The European Union was expanded in 2007 to now include 27 members. Three other states have applied to be members of the European Union. These are Turkey, Croatia and FYR Macedonia. The current members of the EU with their total number of MEPís are:
Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Luxembourg joined in 1957
Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom joined in 1973
Greece joined in 1981
Portugal and Spain joined in 1986
Austria, Sweden and Finland joined in 1995
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia joined in 2004
Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007
The European Reform Treaty has, along with election fever, has dominated British politics in the autumn of 2007. The European Reform Treaty has been classed by some sections of the British tabloid media as the ďgreatest threat to our nation since World War TwoĒ while Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated that the treaty is no more than a natural extension of previous legislation that is in place relating to the European Union Ė Tony Blair referred to the treaty as ďa tidying-up exerciseĒ. To some it is merely a logical extension of the work of the European Union and all that it stands for and that it will allow the EU to shape itself to be able to better cope with its recent expansion. To others it is an attempt to push through the back door the European Constitution, which was effectively rejected for the whole EU when it was rejected in national referendums in France and the Netherlands.
It is possible that few have read the full text of the European Constitution Ė a document that exceeds 700 pages. However, critics of the European Reform Treaty claim that a great deal of the rejected constitution (more than 80% of it) can be found in the treaty and that politicians are determined to endorse it regardless of what happened in France or the Netherlands. Calls for a national referendum on the treaty have come from many quarters in the UK especially as a referendum was seemingly promised on the European Constitution in the 2005 Labour Party manifesto during the election campaign Ė ďWe will put it to the British people in a referendum and campaign wholeheartedly for a Yes vote.Ē However, as has been pointed out by ministers in the Labour government, no promise of a referendum was made for the European Reform Treaty.
European ministers are due to meet in Lisbon, Portugal, on October 18th. In Lisbon the final draft of the European Reform Treaty will be handed to the heads of government for their approval. In December the European Council will sign the treaty.
What elements of the European Reform Treaty have been criticised?
Those who oppose the singing of the treaty claim that it will make the UK a ďbit playerĒ in the 27-nation European Union and that it will introduce what has been called a United States of Europe. Opponents of the treaty claim that it will lead to non-elected bureaucrats in Brussels riding rough shod over elected politicians in Westminster and that the treaty will end parliamentary democracy in the UK. Opponents claim that the UK will lose its ability to run its own judicial system as a European Court will develop its power over the years and that a European Police Force will have more power than the UK police within the UK. The same has been said for a European Army and that the EU will dictate foreign policy to the UK. Critics of the treaty have latched onto some comments made by national leaders in Europe to support their arguments.
ďThe substance of the (European) Constitution is preserved. That is a fact.Ē Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
ďWe have not let a single substantial point of the Constitutional treaty go. This is a project of foundational character, a treaty for a new Europe.Ē Jose Zapatero, Spanish PM
ď90% of it (the European Constitution) is still there. These changes (in the Reform Treaty) havenít made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004.Ē
Bertie Ahern, Irish PM
A former senior political figure in France, Valery Giscard díEstang, who helped to compile the European Constitution stated:
ďIn terms of content, the proposals remain largely unchanged, they are simply presented in a different way.Ē
Critics argue that the treaty will change the British political structure beyond recognition and that once in, it will be difficult to remove. They claim that a European President will have so much power and authority that he/she will make an elected British Prime Minister a token political position; a EU driven immigration policy will make any British policy null and void; an EU diplomatic service and foreign ministry will drive the UKís foreign policy but with little or no input from Westminster; that the UK will no longer be able to control its own economy and that the EU will oversee this; that a new EU Human Rights Charter will present the UK with even more difficult problems in terms of anti-terror legislation; critics claim that the new treaty will also allow the EU to have a major influence on the UKís health and education policies. It is also claimed that the treaty will end the UKís right to veto some areas of EU legislation.
Supporters of the European Reform Treaty claim that the opponents of it are simply scare mongering and that they are using a basic public reaction to a threat to national sovereignty to whip up anger against the treaty. They argue that since the expansion of the EU to include many East European states, the mechanism for running the EU has become outdated as it was based on much fewer member states. This mechanism of running the EU has to be modernised and brought up-to-date; hence the European Reform Treaty. Supporters of the treaty argue that the opponents of it are using the same scare tactics as of old when it was claimed, wrongly, that the EU was planning to order that only cheese made in Cheddar could be called Ďcheddarí or that Cornish pasties had to be made only in Cornwall etc. Supporters of the treaty have argued that without any modernisation of the way the EU is run, it will endanger its chances of rivalling the US as an enhanced economic power and that Europe as a whole will suffer.