Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 68)



  60. Do you have any optimism that they will be?
  (Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I do not want to sound pessimistic, because we are not half-way through, but the mood of the Convention is rather that these are internal matters to be discussed and we are concerned about harmonization and creating a more effective, more efficient Europe, and, to be fair, they are aware of the democratic deficit. But these huge global issues—the information revolution, the World Trade Organisation's view, and development issues about dumping of agricultural exports on the third world, which do create havoc through the third world—are not discussed. Perhaps they are thought not to be appropriate. But I think that they are, because we are not just designing a European Union for our own continent, we are also designing an organisation which is supposed to be playing a part in world affairs.

  61. If I accuse the Convention of being introverted and theological rather than religious and visionary, would I be right be right or wrong?
  (Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I wish I had described it as pithily as that.


  62. And the view from the other side, Ms Stuart?
  (Ms Stuart) I hope that after the next session of the Convention, which is the engagement of civic society and NGOs, a two-day session totally devoted to that, we both will be able to come back with a more positive view on that.

Sir John Stanley

  63. You have talked about democratic deficit within the EU. There are two questions I would like to ask you both. First of all, is there any mood of willingness within the Convention to break the existing monopoly belonging to the European Commission over the initiation of legislation and to give, for example, the Council of Ministers, by a majority perhaps, a right to be able to initiate legislation alongside the European Commission? Secondly, is there any mood also to create some direct accountability of the Commission to national parliaments? We, in this Committee, have had the utmost difficulty, for example, in getting commissioners and representatives of the Commission come to give evidence to this Foreign Affairs Committee in our own parliament. So perhaps I may ask you that one as well: Is there any mood to achieve some direct accountability of members of the Commission for national parliaments?
  (Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I accused the Commission of being an embodiment of a technocratic Europe in a plenary debate and was immediately attacked by Monsieur Barnier, the French Commissioner, who gave me what I regarded as a very technocratic response to my allegations. I think we are not, in the Convention, really asking the basic question about what is the Commission for. There are all sorts of ideas about perhaps electing a head of Europe—whether he is President of the Commission or head of the Council—but the prior question is: Is the Commission a kind of embryonic government of Europe or is it a secretariat? I believe it should be a secretariat, attached either to the Council or maybe to national parliaments, which should have greater initiative in legislation. It is quite interesting that the Commission is against all monopolies except the monopoly which they have themselves, which is to initiate legislation. So I do think that that needs breaking or at least diluting. But, so far, that radicalism has not been very prominent in the debate, if I may put it like that.

  64. And, my second question: Is there any mood to achieve any direct accountability of commissioners or senior officials to national parliaments?
  (Mr Heathcoat-Amory) This is rather my point. I think if they were re-classified as a secretariat carrying out an executive role under the direct influence and guidance of other bodies—I know that is the theory of the Council but it is certainly not that in practice—then I think that problem would solve itself because they would not need to be separately elected. Indeed, I think any proposal to elect the President of the Commission, even if that is done by the European Parliament, would enhance its role and would create the impression that that is the government of Europe and it would not solve the democratic problem. So I want to recapture the Commission and make it accountable by placing it alongside—and, as I said, I have not decided exactly how we can do this—national parliaments, who ought to create horizontal links between themselves. Perhaps we ought to create, as I have called it, an inter-parliamentary pillar of the Union, to put national parliament in the driving seat to solve international problems but by coordination. And then, having decided what we need to do, the Commission could carry out a secretariat and coordinating role but under the very specific direction of the democratic body which I think is primarily located in Member States.
  (Ms Stuart) I very much hope that the working group on national parliaments will come back with their recommendation that there should be that link with the Commission, and direct, so that there is not this hierarchy but it closes itself. In terms of the Council of Ministers, there is a big debate going on whether we should get rid of quite a number of the sectorial councils and separate out when the Council of Ministers acts as a legislative body and then look closely at how the Commission rights of initiative should work out. In answer to your question: Is this being discussed? Yes. Where there is a real danger is that people do not think through the consequences of what they are asking for at the minute, because the minute you say, "We want the Commission to be democratically accountable and more elected," then I think David's point is an extremely valid one if one wishes to create a government of Europe in waiting which then will prevail. Or do we want the Commission to be the guardians of the treaty—which I think is what they should be—and therefore the notion of having an elected President of the Commission would be as strange as saying, because in Britain we need a new head of the civil service, "Go and elect him." We would say, "Of course we do not elect them, we appoint them." That is being teased out at the moment, that people think through the coherent consequences of single ideas and what it really means when you add them up.

  65. And breaking the monopoly of the Commission's right to implement legislation?
  (Ms Stuart) There has been less talk about that explicitly but it is rumbling as one of the issues which have to be looked at.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  66. Do you think it would help if the President were called the Secretary General or General Secretary?
  (Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think that is a very good idea. I really do. I think that names are important. I think that calling someone Secretary General would emphasise that his role is to implement and execute decisions made by others, rather than by calling him President of the Commission, which elevates him to the status of a European government leader.
  (Ms Stuart) I think we have to be aware that these words can mean different things in different languages. I remember the endless debates about whether Praesidium should be called the Praesidium or the Bureau.


  67. Or the Politburo.
  (Ms Stuart) Or, as the Chairman likes to refer to it, the Politburo. And then, once it was the Praesidium, how it should be spelt, and there were three alternative versions.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  68. We are talking in English.
  (Ms Stuart) In English, yes, it would not be a bad idea.

  Chairman: The only problem is that with a secretary general you have to decide whether he or she is a secretary or a general, and that poses its own problems. May I thank you both on behalf of the Committee most warmly. As colleagues, you have set the platform for further debate. I anticipate that the further debates will probably now move to the new Standing Committee on the Convention, of which, as Sir Patrick has said, we are all members. Thank you both very much indeed.

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