On the Tories and future transfers of power to the EU

In his speech outlining his party’s new post Lisbon treaty policy on the EU, David Cameron pledged that no more powers would be transferred to the EU without a referendum:

Never again should it be possible for a British government to transfer power to the EU without the say of the British people.

If we win the next election, we will amend the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit, by law, the transfer of power to the EU without a referendum.

And that will cover not just any future treaties like Lisbon, but any future attempt to take Britain into the euro.

He also pledged that any attempt to use the Lisbon Treaty’s “self amendment” clause would require approval by Parliament:

But people will rightly say that the Lisbon Treaty does not just transfer powers to Brussels today.

It allows further powers to be transferred in the future, because it contains a mechanism to abolish vetoes and transfer power without the need for a new Treaty.

We do not believe that any of these so-called ratchet clauses should be used to hand over more powers from Britain to the EU.

Furthermore, we would change the law so that any use of a ratchet clause by a future government would require full approval by Parliament.

Note that he is not pledging that power transfers arranged via the ratchet clause would require a referendum.

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So what can this new EU president do?

So now the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, and the European Union has a new President, Herman van Rompuy. But what role does this President play?

The first point to note is that he is President of the European Council. Article 9b of the Lisbon Treaty deals with this body. It states:

1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.

2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.

3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.

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