Never has the European Commission had more need of magic. It has become the Harry Potter figure, waving its wand desperately, trying to fight off death eaters and dementors (I have a few nominees for representatives of these groups, beginning with the hysterically anti-EU columnists in certain UK newspapers). In my scenario, the European Court of Justice is the Hermione figure: worthy and hard-working, called on by all parties to provide the right spell quickly to deal with the approaching horrors.
Hermione is being resorted to over and over again nowadays, to help Europe out of its tangles. Most recently, there has been the question of the location of the European parliament’s plenary sessions. The parliament is the Ron Weasley figure, put upon and not very bright. Don’t get me started about the identity of the other institution, the European Council, which is made up of the governments: it is so deeply untransparent that it is obviously – and paradoxically – operating under an invisibility cloak.
One day, or more likely night, in the early 1990s, John Major agreed, in exchange for a reform to the common agricultural policy, that the fact that the European parliament should meet in both Brussels and Strasbourg should be put into the treaty. That means that changing it is extremely difficult and requires unanimity. One country – France – is never going to agree to the change. There have been constant complaints about the fact that the parliament, alone of all the institutions, has to change venue all the time. The constant to-ing and fro-ing is estimated to cost an extra €200m a year, to be very un-green, and to be disruptive of the lives of those involved – never mind that some feel it is a monopoly unfairly exploited financially by the city of Strasbourg, its hoteliers and restaurateurs. On the other side, proponents point to the sanctity of the treaty and the fact that Strasbourg should be considered as a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. As a person who has made the trip from Brussels to Strasbourg, I can tell you that I would prefer to try apparating between Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.
Well, some MEPs, led by a UK Conservative Ashley Fox, managed to have a secret ballot on the question recently, and succeeded in passing a plan to merge two plenary sessions into one week, thus saving on one trip to Strasbourg per year. You would have thought that this would cause barely a ripple, but the French government has announced that it is going to challenge the parliament’s vote in the European Court of Justice. I see Nicolas Sarkozy as Severus Snape, the potions master, deeply ambiguous in his relationship to Harry Potter, and now calling out: ‘Give us the right spell, Hermione!’
More seriously, the question of a European patent, about which I have written before, is evolving. The European Court of Justice recently gave an opinion that the proposed European patent court would not be compatible with the terms of the treaty. Its structure would, for instance, have deprived national courts of the right to request preliminary rulings from the European Court. So, the policymakers need to go back and think up another scheme. Harry Potter pretended to welcome it, but it was definitely not the right spell.
In the meantime, and separately, the enhanced procedure to allow a European patent was given the green light last week. (The commission says that this procedure is not dependent on the separate court mentioned in the previous paragraph.) The new system will create a single patent that will be less costly through a single application procedure aimed at producing effects in all the member states, unlike the existing system. It will use just three languages: English, French and German. Remarkably, 25 member states have signed up to it. Just two among those whose languages are excluded, Italy and Spain, have said that they will take the matter to the European Court of Justice. I predict that the court will say that only one language will be able to be used in patents in future – parseltongue, of course, which is the ability to speak to, and understand, snakes.
I realise that there are some who would allocate the roles differently. They see the EU institutions as the dementors, sucking out the souls of Europe’s citizenry. And Harry Potter in this view is the purest of Eurosceptics, fighting Lord Voldemort with his dangerous plan to harmonise everything he touches in Europe. You can take your choice, but I think we all agree that magic is needed.
Jonathan Goldsmith is the secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies
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