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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 May, 2003, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
European Constitution

Jeremy Vine interviewed the British government's representative on the convention on the future of Europe, Peter Hain and the shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin MP.

JEREMY VINE: ..... it wants a Supreme Court and a national anthem. It wants a President a, a .... minister and it's own constitution. That's a state isn't it.

PETER HAIN: No Britain, Europe already has a President, but it changes every six months. What we're suggesting is the job is full time so it's a serious post that other world government leaders know who they're dealing with, instead of the figure changing every half year. Secondly, we want, we already have a Constitutional Treaty for Europe, it's, it's in hundreds of pages of impenetrable text, that virtually nobody who's not a Euro anorak can understand, and what we're tending to do here is bringing it all together in a single constitutional text, so people can easily see what's going on. See what their rights are, how their, their leaders are accountable, and actually have a much clearer democratic chain of accountability between their votes and their views and what is done in Brussels, because at the moment that is not clear to people.

JEREMY VINE: But in the first draft of the convention, it even talks about the EU having a legal personality. Put all of that together and it looks like a state.

PETER HAIN: No. The EU already has a legal personality in respect of what's called community activity; trade and the single market and so on, it already has that, it doesn't have in respect of union activity, intergovernmental activity. So we're saying, look instead of this complexity, let's make it much more simple, and the other thing I want to make clear is that this is, all the hula baloo, all the baloney that's been written in some of the Euro sceptic newspapers and by the government opposition, is based on first drafts, we're changing them, not just ourselves, but a lot of other countries and members of the convention disagree with the first draft and we're going to change them, and I'm confident we will get a result for Britain which protects our national interests, our vital sovereignty interests, but also modernises the European Union, in a way that makes it more democratic, more accountable, and more efficient in delivering what people want.

JEREMY VINE: We'll come on to some of the specifics in a moment, but as far as the size of this is concerned, it's worth having a referendum on it, isn't it and asking the British people what they think of the outcome.

PETER HAIN: Labour governments have always been committed to referenda on Europe when real sovereignty issues are at sake. Confirming our membership of the European Union, the Tories took us in, we had a referendum in 1975. On the Euro, if we go for it we promised a referendum, because it's a big sovereignty issue. This is a combination of a tidying up exercise, because more than three quarters of the clauses in the new Constitutional Treaty are just transposed from previous treaties and modernisation, and reform, because Europe has outgrown its structure ...(overlap) ... designed for six member states, now it's got to have twenty five.

JEREMY VINE: You said in April 2003, at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, this process will have substantial constitutional significance.

PETER HAIN: Well of course it will.

JEREMY VINE: You're not just tidying up.

PETER HAIN: Well, as I say, three quarters of it is tidying up, because the existing clauses in all these many treaties that people find hard to get to grips with and understand, are being transposed in to a single text that is clearer for people. So that's the tidying up part.

JEREMY VINE: (overlaps) ... but the referendum might be worth having on the other quarter.

PETER HAIN: No. Well why should it be.

JEREMY VINE: Because you said it had special constitutional significance.

PETER HAIN: Yes, because it's a Constitutional Treaty like the other constitutional treaties that successive governments have signed, both Tory and Labour, which were not the subject of referenda.

JEREMY VINE: ... (overlaps) .... on the Euro haven't we.

PETER HAIN: Yea.. yea ... but look at the Maastrict Treaty which set up the Euro and a lot of other things the Tories introduced, John Major took through, there wasn't a referendum on that. Look at the Single Market Treaty that Mrs Thatcher signed in the mid 1980s. She gave up more vetoes, more British sovereignty than any, all the other treaties that have been signed by both party governments, in the entire history of our membership with the European Union. So if there was a referendum to be had, it was on that. But, the point is here that what we're seeking to do is create a modern, more efficient, more democratic, accountable European Union, so that the citizens of Britain, know what's been done, and if they don't like it, they can say so.

JEREMY VINE: There's a problem here for you isn't there because people are suspicious of what they see as a creeping process. 1973, we joined the Common Market, it becomes the EU. Then we're told the Charter of Fundamental Rights isn't going to be binding, the ex-Europe minister Keith Vas said, it would be as binding as the Beano. Now it will be binding. It's not surprising people are suspicious and concerned is it.

PETER HAIN: Well not surprising when they're fed a lot of baloney by some of our newspapers and some of our Conservative opposition and a lot of lies frankly about what's really going on. You see you take an issue of national sovereignty, take food safety or the environment. Why have we given up our veto on European policy; because it's in our interests, because we have higher food safety standards and higher environmental standards. We want other European countries to do the same because it affects us as citizens travelling in Europe, and pollution knows no national boundary, so we willingly gave up our veto on that. We're not willing to give up our veto on foreign and security policy, because that's of vital national interest, nor on tax and that won't happen. We will not agree to a new treaty either in this convention or in the subsequent inter-governmental conference, that proposed doing any of those things. And on the charter if I just take that point.

JEREMY VINE: As binding as the Beano.

PETER HAIN: Well the Charter of Fundamental Rights is an admirable statement of rights. It's about individual liberty, it's about social rights and so on. The problem for us then, and it remains now, is if it were introduced in to a treaty, in a way that it could change our domestic law, say our employment law that we decide in our national parliament, or our health policies, or things like that. And if you just shoved it in to the treaty, as was proposed in '99 and when Keith Vaz was Europe Minister, we wouldn't agree to that. The issue now to be negotiated, is whether it can be brought in, in a way that doesn't allow Europe to change our domestic laws or European lawyers to trample in to our courts.

JEREMY VINE: But if all of this is a water tight case from the government, why not have a referendum on it.

PETER HAIN: Because referenda have never been held on such constitutional treaties before, and there's no justification for doing so now. The better place to do this under our system of democracy, is in parliament, where there can be line by line detailed scrutiny, and accountability, debate, votes going right through what will be many many clauses, running in to thousands of words in this new single text. That's the way we've always done it in the past, that's the way we're going to do it in the future, and so I think those who are starting off on a campaign for a referendum, might as well put away their placards and stop wasting their money because we're not going to do it.

JEREMY VINE: Let me ask you about one other specific area of this Mr Hain if I can because you're happy with us surrendering vetoes in justice and home affairs, can you explain why.

PETER HAIN: Yes, because we want to combat terrorism more effectively, we want to deal with the problem of asylum seeking and illegal human trafficking more effectively. We want to deal with fighting international crime more effectively. Now there are some member states who are a soft touch for these problems and effectively pass the buck to us - say illegal asylum seekers lining up at Calais and then us having to deal with the problem, we want common rules, common border procedures, common admission procedures, so that if somebody arrives in a Southern Mediterranean country, they have to process them, instead of passing the buck to us, and that's why we're quite happy to give up our veto cos it's in our national interests to do so.

JEREMY VINE: The foreign minister of Greece who we heard from in the film, a country where plane spotting is a crime, says he wants the same laws throughout Europe, he says we're a community of gut(?) values. What is just in one country, should be just in another country, what is a crime in one country, should be a crime in another country. Do you agree with that.

PETER HAIN: Well if you think of say the traditional problem of a British criminal escaping to the Costa del Sol and we can't get him back. Yes, we want procedures to deal with that problem, terrorists the same. We want to grab them from other countries and deal with them if they committed crimes here. But if he means by that, and if you're suggesting, or the Conservatives are suggesting they want them to change our laws and change our court procedures or anything like that, then the answer is a flat no.

JEREMY VINE Finally, may I ask you if I can about your reading matter this weekend. You've got two and a half thousand pages to read on the Euro, we weren't aware that common a garden cabinet ministers would be part of the decision on the five economic tests, so you must be excited about that.

PETER HAIN: Well, it's always going to be a cabinet decision.

JEREMY VINE: What the economic tests.

PETER HAIN: And, and - well it's a Treasury assessment and a cabinet decision as Gordon Brown said this morning. I've been going through, I've covered eleven out of the eighteen studies so far, so I'm going to go back this afternoon, and do a few more and see what they are. They're very interesting reading, I think when they're published, people will see how seriously we're taking this whole exercise, and quite rightly, we've got to get it right for jobs and prosperity and stability, to be able to go in to the Euro, in a way that enhances our economic success as a government.

JEREMY VINE: So you'll say yes when you see Mr Brown on Monday morning, you'll say, go for it.

PETER HAIN: No, we will discuss this seriously. This is not a kind of yes no decision as you flippantly said at the beginning of your programme and good luck to you. This is taking this really seriously, saying if it's in Britain's interest we go for it and what we will not do is rule it out forever like the Tories say, because that could damage Britain's economic stability, damage job prospects and injure our prosperity. We're saying the common sense approach is, if it's right to go for it, we do so. If it's not right to go for it yet, we don't.

JEREMY VINE: Mr Hain. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

PETER HAIN: Thank you.

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