Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001

MR KEITH VAZ and MR JAMES BEVAN

  20. I do not accept that for one minute because, in practical terms, the emergency brake and the veto for enhanced co-operation which has, as I understand it, been taken off in matters other than I imagine from what you have just said in respect of Title V and Title V1, you have created a situation in which other member states, providing they reach the threshold of eight, are able to go ahead which does create a hard core, and to go back to the reality which is the question of voting in relation to those qualified majority voting situations, surely the situation has enhanced the German position on the basis of my previous questions but also because there are countries who are politically and economically dependent upon Germany who will tend to vote with her in matters which are of German national interest.
  (Mr Vaz) I do not accept that. I understand your point but, you know, I just do not think there is any evidence to support that view. This is not about Germany and about countries that vote with Germany because they are dependent on Germany. If I may say so, with the greatest of respect to you and I know you are a man of great integrity, this is complete nonsense. This is a decision taken by all member states, not one particular country. As you know, what we approved is a procedure which would allow a country, if you like, a right of appeal to the European Council on matters that they felt were terribly important to their national interest so that, in a sense, is a reassurance for those who believed they might be moved along in a direction they do not want to go in. But I want to re-emphasise that this is not about Germany and the economic power of Germany; this was a hard-headed process of negotiation and I was there and I saw what was happening and no Prime Minister—including the Prime Minister of Belgium—was there to come along and hand over votes to any other country, whichever country that was. They fought long and hard in order to secure their national interest. We did; they did; and that is why it took so long because people were not prepared to compromise.

Mr Connarty

  21. Can I just say that the silence from many of the Members here does not mean that we are actually agreeing with anything Mr Cash is saying—in fact, you are dealing with his distorted points very well and we all welcome what was achieved at Nice. Mr Cash made a statement which I am not sure was a fact and I would like you to clear this up. Can you confirm that the emergency brake procedure, which no longer applies to co-operation under the EC Treaty, still applies to Title V, common foreign security policy, and Title VI, policing matters. Mr Cash did imply that it did not apply any longer in these areas but can you confirm that it does still apply?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed it does and I will leave it to Mr Bevan to explain what remains of the emergency brake, which is very prominent.
  (Mr Bevan) What you had beforehand was a full emergency brake in the first pillar and in the third pillar where, if a country did not wish to see enhanced co-operation proceed, it had the right to ask that the decision be taken by the European Council by unanimity and, therefore, it had a veto. That has now gone in pillar one and is replaced by the appeal process that the Minister has referred to. There remains a full emergency brake in pillar 2. In the justice and home affairs pillar, pillar 3, we now have the same procedure as in pillar 1—that is to say, a right of appeal to the European Council but not a veto.

Mr Casale

  22. Can I join in welcoming you back to our Committee to continue our discussion and our dialogue around the issues relating to the treaty of Nice because you came before this Committee before the Nice summit as part of this Committee's inquiry into the intergovernmental conference and as a result of new powers which this committee has to enhance the scrutiny power of the national Parliament we have the opportunity of seeing you and having this evidence session today which we welcome. Could I ask you to comment on how you see the effectiveness of the scrutiny process in relation to the intergovernmental conference and the Nice summit? I am sure you are very familiar with our report into the intergovernmental conference, the bones of which, briefly, were that we wanted to see the Government focusing on the practical tasks necessary to allow enlargement of the European Union to take place, and I think we are satisfied with the outcomes at Nice. But there was also a new process at work in terms of how this Parliament, through our committee, tracked your preparations for this important conference in Nice and it is now looking at what has come out of it in this session, and I would be interested to have your comments as to how you think the scrutiny process is working.
  (Mr Vaz) I think it is working extremely well, and yes, I have a copy of your report—I never go anywhere without one!—because I think it is important that Parliament should have an opportunity, as you have done, to scrutinise the way in which the European process operates. We also have a duty to inform the public about what is happening. Sometimes people regard what is happening in Europe as being something to do with the jargon of the European Union but actually it relates to people's lives in a most dramatic way. I think this process is important; it should continue; it should be strengthened; it complements the work being done in the European Parliament and it gives, in a sense, flesh to the ideas put forward by the Prime Minister in his Warsaw speech about the possibility of having a second chamber, for example. But without the scrutiny process I think it makes my life more difficult because, at least with it, you can have a greater understanding of the views of Members of Parliament and ways in which they can influence the process of government.

  23. What the scrutiny process can do is separate out fact from fiction in relation to some of these matters and anybody reading the press, for example, might think there was something of an inevitable integrationist momentum behind everything that happens in Europe. What we have found in our extensive detailed research, investigation and inquiry was that it is very much a case of key decisions now not being made necessarily in Brussels but in Paris, in Rome, in Berlin, in London—in the capitals—and in this regard we have seen that, far from it being a drive towards a supercentre integration, the intergovernmental aspects of it are very much coming to the fore, and these are the key decision-making arenas. Has this been your experience in preparing for the Nice summit, and how would you assess the importance of Britain's bilateral relationships and the strength of them as a factor in getting such a good outcome from Britain for this summit?
  (Mr Vaz) I think they are crucially important. The work over the last three and a half years done by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, by my predecessor, ministers for Europe, and by Members of Parliament and your own work in relation to Italy, for example, these kinds of contacts are extremely important because they reinforce the view that Britain wishes to be fully involved in the European process and ministers and the Prime Minister have developed a formidable and substantial relationship with each one of the individual heads of state and, of course, the activities of the European Council are not televised and I as a minister for Europe do not get a seat around the table but I have the capacity to go in and out to see what is going on, and to watch Tony Blair and Robin Cook develop those relationships and use them productively for the benefit of our country and for Europe was very impressive, and I think what we need to do is understand that those contacts are important. It is not just about ministerial meetings and meetings between members of Parliament but also the work on the Council of Europe. The Chairman was a member of a delegation to the Council of Europe, and these kinds of relationships build up a very good impression for Britain and it is a sea change from what happened before 1 May 1997 when Britain was very isolated and it was not possible basically to do the deals and the business that needs to be done.

Mr Marshall

  24. Can I just say that members of this committee have pressed for Council meetings to be held in public but, with the greatest respect to yourself and the Prime Minister, we have always been assured that would then prevent them saying one thing in public and another thing in Council meetings. Perhaps if you do not believe that occurs to any great degree you could support the Committee's view that Council meetings should be held in public.
  (Mr Vaz) I think I will step aside from changing government policy on that particular point, Mr Chairman!

Mr Casale

  25. Speaking for myself, I can see there were positive outcomes for Britain on this summit and I think a number of colleagues here feel that way and in large part it increased British influence in Europe in building up these bilateral relationships and it prepared the way for enlargement, which we want to see, and we need to will the practical means to that but, as part of our inquiry, we had the opportunity to visit a number of the applicant states and to talk to them about how they see joining the European Union. I now want to turn to one of the technical aspects of the Nice summit in relation to the proposed number of seats and votes for applicant states, in particular Hungary and the Czech Republic, in the European Parliament when they accede. There may be a feeling, and I think I would have some sympathy with it, from the point of view not from Britain but from the applicant states themselves, that they are a little bit short-changed and they are not going to have as many seats as they ought to by virtue of the size of their population, and so on, especially in relation to comments that President Chirac has made, for example, that new member states should have a handicap compared to existing members. I want to ask for your comments on that and whether the British government share that view?
  (Mr Vaz) I think it was a good deal based not just on population. As I have said, as far as Germany and Britain are concerned, the population is different but the votes are the same. It was a deal based on a whole variety of issues. I have not got the impression from any of the applicant countries that they are dissatisfied with the deal that has been done. I am not just saying that because it is convenient for me to say that; nobody has written or come to see me to say they believe they were being short-changed. You quote President Chirac; I do not know where from, but it was certainly not the view of any of the member states that there should be any impediment put in the way of countries joining and, as an example of this, the mere fact that you had all these countries on a list before they were even members was a physical representation of the fact that they are almost there. We are, as you know, going to reduce the number of members of the European Parliament eventually and we have agreed to do that even though we are a big country, but I think there are always going to be comments made about one country or another feeling that they could have done a bit better, but as far as we were concerned it was a difficult deal to do and it was done.

Miss McIntosh

  26. Can I welcome the minister to the proceedings and, as a relative newcomer, I missed his performance prior to the Nice summit. On the back of Mr Casale's question about the applicant countries, I would like to ask a question in two parts. Is there not a growing concern expressed by the applicant members that they are going to be disadvantaged, particularly those countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Baltic states, and that the opportunities for them collectively to group together on matters of common national interest will not be as great to form a blocking majority as those of the existing member states? Is the Minister aware of any growing disillusionment amongst them? Secondly, and I declare an interest as an immediate past member of the European Parliament, to what extent is Britain going to be disadvantaged in the reduced numbers that are envisaged in the revised treaty as opposed to Germany vis-a"-vis our co-operation?
  (Mr Vaz) On the first point, I have not detected any concern from the applicant countries, and I am not saying that because it is convenient—I have visited all the countries Miss McIntosh has mentioned, and I am off to Prague on 24 January with a team of ministers to talk to the people there. Their concern has always been that it is taking too long; we want to get in; we want to shape the future of Europe. That concern has been brushed aside—or washed away, I should say—by what happened at Nice because they are now there. Their voting strength is on the record; it is on the list; and they know they are going to be participating. You mentioned a common interest between the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Poland and people said that when other countries came in but it does not apply, I do not think. It is not the case that Spain and Portugal always vote together, or that Germany and France always vote together. This is not the case, and you will know this. There are some myths still about the European Union and those are some that have been put about. I am quite convinced that, when the applicants join, they will want to join as full members. They do not want to join because they are from a certain part of Europe and I think if, once they join, there is any move to separate Europe up into little sections this will be stamped upon by the majority of members because I think what the majority of members want is countries coming to the table with their own concerns but, in the end, decisions are being made in the interests of Europe as a whole. On the second point, as far as Germany and Britain are concerned, Mr Cash has quoted Chancellor Schroeder, but Chancellor Schroeder did not have a fit and tantrum because Germany did not get more votes. He behaved, like all the other heads of government, as statespeople in Europe—

  27. Excuse me but it was not weight of votes; it was seats that was the issue.
  (Mr Vaz) I will come on to that. All the heads of government were there to secure the best deal for Europe and the parity of the voting strength is an example of that. All the big countries agreed to it. Of the member states and the seats in the European Parliament, Germany has 99 and the United Kingdom will have 72, as will France. That should take into account the concerns that some have got about population differences and that is reflected in those figures, but there is no set magic formula to this when you are sitting round a table negotiating over these matters; there is not a formula that you can just pick out of the air; but I think this was a fair deal and one which everyone was prepared to accept.

  28. My concern, Minister, is that you as a Government have to sell to the British people why Britain should be reduced from 81 members of the European Parliament to 72, whereas the Germans will have no reduction whatsoever.
  (Mr Vaz) It was all part of a package. As you know, this is the way in which things work. There was a view put forward by Germany that they should have more votes on the Council of Ministers and in the end they retained parity with the United Kingdom and France and Italy. As far as the European Parliament was concerned, France and the United Kingdom both will have 72 votes, as will Italy, and Germany will have slightly more seats. I think it will not be difficult to explain this to the British people when you look, for example, at the overall package that has been achieved and the fact that Germany does have more people, and I think this is something you can readily sell to the British people. In fact, I went to Henley with Mr Boris Johnson shortly after Nice and I was able to talk to the good people of Henley about the outcome and there was certainly no dissent expressed to me when I went round Tescos in Henley. People were not saying, "Germany has 99 seats in the European Parliament and the United Kingdom only has 72".

Mr Dobbin

  29 Minister, still on the issue of enlargement, there appears to be a contradiction on the minimum blocking minority. The two figures bandied around are 91 and 93 votes. Is there agreement on this, and what is the nature of that agreement?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Bevan has waited all his life to explain these technical points!
  (Mr Bevan) Since you asked for it, there is a very complicated formula that has been agreed for moving from EU 15 to EU 27. At its simplest, at EU 15 where we are now from 1 January 2005, provided there is no enlargement, the blocking minority will be 69—that is, 169 votes out of 237 will be necessary for a qualified majority. At the first enlargement, which might come before 1 January 2005, the qualified majority will be set at just below that percentage level; the new EU 15 percentage level is 71.3 per cent and we will set it just below that depending on who comes in. Then, at each enlargement thereafter, the qualified majority threshold will be reset so that it gradually rises but it will not exceed 73.4 per cent of the total votes, and when we reach the denouement at EU 27, the qualified majority will be set at 255 out of 345 votes, which is a 74 per cent threshold with a blocking minority of 91.
  (Mr Vaz) Are you reassured, Mr Dobbin? Is there a supplementary?

  30. You did mention January 1, 2005. The protocol on enlargement contains a number of provisions which will come into force in January 2005 but there are no provisions up to that date. Was there tacit understanding at Nice that there would be no enlargement before 2005, and what implication will the IGC in 2004 have on that? Could it delay new accessions?
  (Mr Vaz) That is a very important point. We were insistent that we did not have any delay to the enlargement process and we readily agreed to a second IGC in 2004 because there are very important issues that need to be looked at. Competency is an issue; we want to look at ways in which the treaties can be approached and, indeed, we will also look at the charter of rights. The key point, however, is that we did not want the IGC in 2004 to hold up enlargement. I am confident that we will have had countries joining before then—that is the intention. The intention is that we get these countries in as quickly as possible and, therefore, they will be full members and be able to participate in the IGC on that occasion. I think that is a timetable that is worth sticking to. The Prime Minister when he spoke in Warsaw on 6 October was also very keen to send out a message to the applicants that we wanted to see the enlargement process accelerated and, therefore, you should not in any way be concerned that these matters only come into force on 1 January 2005 because we would have had enlargement before then, subject of course to the British Parliament and the other parliaments ratifying the treaty of Nice. I am quite sure, when the legislation comes before the House, Mr Cash will be there with his amendments to enliven the session but we have that to look forward to when the legislation comes forward.

Mr Connarty

  31. It was very interesting that, Minister, you should mention the speech in Warsaw because clearly some of us who are pro enlargement had high hopes for Poland's accession very early on. Was there some discussion in Nice that might specifically give the Polish delegation some hope—many ex-Polish people have settled in parts of Scotland—that Poland will be one of the earlier nations making applications for access?
  (Mr Vaz) I am not going to make an announcement today about Poland's accession but I can assure you that Poland is doing very well indeed and, as far as opening and closing chapters for the acquis, it has been doing well. Certainly from the number of ministerial visits we have had there, it certainly realises that it is out there in front. I am not going to make my life more difficult by saying that it has a date because it has not, and other countries are also doing well.

Mr Cash

  32. Could I come in quickly on a point of principle which arose out of what the Minister said to the citizens of Henley? I do not know whether he was referring, amongst others, to the Member of Parliament for Henley but certainly he mentioned Tescos. The issue I wanted to raise with him was in relation to the complexity of these procedures because, in a democracy, people need to know how decisions are taken. I think they can reasonably be expected to understand, even allowing for some of our procedures, that when people cast votes their names are recorded and they know what is going on, and the Chairman himself already indicated that he thought there might be something to be said for having decisions made in public, but the complexity of those problems and procedures which are being developed seem to obscure one simple question, which is this: you speak about the European Parliament and populations and speak, in a sense, as if to an extent the importance of the individual nation states has been eroded by this process—which undoubtedly it has—but could you not accept that the question of co-decision for example the present arrangements with respect to the European Parliament, combined with the arrangements for blocking minorities and percentages of votes and qualified majority voting in aggregate mean that laws are going to be passed which are going to affect the people in these countries. Do you not accept that there is a very serious problem which is that people simply cannot and will never be able to understand all the implications of this unless you have, as you have now, demanded of the Prime Minister, a White Paper explaining the constitutional and political implications in all this, in language you understand? These procedures you are praising are so opaque and complex that nobody could be expected to understand them, even people perhaps in this room.
  (Mr Vaz) This is a very important point about how we communicate directly to the people of our country about what is happening in Europe. We have various means of doing so. I have tried, in the last year and a bit, to go round the country and talk to people about the benefits of being in the European Union and explain to them how the process works. I think we under-valued our members of the European Parliament. Obviously at European elections people see them and know they are around. I think we need to make sure they have an effective role to play in explaining what happens there and it should not just be left at that but it should be left to ministers and Members of Parliament to do the same. That is why we go round the country and if you could have a word with the honourable member for Buckingham about what I am doing in various cities of the country, Mr Cash can explain that we are trying to do exactly what he has suggested. To communicate with people in simple language about their constitutional rights.

  33. But you created the problems by this complexity.
  (Mr Vaz) We have not created the problems. The treaty that took us into the European Union was signed by a Conservative Prime Minister; there was then a referendum which the Britain people voted for; the Maastricht treaty which, in a very principled way Mr Cash voted against, was a treaty signed by a Conservative Government, Mr Hurd and Mr Maude both signing the treaty and you have the Single European Act fully supported by Mrs Thatcher so when you say you created it, this is something the British people and successive governments have done. Can I make one point of correction: I have just realised it was not Tescos or Sainsbury's—it was in fact Waitrose, just in case I get lots of letters. I thought I would be fair to them all!

Mr Connarty

  34. Moving on, I thought a great deal was achieved in the Nice IGC and you are correct, the United Kingdom Parliament will be happy to support the laws necessary to see its implementation. Looking to the future, the declaration actually says that we will have an IGC in 2004. Firstly, what form might that take, given that our own Prime Minister and many senior people at the Nice conference were exasperated by the organisation and the feeling that matters of great substance were bundled in at the end. There is, running in some quarters, support for a change in the approach that might move towards the convention approach such as used for the charter for human rights. The Commission, the governments and representatives of the Parliament might put in a draft treaty to a future IGC? Could you possibly comment on that as an approach, or give us other views on how you or the Government feels the future IGC could be improved in its organisation. People feel that an IGC should actually focus on the important issues throughout, rather than having to take them at the end?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Connarty raises a point of concern to all of us in Nice. It is a marvellous city, even though we were there in December, but it just went on and on and I think, as the Prime Minister expressed his view shortly afterwards, we have to look at the way in which these decisions are taken because it is not right that you should have to take crucial decisions of importance to the rest of Europe and, therefore, the world when you have been sitting up all night for hours and hours and you have to make a decision by 4.30 in the morning, or come back to another Council under another Presidency. This is not a good way of doing business and you are right—we have to look at the way this is done. But this goes back to what I have been saying about modernising, and the way in which the business of the European Union is conducted, because there was a lot of transparency. It was on the website, it was in The Times, even Trevor Kavanagh wrote about it—it was all over the place. Nobody had any doubt about what we were doing in Nice and I think the difficulty is the procedures. It reminded me in a sense of what life was like for some of us before OMOV, and looking for the tiny little bit of the resolution that needed to be put into the composite in order to make sure it would work. We need to make sure that we look at the procedures and I think that will be accepted by everybody. Nobody wants to come to a European Council and spend days and days trying to work through all this. This is not a reflection in any way on either the French Presidency, or the work of the officials over the whole year, because we have had some very effective work done by people like Sir Stephen Wall, who was our representative, Nigel Shinewall and, indeed, Mr Bevan, his team and others, throughout the year—preparing documents and having meetings—and all I can say in defence of these procedures is that these were crucially important issues, and in a sense it is better to have spent five days in Nice getting them right, than to have done it very quickly and made mistakes that we could not unpick, but I think we should look at transparency. I believe that the people of the United Kingdom will not learn to love the European Union until the European Union learns to love reform, which means reforming the way it does business, reforming its institutions, and I think between now and the IGC in 2004 is the reform agenda. Some of these were mentioned in Warsaw when the Prime Minister talked about the need for an annual statement, an annual report and benchmarking of decisions. That is why the Lisbon process was so important because having made the decisions at Lisbon we are coming back in Stockholm on 24 March this year to see what we have done in the last year. Mr Cash's point is that he thinks these things have disappeared into the stratosphere and people do not remember them until somebody writes about them. These are all things we need to make sure will happen. I think your point is very valid and it is one the Government takes seriously. Perhaps this is something the Scrutiny Committee itself could look at; ways in which we can reform the ways decisions are taken.

  35. Can I press you on the question of the convention model? It does seem that representatives of the Government, the Commission and the European Parliament should be somehow involved in a longer process that brings to the table something that has more substance. This would be more than a document which they then have to find little pieces to amend to make it palatable as the process of amendment was in some way incorporated in the preparation. There might be some more credibility for this process than for the big bang that happens at the IGC themselves.
  (Mr Vaz) It is an interesting point. I was not a great fan of the convention process. I believe that to some extent it takes away power from this place. If you are saying to me that elected representatives have a role and should be included in the process, then I am happy with that, but I think the Charter Rights Convention was more than just elected representatives. We had Wyn Griffiths and Lord Bowness and Lord Robertson who were all members of Parliament but there were others there who were not, and I think that we can take that process a little too far. The more people you bring into the system who are not elected representatives, the more it is divorced from Parliament. If you are saying to me that this House needs a better role in making sure that these things are prepared well, I would agree, and that is why we should examine what the Prime Minister said about a second chamber and look at it very carefully—not as a rival to the European Parliament but one which would allow for direct representation from this House, so this House is making decisions that will affect people.

  36. May I move on to some of the specific comments in the declaration and some of the things that was thought the IGC might consider. One is the delimitation of competencies between the European Union and the member states. Clearly this is a rather difficult area because of the question of how far you make the competencies bound on the treaty and how much, therefore, do you threaten Countries sovereign rights. We had the tobacco advertising judgment which was about putting down a limit on the European Union and how much you could take over competencies. I wonder if you have any thoughts on how the delimitation of competency might be achieved and how the question of the sovereignty of member states might be approached and resolved.
  (Mr Vaz) It is early days because we agreed it a few weeks ago but I think you are right to start thinking about this process now. What I get from the people of Britain is this view: "We like being in the European Union; we want to be here; we get great benefits from being in there but we do not know what it does and how it affects our lives", and this is part of this great debate about the finality of Europe and where it all ends. On the one hand you have some people ringing their hands and saying, "It is all going too far; there is a superstate round the corner"; on the other hand people say, "You will never have a superstate". I think what we need to do is to be clear what we believe our country is capable of achieving under the laws that have been agreed, and what more we can sign up to, and I think we need to be clear on that to the people of our country because they want to know where it is all going to end. I hope that is going to be part of that process—not necessarily technolegal but really about the principles of where this country stands in Europe. I think this is what people want to know and then they can be able to share in the decision-making process that I believe is crucial to the extension of democracy as far as the European Union is concerned. In my view and the government's view, however, this is the sovereign place—it is Parliament. You will have to either ratify or reject the Nice treaty but in the meantime we can start thinking about what we are going to do in 2004 and how we are going to make sure we make a valid contribution to that debate and this House should be involved in that.

Ms Jones

  37. Minister, I have two questions on the charter of rights. As you know, when this issue was raised and when the drafting convention started its work it did re-open the issue of the European Union being given the competence to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. Now that we have gone through the experience of the drafting convention and we now have the charter, having arrived at this end of the tunnel what is your view about enabling the European Union to put some work into seeing if they can accede to the European Convention on Human Rights?
  (Mr Vaz) Can I first say this about the charter because, as you know, there were lots of people saying that this was going to be legally binding, that this was the end of civilisation as we know it, and terrible things were going to happen. Of course, they did not. We had a very good discussion at the convention; we had adoption of the Charter that declares rights, existing rights and principles and freedoms recognised within the EU, and I think that was a very successful conclusion. Contrary to what has been said in yesterday's Daily Mail, there is not going to be a European Council meeting in Biarritz this weekend when the Prime Minister will not be signing the European charter of rights. I think they have got their dates wrong; we have had the Biarritz Council so there is an end to that process. Our job now is to talk to people about what their rights and responsibilities are. As for the ECHR, there is a point; people want to look at the possibility of accession and I think, if they wish to explore it, they can. What we have said is that it does mirror and supplement what is happening in the ECHR and we are happy that it should be left on that basis but, of course, the IGC will look at this again in 2004.

  38. Coming on to what might happen at the IGC in 2004, as you know, I was one of those who was concerned about the charter but perhaps not for the same reasons as some others. I was concerned that it may well conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights and, because I am an enthusiastic supporter of human rights protection, I did not want the existing mechanism of protection to be weakened so there was another argument as to why we should be very careful what we were doing with this charter. Moving on to 2004, now that we have got the Charter, although it is not legally binding, it is conceivable that the European Court of Justice may start to refer to the Charter in the years to come by way of building up case law. It is a possibility. Now, if that happens, it seems to me that in 2004, when its status is revisited, there may be renewed pressure then to make it legally binding. I wondered what your views on that were?
  (Mr Vaz) I do not think so. I think that we must choose our words carefully because when I made reference to a certain comic, when I described various cases that had been before the courts, people in the press misused my comments. I am being very cautious with what I say here. I do not think this is a problem. One fundamental issue that you have to remember is that you cannot litigate on the basis of this Charter, you cannot sue on it. If it is not going to be a document that is going to result in litigation it is, as it says it is, a declaration. I think it is far too early to look ahead to 2004 to see exactly what other Ministers will have to say then.

Mr Casale

  39. Minister, the Declaration on the future of the European Union just referred to a "... simplification of the Treaties ..." taking place with a view to making the Treaties clearer and more accessible, more easy to understand, without changing the essential meaning of the Treaties. What does this word "simplification" mean? What is your understanding of it in this context? Does it mean simply a consolidation of the existing Treaties? Does it not change it very much or are substantial amendments possible during that consolidation phase?
  (Mr Vaz) I am going to ask Mr Bevan to handle that because that sounds like just the kind of technical question that he is an expert in.
  (Mr Bevan) This derives from a study by the University of Florence which sought to produce a simplified version of the Treaties, and did. The aim that we support is as is written in the conclusions from Nice, simplification of the Treaties so that ordinary people can better understand what they mean without changing the meaning. There is another agenda which some of our partners are pursuing which is simplifying the Treaties to change the content, which we are reticent about, and/or simplifying the Treaties so that you can make it easier to amend them without having to have an IGC and without the agreement of all Member States. That is obviously also something that we completely reject.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 February 2001