Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE FUTURE OF EUROPE DEBATE


(22394)
8370/01
COM(01) 178

Certain arrangements for the debate on the future of the European Union.


Legal base:
Document originated: 25 April 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 27 April 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 20 June 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 20 June 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared

Background

46.1  Declaration No. 23 annexed to the Treaty of Nice calls for "a deeper and wider debate about the future development of the European Union". The Declaration says that:

    "The process should address, inter alia, the following questions:

    "—  how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and the Member States, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity;

    "—  the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union proclaimed in Nice, in accordance with the conclusions of the European Council in Cologne;

    "—  a simplification of the Treaties with a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning;

    "—  the role of national Parliaments in the European architecture."

46.2  The Declaration notes that a new Conference of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States will be convened in 2004 with a view to making changes to the Treaties. Prior to this:

    "In 2001, the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies, in co-operation with the Commission and involving the European Parliament, will encourage wide-ranging discussions with all interested parties: representatives of national Parliaments and all those reflecting public opinion, namely political, economic and university circles, representatives of civil society, etc. The candidate States will be associated with this process in ways to be defined."

The Commission Communication

46.3  In this Communication, the Commission offers its initial thoughts on the form that the debate should take, who should be involved and what contribution it could make. It envisages three phases:

  • a phase of open reflection in 2001 to include 'wide-ranging discussions with all interested parties' on a national level;

  • a period of structured reflection at the European level in the following years, which will focus on preparing a new revision of the Treaties; and

  • an intergovernmental conference, to be convened in 2004.

46.4  The initial period of open reflection will include a public debate open to all sections of civil society. It will be for Member States to organise their own national debates but these should not be restricted to "exchanges between European experts". The Commission considers that the substance of the debate should include more than the four questions set out in the Nice declaration. It adds that "in order to ensure that the debate retains a minimum degree of coherence and remains relevant, particular attention should ... be paid to the wording of the questions and issues."

46.5  The Commission proposes that the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament should agree on practical arrangements for encouraging a Europe-wide debate. It says that it could offer practical support to Member States, based on the experience it gained from the Dialogue on Europe initiative, which it launched in February 2000 and which was designed precisely for the purpose of encouraging public debate on Europe. Dialogue on Europe has an inter-institutional operating framework, uses a specific budget line, operates in a flexible and decentralised way, and uses new information technologies for establishing interactive communication with the Member States. It could be refocussed, so that the institutions are able to meet some of the operational needs of the debate on the future of Europe.

46.6  For the structured debate, the Commission favours a formula based on the convention which drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights and brought together representatives of national governments and parliaments, the European Parliament and the Commission.

Involvement of the applicant countries

46.7  The Commission stresses the importance of involving the applicant countries in the debate, through use of the internet, by encouraging the political authorities of these countries to contribute, and as part of the Commission's information strategy in candidate countries on enlargement.

46.8  In Annex 1 to the Communication the Commission has drawn up guidelines for its contribution to the practical aspects of the European debate.

The Government's view

46.9  The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) says in his Explanatory Memorandum of 20 June that on 7 March 2001 the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies, the European Commission and the European Parliament launched the debate. He comments:

    "The UK Government welcomes this debate and will remain fully engaged in it. Discussions on the structure of the debate at European level are ongoing. As the Gothenburg Presidency conclusions note, these discussions will continue up to the Laeken European Council where a decision is expected to be taken.

    "The Government welcomes the Commission's suggestion, in its Communication, to contribute to the practical arrangements of the Future of Europe debate at the European level. The Government is content for the Commission to refocus its Dialogue on Europe initiative so that the institutions are able to meet certain operational needs of the debate such as a debate website and a central co-ordinating team, provided that spending is kept within agreed budget lines".

Conclusion

46.10  This rambling document does little to advance matters and we note that the Minister has underlined the Government's support for the Commission to contribute to the practical arrangements.

46.11  We question what sort of mechanism of control the Commission has in mind when it points to the need for particular attention to be paid to the wording of the questions and the issues which should be debated, but prefer to assume that it is referring to the contribution it says that it may make, "when the time comes", on topics which it considers to be worth consideration.

46.12  We now clear this document.



 
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