Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Third Report


4. THE EU INSTITUTIONS

55. The EU institutions still reflect the EU's origins as an organisation intended to be run by experts (the Commission) with little democratic input.[108] However, there have also been major institutional changes, including the European Council of heads of state and government in 1975, a directly-elected Parliament in 1979, and, in recent years, the increasing power of governments in relation to the Commission.

56. Many ideas are currently being floated for changes to the EU institutions and organisation. The aim is only sometimes to increase democracy and accountability and to bridge the gap between citizens and EU institutions, but many of the ideas would have implications for democracy and accountability. Some proposals involve radical changes in the institutional structure. There are two main motivations (apart from institutional self-interest) for these, both of them made stronger by the prospect of enlargement. The first is the belief that reform is needed for the EU to operate effectively. For this reason some seek to extend use of the 'Community method' (involving the Commission and the EP) as opposed to inter-governmental methods, notably by transferring the inter-governmental 'pillars' (the Common Foreign and Security Policy — CFSP — and police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters) to the Community. Others seek to increase the power of governments in the EU for the same reason. Given the major changes in the EU in recent years, such as the development of the internal market, and the introduction of the euro, we do not agree that radical reform is needed to enable the EU to operate effectively, although some changes are clearly needed as regards the CFSP. The other motivation, more relevant to our inquiry, is the desire to increase democracy and accountability in the EU. The different ideas here reflect different views of how the sovereignty of the people or peoples of the EU should be expressed in the EU: through national governments elected in national elections, through national parliaments, through the directly elected EP, through a directly elected Commission President, through referendums, or through several of these. Many of these ideas would drastically change the character of the EU, making it either a much more supranational organisation or a much looser grouping of Member States.

57. The Minister for Europe indicated that the Government's aim was largely to keep the present balance among the EU institutions, possibly with 'changes on the margin', whereas a minority of Member States wanted to increase the powers of the Commission and the EP. However, he added that 'the Council of Ministers has got to assume a much more powerful role than it has now'; 'the essential principle is that governments should remain in the driving seat of policy direction'.[109]

The Presidency

58. The country which holds the Presidency chairs the European Council and all the different Council formations and represents the EU elsewhere in the world. Member States take it in turns to hold the Presidency for a period of six months. The six-monthly system has some advantages, such as raising the EU's profile in the Presidency country. As the Foreign Secretary has stated, 'it gives every Member State — large or small — an equal stake in running the Union'.[110]

59. However, the system also has major disadvantages, due to the shortness of each Presidency. According to the Council's Secretary-General, it 'creates a pressure to produce results which adversely affects the quality of proceedings', and 'has become a source of permanent imbalance and infighting within the Union, and will be even more so after enlargement'.[111] According to Commissioner Barnier, 'this highly unstable and constantly changing system is certainly a source of weakness', both as regards internal workings and external representation.[112] The Foreign Secretary's view is that 'If a much larger EU is to be effective and cohesive, then we need a much longer planning period than the six months of a Presidency, to avoid the artificial peaks of activity which a Presidency induces and to have a better way both of establishing and delivering strategic objectives.'[113] Moreover, with 25 Member States, each would hold the Presidency only every 12½ years. Given the effect of the 'artificial peaks of activity' on our scrutiny work, as well as our wish to see a better-organised EU, we share the view that the system of six-monthly Presidencies should be replaced.

60. There are various proposals for replacing it. For the chairmanships of individual Council formations, proposals generally involve longer terms, of 1½ or 2½ years, with team Presidencies of several Member States sharing the duties between them, though the Council Secretary-General has raised the possibility of the election of Chairmen.[114] It is clear that any new system will need to respect the principle of equality of Member States.

61. The chairmanship or Presidency of the European Council is a more difficult matter. Either the six-monthly rotation could be retained, or the European Council could elect its President for a longer term of office.[115] Any such elected President would be an influential figure. It will be essential to establish parliamentary accountability for an elected President of the European Council, and the joint meetings of national parliamentarians and MEPs proposed below would be a means of doing so.[116] Subject to that, we support the proposal that the European Council should have an elected President with a term of office of two years or more.

The European Council

62. The European Council is the meeting of heads of state and government four times a year. It does not have a formal role in the legislative process, but it is 'the Union's supreme political authority', its task being to 'provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and ... define the general political guidelines thereof'.[117] According to the Prime Minister and the German Chancellor, it 'plays a key role in providing the EU with strategic direction and a clear sense of purpose, such as driving forward the Lisbon and Tampere agendas' (on economic reform and justice and home affairs respectively).[118] It is also a democratically accountable part of the EU, in the sense that, through electing their own national governments, voters can change its party political character.

63. Several proposals to reform the European Council have recently been put forward, reflecting the perception that the European Council is too bogged down in detail to provide effective leadership and the probable difficulties following enlargement. Enlargement from 15 to 25 or more will be a change of kind rather than of degree; as Sir Stephen Wall put it, 'Six, 9, 12, even 15 people sitting round the table can negotiate. With 27 it is very difficult to do that'.[119] According to the Council's Secretary-General, the European Council 'is increasingly asked to spend time on laborious low-level drafting work ... The drift in the workings of the Presidency has reduced its meetings to report-approval sessions or inappropriate exercises in self-congratulation by the institutions.'[120]

64. Apart from measures to make the European Council's agenda more 'focussed and manageable', the Prime Minister and the German Chancellor have proposed that discussions 'focus on strategic and overarching issues, such as considering the Commission's annual programme and maintaining momentum behind the EU's economic reform agenda'; that 'consideration of individual legislative dossiers should in principle be precluded'; and that 'unanimity should only be applied in areas where this is provided for in the Treaties'.[121] The Swedish Prime Minister has concentrated on 'a more efficient system for preparing the European Council meetings' (as well as greater openness).[122] The Council's Secretary-General sums up the matters for discussion as:

  • 'Refocussing the European Council on its original purpose, concentrating on its role of co-ordinator and driving force';

  • 'Better organisation of European Council meetings', including new provisions relating to agendas;

  • 'More structured preparation', to be achieved by greater efficiency in a smaller number of Council formations and 'a methodical approach to preparation which is lacking at present'.[123]

65. Much of this seems to us like common sense. Indeed the descriptions of how the European Council currently operates paint an astonishing picture of chaotic organisation, with inadequate preparation of meetings and "bouncing" of items onto the agenda.[124] Remedying this does not require Treaty changes and so need not await the IGC. We have already discussed proposals for greater openness and for the European Council to set deadlines for legislation.[125] Here we are mainly concerned with the proposal for the European Council to have a more strategic role. In his speech in Warsaw in October 2000, the Prime Minister proposed 'an annual agenda for Europe, set by the European Council', which 'would be a clear legislative, as well as political, programme setting the workload of individual Councils'.[126] He indicated that the President of the Commission would play a part in drawing up that agenda. An annual agenda set by the European Council is potentially a welcome development, giving a clearer idea of what the EU is seeking to achieve and better advance warning of new legislative and other proposals and their likely timing. Presumably it would replace the six-monthly list of Presidency priorities. We see merit in replacing the six-monthly list of Presidency priorities with an annual European Council agenda that relates more clearly to the Commission's annual work programme. We also we consider it essential that any European Council agenda is subject to scrutiny before it is finalised, and that national parliamentarians participate in that scrutiny, and we return to this point later.[127]

The Council of Ministers

66. The Council of Ministers is in principle a single body, which can deal with any subject within EU competence, but in practice it meets in different 'formations' in subject areas such as agriculture or justice and home affairs, attended by the national Ministers with those portfolios. Most proposals, other than that for the Council to meet in public when legislating, have concentrated on changing the Council 'formations', calling for: a formation capable of exercising a co-ordinating role, to be created either by splitting the General Affairs Council (so that there was a separate Council formation for foreign affairs) or through a new formation composed of Deputy Prime Minister or Ministers for Europe;[128] reducing the number of Council formations so that there is greater coherence of policy in related subject areas and less chance of sectional interests dominating;[129] and a separate Council formation dealing with legislation in all policy areas and meeting in public.[130] The Minister for Europe envisaged a co-ordinating Council composed of 'Prime Ministers' representatives who clearly were acting with the authority of the Prime Minister', meeting two or three times a month (whereas the General Affairs Council currently meets monthly).[131] We would welcome a simplified Council structure which gave rise to more coherent policy-making and which would potentially make national parliaments' task of holding Ministers to account less difficult.

67. According to Sir Stephen Wall, individual Presidencies vary in the use they make of the Council Secretariat:

    'Some countries use the Secretariat more than others, but most people would agree that whatever the Council formation, there is greater scope for the provision of information to Ministers, so that when ... the General Affairs Council is, say, dealing with Macedonia in one month and Macedonia in the next month, it is quite useful for them to have shortly before the meeting a note from the Council Secretariat to say that "Last month you took X and Y decision. This is what has been done in the meantime to implement it. This is what we think you now need to focus on when you meet next week". To an extent that happens but it is a bit hit and miss at the moment and there is scope for what I would call introducing greater consistency and professionalism in the way we as Member States in the Council work with the Secretariat which services us to organise our business.'[132]

It is extraordinary that the EU's main legislative body operates in such a slapdash way, and it helps to explain some of the difficulties we encounter over scrutiny of legislation. It is also further evidence for the harmful effects of the six-monthly Presidency system. Citizens and parliaments are entitled to expect greater professionalism in the organisation of the Council of Ministers.

The European Commission

68. The European Commission is often the target of criticism as being unelected, powerful, bureaucratic and interfering. The Federal Trust regarded the legitimacy of the Commission as a more serious problem than the Council legislating in private.[133] We do not share that view. The major decisions are mostly taken by the Council rather than the Commission, and the Commission is only one part of the EU bureaucracy, and not a particularly large one by the standards of local government in the UK and elsewhere. Nevertheless, since the Commission is not elected, its role demands close scrutiny. Moreover, there have been problems of maladministration and corruption in the Commission, reflected in the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 and intended to be dealt with by the reforms proposed by Commissioner Kinnock.

69. The fundamental questions about the Commission are why it should continue to exist, and what its role is or ought to be; only when these are answered is it possible to address other questions such as whether it (or its President) should be elected, how it should be held accountable and whether it should retain its right of initiative.

70. The Prime Minister has summed up the reasons for the Commission's existence as follows:

    'We need a strong Commission able to act independently, with its power of initiative: first because that protects smaller states; and also because it allows Europe to overcome purely sectional interests. All governments from time to time, Britain included, find the Commission's power inconvenient but, for example, the single market could never be completed without it.'[134]

John Bruton states that the 'strong influence that the Commission has in Pillar One matters[135] is designed to ensure that proposals are only made if they represent a genuine European common interest, because the Commission, by its nature, is somewhat detached from the politics of individual Member States'.[136]

71. As for its role, the Commission both initiates and executes policy. It is at the same time more than the European Communities' executive (since it also has legislative and quasi-judicial powers)[137] and less than that (since the Council also has executive powers). It is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Treaties (including taking legal action to ensure compliance), suggesting policy changes, proposing legislation and (in certain areas) adopting it on its own initiative, and exercising legislative and administrative powers delegated to it by the Council. It also represents the EU in trade negotiations and in making agreements with international organisations and non-Member States. Thus, like other EU institutions, it does not correspond exactly to any national organisations.

72. The Commission believes it needs to 'refocus on its core mission', and particularly to 'focus on its Treaty tasks of policy initiation; execution; guardian of the Treaty; and international representation of the Community'.[138] According to the Minister for Europe, the Commission's role 'should primarily be as an executive body, not as a politically constituted body, ensuring that the rules of the European Union and its policies develop in the interests of the whole of the European Union'.[139] The EP Constitutional Affairs Committee's report on the division of competences argues for a return to the principle that the political authority establishes the legal principles with the practical arrangements being a matter for the executive (the Commission).[140] The Commission's role may eventually be clarified or 'refocussed', but it is likely to remain more than just an executive or civil service. We return to the matter of the Commission's role below.[141]

The Commission: election and accountability

73. Many of our witnesses argued that the President of the Commission should be elected, though they differed about who should elect the President. At present the Council appoints the Commission President by unanimity (to be changed to qualified majority voting if the Nice Treaty enters into force) and individual Commissioners are in practice appointed by Member State governments and confirmed in office by the EP.[142] Arguments in favour of election are that it would open up the selection of the President beyond the small number who currently decide it (in a process described by one witness as 'sordid'),[143] that it would make the Commission more accountable, and that it would 'personalise' one of the EU's institutions and thereby make it more interesting.[144]

74. Arguments against election are that it would disrupt existing institutional relationships by considerably increasing the Commission's authority, that it would politicise the Commission, that it is inappropriate for an executive, and that it might not reduce the disconnection between institutions and citizens.[145] Sir Stephen Wall stated that election would not only make the Commission President 'an independent political figure on the European stage', but by affecting the Commission's neutrality could reduce its ability to do its job: 'if the Commission ... take such and such a view on a competition matter, it is pretty important that by and large the Member States accept that the Commission is behaving as a neutral competition authority. If the President of the Commission were seen in any way to be a partisan figure ... you undermine that'.[146]

75. In fact, both those opposing and supporting election believed it would increase the Commission's power and politicise the Commission;[147] indeed Andrew Duff MEP argued that the Commission was already a political body and that it should gradually become more party political.[148] Commissioner Barnier thought election would 'inevitably politicise' the President, but on balance favoured election because it would be 'putting a face on one of the key players in the European Union'.[149]

76. Some of the arguments depend on who elects the Commission President. There are three options. The first is election directly by the people of Europe. John Bruton has proposed that the Commission President be elected on the same day as the EP but in a separate ballot, while Commissioner Barnier suggested that 60 or so MEPs should be elected on a transnational basis and the first-placed of these should become Commission President.[150] John Bruton argues that the merits of candidates 'would be debated in cafes in Palermo, in wine-bars in London and in pubs in Killarney', with 'the same conversation ... taking place all over Europe', and 'would be a uniquely useful way of building a sense of common European identity'.[151] In other words, it could begin to create a European 'demos', in the sense of a people who feel themselves to have substantial common interests. To ensure that the Commission President did not neglect the general or long-term interest of the EU John Bruton would provide for him or her to have only a single term.[152] We encountered particular hostility to direct election from MEPs, several arguing that no country in Europe elects an executive President (with the possible exception of France).[153] The Minister for Europe thought direct election inappropriate for the head of an executive body and that citizens would not turn out to vote, though we do not accept that the President of the Commission, with the Commission's present powers, can be equated with the head of the Home Civil Service in the UK.[154] Several witnesses pointed to the problem which the number of EU languages would pose to effective campaigning.[155]

77. The second option is election by MEPs. The great advantage is said to be that the EP would acquire one of the main attributes of a Parliament — determining the political colour of an executive or government — and that this would make EP elections more interesting (even 'giving them glamour and excitement') and increase turnout.[156] Parties would indicate before the election who their candidate would be. A major objection, as John Bruton has pointed out, is that 'there would be a tendency for the Commission and the parliamentary majority to cease to be independent of one another and to merge their interests in opposition to those of the minority in the Parliament and of member governments who disagreed with their policies. Parliament and Commission might become more partisan and less inclined to look dispassionately at the interest of the Union as a whole'.[157] Also, if election of the Commission President by MEPs did not result in turnout at EP elections rising and voting ceasing to be on national rather than EU issues, it could provide the worst of both worlds, making the Commission President more partisan and less accountable and not helping to reconnect citizens and institutions.

78. The third option is election by an electoral college composed of national parliamentarians or a mixture of national parliamentarians and MEPs. Among the advantages suggested by Simon Hix of the Foreign Policy Centre are that there would be a genuine debate about the policy direction of the EU, which would be covered in the national media because of their focus on national parliamentary politics, the power of national parliaments would be strengthened, and the EU's existing institutional balance would not be fundamentally altered.[158] Another advantage is that it would give Opposition politicians in each Member State a direct role in the EU as electors.

79. Of the different options, we are least attracted by that of the EP electing the Commission President. We are not convinced that this would significantly increase turnout in EP elections, and it would considerably strengthen the supranational aspect of the EU, with an elected Commission President backed by a majority in the EP. We are most attracted by the option of direct election, because it could potentially do much more than indirect election to reconnect citizens and the EU, and could begin to create a European 'demos', though we acknowledge the risk that it might fail to interest voters sufficiently to do so.

80. However, on balance, we are not in favour of the Commission President being elected, for two main reasons:

  • If the raison d'être of the Commission is to rise above sectional interests, its effectiveness in doing so can only be weakened by election, and especially by election on a party political basis;

  • Election would give the Commission President far greater authority and significantly change the balance between the EU institutions, while making him less accountable and not necessarily doing much to reconnect citizens and EU decision-making.

81. There remains then the question of the Commission's accountability. As Sir Stephen Wall explained, there is a difficult balance to be struck: 'It is ... important that the Commission should be under scrutiny but not feel itself intimidated either by the Council on the one hand or by the Parliament on the other'.[159] In other words, in the matters delegated to it, it must be able to make decisions independently, rising above sectional interests, but still be held to account for any misuse of its powers or misconduct. There have been recent changes in the balance. In particular, the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 in advance of a likely vote of no confidence from the EP has had what one of our witnesses described as 'a transforming effect on the relations between the Commission and the Parliament.'[160] The EP cannot dismiss an individual Commissioner (only the Commission as a whole), but it could adopt a resolution calling on an individual Commissioner to resign, and the Commission President is now able to require the resignation of individual Commissioners.[161] As one of our witnesses suggested, this is 'a reasonable compromise'.[162]

82. Individual Commissioners also have to be approved in confirmation hearings in the EP. Other aspects of accountability, listed by Commissioner Patten, are scrutiny of the Commission's actions by the EP, the Court of Auditors and the ombudsman, and new rules on 'transparency'. However, he acknowledged a need to win greater public acceptance 'by explaining more clearly what we are (and what we are not); by focusing more single-mindedly on efficiency and results; by becoming more responsive to outside opinion; and by exercising greater self-discipline'.[163] Some of these themes are taken up in the Commission's White Paper on European governance, in which we find much to welcome. The Commission has proposed that legislation should define 'the conditions and limits within which the Commission carries out its executive role', that 'a simple legal mechanism' should allow the Council and EP 'to monitor and control the actions of the Commission against the principles and political guidelines adopted in the legislation', and that the Council and the EP 'should have an equal role in supervising the way in which the Commission exercises its executive role'.[164] We emphasise the need for the Commission to operate strictly within well-defined parameters laid down by the Council and the EP, and for any political and legislative powers to be confined to those for which there is a clear justification, as in respect of state aids and competition.

The Commission's right of initiative

83. In European Community matters (the first pillar, as opposed to the EU's two inter-governmental pillars) the Commission has the right of initiative as regards legislation: no-one else may put forward draft legislation. The Prime Minister has defended this as allowing Europe to overcome sectional interests and as protecting the interests of the smaller Member States.[165] Sir Stephen Wall pointed out that a majority of Member States, especially the smaller ones, strongly supported the Commission's sole right to initiate legislation, seeing the Commission as 'a vital safeguard of their interests, because otherwise they would see a European Union de facto dominated by the large Member States.'[166] Not everyone agrees: Lord Norton wanted the Council to have an initiating role, Statewatch wanted the EP or a substantial group of citizens to be able to initiate legislation, and Jens-Peter Bonde MEP argued that 'The core issue is to take back the monopoly of initiative from the Commission and bring that to the national parliaments', who would ask the Commission to propose new legislation.[167]

84. Confining the right of initiating legislation to an unelected body is in principle unsatisfactory, but, given the concerns of the smaller Member States, we see no prospect of the IGC deciding that the Commission's right of initiative should be removed. Also we note that the quality of drafting is more variable in the inter-governmental third pillar where proposals are brought forward by Member States.[168] However, we regard it as essential that there be much greater openness about how the Commission decides what legislative measures to put forward and greater scrutiny of that process, with the involvement of national parliamentarians (who could put proposals to the Commission), and we return to this subject later.[169]

The European Parliament (EP)

85. The EP differs in several fundamental respects from national parliaments: no part of it sustains a government, it does not impose taxes and it does not initiate legislation; indeed it is only relatively recently that its agreement to legislation has been required (under the co-decision procedure).[170] Not sustaining a government removes one of the reasons motivating people to vote, but also, as Sir Neil MacCormick MEP argued, gives it an unusual freedom of action and aptitude for scrutiny.[171] Its powers vary from one policy area to another. Richard Corbett MEP pointed out that it had a more consensual style, with a wider range of views, than the UK Parliament: 'you work by processes of explanation, persuasion and negotiation to achieve a result in the European Parliament, rather than just adversarial debating'.[172]

86. However, as the EP has gained power, turnout at EP elections has declined, falling below 50% in the 1999 elections (from 63% at the first direct elections in 1979), despite voting being compulsory in several countries.[173] Turnout has, of course, fallen in national parliamentary elections too in most countries, but from a higher level. Lower turnout at EP than national elections is probably inevitable, given the fact that EP elections do not determine the political colour of a government and the EP is geographically further away. One of the underlying problems is that there is not a European 'demos', in the sense of a people with sufficient sense of common interest to vote on similar issues for similar parties. EP elections are 'second order' elections, in which electors predominantly vote not on European issues but on national ones, such as whether the governing party is popular.[174] Consequently there is no mandate for a particular set of policies to form the basis for the EP's amendments to legislation. Relations between MEPs and citizens are relatively weak, and Martin Howe QC argued that this made the EP unduly susceptible to lobbyists.[175]

87. Nevertheless, the EP has an important role. As Simon Murphy MEP and Richard Corbett MEP pointed out, the EP 'is part of what makes the EU different from a traditional intergovernmental organisation. Indeed, it is only necessary to imagine what the EU would be like without the Parliament: it would be a system totally dominated by bureaucrats and diplomats, loosely supervised by Ministers flying periodically into Brussels.[176] There are certain tasks which 15 or more national parliaments could not do effectively on an individual basis, notably debating EU legislation in detail and amending it and scrutinising the work of the Commission. The EP and national parliaments are therefore complementary, and the activities of the EP in such areas are important to accountability in the EU. Andrew Duff MEP stated that the EP's scrutiny of the Commission's work was 'patchy in some areas ... but it is improving all round'.[177] On the other hand, where it is possible for national parliaments to act effectively on their own, there is no need for the EP to do so. As we discuss below, there are areas where the EP and national parliaments can benefit from co-operation, and where the role of national parliaments needs to be increased.[178]

The EP and co-decision

88. Several MEPs suggested that the most important reform as far as the EP is concerned is to extend the co-decision procedure to all legislation.[179] Under the co-decision procedure (created by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992), legislation passes through both the Council of Ministers and the EP at the same time, with a conciliation procedure after second reading if they have been unable to agree. It is the most important of the EU's legislative procedures, being the normal one for all European Communities legislation other than that relating to agriculture, fisheries, taxation, trade policies and European Monetary Union.[180] It does not apply to the EU's two inter-governmental 'pillars'.

89. The relevant Treaty article[181] sets out a clear if complex procedure, in which draft legislation passes between EP and Council until agreement is reached. The procedure includes a first reading (where the procedure may end if the Council approves all the EP amendments or the EP does not propose any), a second reading (where again the procedure may end), a Conciliation Committee if necessary to resolve remaining differences between the Council and the EP, and (if there has been conciliation) third reading (in which the Council and EP can only accept or reject the text produced by the Conciliation Committee). In practice, there is considerable use of 'trialogues', consisting of the Council, EP and Commission meeting in private to ensure that any EP amendments are acceptable to the Council or to agree the text. Trialogues may meet at first reading or second reading, and matters subject to conciliation may also be resolved at a trialogue rather than going to formal conciliation.[182] The conciliation stage is always in private.

90. The co-decision process created a requirement for the EP's agreement in the areas it applies to, and might have been expected to result in a process of open debate on draft legislation. To an extent it does, but the way the procedure actually operates means that much of the discussion which matters takes place in private, cutting out most MEPs and also causing difficulties for Ministers and officials. It also makes it extremely difficult for anyone outside the EU institutions, whether national parliaments, interested parties or citizens, to track what is happening and seek to influence those involved, especially as the timescale is highly unpredictable. Co-decision has given the EP considerable power,[183] but the distinctive contribution of a parliament should be to debate issues in public, not to impose its will through back-room deals. Secrecy may be necessary in negotiations attempting to balance the interests of Member States, but we regard it as inappropriate for an executive and a democratically-elected parliament to be involved so extensively in secret negotiations over legislation.

91. Any changes to the co-decision procedure would be objected to if they lengthened the time it takes. Indeed the trialogues are in part an attempt to speed up the process. However co-decision is not excessively lengthy: from common position to third reading (if all the stages are needed) should not take longer than nine months even if each stage takes the full time.[184] What is needed, in our view, is reform in such a way that collusion between the Council, Commission and EP is less necessary. For example, at first reading the EP might put forward principles on which a text should be amended rather than detailed textual amendments, and it would then be for the Commission to respond with an amended text. This would accord with the desire of the EP's President (Pat Cox) for the EP's debates to be more political and less textual.[185] There might be more stages but less time between them. We note that the Government has an open mind on whether co-decision should be extended to new areas.[186] We believe any extension of co-decision to new areas should be conditional on a change in the present procedure so that it can operate in a way which is both effective and transparent.

Relationship between EP and citizens

92. Lord Norton pointed out that the EP's own proposals for change tended to concentrate on the relationships between parliament and executive, whereas relatively little attention is given to strengthening the relationship between the EP and citizens: 'even if the EP does a good job in scrutinising and influencing the executive, citizens will not necessarily feel connected with the EU if they themselves feel detached from the process'. He conceded that identifying the need was easier than finding a solution, but mentioned development of links between MEPs and constituents and campaigns to let citizens know what MEPs can do for them.[187] We endorse the view that strengthening the relationship between the EP and citizens by increasing knowledge of what the EP does will increase its authority and its contribution to democratic legitimacy in the EU.

93. This is not helped in the UK by use of an electoral system involving not only very large constituencies but also party lists, which, as Timothy Kirkhope MEP pointed out, make it unnecessary for MEPs to connect with ordinary citizens: 'the only people you need to connect with ... are members of your party'.[188] Draft EU legislation currently being considered requires proportional representation in EP elections, but not any particular form of PR.[189] We recommend that there be a critical re-examination of the system currently used in the UK for elections to the EP, in an attempt to reconnect MEPs to constituencies small enough to re-establish a representative relationship with communities and their electorates, and that the party list system is abandoned in favour of 'first past the post' and a constituency-based system in which the electors know for whom they are voting to represent them in a given area.


108   Ev 2. Back

109   QQ. 332-3. See also QQ. 394, 407. Back

110   Speech in The Hague, 21 February 2002. See also Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 41. Back

111   Preparing the Council for enlargement, 11 March 2002. Back

112   Q. 100. Back

113   Speech at The Hague, 21 February 2002. Back

114   Preparing the Council for enlargement; Foreign Secretary's speech at The Hague, 21 February 2002; Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 41 (John Bruton). Back

115   Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 41; Preparing the Council for enlargement; Financial Times, 16 May 2002. Back

116   Paras. 141-3 below. Back

117   Preparing the Council for enlargement; Article 4 EU. Back

118   Letter to the Spanish Prime Minister, 25 February 2002. Back

119   Q. 394. See also Q. 332. Back

120   Preparing the Council for enlargementBack

121   Letter to the Spanish Prime Minister, 25 February 2002. See also European Commission, European governance: a White Paper, pp. 29-30. Back

122   Letter to the Spanish Prime Minister, 6 March 2002. Back

123   Preparing the Council for enlargementBack

124   Paras. 41, 64 above. Back

125   Paras. 18-27, 48-50 above. Back

126   Speech of 6 October 2000. Back

127   Paras. 136-40 below. Back

128   Preparing the Council for enlargementBack

129   Mark Leonard, Network Europe: the new case for Europe, Foreign Policy Centre, 1999, p. 50. Back

130   Q. 105. Back

131   Q. 334. Back

132   Q. 401. Back

133   Ev 187. Back

134   Speech in Warsaw, 6 October 2000. Back

135   i. e. European Community matters as opposed to the two inter-governmental pillars of the EU. Back

136   Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 18. Back

137   Q. 105. Back

138   European Commission, European governance: a White Paper, pp. 8, 30. Back

139   Q. 335. Back

140   Report on the division of competences between the European Union and the Member States ('Lamassoure report'), April 2002, A5-0133/2002, p. 18. Back

141   Para. 82 below. Back

142   For the formal position regarding appointment of Commissioners, see Article 214(2) EC. Back

143   Q. 187 (Andrew Duff MEP). Back

144   e.g. QQ. 117, 161. Back

145   e.g. QQ. 335, 431. Back

146   Q. 431. Back

147   e.g. QQ. 9, 11, 117, 187, 280, 335, 431. Back

148   Q. 187. Back

149   QQ. 117, 119. Back

150   Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 37; Q. 117. Back

151   CONV 27/02, p. 36. Back

152   Ibid., p. 38. Back

153   e. g. QQ. 204, 228. Back

154   Q. 335. Back

155   QQ. 157 (Klaus Hänsch MEP), 280 (Jean-Luc Dehaene). Back

156   Q. 6 (Professor Bogdanor); Ev 4. Back

157   Convention document CONV 27/02, p. 37. Back

158   Simon Hix, Linking national politics to Europe, Foreign Policy Centre and British Council, February 2002. See also Ev 4. Back

159   Q. 408. Back

160   Q. 204 (Sir Neil MacCormick MEP). Back

161   If the Nice Treaty comes into force, the Commission President will have a formal power to dismiss a Commissioner under Article 217(4) EC. Back

162   Q. 228 (Richard Corbett MEP). Back

163   Chris Patten, 'Legitimacy gap', Prospect, July 2001, p. 36. Back

164   European governance: a White Paper, p. 31. Back

165   Para. 70 above. Back

166   Q. 406. Back

167   QQ. 48, 68-72, 471. Back

168   See e.g. ESC, HC 152-xx, para. 7.14 (Mutual recognition of financial penalties, 10710/01, Article 7). Back

169   Paras. 136-40 below. Back

170   See paras. 88-91 below. Back

171   Q. 204. Back

172   Q. 235. Back

173   Ev 1. Back

174   Ev 3, 15, 192. Back

175   Ev 149; QQ. 449-50. Back

176   Ev 97. Back

177   Q. 188. Back

178   Paras. 136-44 below. Back

179   QQ. 161, 223; Ev 78. Back

180   EP, Conciliations handbook, July 2000, p. 3. Back

181   Article 251 EC. Back

182   Information about the co-decision procedure has been obtained in discussions with UKREP staff. Back

183   Michael Shackleton, 'The politics of codecision', Journal of Common Market Studies; Q. 60. Back

184   Article 251 EC provides for about eight months maximum, though the EP or the Council can extend the times allowed to a limited extent (by up to about 3½ months). Treaty of Amsterdam, Declaration 34 (Cm 3780, p. 104) provides that 'In no case should the actual period between the second reading by the European Parliament and the outcome of the Conciliation Committee exceed nine months'. Back

185   Information obtained during the Committee's meeting with Pat Cox in Brussels, 26 February 2002. Back

186   Q. 408. Back

187   Ev 24-5; Q. 34. See also Q. 204. Back

188   Q. 217. Back

189   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xxii, para. 17.9 (on Council document 6151/02). Back


 
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