Europe

UK's Hague wants 'red card' to challenge EU laws

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
Image caption William Hague says rebalancing EU powers is now a key challenge for the UK and Germany

The EU needs a "red card" system for national parliaments to block laws passed in Brussels if they think EU officials are going too far, the UK foreign secretary has said in a speech.

William Hague set out some of the UK's ideas on reforming the EU at a policy conference outside Berlin.

He said a "crisis of legitimacy" is undermining EU institutions.

National parliaments can currently raise a "yellow card" to make the European Commission reconsider laws.

Mr Hague proposed extending this principle by creating a "red card" system

This would "give national parliaments the right to block legislation that need not be agreed at the European level", Mr Hague said.

As with the yellow card system, this proposal would require a minimum number of national parliaments to agree in order to take effect, so a single government would not be able to ignore directives it disagreed with.

Mats Persson, of the Open Europe think-tank, welcomed the move.

Mr Persson said: "Allowing national parliaments to block unwanted EU law would go a long way to bring back democratic accountability over EU decisions."

"However, whilst it's encouraging that the UK government is looking at this, it must press ahead with this reform now to avoid the impression that it has no immediate strategy in Europe - a charge that's becoming more frequent."

Mr Hague was addressing the Koenigswinter Conference, a think-tank which aims to improve British-German relations.

He called on Britain and Germany to co-operate to "build a more competitive, flexible, democratically accountable European Union."

Crisis of legitimacy

Mr Hague argued some British people were concerned that they had little say about how the European Union affected their lives.

He said: "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."

He added: "Trust in the institutions is at an all time low. The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy."

The foreign secretary claimed the solution to this crisis was to give national parliaments more power, because "they are the democratic levers voters know how to pull."

He argued that the EU would not be "democratically sustainable" without this "decentralisation" of powers.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron plans to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU. That would pave the way for an in-out UK referendum on EU membership, to be held by the end of 2017 if his party wins the next election.

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