Now EU chiefs are struggling to remedy the defects in that project, and they have produced a report explaining what they want to do. It is called the “Five Presidents’ Report”, and it came out last year and got rather buried in the aftermath of the general election. History teaches us that we would be mad to ignore this text. The five presidents in question are those of the European Commission, the Council, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and a body called the “European Stability Mechanism”. They want to prop up the euro by creating an all-out economic government of Europe.
They want a euro-area treasury, with further pooling of tax and budgetary policy. They want to harmonise insolvency law, company law, property rights, social security systems – and there is no way the UK can be unaffected by this process. As the Five Presidents put it: “Much can be already achieved through a deepening of the Single Market, which is important for all 28 EU member states.” So even though Britain is out of the euro, there is nothing we can do to stop our friends from using “single market” legislation to push forward centralising measures that will help prop up the euro (or so they imagine), by aligning EU economic, social and fiscal policies.
Insofar as the recent “UK Agreement” has any force, it expressly allows these measures to be pursued, and agrees the UK will not attempt to exercise a veto. In other words we will find ourselves dragged along willy-nilly, in spite of all protestations to the contrary. So-called “Single Market” measures affect us as much as they affect the eurozone – and the question therefore is what we mean by “Single Market”. The answer is a mystery – because the single market has changed beyond recognition.
Twenty years ago there was a clear conceptual difference in the EEC between things that were done at an intergovernmental level – between member states, without the Commission, the Euro-parliament and the Court of Justice – and things that were part of the “single market”. Foreign and defence co-operation was done intergovernmentally, and so was anything to do with police, or justice, or borders, or home affairs, or asylum, or immigration, or anything to do with human rights. Then there were all the fields of EEC competence: the common trade policies, the common agricultural policy, the competition policy, environment policy, and so on.
Since Maastricht, that has all changed. Successive treaties have vastly expanded the areas in which the EU bodies operate so that there is virtually no aspect of public policy that is untouched. The EU now takes an interest in energy policy, in humanitarian aid, in education, in health, and in human rights of all kinds. There is a common European space policy. All of these policy areas involve the European Commission, the parliament, and above all the European Court of Justice. And remember – as soon as something enters within the EU’s field of competence, the Luxembourg Court of Justice becomes the supreme judicial body; and every time that happens, power is sucked away from this country.
We have seen recently how the Home Secretary has lost the power to deport murderers, or to conduct surveillance of would-be terrorists, because that might put the UK in breach of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. What has that got to do with the “Single Market”, you may ask, and the answer is nothing at all. But any clever lawyer can easily blur the boundaries: it is a short hop from a common policy on free movement of workers to a common policy on deporting terrorists.
The idea of the Single Market has become so capacious that it is a cloak for full-scale political and economic union. We now have up to half our law coming from the EU (some say two thirds); and if the Five Presidents get their way, the process of centralisation will simply continue – much of it in the name of the “Single Market”. It’s time we learnt the lesson. The federalists do mean it when they sketch out these programmes. The ratchet is clicking forwards. When you come to vote, the status quo is not on offer.