Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Charter of Fundamental Rights

Delivered in Plenary 13th December 2000

Mr President

The first problem, as I see it, with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, no matter how noble its intention, is the internal inconsistency of a document which, while referring only to European Union institutions, strays into areas of jurisdiction where the EU has no current competence - with potentially undesirable consequences.

For instance, in the area of criminal law the abrogation of the right to extradite fugitives to countries which allow the death penalty could mean that Europe becomes a haven for American murderers. The enshrining of the double jeopardy principle would be embarrassing to the British government who have now decided they will abolish it. Secondly, anti-discrimination provisions are ludicrously wide-ranging and open to abuse. These rights open the door for the demands for homosexual marriage and adoption, and language discrimination clauses might prohibit the refusal to employ EU doctors in the United Kingdom who do not speak English. They might even threaten the Thatcherite trade union reforms in the United Kingdom of the eighties.

Most worrying is the Orwellian possibility, under Article 52, of the suspension of fundamental rights when the interests of the European Union are at stake. We have already seen the case of Bernard Connolly whose critical book regarding the European Commission was suppressed by the Court of First Instance. Are we to see a situation come about in which only politically correct statements about the EU will be tolerated in future? This charter is not only potentially damaging but unnecessary given the fact that we already have the European Convention on Human Rights which was supported in 1950 by the great Conservative, Winston Churchill, and Articles 6 and 7 of the Amsterdam Treaty.

We have witnessed the hypocrisy in the House when the left-wing were not prepared to support my motion on the Italian royal family's rights being restored. We already see the effects of judicial activism in Britain taking powers from our national parliament. We could now see unelected judges extending this considerably in Europe. All this will do is to establish a competitive jurisdiction between the European Court of Justice and the Court of Human Rights and play into the hands, or should I say pockets, of already overpaid litigation lawyers. Lastly, it will fuel claims that the EU is hell-bent on proclaiming a federal constitution with a charter as its first chapter.