The Future of Europe

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Mr. William Cash (Stone): I should like to ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston a question that arises from the note, supplied to us in annexe D, from the praesidium, of which she is a member, to the convention on the subject of the role of national Parliaments in the European architecture. That matter is directly relevant to her group, of which she is chairman.

The note asked how one could assist the national Parliaments to play their crucial role in ensuring the democratic legitimacy of Union action. The hon. Lady may know that the European Scrutiny Committee produced a report that concerns democracy, accountability and national Parliaments. Does she agree with the main content of that report? Does she accept that its determination to enhance the power of the national Parliaments, which would be inconsistent with the thrust of the arguments coming out of the convention so far, is a matter that as a national representative she would want to insist on in her own group? In other words, would the report enhance the role of democratic legitimacy by ensuring that national Parliaments are the bedrock of the process of parliamentary activity throughout the European Union?

Ms Stuart: I did not mention at the opening that we have formally tabled the report of the European Scrutiny Committee as an evidence paper to the working group. Copies were distributed to all members at one of our meetings. I personally agree

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with much of what the Scrutiny Committee put forward, apart from the recommendation that we should return to first past the post, but that is quite a different subject.

It is important to realise that our working group has to consider two debates on democratic legitimacy. The constitution of the United States says ''we the people''. The constitution of Germany says ''we the Länder''. Therefore, there are two lines of democratic legitimacy. One is the direct elected mandate of members and the other is the democratic legitimacy that would arise at the Council of Ministers as the representatives of another body. Those two models have to be accepted as legitimate. Our group was very much encouraged by the president, who, when he summed up the convention session on national Parliaments, challenged us to be quite assertive in ensuring that that role of the direct relevance of national Parliaments is one that we defend. I finish with something that one of the Italian delegates said: within the European Union architecture, Members of the European Parliament are very much the power without a face, and National Parliaments have been too long the face without power. I hope that we can reverse that.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. I have gained a reputation for enabling as many as wish to speak to do so, and I should like that reputation to continue during this Committee, so I hope to have the briefest possible questions and answers.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): In the light of that, Mr. Cook, I shall cut out all of my qualifying clauses and move straight to the simple question. What is the view of our representatives of the likely options that will result at the end of this process in the spring of next year, prior to the debate before the intergovernmental conference? Is it assumed that several options will emerge, or in most cases will there be one majority and one minority view? What is the current prevailing wind in respect of the process?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My view is that President Giscard badly wants a single recommendation to go to the intergovernmental conference. It has already been called a constitutional treaty in order to commend itself to those who want a constitution, and to those who want a treaty but no constitution. I believe that that would be a mistake. We must come up with options, and the option to which I would like to contribute is a Europe of democracies. Such an option would be based more firmly on member status, and would allow enlargement to proceed more quickly and easily because we would not be asking those new and often small countries to surmount huge new hurdles such as taking on 85,000 pages of the acquis communautaire, which in the case of Malta will literally overwhelm its administrative systems. Let us try for a number of different outcomes, some of which it may even be appropriate to try out with the public through referendums.

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Lord Maclennan: If I may, I shall again offer a somewhat different vision. The Convention is convinced that it will have little effect if it simply advances a range of options for further debate. Its very purpose is to assist national Government leaders, who will consider the issues that they put to it at the Laeken conference, by offering choices and preferences and indicating the extent to which there is agreement. There will undoubtedly be those who do not agree with the thrust of any report that may be agreed by the majority, and the quality of their disagreements will no doubt be analysable as will the quality of the majority view. The wait to be attached will also depend on the size of the majority, but I have no doubt that it is not only President Giscard who seeks a single document but a substantial majority in the Convention.

The document may be called one thing or another, but my guess is that at the end of the day it is not what it is called that will matter because if there are those who do not wish for any constitutional document they will not be satisfied by it being called a treaty if it is in fact a constitutional document. The outcome will probably be what has been referred to as a ''chapeau'' treaty, which will be a statement of broad principles that will involve changes and reform while not being a consolidating treaty. It is clearly beyond the capabilities of the Convention to seek to go into the small print of the very bulky documents that presently constitute the constitutions of the communities.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: Thank you, Mr. Cook. It is almost unique to have a Committee such as this to which Lords are allowed to contribute. I welcome that and I thank you, Mr. Cook, for allowing us to do so. I apologise if I get anybody's appellations wrong.

I hope that the two delegates will take into account a couple of reports that the House of Lords European Union Committee, of which I am the Chairman, has recently produced. One covers the second chamber debate and one covers the provisional agreement, both of which are important in relation to the role of national Parliaments. Thank you, Mr. Cook, for allowing us to take part. Although we are not members of the Committee we are at least allowed to participate.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Very much so. The House of Lords report on the second chamber was decisive. It destroyed the case for a chamber of parliamentarians very effectively. More recently, the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), produced a constructive report that covered the whole waterfront. It was a little timid in some respects because we should go in hard on the issue of democracy and the powers of national parliaments, but I agree with much of it. It is immensely helpful for us to be able to say that we have behind us a majority of parliamentarians, particularly when they come from other parties.

Ms Stuart: If I may, I want to add a general reassurance that, because the House has been far-sighted in setting up its Brussels office, we ensure that all the reports of both Houses are fed in. Many countries are beginning to realise that they should perhaps copy that.

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Mr. Connarty: When reading the various texts that come from Europe, I notice that the European Parliament seems averse to the Committee's work on the role of Parliaments. For example, the praesidium member, Klaus Hänsch, said of the working group that it was a total mistake and had got off on the wrong foot. Has the Committee now found its feet and will the hon. Lady tell us where we have moved to? Are we wining allies in Europe?

Ms Stuart: I have a theory that, in politics, if people are being nice, one is not getting anywhere, so I think that we are getting somewhere. Some institutions felt threatened because national Parliaments were the first group. European parliamentarians had a common position on virtually everything even before we started. One of the conflicts that we must face is that many MEPs believe at this stage that their common position is almost part of the acquis of the convention. We have to remind them that that is the view of one quarter of those who constitute the convention, but we are getting somewhere.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The hon. Lady is right. The MEPs are well organised and hunt as a pack in the European Parliament. We at national level do not know each other as well yet. MEPs who claim that they hold the key to the democratic deficit must face the inconvenient fact that the last two treaty changes have given the European Parliament substantially more powers, but fewer and fewer people vote for them. The figure has fallen below a quarter in this country and is below a half in other member states. They do not suffer from lack of power. That is not the solution.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): May I ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston whether the subsidiarity group has considered the possibility of making subsidiarity justiciable and that one way of implementing that is to give national Parliaments the ability to take the European Commission to court if it proceeded to implement a measure by way of an EU directive or regulation which a national Parliament felt, on grounds of subsidiarity, should be left to individual member states?

Ms Stuart: I only read the notes of the group; I am not a member of it. However there is a debate in both groups about what they refer to as ex-anti and ex-poste. When something has been put into a legal form and politicians have expressed their will in words, it becomes a legal decision. We are working hard to have a political process before those decisions are made and the debate in both groups on whether we should turn to the courts is a live one. My view is that subsidiarity in particular must be a political decision to a large extent and only at the very end should it be a legal position. That view is shared by many of my colleagues.

 
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Prepared 16 July 2002