The Future of Europe

[back to previous text]

Ms Stuart: The accession countries are present as full members and they take part in the working groups. It is impossible to detect any difference in the workings of the group, which even has a representative on the praesidium.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I can add only that the views of those countries are eagerly sought. They can teach us a great deal about principles of government. Not long ago they were all run from Moscow, and at least some of them will not want to be run by another remote organisation, even though it is more democratic. Their views are important, but they have been rather shy in advancing them. They feel that they are negotiating to join an organisation, so they do not want to be too rude about it. Our point will be that they must sort things out before they join; it is their last chance, as it will be impossible once they have joined.

I am worried about whether all the rules and regulations in the acquis communautaire will be implemented in those countries, and I am unsure that their judicial and criminal justice systems are up to scratch. Some of them are still supplying us with refugees—those deemed to be refugees under the appropriate conventions. By definition, therefore, some of those countries are ill treating their own citizens, yet they are negotiating to join. That problem should be overcome before the tape is finally cut.

Roger Casale: The central question that the Convention was set up to answer—it is a profound one—is how to bring European decision-making closer to the European citizen. If the answer is not to perpetuate the device of the Convention itself, it will become ever clearer that there is only one show in town—to enhance the role of national Parliaments. If

Column Number: 021

we can agree on that, I should like to ask our representatives how to advance the role of national Parliaments in the Convention. Could the argument be advanced on its merits, or would it be necessary to negotiate with other bodies represented in the Convention, such as national Governments? A move to increase the role of the Council of Ministers might provide an opportunity to advance the arguments for enhancing the role of national Parliaments as well. Can the arguments stand on their merits or will negotiation and horse trading with other institutions be necessary?

Lord Maclennan: First, I doubt whether it would be accepted that there is no means of strengthening the democratic accountability of the European Union other than by enlarging the role of national Parliaments. As to the precise means of doing so, I mentioned earlier the possibility of the European Parliament having a greater degree of control over the Executive than at present. That is one line of inquiry.

National Parliaments can be given a more effective input in several ways, and Ms Stuart mentioned some of them. One possibility is that the European Union's programme as drafted by the Commission could be influenced by national Parliaments at an early stage before it is published annually in February. These ideas merit consideration in themselves, not as a substitute for alternative democratic strengthening of European institutions.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I do not believe that it is impossible to democratise the other institutions. Conditions do not exist in Europe for a quasi-federal system, which is what we have. For example, elections for the President of the European Council would attract an embarrassingly low turnout. The election would not mean anything to people, and they would not know what the candidates stood for. People do not even vote in European Parliament elections for candidates from their own country who speak their language. The proposal for such an election would invite ridicule, which is why it is usually suggested that the election uses an indirect system.

It is important to build on the essential democratic building block—member state Parliaments—by bringing some decisions back. Policy that should be decided at European Union level should be agreed collectively by national Parliaments by horizontal links and discussion. For example, the Kyoto accord was signed and clearly needs collective action. Member state Parliaments could agree and debate measures before regulations were drafted. It is all too late when we are at the receiving end of bafflingly complex regulations that mean nothing and have not really been debated in our own forum. That must change, and it could change. We could enter a mode of European discussion among member state Parliaments that is assisted by an expert secretariat, which I would call the commission. I would call the head of the commission the chief clerk of the commission.

Mr. Connarty: I note that Klaus Hänsch, the same gentleman whom I mentioned earlier, called for the charter of fundamental rights to be enshrined in the constitutional treaty of the European Union and made legally binding. That would extend the European

Column Number: 022

convention on human rights to a catalogue of social and economic rights, such as the right to reproduction and the right to housing. Is that gathering support in the Convention on the future of Europe, or is there the opposing view that the EU should accede to the European convention on human rights rather that incorporate the new fundamental treaty in the constitution?

Ms Stuart: That is the remit of one of the working groups. We should not forget that if that happened, Luxembourg would become the main court for human rights, which could undermine Strasbourg. That could be dangerous for countries in the east that turn to Strasbourg, because they are not part of the European Union. I would not want a diminution of our defence of human rights.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I just want to emphasise that we are in danger of rights overload. They are easy to dispense and are all judiciable, but they can lead to curious conflicts of the various conventions. If we are moving toward a constitutional settlement in Europe, it should be noted that the most enduring constitutions, such as the American constitution, are essentially content neutral. They lay down who does what, how powers are controlled, what institutions do and how they are elected. However, they do not dispense endless rights such as rights to work, rights to housing and rights to education, which is more properly the job of politicians.

Lord Maclennan: May I add a footnote to that? The Bill of Rights is an important and integral part of the United States' constitution. It has had a huge impact on social policy through such decisions as Brown v. Board of Education. That decision in Maryland related to education and outlawed discrimination on the grounds of race. It is not hard to understand why such an impulse should lie behind arguments that the Convention should examine the possibility of incorporating at least the justiciable parts of the charter, which was earlier agreed as a political declaration. However, there are the problems to which Ms Stuart referred. The clear preference of many would be for decisions on social and economic policy not to be taken as a matter of judicial interpretation growing from a charter of rights.

The Chairman: If there are no more questions, we will proceed to the debate on the motion,

    ''That the Committee has considered the First Report (30th April) and the Second Report (20th June) from the United Kingdom Representatives to the Convention on the future of Europe.''

Perhaps I should make it clear that I intend to call the alternate representative and the parliamentary representatives to respond to the debate no later than 9.45 pm.

9 pm

Mr. Terry Davis: May I say how pleased I was to hear the firm view of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston about the importance of protecting the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. That view would find favour with members of all parties in our delegation to the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Column Number: 023

I was also interested in the response made by Lord Maclennan to a question from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) about the legal personality of the EU. We have always been told that the EU cannot sign the European convention on human rights because it does not have a legal personality. I urge all our representatives at the European Union Convention to examine that loophole. Since Lord Maclennan has told us that all the legal experts have assured the Convention that the EU has a de facto legal personality, it should be able to sign the convention. In itself, that would prevent competition between one court in Strasbourg and another in Luxembourg—competition that would be bad for human rights and bad for Europe.

9.2 pm

Mr. Cash: I should like to dwell on points that have emerged in the course of this discussion. First, however, I thank the representatives for the hard work that they are putting into the Convention. It is quite apparent that I am most likely to disagree with Lord Maclennan, although that is no news to anyone because it has been going on for about 18 years—since I first arrived in the House.

I do not wish to configure my speech around only what Lord Maclennan said, but he made one or two remarks at the beginning of his presentation that rather ignored a salient fact about the Convention. References made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells to the low electoral turnout, the fact that the Danes turned down proposals for a single currency in a referendum and had previously turned down the Maastricht treaty, that the Irish turned down the Nice treaty and so forth, are indicators of a lack of connection. Indeed, they show positive alienation between the electorates on the one hand and the elite on the other.

I make this point because it has not yet come out in the course of our discussion. The nature of a convention of 105 people is that those who are in favour of Lord Maclennan's position and the general thrust towards a federal system—the hunting of the pack, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, which was endorsed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston—indicate the centre of gravity that will carry the process forward. Therefore, there is a lack of critical analysis that effectively comes, as far as I can judge, from not more than 10 out of 105 people in that convention. If I really stripped it down, the number of people who would ask the type of questions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells and I would ask could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The legitimacy of the Convention is vitiated by its lack of proportionality in relation to the basis of the argument put forward not only by our worthy representatives, but by reference to the lack of turnout and connection with the citizens of Europe as a whole. We are given to believe that the outcome will be based on a consensus, but we know what the consensus is before we begin. It has already been established.

Column Number: 024

There may be some worthy argument at the margins; for example, some academics may come forward about legal personality. I shall ask Lord Maclennan to supply me with a list of those academics because I would be surprised if there is one who does not already have a consistent track record on a particular route towards the matters to which he would aspire. I am not suggesting that Lord Maclennan had anything to do with their nomination. However, we had such a problem to a certain extent in the European Scrutiny Committee, but it was overcome by the wisdom of that Committee. I said that, during our deliberations on the report on democracy and accountability, we would be talking to people who, by and large, seemed to represent a view that wanted to move towards more integration than I thought was a good idea. I suggested that we put forward some other people and I was extremely glad that we achieved a balance.

Jens-Peter Bonde gave evidence to our Committee and made some useful suggestions that were well thought of by the Committee—even if it did not agree with them. He is also a member of the Convention. He is only one of five, so it is important for us to bear in mind the lack of proportionality and the balance of argument that unfortunately vitiates the ultimate consensus that the Committee is likely to come up with, and which is a stitch up from beginning to end.

 
Previous Contents Continue

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


©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 16 July 2002