The long-term relationship between the continent and Britain, as they look at one another across the channel, is difficult and contradictory: part of this is down to long histories that developed different codes of law and methods of doing things. Part is also down to Britain having been on the victorious Allies' side in the Second World War; thus Britons still believe more in the competence of national authorities than do their continental neighbours, who would rather Brussels and the European Union sort out their messes when they occur. In many foreign ministries on the continent, the idea of strong and independent states as enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia, seems quaint, if not dangerous or old fashioned.
This has resulted in clashes between lawmakers in Brussels and Britain's parliament, the House of Commons -- not just as a collision of character and ways of doing things, but also, as with much of politics, a power game.
At the moment, the Union is winning, as swathes of EU law have to be transposed and written into national law; since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, these new laws take precedence over the sovereign laws of member states.
It is not only this takeover by a supposedly monolithic power of national identities that angers Euros-skeptics, but also the numbers of laws that are introduced every year. This, they claim, will turn the whole of the EU into a blancmange of sameness, a charge fulsomely denied by various Commissioners sitting in the grandly curvaceous Berlaymont Building in Brussels.
The United Kingdoms Independence Party's (UKIP), which has 12 MEPs in the European Parliament, recently claimed that most laws affecting British business originated in Brussels and are just "rubber stamped" by the Commons.
The UKIP's leader Lord Pearson's outraged complaint came after a British lobby group, The Taxpayers Alliance, said that the EU had introduced nearly 10,000 news laws since 1998. The fact that the 13-year long New Labour administration, newly departed, had created on its own 3,500 additional pieces of legislation suggests that the UK at the moment might be somewhat over-regulated.
The UKIP's bête noire is the EU, and there are allegations that up the threat from Brussels has been exaggerated for their own cause; but on the other side of the political coin, the former president of the European Parliament, Hans Gert Pottering, has been quite happy to claim that up to 75% of new legislation was created by the European Commission and revised by his MEPs -- ensuring that Euro skeptics everywhere would froth even more.
As there are no actually verifiable statistics, the truth may be better -- or worse. "The fact is," said one seasoned political consultant, "that with the adoption of the acquis communitaire as a necessary requirement for the Eastern bloc nations to become members of the EU, means [sic] that up to 90% of all new laws come from Brussels. With a Western European nation such as the United Kingdom, the percentage is more likely to be 60-65%, but this still means that the European Parliament does really have a voice and serious clout."
At the moment, the EU and the UK are at loggerheads over proposals to regulate the financial markets in response to the 2008 meltdown and current volatility caused by the implosion of several southern European economies, although Ireland and Britain's do not look too healthy either. One of these pieces of legislation is the Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive; it restricts what investors can buy, and could effectively stop EU investors, including those in the City of London, from investing in non-European managers' funds, including those in the US, unless the managers' regulators already have an agreement with the EU authorities. The vote in Parliament is to take place early next month (July 6), and MEPs are unlikely to be sympathetic to calls for watering down the new law.
Once agreed upon, this law will supersede similar UK regulations and there is little the House of Commons will be able to do.
Do you think the European Parliament will care?