Examination of Witness (Questions 258
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
258. Mr Dehaene, welcome. We are delighted you
were able to come along. I wonder if I can ask you: How do you
plan to to carry out your task of organising dialogue between
the Convention and civil society? In particular, how will you
seek to obtain views from ordinary people as opposed to people
who are already interested in European Union matters?
(Mr Dehaene) I think that the so-called
civil forum, like the declaration of Laeken calls it, has to take
several dimensions. The first dimension is that we should use
the means of communication, of information of this century, and
that we have on the net a large possibility for everybody who
wants to introduce ideas and proposals. It will be up to the Convention
to organise things so that they can distill and try to see what
the common elements and common lines are, and that way individual
as well as group contributions to the web can be introduced in
the Convention discussions. Secondly, I think that there is an
important element of feedback to national discussions, and that
all the members of the Convention to start with, to representatives
of national parliaments and representatives of national governments,
to organise at national leveland that can mean also at
regional levela debate, so that they can hear what the
people and the organisations in the national framework think.
They also can have feedback to ideas that are discussed in the
Convention, so that it will not be a momentum but you have that
kind of feedback during the whole Convention, and each member
of the Convention has an important role to play in that. Thirdly,
there is then in the Convention, the social part, the Economic
and Social Committee, who has observers. These observers also
have an important responsibilityand we will tell them soof
feedback. For instance, the members of the Economic and Social
Committee are all members of national organisations. The social
and economic organisations who are represented on the Economic
and Social Committee, they too should make the feedback to their
national socio-economic organisations. We will try then to mobilise
also the media, so that they open their columns for contributions
out of the different Member States. Finally, we will also try
to have the anchorage at European level, organised through EGs,
to regroup and self-organise themselves so that they can follow
the work of the Convention and give impetus to the work of the
Convention, and we accept the role so that we will make a bridge
from two or three members of the Praesidium to have contact with
them and so on. So we try to have a very diverse way of possibilities
for civil society to have a contribution to the Convention and
it will be at the Convention to see how we integrate it in our
259. To what extent do you regard this dialogue
as the responsibility of Member States and national institutions?
Are there ways in which the Convention and its offices can assist
Member States in this?
(Mr Dehaene) Like I said, I consider that, indeed,
the national states have a responsibility to organise that national
debate and members designated by national parliament, but also
the European Members of Parliament, each in their country of origin,
must consider it as their responsibility to organise that national
debate. I know that different Member States as well as candidate
Member States have already organised such a debate before the
Convention, others are organising it from the beginning of the
Convention, and I hope that there will be a kind of benchmarking
and exchange of experience and of ideas within the Convention
between the different Member States so that they can learn one
260. I am very interested in this dialogue with
civil society. I hope that it will take place in the UK and I
believe that national parliamentarians will have a very important
responsibility in Britain in promoting that. Can I ask you a little
bit about what underlies your own thinking about this dialogue
with civil society in the context of the Convention, because traditionally
the European construction has been based on treaties between contracting
nation states, but I have always seen the European construction
as also a kind of social contract which brings together the different
individuals and the groups and organisations within civil society.
I think this has been very neglected in the European construction
up to now and this Convention and the dialogue with civil society
is perhaps an important new departure. If it is a successful experiment,
do you see it as something that might become a permanent feature
of the European construction, something that would perhaps be
put on a more permanent footing?
(Mr Dehaene) I am not tempted to take conclusions
before I see that can produce something, so let's first have the
work in the Convention. My approach is that with the challenge
we are confronted with now, the classic method of IGC has not
been successful to produce what we need, so, to be very frank,
my analysis is that enlargement will take place and will take
place on the basis of Nice, but if you have no prospective of
something more than Nice it will enter a big crisis because it
will not work. That is the responsibility now. And, as I say,
after two failures of IGC, the conclusion of the European Council
was, "Well, we have to try another method." Indeed,
the last time that there was a important qualitative jump at European
level was in Maastricht, but Maastricht was well prepared by the
group of the law with the bank directors and so on. What we are
looking at here is to have a larger debate than is apparently
possible in the classical IGC, where diplomats and so on are at
the front line, to have that larger debate, and let's say that,
principally on the impulse of the European Parliament, the relative
success of the previous Convention was one of the arguments to
say, "Let's try the method of the Convention." I think
it is worthwhile to try, but at the same time I have also a warning
sign that the mission of the previous Convention and that of this
Convention is totally different. One of the reasons the former
Convention had success was that they had a clear mandate (namely,
made of codification of existing rights in the treaties, so that
is really a technical mission) and those who tried in that Convention
to define new rights soon were confronted with, "That's not
the mandate" The only way the Convention achieved success
was to concentrate and limit themselves to the mandate. So today
you have a Convention with an open and a very large mandate and
the whole question will be: Is such a large group, such a diverse
group, is that grouping capable of creating the chemistry to come
to a real proposal? When journalists ask me the question, "What
do you consider as a failure? What do you consider as a success?"
well I always say, "If we come out with a report with hundreds
of different possibilities"something like Mao's "hundred
flowers""that will be interesting for the library
but that will have no influence at all." At the other end
is what I call Utopia; Utopia being a Convention of more than
a hundred men and women coming out of 25 different states with
also European Parliament and European Commission, coming in consensus
to a new basic treaty of the union of this century. That would
be of big influence of the next IGC. Probably the result will
be something between the two. The more it is to my Utopia, the
more it will have influence; the more it is to the catalogue,
the less it will have influence. So, saying beforehand that that
is now the method and we will put that in the treaty, I am a little
bit more careful.
261. What is your view on road shows and the
possibility of the Convention looing at other cities?
(Mr Dehaene) I think the members of the Convention
have to be ready and disposable for coming to national meetings
and so on. I do not think that it is a good idea to have a road
show of the Convention through the Union because that means that
if you do not go to each of the 15 members and the 10 potential
members you will create more frustration than something else and
I do not think that is the best method to work.
262. There will no doubt be quite a lot of media
(Mr Dehaene) Certainly in the beginning!
263. Yes, at the beginning. The problem is,
you have said yourself, that it is a very large group, it is a
very diverse group, and for the first few months
(Mr Dehaene) It will be chaotic!
264. Yes, it will be chaotic. An attempt will
be made to listen. A number of people have said, "For the
first six months we will be listening." Out of that large,
diverse group will come a huge range of ideas. What ideas do you
have to encourage the media to take a serious interest in the
role of the Convention and not pick out one or two odd bits that
come out of it and say, "The Convention is doing this"
or "Europe is doing that" or whatever? Have you any
(Mr Dehaene) You think the Convention is something
like a Soviet subject? I do not know how we can manage the media.
The media are the media and I thought you in Great Britain know
something about that?
265. That is why I have asked the question.
(Mr Dehaene) Like I said at the beginning, it will
be something chaotic and, to start with, that is something the
media does not like, because if it is chaotic they have to try
to understand and that is the last thing you have to ask of the
media. You have to keep your nerve and you have to go through
that phase or that stage. The role of the Praesidium will be at
certain moments to try to distillate out of that chaos proposals
that then can be discussed in the Convention, where the Convention
can react to them and so on. On that way, I am a very pragmatic
and realistic guy and I have no illusions. The same, I know perfectly
for the moment the Praesidium is under enormous pressure to multiply
the meetings of the Convention. I know perfectly that we will
respond to that, but that after five meetings along will be a
hundred, because that is the dynamics of such a thing. So you
have to be realistic in that and fight your way. That is also
something I learned in the previous Convention, where I was also
a member: you have to have enormous flexibility. You cannot have
rigid rules of procedures, you have to be very flexible. There
are two key elements in the success of a Convention. That is,
on the one hand, the chemistry of the members of the Convention.
If each member of the Convention comes with a closed mandate and
no openness to discuss, the result will be nothing and then the
report will be the report of 20 different mandates. If, on the
contrary, there is a chemistry in that Convention, that can give
unexpected results. That is one element. So giving timeand
that is also that first stageto the members of the Convention
to know each other better, to confront their ideas, to have also
informal meetings, is a very important element to create that
chemistry. The second element that is also essentialbecause
I know nobody of more than one hundred members that ever produced
a text; texts are always produced by a smaller group and then
tested in the larger group and so onis to create a confidence
between the Praesidium and the Convention. There you have to give
time too. In the previous Convention, for instance, the fact that
the former President of the Bundesrepublik, Herczog, was known
as a great specialist in the fundamental rights that people know
the secretariat, the guys with a high know-how on these matters
created a confidence in the working. So here, as it is so large,
it will be much more difficult, but that is essential. If that
does not exist, we will not produce a result that is workable
for the IGC afterwards. That brings me to another point: what
the influence on the IGC will be, what the timing of the IGC can
be. You can say no sensible thing now without knowing the result
of the Convention. If the Convention delivers that catalogue I
spoke of, then I say, "Wait with that IGC, when that IGC
will deliver another catalogue." If the Convention delivers
a clear treaty, well, then, work as fast as possible because in
the meantime there can be a new discussion so that you cannot
see that one forward.
266. It is a pleasure to have you here to share
your views with us, Mr Dehaene. Could I ask what you personally
would regard as a successful outcome of the Convention? Do you
believe that this should be an opportunity to reach out to civil
society, to the people of Europe and give them an opportunity
to relate better to Europe? Would you personally look to achieve
a written document, a written constitution, if you like, at the
end of thiswhich would not be my desire, just to explain
thator do you believe that the Convention should come forward
with a number of options which are then put before the IGC?
(Mr Dehaene) There are different dimensions in your
question. First of all, it all depends on your point of view of
what you wish. I will invest in that Convention in the hope that
it is useful time and that it serve to something. From that point
of view, I think the Convention should try to deliver something
which the IGC can do something with. There my point is the more
you deliver conclusions in the form of treaty texts, the bigger
the influence on the IGC will be; the more you deliver literature,
the less the influence will be. My focus will be to try to go
as far as possible in delivering legal texts. That is one point.
The second point is that, independently of what etiquette you
put on it, one of the elements of non-transparency for citizens
is the complexity of the treaty matter of the Union at this moment.
The people are convinced there is one treaty, forget it. There
are seven treaties that are not always being well involved with
one another, so it would already be a positive element for the
transparency if you make one treaty without for the rest changing
nothing. That is the exercise that I hope you know the Institute
of Florence have done. If you see the text that Florence has made,
that changed nothing at the treaty but assembles the basic elements
in one treaty and those who are more executioned in another treaty.
And, give that a structure, you have already a much better ideanot
that I think every citizen is keen to have that in his bed locker
and write it every evening, but the one who wants to do it has
already agreed a few things. From there on I say, "Indeed
we need one treaty." For me, the etiquette you put on it
is totally secondary. Even if you call that different in the different
Member States because the sensibilities are different, I have
no problem with that. If you ask me, "Do you need a constitution?"
I say no. If I have a basic treaty, that is for me the point.
If calling about constitution creates ideas of federal states,
super-state, etc, my point of view is not that we need the United
States of Europe. So you can perfectly call that a basic treaty,
but, to respond to one of your concerns, to have better transparency
for the citizens it is clear that you need a treaty that somebody
with a minimum of formation ... what do you call it?
(Mr Dehaene) ... education, can read. That is one
point. The second point: there are two things that I always said
there is something not correct in that approach. These two things
are: the severe way some people are talking about the democratic
deficit of Europe or the link or comprehension of the citizens
with Europe. My reaction to that is that I do not directly see
where the democratic deficit is, and, if it is, it is as big in
each of the Member States and I do not see why you should focus
more on Europe than on the national states. Secondly, you have
to have the realism to know that the more you go to institutions
further from the citizen, the more there will be a distance. It
is a complete illusion that you can take at European level decisions
where every citizen knows where it goes on and so on. That is
the same, that the distance between London and the home town is
also bigger, and that is a normal phenomenon. I should say that
that achieves a sum-up, when you see the decisions are very important,
of, for instance, the World Trade Organisation. There the distance
is very great, without ended, but the decisions are there. So
I think you have to have the concern (i) to be transparent; (ii)
to have a democracy but in terms of something that is building
up, so that you can, indeed, say the basis is a democratic mandate;
and (iii) I think the concern of many citizensand I picked
the term from David Milliband in the Laeken groupis more
about a deficit of delivery of Europe than a concern on democratic
deficit and so we have to organise things so that they deliver,
indeed, the results that people expect. The paradox is that in
all opinion polls you see greater expectations in the fields where
Europe is mixed. What the citizen expects is internal security,
managing of migration, the fight against terrorism, directions
for all, and, on the other hand, he says, "How can we be
more effective in the Balkans?" ". . . in the Middle
East?" and so on. So that is also the sectors where we have
to see how can we organise ourselves so that we are more effective.
268. You mentioned that if the Convention is
going to be successful it depends on the chemistry amongst its
members. You will be aware that there is criticism that the members
of the Convention are going to come up with pre-conceived ideas.
How would you rebut that criticism?
(Mr Dehaene) I am perfectly aware they will come with
pre-conceived ideas and some will come with mandates. If we can
convince them through the chemistry of the Convention that that
way we can achieve nothing; if we cannot convince them, then the
Convention will fail.
269. Mr Dehaene, I found your analysis, if I
may say, very interesting, and as perceptive as I would have expected.
But it is very important, this Convention, to a lot of people,
including those who come from my side of the political spectrum,
which is the questioning about the assumptions on which the development
of European integration is based. Anne McIntosh, who is from the
same party as I am
(Mr Dehaene) I still do not know what party that is.
Mr Cash: Conservative party, but I think I am
probably better understood as a Euro-sceptic or Euro-realist,
so that from a national point of view I take what I think is a
commonly understood cross-party position because there are members
of the Labour party and even members of the Liberal Democrats
Mr Hendrick: Very few.
270.who share the views that we have.
(Mr Dehaene) As far as I know, the contrary is true.
271. Mr Dehaene, you look at the opinion polls
and nobody, including Tony Blair, is under any misapprehension
that the argument is more than finely balanced. But let's leave
it at that. These are important questions. If this Conventionand
I am talking serious territory herein fact is based on
assumptionsgiven the range of the Florence Institute's
compendium and the questions of lists of competences, all the
issues which are inherent in this processif the basic questions
which are to be dealt with are too heavily geared in advancethis
notion of pre-conceived ideas or mandates, or whatever you like
to call themin the direction of the Acquis Communitaire
as it now standsin other words, you said at the beginning
it is an open question as to how the whole thing will go, there
is an open agendais there an open agenda or is it based
on the assumption that Mr Ellerman and his friends in the Florence
Institute produced a consolidated treaty? I admire the idea that
in fact it should be made more clear and more transparent, but
is it merely to be a progression towards further integration,
which I know you personally would believe in?and, indeed,
so would most of the people: Giscard d'Estaing, all the people
who are in the Praesidium, for example. In fact if you look at
the composition of the Convention, there are, I think, maybe five
people who come from the other point of view (if I can put it
that way). If that is the gravitational pull, how much confidence
can be placed in the conclusions of that Convention? Really what
I am saying is: Should we not be listening to Europe's people
rather than to the pre-conceived ideas of the direction in which
this gravitational pull has been going for so long? In other words,
should you have a blank sheet or should you actually be looking
at it based on the assumption that the Acquis Communitaire is
there and there is an inevitable progression towards a further
degree of integration with all that goes with that? We could spend
hours on that, but you know what I mean.
(Mr Dehaene) Let's sayand I say a little bit
in black and white what you sayI can imagine that the mission
of the Convention should be: Here you have a blank sheet, nothing
has happened, what will we do in Europe? It is clear that we had
a mission by the European Council out of the Nice results and
that out of that, out of several important speeches that have
been given by European leaders, Blair and so on, the European
leaders said, "OK, with that framework, with the new dimension
of Europe after enlargement, but also in the new world well Europe
has to play"because I think also we have more and
more also to integrate in the finality of European litigation.
The answer to the question: Do we wish that Europe play a role
as an important power in the world and that can co-determine the
organisation, the equilibrium that you want at global level? my
answernot only mine but what you mostly read in Niceis
that none of the Member States is capable to do that on its own
and that only the weight of the whole of Europe can play a role
on that level. But you have to organise that too. Let's say, on
the one hand, I have no problem to have a screening of some elements
of the Acquis where you can indeed say, "OK, we have to review
some elements," and where on the other hand I sayand
I am referring to the opinion polls and so on"There
is an expectation of delivery to Europe that Europe can deliver
the way it is organised today," there, in that kind of sectors,
you probably need more Europe or more integration to act efficiently
together. Let us say, from that point of view, we should, indeed,
have an open-minded approach in the Convention, but not in the
sense that we start from scratch, because that in my view has
not much meaning and would not be correct to be the candidates
too, because they negotiate two words, the "European Acquis",
and that is also what the European negotiators put on the table
in that enlargement discussion.
272. Is that not partly, if I may just make
this point, the real question which lies at the heart of this
issue described as a democratic deficit, which is the role of
the national parliaments.
(Mr Dehaene) The national parliaments?
273. Indeed, if I may say, because in the United
Kingdom and, indeed, the other countriesbut if I could
just speak from our own experienceour ministers are, when
making policy, whether it is in the Council of Ministers or otherwise,
directly accountable to some very hot questioning in the House
of Commons, in Select Committees, etc, and we regard that, as,
indeed, in our own committee here, as an absolutely crucial function
of a democracy.
(Mr Dehaene) I completely agree. What impeached you
to do that to what they do in Europe.
Mr Cash: But it does not apply in some other
countries, where, for example, European treaties have been put
through by decree.
274. But that is up to them. That is subsidiarity.
(Mr Dehaene) Subsidiarity is that.
275. But that affects us.
(Mr Dehaene) No.
276. It affects the United Kingdom.
(Mr Dehaene) No, it does not affect the United Kingdom.
It is your parliament who approved the Treaty. It is your parliament
that is controlling your ministers in a council of ministers.
Do your job your way and each of the Member States do their job
their way. You want a referendum, you do a referendum. I do not
want a referendum, I do not do a referendum. Why do you want to
dictate me what I want to do.
277. Would you have a referendum on this Treaty
in each Member State?
(Mr Dehaene) No.
278. It is up to them.
(Mr Dehaene) No. I do not consider the referendum
as a symbol for democracy
Mr Hendrick: Some parliaments trust their governments,
279. Mr Dehaene, you talked about two elements
which you described as the recipe for success: the chemistry in
the Convention and the confidence between the Praesidium and the
Convention as a whole. Can you perhaps talk a little bit more
about what role the Praesidium can play in furthering those goals
in the recipe for success?
(Mr Dehaene) Something you have to understand well
is that the Convention is something ad hoc. Most of the members
are Members of Parliament but it is not a parliament. We in the
previous Convention did once exercise a voting. That was a catastrophe,
because the source from where the members come are so different
that you cannot see that as simply as one man/one woman, one vote.
On the other hand, you need somewhere a place where a tentative
synthesis is formulated. The whole chemistry is that on the basis
of technical word of the secretariat. The Convention has to make
a political synthesis and put that before the Convention and that
is a delicate way to see that you grant to the greatest possible
consensus. But I think that it was wise in the text of Laeken
not to oblige the Convention to come to a general consensus, that
there is no place for alternatives and so on. The whole question
will be to express what eventually was a large consensus and what
really were alternatives that had a certain support in the Convention.
That will be a delicate exercise, I am perfectly aware of that,
and my great concern is to indeed work on the way that there is
an important confidence between the Praesidium and the Convention.