WILLIAM Hague has called for national parliaments to be given the power to block new laws created by the European Union.
The Foreign Secretary outlined a “red card” system which would allow member states more freedom in choosing what parts of EU legislation they accept.
It is the coalition’s first major proposal on Europe since David Cameron signalled he wants to renegotiate the UK’s membership ahead of an in-out referendum in 2017,
Under the plan, more than one country would have to object to a law for it to be thrown out, though Mr Hague did not specify how many countries’ objections would be required.
His keynote speech, to a foreign policy think-tank in Germany, was a direct appeal to Europe’s elite and its most powerful member, Germany, to allow a more flexible arrangement, particularly for those outside the eurozone.
In the address, Mr Hague said national parliaments should be able to overrule unwanted legislation coming from the EU.
Mr Hague told the conference in Berlin that it was time “to make the EU more democratically responsive”. He said: “Trust in the institutions is at an all-time low. The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy.”
Mr Hague asked the audience: “How can we build a European Union that acknowledges and respects the diversity of its member states? One that recognises that our national approaches to and ambitions for the EU may sometimes differ?
“I think instead that the solution lies in promoting the role of national institutions in European decision-making – because ultimately it is national governments and national parliaments that are accountable to our electorates. They are the democratic levers voters know how to pull.”
He said only by devolving powers to national MPs, rather than MEPs, will Europe be able to restore the democratic deficit.
The proposed “red card” would be an extension of the little-known “yellow card” system already in place.
At present, parliaments in member states can issue a “yellow card” to the European Commission, forcing it to reconsider a law. The introduction of the “red card” would completely thwart any EU legislation deemed inappropriate and undermine the power of the commission.
The Foreign Secretary warned that only by reshaping the way the decisions are made in Brussels will Britons be able to see themselves tied into a long-lasting relationship with the EU. He spoke of the frustration many Britons feel about Europe.
“Too often, the British people feel that Europe is something that happens to them, not something they have enough of a say over. That the EU is happy speaking but does not seem interested in listening. That the EU is sometimes part of the problem, not the solution.”
Mats Persson, of the Open Europe think-tank, welcomed the move. But he warned the British public would only back the idea if the government demonstrated it was actively pushing for change now rather than later.
Labour pointed out the policy was proposed by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in January. Mr Alexander said Labour would extend the existing mechanism to include an “emergency brake” on EU laws.
He said: “Labour would seek to agree a mechanism for ensuring that national parliaments have more of a say over the making of new EU legislation.”