Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 152 - 159)




  152. Mr Hänsch, thank you very much for agreeing to give evidence to our Committee. We are taking evidence as part of our inquiry into the governance of Europe. We hope to ask you a few questions and we would delighted with your responses, which will help us in that process. If I can ask you what will be the main aim of European Parliament representatives on the Convention? Which matters covered by the Laeken Declaration do you regard as important for remedying the "disconnection" between citizens and EU institutions?

  (Mr Hänsch) If we have the result, which we would like to have, even then, of course, the connection between citizens and European institutions cannot be managed and improved by the institutions themselves alone. We need a new debate on European issues in our member states, and that means that national parliaments and non-governmental organisations must be investigated. It is not only an institutional, it is also a policy question.

  153. The Chairman of the Convention has spoken of five themes to tackle, is there anything more you can tell us about those themes? Are they limited to those in the Laeken Declaration?
  (Mr Hänsch) I do not know where you got the information from that the President of the Convention spoke about those five issues because it was a proposal of Mr Hänsch. If he took those proposals on board then you know more than I do at the moment. If it is like that, that is brilliant. I think it is quite clear we tried to cover those five topics or issues. We tried to cover most—not all, of course, but some are not important—most of the important questions related to Laeken, that is true. If we talk about the total Union, why we are a European Union, then we discuss in the Convention how we can integrate the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaties, for example. When we talk about governing the Union then we have to talk on all of those questions which are related to the competence of the institutions, the ways of procedure within the institutions and between the institutions. We have discussed all of those institutional questions over the years already. When we talk about the role of Europe in the world we have to discuss or answer the question what is necessary so that the Union can meet the responsibilities it has in the world. Whether we like it or not there is responsibility because of our economic weight, because of our political experience and so on and so forth. Those five topics have been formulated in order to structure the debate in the Convention for the first two or three months. There will be a first phase, where we try to find out what are the ideas, the experiences and so on, of the members of the Convention. The praesidium will listen to intentions of members of the Convention how to reform in the Union, and will have a structured debate we invented those five blocks. This is only for the first two or three months that we are meeting, it is not a working programme for the whole Convention.

Mr Hendrick

  154. Can I say, first of all, how nice it is to see Klaus again. I remember Klaus visiting my European constituency in Fleetwood where the fishermen made us both very welcome by burning the European flag on his visit. Can I ask through you, Chairman, how much difference do you think it would make to the European Parliament if the Council met in public when it legislated? Also, how important is it to open up the system of working groups which is concerned with comitology and to, perhaps, also open up the conciliation process to the public?
  (Mr Hänsch) When the Council legislates, or better co-legislates, it should meet in public. I think there should be no difference to the European Parliament. The contribution to more transparency of the European Union has nothing to do with the competence of the European Parliament or our relationship to the Council, meeting in public is simply a measure to make the Union more transparent. I think that we should not exaggerate that, we should not try to make the conciliation procedure public, we should not try to make the working groups, where committees of the Council meet in public. What is necessary is that at the end of the decision making process of directives and regulations we have the positions which have been taken in the Council in public, that is all. I think it would be an important step to make it clear and to avoid misunderstandings. When I say it is necessary that the Council meets in public, I mean the Council as a legislature. The Council also has an executive task and also a task of co-ordinating foreign policy. In economic matters in consequence of the common currency there, of course, I think they should remain non-public meetings. Public meetings are only for its role as a legislator, not in its executive job.

Mr Cash

  155. I do not know if I ought to be troubled about what you are saying or not. You speak about the end of the process and you distinguish between the legislative and the other functions. Any legislative body which is of any relevance to anybody whatsoever has to demonstrate its arguments in public, full stop. If it does not, and we have seen enough over the years to know the reasons why it has been kept in private, it is because people did not want to see the arguments in public. The democratic process has to be done in public, and in the House of Commons—apart from very few committees where we, for example, have our deliberations in private on certain matters, and they are not as important as the main body of activities—we can have the thing televised, there is Hansard, it is all shown. I want to probe that. What level of discussion and debate do you believe should be kept secret?
  (Mr Hänsch) After long experience in the European Union I am very careful and very prudent about my pressure on reforms. I know that in the United Kingdom things are as you described them, compared to other member states are not the same. In the European Union we have to come to a position and to ideas of reform which try to meet the traditions not of all but of most of the member states. When we start the Council meetings in legislation as public meetings then I think this would be an important step. If the Council itself comes to the opinion that it is necessary to have public committee meetings, I will never object to that. If you ask me where I am pushing to, it is clearly that legislative meetings are held in public.

  156. I applaud that. The fact remains if the decision goes against your inclination we are into the business of a European government. There are many of us, perhaps not all necessarily in this room, who do not want anything to do with this, in other words the whole process is so flawed, initiated at the centre because too much power has been given to people who want to make decisions behind closed doors, and what you are saying, which I applaud entirely, is if others do not want it there is a serious question about whether or not it ought to be allowed. It is not ideological or euro-sceptic.
  (Mr Hänsch) We have to bear in mind that the governments of member states are represented in the council and the Union is not a Federal Republic of Europe, it is a Union of member states. Perhaps, you are astonished to hear that from a member of the European Parliament, but this means that we have to be very careful that we do not hurt the whole process of conciliation and mutual understanding before we come to a directive or a regulation in the European Union. We cannot transmit our rules and procedures we know from our member states, from our nation states simply to the European Union, which is a Union of member states and not a state.

Mr Tynan

  157. There is considerable discussion at the present time regarding transparency, accountability and democracy. Could I have your views as regards the accountability of the Commission and the individual commissioners, the Commission itself and the commissioners? Do you believe their accountability to the European Parliament should be increased? Do you favour the election?
  (Mr Hänsch) The election of the president of the Commission? I am clearly in favour of the Commission's president being elected by a majority of the European Parliament after the result of the European elections, I am clearly in favour of that. I am clearly opposed to any direct election of the president of the Commission by the citizens in the European Union. You are all politicians, now imagine for the direct election of the president of the Commission it would have to be a television campaign—because Europe is too large to have a lot of meetings. People would have a television campaign—on German television there would be a Portuguese candidate, a Finnish candidate, an Italian candidate, maybe even a British candidate, and they are fighting against each other and arguing against each other in their mother tongue, with the tone of the interpreter above them. It is the opposite of being close to the citizens. You know what people will do; they will look for another programme, and so it creates the opposite effect. If we want to increase the political authority of the Commission it is right if the President is elected by the majority of the European Parliament.

  158. Do you believe that the European Parliament makes full use of its powers to scrutinise the work of the Commission?
  (Mr Hänsch) I think we are close to it. Scrutinise, I am not sure!

  159. Examine it?
  (Mr Hänsch) I think we fulfil our duty to scrutinise, to control, to examine the Commission, and the Commission's policy I think it works, to a very large extent, as it works in the national parliaments, by interpretation, by questions and answers and by discussing with them in the committees, and so on. There are a lot of instruments that Parliament has, instruments which focus on the last and strongest instrument which is to dismiss the Commission, to throw them out of office by a majority in Parliament.

  Mr Tynan: Thank you very much.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 21 June 2002