World Comment/Dec 2003/Jan 2004

by Politicus

THE EUROPEAN Union will enlarge to 25 members next May as eight east European countries, plus Malta and Cyprus, join it. The inter-state dynamics of an EU of 25 will be very different from the present EU of 15.

France and Germany are especially worried that they will not be able to dominate a 25-State EU like they did a 15-State one. That is why they want to change the rules for running the EU by providing in the proposed Constitution that Euro laws can only be passed if they are supported by States with 60 per cent of the EU population. As France and Germany would between them have one-third of the population of an enlarged EU of 450 million people, this would enable them, along with a few allies, to block proposals they do not want and make it easier for them to push through what they do want.

If they do not get their way in the proposed EU constitution, the Franco-German fall-back position to retain their hegemony in a 25-state union is to threaten to go for a two-tier, two class, two circle EU, with themselves leading an inner group and using the EU institutions to present the rest with continual political and economic faits-accomplis. “An enlarged Union based on Nice is not in the interest of any member state. This is not a threat,” said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently. “This is a messenger delivering news.” There has been widespread discussion of a European “inner core” in the French and German press.

French commissioner Pascal Lamy said, "We are not sure that Europe is going to continue to converge, and a Franco-German alliance would be a good antidote." French prime minister Raffarin said, “If the Europe of 25 fails, what is left for France? The Franco-German rapprochement initiative,” This Franco-German muscle-flexing over the leadership of an enlarged EU shows the power political reality behind the rhetoric of partnership.

Naturally this kind of talk makes other EU members very uneasy. They have noticed how the budget rules of the eurozone's Stability Pact were dropped for France and Germany, as they ran up big government deficits, while last year the EU commission threatened heavy fines on small EU Members like Ireland and Portugal if they did not fall in line.

For decades Britain has tried in vain to prise France and Germany apart. Now in an EU of 25 Britain will be able to find allies in countries like Poland and Portugal against Franco-German pretensions. The Americans too will encourage the east

Europeans to resist Franco-German schemes for an EU military alliance that is independent of NATO. These growing tensions show that EU enlargement could lead to the EU's biggest crisis yet and turn it into a very different thing.

THE BLAIR government's decision to make citizens of this country carry ID cards is unnecessary and outrageous. It should induce democrats and everyone concerned about civil liberties to contact their MPs and tell them on no account to support it.

Like so much else that is wrong with Britain, this sweeping departure from the traditional freedoms of citizens has its roots in the EU. Most continental EU countries make their citizens carry identity cards. Britain has signed up to the EU's Europol and Eurojust. It proposes to agree to EU harmonisation of civil and criminal law and procedures in the EU constitution now being drafted. The EU has produced draft regulations requiring biometric data on iris patterns and fingerprints for third country nationals entering the EU by 2005. The UK is enforcing these.

Biometric data on 400 million EU citizens will eventually be kept centrally in the Europol headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany. A recent Guardian editorial set out the objections to ID cards. “These include the immediate cost of setting up the system, the continuing administrative and financial costs of maintaining it, the reliability of the technology and, above all, the civil liberty implications.

The government has a track record of disrespecting civil liberties. Both the prime minister and home secretary get their kicks from belittling and brushing aside civil libertarian principles. But even they will have to provide answers here, and they must not simply sneer at such concerns.

If the ID card is to be compulsory, as the government now says in principle it should be, then there has to be a criminal offence of failing to produce the card when required to do so by a police officer. Without such an offence, the system would be meaningless and ineffectual. But the creation of such an offence opens up the possibility of a huge enforcement bureaucracy.

ID card offences could rapidly become a serious waste of police time. Above all, it only takes a moment to realise that the police - and no one can ignore the kind of people they seem to be recruiting these days - will use these powers disproportionately against black people, just as they have always done with their stop and search powers.”

They will use them against Irish people too of course. Members of the Irish and other ethnic communities in Britain other than black people are likely to be especially hit by this plan for a snooping Government. Irish justice minister Michael McDowell says he is opposed to introducing identity cards in Ireland. Questioned on the Blair-Blunkett plan, he said: “Being required to carry identity alters the relationship between the police and the individual. If means if you don't have or carry on you such a card, you are technically committing a criminal offence. By implication, it confers on police the right to stop anyone and ask them who they are.”

Citing what he called ‘800 years of common law history’, he said that it was a fundamental philosophy of common law countries like Ireland, Britain,the US,Canada and Australia that citizens were not obliged to carry anything about them.

Asked whether the British government had discussed the issue with Dublin, minister McDowell said: “We have never been consulted on the matter.” But if the British government imposes ID cards in the six counties, it will put pressure on Dublin to bring them in too, in order to safeguard freedom of travel between Britain and Ireland.

It will be a big job finger-printing and taking eye-scans of 60 million Britons, even if it is spread over a period of years. Expensive too. Home Secretary Blunkett says citizens will be expected to pay for it themselves. The cost of a combined passport and identity card from 2007 is expected to be £77.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-04-01 17:17:27.
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