EU leaders signed the Charter of Fundamental Rights today as some MEPs including Tories loudly protested, asking for a referendum on the reformed treaty.
During the ceremony in Strasbourg protesters shouted as Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, was speaking.
“No matter how loud you heckle and yell, today is a day of fundamental importance for Europe,” he said.
MEPs from Britain, Denmark and Poland shouted “Referendum!” during his speech, indicating their disapproval of the treaty.
Labour MEP Michael Cashman accused Tory politicians of being unable to accept “even the most basic principles of politics,” as they joined the other protesters who shouted during the ceremony.
“I call on Cameron to denounce those senior members of his party who led and were a vocal part of this demonstration today. These examples of bully boy tactics have no place in Britain, in Europe or in politics.
“Their actions have brought shame and ridicule on the United Kingdom,” he said.
UK Independence Party MEPs were among the protesters. Their leader Nigel Farage said: “This is the new EU in action, showing the world a united face as they steamroll towards their own superstate while totally refusing to allow anyone to see a different point of view.”
Welsh Green MEP Jill Evans complained that the UK is opting out of the charter:
“Nothing highlights our disadvantage in Europe more than watching everyone except Britain and possibly Poland sign up to the charter of fundamental rights… those of us who are denied the protection of the charter could only stand on the sidelines,” she said.
The charter lays out civil, political, economic and social rights of all EU residents and will be appended to the EU new reform treaty once it is ratified by all 27 countries.
The ratification process should be complete by the end of 2008.
So far only Ireland has confirmed it will hold a referendum on the treaty, but the UK government is under pressure to hold a plebiscite.
The charter was first adopted at the Nice summit in 2001, although it was at the time only a political declaration with no legal value.
If the reform treaty comes into force, the charter will apply to the EU’s institutions and member countries every time they are implementing European laws.
However, it will not be binding for the UK and Poland, which opted out fearing interferences from the Court of Justice, even though the document doesn’t empower EU institutions to interfere with national legislation.
Britain decided to opt out fearing that the “right of collective bargaining and action” could protect the right to strike.
Poland was concerned that the Charter’s open position on gay rights would endanger the traditionalist values of its society.
The new Polish Prime Minister indicated during the election campaign earlier this year that he would accept the charter, but the political arithmetic in the country’s Parliament means he must reject it in order to get the treaty ratified.
Article 21 of the charter prohibits “discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.”
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