Examination of Witness (Questions 93 -
MONDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2002
93. Commissioner, thank you very much, and welcome.
It is very good to see you again. I was recalling with my clerk
when we first took evidence from you, and I can remember taking
evidence from you some years ago when we were in Brussels, I may
be the only one present who was at that evidence session. We found
it very interesting then and it would certainly be equally, if
not more so, interesting now. Can I ask the first question, how
optimistic are you that the `disconnection' with citizens and
the European institutions can be remedied? Which do you regard
as the crucial aspects of the Laeken Declaration in that respect?
(Commissioner Barnier) I will address
you in French through my interpreter, if I may. I am just doing
my little bit to defend cultural diversity in Europe. I must admit
it is probably easier for me and for you if I speak in French.
Mr Chairman, I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet
your Committee once again. We in the Commission attach great importance,
and I personally attach great importance to dialogue with national
parliaments. I never forget when I myself was a member of the
French Parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, for 22
years. Laeken is quite a new method when it comes to reforming
the institutions and the workings of the European institutions,
it shows that heads of state have come to the realisation that
the traditional approach was no longer a workable one. For the
first time in 50 years Laeken was the genuine start of an open
European debate and at the same time a very puralistic debate
which involved national parliaments, the European Parliament,
Commission, the heads of state and of Government of course, last,
but not least, civil society, which will also play an important
role. The first thing to say is that the Convention which will
follow Laeken will not make decisions, it will simply make proposals
that will be put to the heads of state or Government, hopefully
workable proposals, which they will then act on, or otherwise,
as the case may be. Before actually deciding on the institutional
tools we need for the job we need to decide what we want to do,
and that will be something I will be looking into also with my
colleagues, Mr Vitorino, who you will be meeting tomorrow, and
we need to decide, first of all, what to expect of Europe and
what we expect to do. This is, perhaps, the first time since Maastricht
we have been able to discuss and to look into institutional issues
in a wider, political perspective, and I think that is very important.
It is all very well fiddling round with the bits and pieces of
the engine but if are you taking 12 new passengers on board in
the very near future you need to know first and foremost where
you want to go before you begin adjusting the motor.
94. When you were the European Minister of France
you launched a national dialogue for Europe
(Commissioner Barnier) A long time ago.
95.with the help of the commissioner,
now you work as a Commission how do you see this kind of dialogue,
perhaps not just in France but across the European Member States?
How can such a dialogue with civil society be set up and how can
it be sustained over a period of time? Is this not the most important
challenge, really, for the Convention and for us as Europeans
(Commissioner Barnier) First and foremost I would
say I have always been happy to talk with European citizens right
across Europe, and I certainly make no exception for British citizens
in that. I was in London, in Edinburgh, and I also met Denis Skinner.
I have some very happy memories of that meeting with Mr Skinner!
When I was a minister in France on one occasion we organised a
30 week public debate programme, a very active, wide-ranging debate
across all of France and across the regions in some of the overseas
territories and this was a very open and interesting debate and
what it showed in particular is that our citizens in many case
are more interested in Europe, and in some respects more ambitious,
than we politicians. This is a concern, an awareness I brought
with me to Brussels when I became a Commissioner here. I think
the key point here is that we have to work with citizens and not
just for citizens and on their behalf. Citizens are concerned
about Europe but they are fundamentally in favour and we want
to work with them and not work over their heads.
96. Commissioner, one of the difficulties at
the moment is that the national parliaments do not feel they are
given sufficient time to consider the draft texts of the proposals.
COSAC did suggest a 15 day period between COREPER agreeing the
text and the text going to Council? Would you envisageand
I believe it would helpful to all concerned, because the national
parliaments are closer to the people of Europe, the electors,
than the commissioners or members of the European communitythat
it will be possible to build more time into the legislative process
to allow consideration of the draft text?
(Commissioner Barnier) I wonder if your question is
not addressed more to the Council than to the Commission? I am
certainly not against that idea in principle. If others share
the same view I would certainly pass that on to the powers that
be. The only other consideration one has to bear in mind is would
it not add extra delays into the system, delaying what is already
a long and complicated process. Later on if you have any questions
I would like to come back to the issue of national parliaments
and their role.
97. It is our impression from where we sit that
it is the Commission who is trying to put pressure on, to speed
up decision-making. If I give you an example, the Equal Treatment
Directive in 2000 was agreed at the last minute, whether the pressure
was from the Commission or the Council, but it excluded the national
parliaments from the final input, so you will see the problem
(Commissioner Barnier) I will certainly check up on
that point you raised. My experience as Minister for European
Affairs in France is that the Commission does not really put too
much pressure in that respect and does try to move this forward
in a timely fashion. I would just say in defence of the work of
the Commission, some of initiatives have taken a very long time,
the Taxation Directive took 15 years, European Enterprise took
20 years and in my particular field of responsibility, Regional
Policy, introducing new legislation takes around three years,
so I do not think you could say we are putting too much time pressure
98. How fast will the fast-track procedures
in the White Paper be for reviewing and simplifying EU legislation?
What timetable does the White Paper envisage?
(Commissioner Barnier) That is one relatively small
aspect of the great debate on Europe, I do not think there is
any hard and fast time frame on that.
99. Perhaps you could consider the timetable
(Commissioner Barnier) Point taken. It is the first
mention I have heard of this for two years, to be quite honest,
so my trip here has not been in vain!