Last week was billed as an important crunch week for the EU as we had the decision of the Karlsruhe Court, the annual State of the Union address, not to mention the Parliament meeting in session in Strasbourg. Yet as I searched the UK weekend press for any reporting of the outcomes of this anticipated monumental week in Europe nothing came up unless you count the stupid article in the Express which is fast becoming the UKIP trade rag.
Yet in some ways it was remarkable, that on Wednesday whilst Barroso was speaking the twitter hash tag #SOTEU started to trend. This was some achievement in terms of social media, but I wonder how far it permeated when not backed by traditional national media. Of course, in so far as the speech was reported in the British media it was to mention the feared ‘f’ word – ‘federal’ – followed by Europe; a guaranteed turn off and hackle-raiser in the UK. Indeed, the German judges probably got slightly more coverage. The idea that a group of German judges might bring the euro zone crashing down was clearly a mouth-watering prospect for elements of the British media, but their worships failed to deliver so, of course, it was a non-story. What we should perhaps question is why should a group of judges in any one member country have such power? This should be a ‘political’ decision made by people and parliaments. A political decision reported and previously discussed in the media. Yet this continues to be the European problem; the lack of truly mainstream European media to facilitate a popular conversation.
Of course, the European Parliament was hard at work this week. Just by way of example I noted two interventions from erstwhile colleagues, one on the failure of the right in the House to vote to protect dwindling fish stocks, the other again targeting the right for voting measures that endanger stem cell research. These are critical issues that affect us all and the voting, the political decision making for the continent is being done, in large part, in Strasbourg. If these issues were being voted on at Westminster we would not hear the end of it. There would be political debate and media coverage. The media still remains national – or does it?
Of course the media coverage this weekend has been dominated by the furore about those pictures of the Kate. Well that is a European issue too. Photos taken in and published in France, Ireland and probably Italy, although the injured party is from the UK. A litigation lawyer’s dream and nightmare. The only entity that could have brought in simple pan-European rules on privacy, is the EU. Ironic, that in my years in the Parliament I spent a lot of time working on a piece of legislation known as Rome II ( I suspect many thought it was something to do with an additional runway at Rome airport ). In fact Rome II was a technical, legal instrument controlling where legal action in Europe can be brought and which set of laws applies to it. I spent much time and effort arguing that defamation or privacy actions should be included in this system, especially given that all EU counties start from the same basis of belonging to the Convention on Human Rights which underscores the right to privacy. Yet we could never do it; the voices from the media and elsewhere were too strong. The truth is the UK can do what it likes in terms of the Leverson enquiry but given the age of internet media any purely domestic regulation or legislation will be largely toothless – as Kate is finding out. As with many things there is strength and efficiency if Europe acts together as long as, of course, it is preceded by genuine political debate. There are indeed important freedoms to be balanced.
We need simple issues that allow us to appreciate the strength and utility of Europe. Selling federalism even in a time of economic crisis is unlikely to be enough, unless Europe shows its value first. Yet who knows the fall-out from a young woman going topless might help to bring that about or will that episode just make us dislike the French for what they did to our Princess?
I will be speaking on some of the difficulties relating to EU law-making at the European Law Institute Conference in Brussels on 29th September 2012 under the title “EU Law-Making: A Political Art or a Legislative Science.