William Hague has called for individual nation states to be given powers to block unwelcome laws from Brussels.
The Foreign Secretary outlined plans for a new "red card" system for national parliaments that would result in greater democratic accountability from the European Commission. It is the first explicit request of Europe from the Tory-led UK Government since it announced plans to hold an in-out referendum in 2017.
In a speech to a foreign policy think-tank in Germany, Mr Hague said national parliaments should be able to overrule unwanted legislation coming from the European Union (EU). He told the Konigswinter Conference: "Trust in the institutions is at an all-time low. The EU is facing a crisis of legitimacy."
Mr Hague asked the audience: "How can we build a European Union that acknowledges and respects the diversity of its member states? One that recognises that our national approaches to and ambitions for the European Union may sometimes differ?
"I think instead that the solution lies in promoting the role of national institutions in European decision-making - because ultimately it is national governments and national parliaments that are accountable to our electorates. They are the democratic levers voters know how to pull."
He said that only by devolving powers to national MPs, rather than MEPs, will Europe be able to restore the democratic deficit.
The proposed "red card" would be an extension of the little-known "yellow card" system already in place. At present, parliaments in member states can issue a "yellow card" to the European Commission, forcing it to reconsider a law. The introduction of the "red card" would altogether thwart any EU legislation deemed inappropriate.
Labour welcomed the proposal. A spokesman for shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, who called time on the yellow card system in January, said: "Labour would seek to agree a mechanism for ensuring that national parliaments have more of a say over the making of new EU legislation." As with the current system, Mr Hague's proposal would require a minimum number of national parliaments to have effect.
But Labour pointed out that the policy was announced by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in a speech to Chatham House in January.
In his address, Mr Alexander said Labour would extend the existing mechanism, to include an "emergency break" for national parliaments on making EU laws. He said at the time: "Labour would seek to agree a mechanism for ensuring that national parliaments have more of a say over the making of new EU legislation."