- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

As the European Union (EU) debates a draft of its constitution, two strong voices for national sovereignty have emerged: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

Although the Czech Republic is a candidate for EU membership, Mr. Klaus has unambiguously criticized the European Union’s challenges to sovereignty, its regulatory excesses and fiscal imprudence. In an interview with Arnaud de Borchgrave published last week in The Washington Times, he said Europe “will not change until people start thinking and realizing they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana,” with unsustainable long vacations, guaranteed high pensions and cradle-to-grave social security. “We could see the scaffolding of a nation-state that would retain a president and similar institutions, but with virtually zero influence … That’s my forecast. And it’s not a reassuring vision of the future … The enemies of free societies today are those who want to burden us down again with layer upon layer of regulations … We had that in communist times. But now if you look at all the new rules and regulations of EU membership, layered bureaucracy is staging a comeback.”

The EU administrative record has been so dismal that calls for sovereignty have grown more urgent. As Mr. de Borchgrave noted in his article, EU auditors recently released a report that found “systematic problems, over-estimations, faulty transactions, significant errors and other shortcomings” in the EU budget. The auditors could vouch for only 10 percent of the $120 billion that the bloc spent in 2002.

Amid this budgetary morass, Mr. Blair has been a bulwark against an erosion of British sovereignty within the European Union. His government warned it would veto an EU constitution that infringes on Britain’s vital sovereignty. Britain is demanding that — under the new EU constitution — tax, budget, judicial issues and foreign policy be formed strictly through unanimous, and not majority, consent. Although Germany has strongly challenged giving any one nation veto power over EU policy, it appears that the British concerns will likely prevail when the 25 EU leaders are slated to agree on a constitutional treaty on Dec. 12-13.

Many smaller EU nations, such as Spain and Poland, fear the European Union could increasingly be made in the image of France and Germany, which are calling for greater voting power. There is already widespread bitterness regarding the ability of these two countries to evade the budget constraints outlined in the stability pact. Although Germany was the chief proponent of these constraints and wants power devolved to the European Commission, national sovereignty seemed to suit it just fine when it chose to violate the budget constraints.

The future of Europe’s nation-states depends on the unabashed champions of sovereignty. Crafting sweeping policy for Europe may seem like nirvana to Germany, but Britain and others recognize the perils. Let it be clear that without fully sovereign democracies in Europe, democratic freedoms will wither with the unelected EU bureaucracy. That is both bad for them and us.

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