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Brussels elite accused over 'federalist coup'
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
(Filed: 07/02/2003)

Britain will lose control of foreign policy and defence and will be stripped of its sovereign power to legislate in almost all areas of national life, under the draft text of the European constitution released yesterday.

Sweeping aside British objections, the document establishes the European Union on a "federal basis", enjoying "primacy over the law of the member states".

The 16 articles unveiled at the European Parliament are the first piece of a constitutional text being drawn up for the Convention on the Future of Europe.

Article 3 gives the EU powers to "co-ordinate the economic policies of the member states", which covers fiscal policy.

Article 4 says "the Union shall have competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy".

Virtually all the current activities of the British Government will fall under the "exclusive" or "shared competence" of the EU, meaning that Westminster will be prohibited from legislating unless Brussels chooses to waive its primacy.

The areas cover public health, social policy, transport, justice, agriculture, fisheries, energy, economic and social cohesion, the environment, internal and external trade, and consumer protection.

The Government reacted with horror to the text yesterday, accusing an elite group of insiders on the convention's 13-member praesidium of carrying out a "federalist" coup.

Downing Street's envoy to the convention, Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, said the authors had disregarded the collective will of the 105 members of the body, which is drawn from MEPs, MPs, and governments of the EU's 28 current and future states.

He said:"The praesidium has got a lot of explaining to do, and we'll be making clear that a lot of the material in the draft has got to change." Mr Hain added that the text appeared to "put the EU in charge of foreign policy and economic governance", even though the working groups were divided or had rejected such proposals outright.

He said a large group of countries, including France, Spain, Holland and Romania was "very unhappy" about the document, pointing to a future blocking alliance that would force the praesidium to retreat.

"The member states are the key building blocks of the European Union. There is no question at all of a federal superstate being erected here in Brussels," he said.

Tim Kirkhope, an MEP and Tory justice spokesman, accused the praesidium of flirting with "dictatorship".

He said: "This puts our parliamentary democracy under grave threat. It turns the EU on its head by saying that everything is the competence of Brussels unless determined otherwise. It is totally unacceptable to the British people."

The text of the constitution is being released in chunks, culminating in a final version by early summer. The convention delegates can suggest changes, but they do not have voting power to impose their views.

EU diplomats said the praesidium had been hijacked by a group of EU insiders. The two European commissioners on the body, France's Michel Barnier and Portugal's Antonio Vitorino, have taken charge, bringing in commission lawyers to draft the language.

There was speculation last night that the term "federal basis" would be removed from the final text as a sop to Britain, although this would not in any way lessen the transfer of power to Brussels.

In theory, any state can veto the document at the end of an "inter-governmental" vetting process this autumn, giving the Britain a second chance to slow the juggernaut.

But the convention's president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, says that no one state should be allowed to block the majority, saying that naysayers will have to leave the EU altogether.

16 January 2003: Germany and France want two EU presidents
28 December 2002: Eurofile: EU Convention goes 'off the rails' towards a super state
7 December 2002: Britain facing the crunch on European integration
9 November 2002: Eurofile: EU becomes addicted to raw power
16 October 2002: Labour's blueprint for EU constitution
8 October 2002: Giscard opposes call for federal Europe

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