Czech President Vaclav Klaus and British Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan are about to revamp Europe. Unlike Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt they want to do so by putting forward a democratic alternative to the European Union which corrects the wrong principle on which the EU, with its concept of the “ever-closer union,” has been built.
Today and yesterday, 70 people from 28 countries (including Canada and the US) gathered in a conference room of the Paul Henri Spaak building of the European Parliament in Brussels. They were invited by Daniel Hannan, an MEP and a regular Brussels Journal contributor, for the first meeting of the “Congress of Brussels.”
“The leaders of the European Union may still deny it, but last Summer’s ‘No’ votes to the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands have changed everything,” Daniel Hannan said.
“We should be bold in our thinking. Let us go back to first principles. The US was founded on Jeffersonian principles: the idea that decisions should be made by individuals in preference to the government, and by the states in preference to the federal authorities. The EU was founded on precisely the opposite principle: the Treaty of Rome commits its signatories to form ‘an ever-closer union’ and establishes the ‘occupied field doctrine,’ whereby EU jurisdiction is deemed to be established forever in any area in which it has once legislated.”
It is this “ever-closer union” that the peoples of Europe are rejecting because they correctly perceive that the primary democratic unit should be the sovereign state. Only within such sovereign states can the principles of personal freedom, private property, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law be upheld.
This is also the opinion of Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, whom Mr Hannan has asked to patronize the Congress of Brussels. Because the Czech President could not be present in Brussels he had an address delivered to the participants by his chief of staff, Mr Jiri Weigl. According to the President the Dutch and French referendums “revealed the wide gap between the centralistic and bureaucratic project of ‘ever-closer’ Europe, which was pushed forward by the Brussels political elite, and the genuine interests and preferences of the EU member states’ citizens.” He said it is time to halt the “ever-growing regulation of all spheres of life, protectionism, artificial harmonization and unification of everything and gradual dismembering of the sovereignty of the nations.”
Daniel Hannan told the BBC that he hoped future historians would write that “the seeds of the way Europe eventually developed were planted at the Congress of Brussels, 2005.” The participants, from a wide variety of parties ranging from the British Conservatives to Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) and Mr Klaus’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS), also included non-politicians such as journalists and representatives from various free market think tanks.
They agreed that the European Union should not be allowed to become a “Greater Belgium” and that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should be prevented from becoming the European equivalent of the US Supreme Court. Mr Martin Howe QC warned that the ECJ is already usurpating legislative powers. “By expanding the scope of EU powers, the Court necessarily narrows the scope of the powers of the member states. It reduces (in its own words) the sovereign rights of the member states. It thereby reduces the scope of national law-making where there is a direct connection between the votes of electors; and transfers powers to the EU law-making process where there is no such connection.”
There was also a delegation of Americans at the first “Congress of Brussels.” As Daniel Hannan stressed:
“The anti-democratic and centralising tendencies of the EU are not simply a problem for Europeans – Brussels also exports its ideology. Few people in Washington have thought, from first principles, about what kind of Europe would be in American interests. While the US favours democracy, the EU favours stability. There is no hypocrisy here: the EU is not especially keen on democracy within its own borders, either. It is happy to disregard inconvenient referendum results or even – as when Austria admitted the FPÖ into government – to challenge national general elections.”
The second day of the conference coincided with the election of David Cameron to the leadership of the British Conservative Party. Mr Cameron has pledged to pull his party out of the European People’s Party. The EPP is the group in the European Parliament which consists of the various national Christian-Democrat parties plus the British Conservatives. The EPP favours the concept of the “ever-closer” EU. As an EPP member Mr Hannan could not formally book a conference room in the European Parliament to hold his “Congress of Brussels” because EPP members cannot make room reservations through their group for meetings of a so-called Eurosceptic nature. As a consequence, the gathering could only be held in the European Parliament because the room had been booked by an MEP who did not belong to the EPP group.
If the British Conservative Party leaves the EPP, it can form its own parliamentary group, with the Polish PiS, the Czech ODS and other like-minded parties, to promote the ideas formulated at the Congress of Brussels. This would entail a major realignment of a number of political groups within the EP.