Examination of Witness (Questions 152
TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2002
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
(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
mostnot all, of course, but some are not importantmost
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.
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.
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 Commonsapart
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 activitieswe 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
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 campaignbecause
Europe is too large to have a lot of meetings. People would have
a television campaignon 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.