Open Europe Blog

Waking up to ‘Europe’

Parliament’s stance against the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to give prisoners a vote has again inspired UK commentators to take a closer look at ‘Europe’.

The right of prisoners to vote is an ECHR issue – not an EU one (the ECHR is not an EU institution as we’re always keen to point out). However, it’s right to consider the influence and mission creep of the ECHR in the same discussion as the influence of the EU itself – for a whole range of reasons. As we’ve argued before, on rights legislation the two are now linked and both suffer from an inherent tendency to expand their own powers into new areas. And in terms of the politics and perception of it all, for most people in Westminster and beyond, there’s little difference between the EU and the ECHR, making it extremely difficult to unbundle the issues in media and political discussions (and given that even senior judges have a difficult time unpicking the patchwork of human rights legislation that exists in Europe today, the blurring of the ECHR and the EU in public perception is more rational than what EU communication-types and others realise).

And there has been no shortage of hard-hitting commentary.

Here’s James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday:

The Tories try to keep their newly hardened Euroscepticism under wraps when dealing with their Lib Dem colleagues, who remain committed to the European project. But even the Lib Dems have been shocked at how much influence Brussels has on decisions that should be taken at a national level. Nick Clegg was appalled when officials told him that the EU wouldn’t allow VAT to be set at a local level.

And here’s Fraser Nelson in a strong post on the Spectator’s coffee house blog:

Europe was easier to characterise as a fringe issue, not so now….Cameron thought he’d have to play along, even though it made him “physically sick”. But in perhaps the most useful thing the House of Commons has done for two decades, it decided otherwise last week in a free vote. And what are the judges of Strasbourg going to do? Invade?

A healthy precedent was established last week. Britain has rejected that old argument that we have no choice. We do. Parliament is sovereign. We can reject as many Euro laws as we like: from Brussels, Strasbourg or both.

Meanwhile, Tim Montgomerie takes a swipe at Ken Clarke on Conservative Home:

The fact is the Conservative Party is largely united on Europe. The vast majority of Tory MPs and activists, from the Prime Minister down, believe that unelected European judges and bureaucrats have too much power. Given the nature of the Coalition and the economic priorities, significant repatriation of powers may not be possible in this Parliament but we must prepare a manifesto for the next General Election that attempts to address that. So long as Ken Clarke is a significant player in the Conservative Party there is little chance of that happening. I sometimes wonder if he stays in government to prevent the party fulfilling its Eurosceptic instincts

Inevitably, there will be more court rulings from the ECHR and the ECJ (one coming up on pensions for example) – in addition to new Directives and Regulations from the Commission – which will be percieved as interfering in national areas where they don’t belong. This isn’t the last clash we’ll see, but it’s a signifcant one.

And hats off to Parliament. This time, MPs did their job.

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