Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 50)



  40. It might be appropriate to mention that the University of Florence is the European University Institute at Chiusi outside Florence which prepared the work for the Commission.
  (Mr Bevan) Yes.

  Mr Casale: If we can just get on the record that that is correct.

Mr Cash

  41. Could I ask one question about competency. I am sure, Minister, you would accept, you used the word before yourself—far be it from me to put words in your mouth—they were your words—
  (Mr Vaz) Yes.

  42. You constantly call for renegotiation of these Treaties.
  (Mr Vaz) That is slightly different.

  43. Well, it is not actually. You claim that there would not be a super state. My belief is that we are moving towards one inexorably for this reason: that in relation to its competencies, which is as between the European Union and Member States, Chris Patten has called for a clearer delineation between them. The basic Treaty from the University of Florence, which is headed up by the former legal adviser, Dr Ehlermann, who I have met in the past, would have submitted back in 1985, he was telling me, in those days that it wanted a federal constitution. The reason why I am concerned is that however much one may be prepared to accept, as you know I do, the idea of greater co-operation and, indeed, also, particularly in the context of trade, there is a world of difference between the division of competence between those areas of activity in relation to understanding between countries on the one hand and a legal framework which provides for European government on the other. Many of the discussions which have taken place since Feira on defence and foreign policy and, indeed, in relation to Nice itself, for those who like yourself have been deeply embroiled in this, know perfectly well that there is a division of opinion between those who want a European government and those who want to have a looser form of co-operation. Now, my simple question is this: are you prepared, on behalf of the Government, to say that you would repudiate the idea of a European government? Although I am not expecting you to give me the answer I would like, would you be prepared to renegotiate these Treaties, as I have constantly demanded of the Prime Minister, not merely this Treaty but the whole Treaty of the European Union, to exclude a European government, which I think you are going to have to admit you do not want?
  (Mr Vaz) We do not want a European government. We are not a federalist government. We have made this absolutely clear. I think you are only asking me the question because you have allowed me to say the answer again to you as I have said on so many occasions. We have not signed up to the federalist agenda. We believe in a Europe of nation states as does President Chirac, as, indeed, does Mr Prodi. How do I know this? Well, I went to Birmingham to hear Mr Prodi's speech when he spoke to the CBI and he made it quite clear that he was proud of himself, his culture—he was Italian—and the state of Italy and that was not going to change, he was not in favour of a European super state. This is an invention, it is a fiction, you simply cannot have this in the system that we have. I am very happy to repudiate any notion that this Government is in favour of a super state of any kind. The Prime Minister has said that and I am happy to repeat it.

Mr Steen

  44. A moment ago you listed some of the things you thought the people of Britain thought about Europe, including the very great benefits they got from being in Europe. I was just racking my brains what they might be, these benefits?
  (Mr Vaz) I was about to prepare my longest speech. What Europe provides me with, Mr Steen, you know the answer, I do not know why you are asking me this question, is international peace and security, financial success for our country. Eight of our top ten trading partners are in the European Union. 700,000 British businesses, including businesses in your constituency, are currently based in the European Union. About three million jobs depend on our presence as a Member of the European Union. A magnet for international investment. The Japanese, the Americans invest in Britain because they know this is a springboard to Europe. All these are factors that you know about. At a local level I have been to see a cyber cafe in Leeds where European Social Fund money is going in to providing training for young inner city people. I have been to see other projects in different parts of the country. You may say "Well, we are putting money in, should we not get money back", of course you do. If you join any organisation, if you are a country like ours with the fourth biggest economy in the world, you have to make a contribution. We are getting money back and it is being spent for the benefit of our people.

  45. I will let my constituents know that.
  (Mr Vaz) Please. I am happy to come to your constituency if you would like me to.

  Mr Marshall: Final question, Jenny.

Ms Jones

  46. Last question from me. I want to raise the issue of the thinking that is now being considered on the role of national parliaments in the European architecture. I wonder if you could tell us what the current Government thinking is on this very important issue, particularly in relation to the proposed Second Chamber for the European Parliament?
  (Mr Vaz) Just to start by saying to Mr Steen I have actually been to Wolverhampton to visit Ms Jones' constituency and saw a number of children at St Edmonds School in her patch that had formed links with schools in Italy and other parts of Europe. That is another benefit that we have from being members. I think that the idea of a Second Chamber is an exciting one.

  47. Yes.
  (Mr Vaz) It is an idea that has been put forward by others. Of course, the Prime Minister mentioned it on 6 October in Warsaw. I think that there is a tremendous role for our Parliament, for individual parliamentarians and for committees of this kind to be part of that great debate. What we want to do is strengthen the relationship between British people and the European Union. That has got to be done through this place because this is where sovereignty lies in the end. I think anything that you can do to contribute to that debate will be warmly welcomed by your Government.

  48. Can I just follow up on that. At the end of the month the Committee is going to Sweden, they have just taken over the Presidency.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes.

  49. Ideally what progress would you like to see the Swedish Presidency make on this issue?
  (Mr Vaz) I have had some useful discussions with Mr Danielsson, who is the Minister, State Secretary for Europe, and I hope that you will have an opportunity of seeing him and, indeed, Anna Lindh has been in close communication with Robin Cook. The Swedes, they are only nine days into their Presidency, I think that these are ideas that the Swedes will want to discuss with other colleagues in order to move the agenda forward. I think that will be very helpful.

Mr Marshall

  50. Could I thank you, Mr Vaz, for answering our questions so frankly and being prepared to rebut some of the wilder allegations which have been put to you over the 90 minutes. I am sure the grocers of this country too will be thankful for your presence here. If any Member can think of any other leading grocery chain that we have left out for the official record.
  (Mr Vaz) Morrisons.

  Mr Marshall: Can I thank you on behalf of the Committee. It has been a pleasure. I am sure we have learnt a great deal and the information, which we will eventually publish, will I hope advance the knowledge that people have and also advance the kind of agenda you were putting forward in response to Mr Steen's penultimate question. On behalf of the Committee can I thank you again. Before I close the Committee can I just remind the Members of this Committee that we have the normal scrutiny committee in private after this meeting has finished.

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