Things have changed in Europe. We have unprecedented freedom of movement, with all but a few border checks abolished. We can travel anywhere in the EU and even move anywhere to earn a living without restriction. The adventurous need no longer fight against Franco or join the French Foreign Legion. Europe intends to give us the same rights throughout Europe that we enjoy in the UK. It’s called Justice and Home Affairs and it includes everything from getting out of jail when you should,to getting a divorce on a basis fair to everyone involved. It also means disarming terrorists and the mafia. Conceptually, it’s the best thing in Europe since Santa Claus.
Why then did the Prime Minister announce at the Tory party conference an intention to opt out of 130 criminal law and criminal procedure provisions of EU law that sit at the core of Justice and Home Affairs?
In fairness to the PM, opting out of these provisions probably doesn’t prevent us from doing something we could do if the provisions still applied. We can still extradite someone from a country of the EU. But, on average, because extradition is a much more complex procedure than a European Arrest Warrant, it will cost more, take longer and be more subject to objection than a European Arrest Warrant. Compared with a European Arrest Warrant it is mediaeval.
We can still investigate a crime in a European country other than our own – but forget about using the expertise so carefully assembled in Europol, Eurojust and OLAF, we have opted out of those institutions. The point is not subtle. By opting out we will reject the best developments in the effective administration of Justice and Home Affairs that Europe’s best minds have offered. The counter-argument is that we do not lose jurisdiction in Justice and Home Affairs by opting out. True, but we lose capacity. The treaty provisions we are rejecting are all designed to facilitate the effective administration of law and Justice. We will be running the engine with zero on the oil indicator. Disaster awaits. A further counter-argument applies: we can opt back in again to any provisions we want to maintain. That is also true, but this, unlike the opt-out, requires agreement. Remember that we have opted out simply to please euro-sceptics who prefer 1918-1939 to 1945-2012. We have rejected as rudely as we can the best legal and organisational concepts of Europe. Why would those who are offended let us back in? There is a certainty. If we opt out, we are creating an unprecedented opportunity for others to eject us from the European Union into the darkness of interstellar space. Nothing would be more heinous to the position we have gained in Europe through diligent treaty negotiation over the decades. We risk becoming the most isolated country in Europe with limited or no access to the single market.
This 21st century reversion to a luddite approach to Europe is as indefensible as it is unnecessary. Britain spent the 20th century on the winning side leading European diplomacy. Britain is still highly rated among European nations because of that. Let’s continue to use our best efforts to assist the EU in choosing the best solutions in the interest of the Union – God knows they need the advice- rather than follow the coalition into gratuitous self destruction through mistaken self interest.
14 Nov 2012