotiating in the Council. It is national Ministers who vote and decide on European policy, not 'Brussels'.

Majority Voting helps Britain get what it wants
Removing national vetoes helps the UK push reform in Europe. For example, without Qualified Majority Voting we could not have secured important reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy or the liberalisation of European energy markets. We are rarely outvoted.

Look at what the new areas of QMV cover
The new Treaty moves a number of existing Articles to QMV and creates a number of new Articles which are covered by QMV. But more important than the number of changes is to look at what they change. Many of the changes in the new Treaty are technical changes, for example, on the appointment of the ECB Executive Board or provisions related to aid granted to the economy of areas affected by the past division of Germany. Contrast that with the Single European Act, signed in 1985 - just one change was the basis for the whole Single Market programme, impossible without QMV.

The new voting system better reflects the UK’s relative size
Under the new Treaty, voting would be based on a double majority of the number of countries and of population. This is a fairer and more transparent system than the current voting arrangements which divide 321 votes between 25 countries. Currently Britain, with a population of 59 million, has 29 votes while for example Austria, with 8 million people, has 10 votes. The new system better reflects the UK’s relative size.

We keep the veto in key areas
The UK insisted that unanimous agreement is still required in key areas of national interest including defence, foreign policy, tax and social security.


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