Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 21 MAY 2002
40. Has your working group been set up, as yet?
(Ms Stuart) No.
41. Do we know who is on it, as yet?
(Ms Stuart) No. That is all part of the session on
Thursday and Friday.
42. I do not know if it is too early for us
to do this, to ask you, and particularly in the light of the suspicions
that someone is carrying the conclusions in their back pocket,
I wonder if I could ask you, Gisela, whether you could tell us
what you hope to achieve through your working group on the role
of national parliaments?
(Ms Stuart) There is a kind of minimum outcome, and
the minimum outcome is that, in each of the national parliaments,
the Convention members go back and engage their own parliaments,
I would hope that we have got more debate on COSAC, and have more
feed-in on that. I think the major thing which we can achieve,
and that is without prejudging the outcome, is a recognition that
national parliaments cannot interact within the architecture of
the European Union decision-making process, unless the whole timetable
and the whole sequence changes. And you, as a Committee, are far
more aware of this than I am, but I remember Statutory Instruments,
and Ministers, sending a very grovelling letter, "Dear Chairman,
I am about to breach the 21-day rule, and I hope you don't come
too heavy on me." It is a recognition that certain things
in the architecture have to be changed, to allow national parliaments
to play a constructive role, because in some countries they are
simply disengaged because they feel, you know, what is the point
of doing all this work after it had all happened.
43. I think, one thing we can perhaps all agree
on is that there is a democratic deficit in the European Union,
and I do not believe that we need to abandon the European project
because of that, but, unless we really address the democratic
deficit, it will open the door to those who seek to undermine
the European project. And, can I first of all just say, in asking
you an earlier question, I said to you, if we increased the role
of national governments in EU decision-making, do you believe
that there should be a corresponding increase in the role of national
parliaments, because, otherwise, the democratic deficit will increase,
and I understood your answer to be "yes"; is that right?
(Ms Stuart) Yes.
44. Okay. So you are the chair of the working
group on national parliaments, this is something we have discussed
on many occasions, what are the kinds of practical ideas that
you think might be coming forward, in order to strengthen the
role of national parliaments? You know, for example, that I am
in favour of a charter for national parliaments, which would actually
provide a kind of overall strategic framework. You cannot lay
down the law to national parliaments because national parliaments
are sovereign, but you can perhaps get a set of guidelines and
objectives and principles for national parliaments to sign up
to, such that they will do their best to engage their own citizens,
to make European decision-making more transparent, and so on.
And, secondly, the one very positive thing about this Convention
is the fact that national parliaments are there on an equal footing
with the other European institutions, and do you not think that,
once the Convention is over, we should continue to try to give
equal status to national parliaments in EU decision-making, alongside
the Commission, the European Parliament and national governments?
And, to that end, should not the role of national parliaments
be incorporated formally in the Treaties? My comments really are
addressed to Ms Stuart.
(Ms Stuart) No, you start with David, and I will gather
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think that compulsory powers
over citizens should only be taken after the matters have been
fully and publicly debated, in a forum in which they feel represented
and where their choices can be exerted, ultimately, by dismissing
the people making decisions with which they disagree. That is
a shorthand way of describing a national parliament. This mechanism
simply does not exist at European Union level. The European Parliament
claims to be democratic, but fewer and fewer people vote for it,
even though it has had more and more powers; and, quite simply,
there is no European electorate, there is no European public opinion,
there is no European press scrutiny, there are no European political
parties, there is no European demos, and it may arise one day,
but it cannot be created out of the air by politicians, or by
laws, or by waving a European Union flag. Therefore, in my view,
the conditions for a quasi-federal democracy are absent in our
continent, and we therefore have to reinvigorate our democracy
by bringing decision-making back to Member State level. However,
there are obviously matters that must be decided collectively,
and I mentioned some of them earlier, and I think that we need
some new ideas. And one that I am examining is whether we can
have an inter-parliamentary pillar, in the European Union, so
that there can be horizontal links created between the national
parliaments of Europe, and perhaps with the European Parliament,
so that matters, laws, regulations, are properly and fully debated
at Member State level before they come together to create a European
Union-wide set of laws, in any particular instance. At the minute,
it is all the wrong way round; the initiative lies up in the Commission,
they then are passed and negotiated in secret, and debated, supposedly,
in the European Parliament, in which no-one feels any sense of
ownership, and then they are put on all our desks. And the public
are completely disillusioned, they feel no sense of belonging
or ownership over that process; that is profoundly undemocratic,
and it is very, very dangerous, and it has got to change. And
the best way of doing it, as I said, is to increase the law-making
powers of national parliaments, but not doing it in a way that
completely paralyses the decision-making over those issues that
must be decided collectively.
(Ms Stuart) Can I address your question in a slightly
roundabout way, and also allay Mr Davis' concern that we do not
work together. This is why I think the working groups have to
work together and co-ordinate their actions. Just one example
is an idea that is being floated at present, which are the proposed
reforms to the Council of Ministers. I am not putting this forward
as a firm proposal, but just as one scenario. One of the problems
has been the many sectoral meetings of the Council of Ministers,
which do not even interact with themselves, the Health Ministers
do not necessarily know what the Environment Ministers do, and
does it all add up. Should you radically reform the Council of
Ministers and split them up and have a level at which the Council
of Ministers meet as a legislative body, open to the public, televised,
you know what is going on; and at that stage you could, for example,
say that the Minister who appears there takes two national parliamentarians
with him, who, in the English model, could be taken from a select
committee, who are actually there and who represent the House.
So these are kind of new ways of just looking how you interlock
those various institutions. What I think would be wrong would
be to look at each one of them in isolation and say, "And
how can I make myself stronger," because the strength is
actually in the way they interact, with always coming back, in
my view, to being accountable to your national electorate. And
I also very strongly feel there ought to be a presumption, much
more firmly enshrined, that the presumption is that whatever is
not given to the EU is the business of national parliaments. So
it is that kind of interlocking, rather than, I think, of broad
guidelines, which will give us the accountability.
45. And specifically on the points that I raised
about the charter and incorporation in the Treaty; you said you
do not want to comment on specific proposals, if I understood
your answer correctly, but can I take it that, if I were to send
you something in writing, that is something that you would be
happy to raise with your colleagues on the working group?
(Ms Stuart) Certainly, yes.
Mr Cash: Would the two representatives be good
enough to give me an idea as to what they think about the question
of shared sovereignty, by which I mean the European Parliament,
particularly with the role of co-decision, has powers which are
equivalent to those of Member States, yet national parliaments
have claimed sovereignty in their own right; which is to prevail?
You cannot have shared sovereignty between two constituent bodies
competing for the same functions, particularly in the area of
government. It strikes me that, rather like the essay by Edmund
Burke, on the Abbé Sieyes, and the absurd description
of constitutions which the Abbé Sieyes came up with,
in the 18th century, what is really happening in this Convention
is that people within the Acquis, which they are really
not prepared to examine, are looking around for different ways
of describing aspirations, but are not actually grappling with
the real question, which is, who is to be accountable to whom,
and how are decisions to be arrived at; a fundamental question.
So do you agree with me that it is impossible, in these circumstances,
to arrive at a decision at the result of this Convention, unless
the question of deciding who ultimately governs is the crucial
46. We usually get a "yes" or "no",
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I do not know if it is an answer,
but I think we must strive primarily for clarity and honesty.
Clarity over who takes the decisions and to whom are they accountable,
are they elected and can they be removed, are there genuine choices
for the people we represent, and how can they be exerted, and
is this possible on a continental scale as diverse as Europe.
Honesty about our language and intention; and, again, I am alarmed
at the loose phrases and descriptions already being bandied about.
I heard the President of France, the other day, saying that his
aim was a federation of nation states. That is a contradiction.
In a federation, the constituent states give up significant powers
to the central authority, and that central authority can exert
powers directly on the citizens of the constituent states; therefore,
those states are not nation states as most people understand that
term. So we must start to talk in language that people identify
with and can understand, and level with them, honestly; otherwise,
again, the Convention will fail and create disillusionment and
(Ms Stuart) My answer is, no; if you wish me to elaborate
I shall, but, basically, no, I do not agree with this assertion,
and I would almost invite everyone toI once remember my
teenage son saying to me, "Just because I can hear, I'm not
listening," and I sometimes have a sense with what is coming
out of the Convention that people can hear but they are not listening.
Giscard d'Estaing has made it quite clear that there should be
no aspect of the Acquis which is untouchable. There is
absolute common agreement that the institutions need serious reforming,
and, what is more, that we need to know who makes what decision,
where, and who is accountable for what. Now if, in a year's time,
members wish to arrive at that conclusion then I will stand here
and be answerable, but I find it very difficult to be continuously
accused in advance that no-one will listen, no-one will take any
notice and no-one will look at the Acquis.
Mr Cash: Let us wait and see, shall we?
Chairman: As someone might say, it goes with
the territory, those sorts of accusation. Minister, Ms Stuart,
I was getting confused by an earlier comment you made about sending
grovelling letters to us when you were a Minister. My recollection
is that we never, ever received a grovelling letter from you,
Ms Stuart, and I double-checked it with the Clerk, who assured
me that we did not receive a grovelling letter. So what you might
have thought was a grovelling letter certainly did not seem a
grovelling letter from our point of view. But what I am delighted
with is that we have our UK representative chairing this very
important working group on the role of the national parliaments.
And I was particularly pleased to hear that you are going to the
Northern Ireland Assembly and the discussions with the Welsh Assembly
and the Scottish Parliament. One of the things that is concerning
us, as well as looking at how we can defend the rights of national
parliaments within the European Union, is how we defend the rights
of sub-regions and the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly
and the Scottish Parliament within our own Member State, and their
rights to be consulted properly by the Commission and what is
happening with the Council of Ministers as well. So it is a domestic
issue for us but it is very much an important issue for the Convention
to discuss how we have relationships with subsidiarity, proportionality,
and how we look at passing decision-making down in the European
Union, and I hope that that will be a particularly important part
of what you seek to do in the Convention. Thank you very much
for coming along. This is our first meeting. We intend to have
you along at stages, as we process through your Convention. Thank
you very much for responding to our questions, because we are
very keen on what is happening, as you are keen as well, and we
wish you well, and your efforts. We are delighted to hear what
you are doing so far, and we look forward to the next evidence
session, where we will hopefully get more progress from what is
happening within the Convention. Ms Stuart and Mr Heathcoat-Amory,
thank you very much.