Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Special Report



FIRST SPECIAL REPORT

The European Scrutiny Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

GOVERNMENT OBSERVATIONS ON THE FIFTH REPORT FROM THE COMMITTEE OF SESSION 2001-02

On 12 November 2001 we published a Report on the Convention to Prepare for the 2004 Inter-Governmental Conference (Fifth Report of Session 2001-02, HC 152-v). On 6 December we received a response from the Government, which is set out below.

Convention to Prepare for the 2004 Inter-Governmental Conference: The Government's Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2001-02

General

1. The Government is grateful to the Committee for this report. We welcome the debate on the Future of Europe. We share the Committee's conclusion that the Convention offers a valuable opportunity to widen the range of those contributing to this debate, and to improve its transparency. We hope that the Convention will make a substantial contribution to the Intergovernmental Conference.

2. As the Committee notes, decisions at the 2004 IGC will be for the governments of the Member States. But the outcome will require ratification in accordance with each Member State's constitutional provisions. In the UK, legislation is required before the UK can ratify a new or amended EU treaty. So Parliament will be able to contribute to the debate both before the IGC through the Convention and the national UK debate; and afterwards, when it will decide whether or not to accept the results the Government secures in 2004.

Objectives and Terms of Reference of the Convention

Our view is that the terms of reference of the Convention should be focused on the four points agreed at Nice, but that the Convention should be free to range over related constitutional or institutional issues.

3. Final decisions on the objectives and terms of reference of the Convention will be taken at the Laeken European Council on 14-15 December. We want the European Council to agree a mandate which asks fundamental questions about the future of the EU, which allows full and open discussion of all possible solutions to the challenges the EU faces, and which addresses the practical concerns of EU citizens. We expect Laeken to take the Nice Declaration as the starting point, and to identify themes developed from the four Nice agenda items.

We recommend that the Convention...be required to give a clear indication of which options it prefers, and that it be able to put forward alternatives for which there is substantial support. We further recommend that the European Council commit the IGC to explaining publicly its reasons for rejecting any of the conclusions of the Convention.

4. We want the Convention's final report to reflect the full range of opinions and options expressed. It will be for the President of the Convention to decide how best to do this. The Government is calling for a "pause for reflection" between the end of the Convention and the start of the IGC. This will provide an opportunity for all parties to consider and clarify their response to the Convention; and for the Government to hear the views of Parliament on the outcome before the IGC negotiations begin.

Composition of the Convention

We recommend that the Commons member on the Convention be appointed formally by a motion in the House, that the Member be selected from within the European Scrutiny Committee, and that arrangements be made for the Member to consult and report back to other members.

5. We note the Committee's suggestion on the selection of the representative of the Commons. Baroness Symons has also met interested members from the House of Lords to hear their views. No final decisions have yet been taken. But the Government is unlikely to accede to the request that the member selected should be drawn only from within the European Scrutiny Committee.

We accept the GAC's decision about the representation and voting rights of the candidate countries.

6. The composition of the Convention will also be decided at Laeken. We are pleased that the candidate counties are likely to be represented fully. We note the Committee's comments about the voting rights of candidate countries, but the Convention is a deliberative body, which is not expected to vote.

Operation of the Convention

We recommend that the Convention have the right to choose its own President.

7. We note the Committee's comments. We consider it important that the Chair is an effective and credible leader, able to produce a final report which will inform and assist the member states in the subsequent IGC. For that reason, we will wish the European Council to appoint a Chair who both enjoys the confidence of national governments, and can operate as a credible and independent chair of the Convention.

We recommend that the members of the Praesidium be elected by the Convention itself or by its constituent parts separately, and that it be not dominated numerically by Member States governments.

8. As with other aspects of the composition of the Convention, final decisions on the Praesidium will be taken at Laeken. Whatever is decided on the Praesidium, it is already agreed that the Convention itself will not be dominated numerically by representatives of member states' governments. MEPs (16) and national parliamentarians (30) will collectively outnumber the 15 member states' representatives by three to one.

Conclusion

9. The Government looks forward to further contributions from the Committee on the Future of Europe. We welcome in particular their inquiry on "Democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments". This will be a valuable contribution to the debate.

  Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

  Foreign and Commonwealth Office


 
previous page contents

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 December 2001