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Back in the USSR for the EU's latest members
(Filed: 01/06/2003)

The EU is proposing legislation which could bar Eurosceptic parties from the European Parliament reports Daniel Hannan

What would it take to convince you that the EU is anti-democratic? It has brushed aside "no" votes in Denmark and Ireland. It has refused to accept the result of an Austrian general election. Now it is proposing legislation which could bar Eurosceptic parties from the European Parliament.

For several weeks, I and my fellow members of the constitutional affairs committee have been chewing over a draft "Statute of European Political Parties". The establishment of state-funded pan-European parties is something that federalists desperately want. After all, they say, we are about to adopt a new constitution, turning the EU into a unitary state. It would hardly be appropriate to carry on with hundreds of little parties, each fighting a self-contained "regional" campaign.

To qualify for recognition, a party would need to secure representation in at least one quarter of the member states. It would have to fight elections on a common and binding manifesto across Europe (bye-bye UKIP). It would need to accept the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights (bye-bye Tories). And - most sinister of all - it would have to satisfy the other parties. If a majority of MEPs were to decide that a party was not abiding by their definition of human rights and democratic values, it would be debarred.

"This is exactly what our communists did," said a Polish MP as he read the text. "They did not ban elections: we had elections all the time. They did not even ban opposition movements, at least not by the late Seventies. All they did was to ban the dissidents from contesting the elections."

The federalists rushed to reassure him. The measure was not aimed at mainstream parties, they said, only at nasty ones, such as Le Pen's National Front in France. The Pole was too polite to press the point. But afterwards he told me that this was precisely the ruse used across the Warsaw Pact. Parties were initially proscribed on grounds of being fascist, he said, and, before long, this definition came to apply to everyone except the communists and their Peasant Party allies.

I can already hear the Europhiles choking on their Sancerre. Nothing annoys them more than mention of the European and Soviet Union in the same context. But it is worth asking why the heirs of the Communist and Agrarian Parties of Eastern Europe have been leading the campaign to join the EU. Could it be that, arriving in Brussels, they feel something like nostalgia? Here, after all, is a system run by bureaucrats, where nationalism is disdained and democratic legislatures sidelined.

Supreme power is wielded, not by parliamentarians, but by a 20-member politburo. The members of this politburo - Commissioners, as they are known - enjoy a privileged life: they are ferried around in black chauffeur-driven cars, and are exempt from several taxes. They rule by a series of five-year plans, micro-managing decisions that could perfectly well be taken at a lower level.

The EU is not a tyranny: it does not throw its opponents into gulags or take away their passports. But it is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent. If you think I exaggerate, read what the Advocate General said when Bernard Connolly, a Commission official who was sacked after attacking the single currency, claimed that his right to free speech had been violated. Free speech, the judge told him, was not an absolute right. It could not be used to justify certain offences, such as criticism of the EU, or blasphemy.

There is an easy way to prove me wrong. The EU is about to adopt a written constitution, transforming it, legally speaking, into a single polity. In a truly democratic system, a proposal of this magnitude would be decided by referendum. If we are allowed a direct say, and if people vote to be part of the new state, I promise to accept the result with good grace.

You'll never hear another peep from me about the Soviet tendency in Brussels. But if we are not allowed to vote, Europe's constitution will be no more legitimate than that of the USSR.

  • Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for South-East England
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