Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
MP AND MR
TUESDAY 16 JULY
40. Perhaps I could suggest in fact that the
mess we are getting ourselves into on food supplements and herbal
medicines at the moment area is a very good example where a directive
is coming from the EU and we are making a right mess of it in
this particular government at this time.
(Peter Hain) I could not possibly comment as a member
of the Government.
41. That was a preamble.
(Peter Hain) But I know what you are saying.
42. The Seville European Council also agreed
that there should be "a multiannual strategic programme"
for the three following years and "an annual operating programme
of Council activities", which we would welcome and we would
like to have prior knowledge of what is likely to be coming up.
Will the European Council's three-year strategic programmes and
annual operating programmes be available for this Committee and
others to comment on before they are agreed, so as to avoid a
wholly top-down, centre-out approach?
(Peter Hain) That seems to me to be a good idea. I
will happily look at that. That is not something I have specifically
considered but I would like to look at that. On the face of it,
as I say, it is a good idea, Chairman.
43. But will it happen?
(Peter Hain) We will try and make sure that happens.
44. I think, Chairman, it is in line with the
things we are suggesting in our own report, that there should
be more and wider discussions. We do not want to end up as we
are at the moment with industry coming to us as individual members
and saying,"Where did this come from?", when we could
have seen three years before exactly where it was coming from
if we had a programme.
(Peter Hain) Yes. If we could integrate the Commission's
programming better with the Council's programme and then have
a process of direct accountability prior to and after initiatives
on legislation, that would be a good idea.
45. We will have a new configuration if the
Development Council is to disappear. If the General Affairs and
External Relations Council were to cover that issue on development
co-operation, do you not think there is a danger that the wider
foreign policy interests will dominate and perhaps marginalise
the focus of development co-operation?
(Peter Hain) I do not think so because at the European
level it is part of the same foreign policy agenda. If you think,
for example, of what we are trying to do in the Balkans, or for
that matter what is going on in Afghanistan, there is as it were
the hard end on foreign policy which could involve military action,
peacekeeping, and then there is a softer end but equally, if not
more important, is the development assistance programme. Integrating
them under a common external relations umbrella actually helps
to get a more coherent joined-up foreign policy position for the
European Union. That is not to say it would be entirely determined
by foreign ministers. Clearly, if there were development issues
then the Secretary of State for Development and other development
ministers in other Member States would be party to those negotiations
46. My question is about the opportunity for
formal scrutiny of reports going to the European Council. Presidencies
frequently produce reports, such as progress reports on European
Security and Defence Policy, too late for formal scrutiny for
the European Council to which they are presented. Do you expect
that better organised preparation before European Councils will
assist more effective scrutiny or will papers such as the Presidency
progress reports on the ESDP still emerge only at the last minute?
(Peter Hain) I share your concern about this and it
is precisely because we want Councils to be better organised that
we pressed very hard for the reforms we got from Seville so that
things do not just appear at the last minute or are added on by
the Presidency almost like pulling rabbits out of a hat from time
to time, or it seems rather like that, but that there is a coherent
programme in which there can be room for the accountabilities
which you refer to, and the whole thing has a much more long term
strategic focus instead of a haphazard one.
47. Are you optimistic that this is going to
(Peter Hain) I think the fact that those Seville conclusions
were agreed unanimously means that everybody understands that
we cannot continue as we are. It is not working with 15 Member
States, let alone what it would be like with 25 or 27 or 28. These
reforms have come not before time.
48. I think we do have to work together in this
to make the process of scrutiny really effective and I think your
presence again before this Committee today and your willingness
to come before the Committee underlines your commitment to that.
Today, the Prime Minister has come before the Liaison Committee,
and set a real precedent in terms of the accountability of Government
to this House. If the Government is successful in negotiating
the kind of reforms to the Council of Ministers that we have been
discussing, what commitments could you give on behalf of the Government
to allow for greater scrutiny and greater accountability to this
House in relation to European decision-making?
(Peter Hain) I would happily look at any proposals
you put forward, and you have put forward a number of proposals
with which we agree.
49. The Presidency report, Measures to prepare
the Council for Enlargement, says that "some delegations"
wanted the Council to be able, in certain exceptional circumstances,
to have dossiers referred to it for a political decision, including
a decision by a qualified majority if that is what the Treaty
stipulates. "Other delegations" were opposed to this
in principle, stressing the risk of the European Council being
transformed into an appeal body for the Council. What was the
Government's position on dossiers being referred to the European
Council for a political decision by a qualified majority if qualified
majority is what the Treaty stipulates?
(Peter Hain) What we really wanted, Chairman, was
a situation where, if a subject had been agreed by QMV in the
lower Council formation, then if it was re-visited at the European
Council level QMV would have to operate there, because effectively
what you see is a series of vetoes exerted. The Common Agricultural
Policy is an example of that where having qualified majority voting
on the Common Agricultural Policy would actually be a big advantage.
We did not quite get there. What it said was that it would be
brought to the attention of the Council so that they could consider
the implications for subsequent proceedings. What we will still
push for is that principle.
50. What impact do you expect the middle way,
of allowing the European Council to take stock of current positions,
(Peter Hain) It is part of the preparation and pre-negotiation
with more limited agendas. Some of the Council agendas just elongate
almost by the day in the run-up to the Council meetings but with
the more limited agenda, focusing on the big issues, with the
new General Affairs Council underneath, an internal council as
it were, meeting more regularly, managing the European Union more
effectively, preparing for the European Council more efficiently,
you should get to a situation where the really big decisions are
made by heads of government and a lot of those earlier decisions
are dealt with at a lower level. I think that would help overcome
the problem to which you are referring.
51. Is this compromise likely to impede reform
of the Common Agricultural Policy?
(Peter Hain) You mean the compromise agreed at Seville?
(Peter Hain) No, I do not think so. In fact, it will
encourage it. It just has not gone the full way which would have
53. We have recently had a session with your
fellow Minister, Lord Filkin, on what seemed to be threats to
some of the fundamental principles of the European Charter of
Human Rights. We also have the ongoing discussion about the European
Charter of Fundamental Rights which seems to add to ECHR a catalogue
of social and economic rights, so there are still some questions
to be answered. Would the proposed incorporation of the Charter
of Fundamental Rights into a Constitutional Treaty for the EU
cause the European Court of Justice and the European Court of
Human Rights to have parallel and therefore potentially conflicting
competences over human rights issues? What is the Government's
attitude towards the proposed incorporation of the Charter into
the Treaty and what is the Government's view on the alternative
suggestion of the EU's accession to the European Convention on
(Peter Hain) We are willing to look at the accession
to the Convention on Human Rights in a sensible and sympathetic
fashion provided we see exactly what it means. I think the problem
with the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights as
it is presently constituted, just wholesale into the Treaty, is
that it couldin fact would in our viewstart to influence
domestic law in a way that was never intended. In that form it
is completely unacceptable to us and we have been working very
hard to draw the attention of Member States to the implications
not just for us with our common law based system, because we are
particularly vulnerable, but also to other Member States' system
of law. To be frank, Chairman, the fundamental rights are seen
as a motherhood and apple pie document by a lot of Member States
and people say, "How can you possibly object to this?",
and, when you read it, it is a very fine declaration of human
rights and so on. However, they have not really looked beyond
that and considered what the implications are. I have pointed
out, for example, to German delegates at the Convention that their
ban on essential workers having the right to strikethere
is a ban on those essential workers in the German constitution
having the right to strikecould be overridden, in fact
probably would be overridden, by wholesale incorporation, unamended,
of the Treaty without the horizontal articles preventing that
happening being strengthened and stiffened. They were really quite
amazed at this, so we are doing some fairly heavy lifting to try
and get a more intelligent debate about that at the present time
but ultimately it is not acceptable to us. We do not mind incorporation
in some form with those necessary safeguards built in but not
wholesale incorporation, which is just not acceptable.
54. Minister, has there been much progress in
relation to the possible simplification of the EU and EC treaties
at the Convention so far, and is there much support for their
fusion into one Treaty with a single legal personality for the
(Peter Hain) There is a consensus that we need to
simplify the Treaties in some form. We very much support that
point of view. There are two broad alternatives for doing that.
The one that I suppose is symbolised by the text produced by the
Florence European Institute is a wholesale re-structuring of the
Treaties and simplification into what would amount to an entirely
new text of the Treaty. We do not want to go down that road because
it will put up for grabs virtually everything that has been painstakingly
negotiated in the past, or there is the second alternative, which
is a bolt-on-the-front option, if I can put it in that fashion,
of a new statement of constitutional principles: what the European
Union is about, where the limits on its competences are, what
is reserved to a national level, what operates at a European level,
how it is organised and, to the extent that the existing Treaties
are amended, for example, by ending the six-monthly rotating Presidency
system, as we and your Committee favour, then you would amend
the Treaty article concerned in that new statement, that bolt
on the front. Those are the two options and we are exploring support
for the second of those options which is the one we favour.
55. Forgive me for saying this but I have been
addressing this question over the last 12 years.
(Peter Hain) Rather longer than I have.
56. I first met Mr Ehrlemann in 1986 or 1987
and we talked about this, so you can imagine how long the Florence
Institute and its inspiration have been working on this, because
they have it as an objective to create a constitutional arrangement,
whether it is by way of a treaty or a specific constitution, and
I will leave it at this, that I actually find it extremely dangerous,
once you get into that arena, because it then acquires many of
the characteristics ofwait for the dreadful wordan
autochthonous constitution, which means that it grows from its
own roots, and this is a rather dangerous position to be in, but
it is related to the next question I would like to raise, and
that is the question of the personality because the two run together.
The problem is this, that if you have a legal personality, as
I think you may concede we already appear to have with regard
to trade, but you apply it to the Union as a whole, which is what
some of the Member States and members of the Convention would
want, you then get into a position in international law which,
combined with the movement towards a constitutional arrangement
of the kind we have discussed, does move us down the route which,
for all the fine words about returning power to the national parliaments
and all the rest of it, actually puts us in a very parlous condition
and I would not like to accuse anybody of a sleight of hand but
actually this is very much what is going on. I do not want to
elaborate this other than to ask you whether the Government itself
has emphatically come to the conclusion that a single legal personality
would be utterly at odds with what the Government itself and you
yourself today have declared, for example, with regard to national
parliaments and at the bottom line, if I may say, Minister, in
a very urgent sense, the only means of preserving genuine democracy
and legitimacy and accountability for the citizens of Europe,
including in particular the United Kingdom. I regard this as a
hugely important question. Could you please say that you are not
going to agree to a legal personality?
(Peter Hain) We are not inclined to.
(Peter Hain) Let me finish. The European Community
already has a legal personality throughand I am sure you
are familiar with every wordArticle 281 of the Treaty of
the European Communities, but the European Union does not have.
58. That is the point.
(Peter Hain) Although there is an issue as to what,
if it operates as you implied, in an international context, its
actual personality is. I think we should look at this with an
open mind but with a very wary eye as well in order to see exactly
what the agenda is. Lord Maclennan is on the working group that
is looking at this.
59. Robert Maclennan who used to be in this
(Peter Hain) That is right.