Is the EU becoming a 'police superstate'?


November 28, 2007 15:05 | by Steve McGiffen

an enquiry into whether expanded 'terror' laws and a new EU force with military status herald the rise of the police state?

As UK prime minister Gordon Brown announces a new range of measures "to combat terrorism" and a report reveals that British police can hold suspects for longer than their colleagues are allowed to in any other nominal democracy, the question of whether Britain is on its way to becoming a police state surely seems less hysterical than it may have done a few years ago.

In fact, the hard-won rights and freedoms of the people of not only Britain but of 26 other European countries are in clear and present danger, under attack not only from Westminster and Washington but from the city from which, to an ever-greater extent, we are ruled - Brussels.

The determination and enforcement of criminal law and the preservation of internal order have, for centuries, been regarded, along with defence from external threats, as the very essence of nationhood.

The corollary of this, as democratic institutions have developed, was that the right to have a say in such matters came to be seen as a fundamental characteristic of citizenship of a free society.

Yet, in the first decade of the 21st century, under the guise of fighting terrorism, this national control of - and popular involvement in - the making and enforcement of criminal law are in serious jeopardy.

Daily, our rights and liberties are being eroded not only by governments against which we at least have the right to vote but by unelected officials operating in secret, answerable only to each other.

To list even the broad elements of every proposal or enactment the effects of which will be to encroach on our freedoms would take hundreds of pages, so here are some examples.

A new surveillance mechanism aimed at air travellers, the Passenger Name Record (PNR) scheme, will shortly be introduced. Based on the system already in place for citizens of EU member states travelling to the United States, the scheme will mean the collection of personal data on all travellers by air in and out of the EU, including credit card details and email addresses. Controls on how this information will be used and by whom are woefully inadequate. The scheme is also designed to be easily extended in scope, should this be deemed necessary, as regards both transport methods and ostensible target groups. The impact assessment by the EU itself speaks of the possibility of "a wider application at a later stage" and goes on to talk about "extending (PNR) to other forms of transport at a later stage," as well as to internal flights. Of course, none of us wants to be blown to bits, but there is no evidence that this approach of treating everyone as a suspect and depriving people of their most basic rights results in anything but the gathering of mountains of data beyond anyone's capacity to monitor.

Discriminatory "profiling" of passengers, in which "likely" terrorists are identified through examination of their political and religious views, ethnicity and family background, is simply outrageous. Even this begins to seem almost rational, however, when compared to the European Commission's proposal that the recently introduced requirement for fingerprints in passports be extended to children aged six and above. Don't imagine, moreover, that toddlers aren't under suspicion. It is simply that a child's fingerprints are not, the Commission laments, "of sufficient quality for one-to-one verification of identity" until they reach the age of six. Expect to see this "problem" included in the next EU research and development programme.

The real purpose of such measures has little to do with the control of terrorism. It is, rather, to make people feel that their every move is being watched, that dangerous people are lurking around every corner, that our neighbours - especially our Muslim neighbours, it has to be said, or anyone about whom there is anything unusual whatsoever - are not to be trusted.

With the world on the brink of serious economic difficulties and the EU assault on working people moving into overdrive, our masters in Brussels are anticipating trouble and equipping themselves with the tools to deal with it. This is revealed most starkly in the establishment by five member states, under the auspices of the European Union and with the right to act in its name inside or outside EU territory, of an international police force along military lines and with military status. Initial participants will be Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, but the treaty establishing it is open to any EU member or applicant country.

As editor of Statewatch Tony Bunyan said recently, this initiative "brings together armed paramilitary units, some of which are infamous for their behaviour at protests. What lines of accountability for its actions will there be? It will be accountable only to itself."

Bunyan's phrase "accountable only to itself" could serve, increasingly, as a description of so many aspects of the European Union and its policies - as well as an epitaph for our rights and freedoms.

Steve McGiffen edits Spectre and writes a monthly column for the Morning Star.

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