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European, Union Charter 'threat to sovereignty'
A charter of fundamental rights being drawn up by the European Union is turning into a federal constitution that could, undermine British sovereignty and put an end to the UK's flexible labour market, senior business leaders claim.
The charter, being drawn up by a committee; chaired by Roman Herzog, the former president of Germany, was initiated by the June 1999 Cologne summit of EU leaders to set out basic rights before expansion to the east.
But the Confederation of British Industry, Britain's main employers' organisation, says the process has been hijacked by lobby groups seeking to extend EU social regulation, and federalists who see the charter as an embryo constitution.
"This is at the heart of the debate about whether there is room within the EU for different national customs and practices - in particular whether our labour market can continue to operate in a more flexible way," said John Cridland, the CBI's head of employment issues.
"The objective of the exercise was to give transparency to rights that already existed, not to use this as a backdoor route to a European constitution."
Mr Cridland said the proposed inclusion of human rights in the charter would lead to confusion over jurisdiction between the European Court of Justice, which interprets EU treaties, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The charter is also likely to include social and employment clauses that would allow a court challenge to elements of British labour law such as restrictions on the right to strike, on union recognition, and on worker consultation.
The government, which shares some of the CBI's concerns, has proposed a two-part charter limited to existing rights and pointing to existing enforcement mechanisms, such as the Strasbourg court. However, senior members of the European parliament said it was accepted in Brussels that the charter would become a federal constitution.
A draft charter is expected in October, for approval by the European parliament. It would then be put to the Nice summit in December.
It would require unanimous approval by member states.