Select Committee on European Scrutiny Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Robert Goodwill MEP

  I am a Conservative Member of the European Parliament elected in 1999. I am a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy, which handles more legislation than any other in the Parliament.

  Most of the legislation that the Committee considers is under the co-decision procedure. I have experience in brokering compromise deals with other political groups in the Parliament and was also involved on the Parliament side in the conciliations with the Council over the ground-breaking End of Life Vehicles directive.

  I am regularly besieged by industry and NGO lobbyists, particularly if I am a "rapporteur" or, just as importantly, "shadow rapporteur" for my group, the European People's Party and European Democrats, which is the largest in the Parliament.

  I rely very much on support and information from "UKREP"—our British diplomats in Brussels, and I also consult with senior civil servants at DEFRA, as it now is, in London. For example, during the Animal bye-product (meat and bone-meal etc.) legislation.

  We are also courted from time to time by Government Ministers who, having failed to achieve their objectives in Council, seek to influence the Parliament to amend legislation. Where there is a clear British interest we work closely with Socialist colleagues to achieve these aims.

  On the other hand our rapport with regional bodies and members of the National Parliament in this respect is minimal.

  The Committee of the Regions shadows much of the work of the European Parliament but does not convey its views to us to take them forward. Other Member States with stronger regional structures may well value this body but as far as the UK is concerned it seems largely superfluous and is ignored universally. ECOSOC is also a mystery to me.

  There seems to be a view that the scrutiny of European legislation by the House of Commons is little more than a rubber stamping procedure occurring "after the horse has bolted" should it wish to change legislation or draw attention to particular national concerns.

  I would welcome more communication with MPs specialising in my field. Perhaps they should be more involved at an earlier stage of consultation or even sooner by helping to initiate or prioritise areas for new legislation.

  Could I address your specific points?

What are the underlying reasons for the apparent "disconnection" between national electorates and the EU?

  The main reason for the disconnection between the EU and the electorate is the lack of coverage in the media. This is partly due to the format of our debates which lack the "theatre" of the House of Commons, but Editors obviously haven't woken up to the fact that so many decisions are made at EU level and the European Parliament can and does influence legislation.

How can the decision-making be made more open and governments more accountable for the decisions they make in the Council? Is it essential for a more open and accountable EU that the Council meet in public when legislating?

  If the Council were held in public then the deals would have to be done outside in the corridor or by shuttle diplomacy before Council meetings. It would be a good idea however, to have an open session at the end when national positions, as well as the final conclusions, could be stated to the press.

What should be the role of referenda be in the EU? How should the EU respond to national referenda, and could there be a role for Europe-wide referenda?

  I do not favour referenda, except on fundamental issues like the Euro where the asking of a Yes/No question is possible. A referendum on a package like a treaty is not very practical as campaigns tend to concentrate on one or two issues which sometimes are not even strictly relevant to the matter in hand. When the EU does not get the answer it wants, as in Denmark and Ireland, it is assumed that the electorate need "more education" and the question is asked again. If this happened in a country like Belarus or North Korea it would be universally condemned as an insult to democratic principles!

Would election of the Commission or the President of the Commission either directly or by the European Parliament a) be appropriate, or b) contribute to reconnecting electorates with the EU?

  Individual endorsement of newly appointed Commissioners or dismissal of Commissioners would be better than the present system when we can only take action against the Commission "en bloc". I am not against the idea that the President of the Commission should be elected by the Parliament.

Should there be any new institutional arrangements to give national parliaments a more important role in the EU, such as the second Chamber proposed by the Prime Minister or involvement of national parliamentarians in the Council? (The Committee will take account of the results of the Lords Committee inquiry into the second Chamber proposal).

  I do not support the idea of a second chamber. The European Parliament is, in a way, already the second chamber to the Council. We have the Committee of the Regions and ECOSOC who already have this role but no-one pays them any attention.

What changes are needed to the EU's legislative process to facilitate democratic scrutiny before decisions are made? For example, is there adequate consultation at early enough stages; and should there be tougher rules on allowing time for scrutiny by national Parliaments?

  Yes, we do need earlier consultation and, maybe, some joint meetings with MPs in Brussels.

Could national Parliaments play a greater role in informing the public about the EU and its activities, and in channelling the public's views to EU institutions?

  Probably not. If the European Parliament visited Member States' Parliaments for sessions from time to time rather than Strasbourg this would raise awareness of the institutions.

What is the potential contribution of delimitation of competencies, subsidiarity and variable-speed Europe to reducing any "disconnection" between electorates and political institutions? Would a clear statement of the EU's purpose help? What impact will enlargement have?

  A statement on the extent of EU jurisdiction would set clear limits of its powers and protect the Sovereignty of National Parliaments against even further erosion.

What contribution can be made by regional and local government and devolved institutions in the UK and elsewhere, and should the EU have any new institutional arrangements in this respect?

  We already have the Committee of the Regions which is a waste of time and money. MP/MEP bodies would be more effective.

What is the role of the European Parliament in promoting a more democratic EU? Is there scope for more co-operation between the European Parliament and national Parliaments?

  See above: MPs have a budget to travel to Brussels but very few do. Maybe organised programmes would give better take up.

How should the debate on the future of Europe be conducted, eg should there be a convention, and if so, how could it be made representative and how should it operate?

  Maybe this is one role the European Parliament is best suited to given its democratic credentials. EU-wide representations and members who actually have first hand knowledge of how the institutions interact in the decision-making process.

  I would be happy to attend one of your meetings to see how you operate; particularly if you are considering a report of which I have first-hand knowledge.

  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to your deliberations.

Ruth Lead

Head of the Policy Unit and

Richard Wilson

Business Policy Executive at the Institute of Directors

21 September 2001

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