The Future of Europe

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Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The European Union is around 45 years old and I agree with Lord Howell and others who said that it must change. It is no good continuing to justify the structure and procedures by reference to European reconstruction after the second world war, when efficiency and executive acts were possibly more important than democracy. The fact is that today, the European Union does things that intimately affect the public. Its regulations and directives are massively more numerous and more important.

In any mature democracy, people must feel a sense of involvement and that they have a chance to change things, even if the measures are themselves desirable. Many environmental measures, for example, are a good thing. Democracy is about debating such measures and examining their implications and the necessary trade-offs among taxation, economic efficiency and social objectives. Such debates are the fuel on which democracy runs, but they are just not happening in the European Union. Scrutiny, which Committees of both Houses nobly undertake, is no substitute if we are simply scrutinising a done deal, with no realistic chance of influencing the outcome.

I believe that it is part of being a citizen to feel that one can make choices. One matures, and one's country matures, by making choices and seeing their outcome. That is how all countries progress. We learn by mistakes and we can reverse mistakes. Electorates can reverse them. Such processes are almost wholly absent in the European Union. Instead, one has a perception of a steamroller. That is certainly how the public see the system, and that is why they have almost given up. They grumble, but they feel that it has an inevitability about it and that many of the decisions are made in a submerged part of the Union. It is in the—literally—hundreds of technical working groups and committees that many decisions are made and, in some cases, originate.

I have tried, inadequately, to sketch out an alternative, but I do not want that to be seen as a recipe for paralysis. There are things that ought to be done on a larger canvas, and it enhances our own national and parliamentary powers if we can co-operate, and get others to agree and come along with us. That process, however, can take a long time and there are no short cuts. For example, certain core competencies must remain and be resolved by majority voting. However, if a member state felt that its national interests were threatened, and the Parliament concerned objected to a proposal, we

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should reintroduce a form of parliamentary Luxembourg compromise so that a veto could be exercised. That would not be a diplomatic move; it could create a political crisis and much debate in the Parliament of the member state concerned. The Ministers concerned would have to go to the next European summit and defend their position. That would be democratic and would create the debate and discussion that we want there to be on European issues.

I am pleased that the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and for Wimbledon (Roger Casale), and others, have emphasised the importance of the parliamentary dimension. I am personally very pleased that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston is chairing the committee concerned, which is absolutely key. We must be creative, and not afraid to make propositions that run into immediate opposition from some vested interests—if we can show that they would not necessarily paralyse the good things about Europe.

My last comment refers to the important point made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) about sub-national Assemblies and Parliaments. We must give more and better thought to how we can enrich the process at their level. I notice that many of them have offices in Brussels, which is not the way to go forward. Powers should rather be returned to the national level so that we can pass them on, where necessary, to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. That would be better than trying to influence a process by directly addressing the Commission and others from a multitude of regional offices.

9.55 pm

Ms Stuart: The Convention confronts the two past failures of the treaties of Amsterdam and of Nice to establish a framework that allows us to move towards enlargement. We are in the process of enlarging, and we must enlarge because we owe a historic debt to bring Europe together within its historic boundaries. We should not forget that the Convention is so important because it enables us to enlarge.

Lord Howell referred to our difficult task, particularly in representing the House—neither House has a historic means by which it asserts its will. I am deeply grateful to all Members of the Commons and the Lords who have attended today. Their presence allows the representatives to return to the Convention with a greater understanding of how some Members think. I very much hope that we can repeat such meetings to enable a continuous dialogue, and that we find some will in the House that can be carried through into the Convention.

Question put and agreed to.


    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

Committee rose at four minutes to Ten o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Cook, Mr. Frank (Chairman)
Anderson, Donald
Casale, Roger
Cash, Mr.
Connarty, Mr.
David, Mr.
Davis, Mr. Terry
Dobbin, Jim
Heathcoat-Amory, Mr.

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Hood, Mr.
McIntosh, Miss
Mackinlay, Andrew
Stanley, Sir John
Steen, Mr.
Stuart, Ms
Tynan, Mr.
Watkinson, Angela

The following also attended, pursuant to paragraph (4) of the Order of the House (12 June 2002):
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North)

The following Members of the House of Lords also attended, pursuant to paragraph (5) of the Order of the House (12 June 2002):
Lord Berkeley
Lord Brabazon of Tara
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
Lord Grenfell
Lord Howell of Guildford
Lord Maclennan of Rogart
Earl of Sandwich

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Prepared 16 July 2002