The Future of Europe

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Lord Tomlinson: We have already heard two clear accounts of the broad issues underlying the Convention, so I do not propose to analyse it further, especially as I am an alternate within the Convention. Rather, I shall speak about the working parties in which I am engaged: alternates fully participate in them. I attend all meetings of the Convention and have occasionally contributed to them.

The working party on complementary competences has made substantial progress. We have worked on words that created different degrees of confusion in some places and irritation in others. Words such as ''ever closer union'', for example, made it appear as though the European treaty—or constitution, or whatever it is going to be—was in a state of almost permanent Trotskyist revolution: as soon as one form of words was proposed, it would be changed into something else. A consensus seems to have emerged that such words should be omitted from a future treaty. Once we have an ''agreement'', it should remain an agreement for substantially longer than at present. Successively, we have had the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties: no sooner is the ink dry in Nice than we have to start all over again.

I shall outline the major principles emerging from the working group on complementary competences. First, as Mr. Heathcoat-Amory mentioned, there is the principle of conferred powers. There seems to be no disagreement on the need for a clear statement that the European Union has no powers of its own, but only powers that are transferred to it by the decision of

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sovereign states, and that any powers not thus explicitly transferred to it are powers that remain with the member state.

There is also the clear commitment to the principle of subsidiarity, which was referred to earlier. Therefore, in any future arrangement the Union will need to demonstrate that the objective of any proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states acting separately.

The third of the principles that are important in this area is that of proportionality. In that context, the view has been widely expressed—I believe that it is a majority view, and I will be pressing it on Commissioner Christophersen when he gives the final report of our working group—that the Union shall exercise its powers in such a way as to encroach as little as possible on the member states, consistent with achieving the stated objective of the action.

The fourth principle is that of diversity—the requirement of the Union to respect differences in national identity and culture in its decision making.

The results of the work of the Christophersen commission will be reported orally to the Convention next Monday, and I believe that I shall be substantially satisfied with the final text, on which we shall deliberate next Wednesday.

The working group on simplification has a much more difficult task—in many respects as difficult as that of the working group on competences. There will be a major division of responsibilities between Lord Maclennan and me. The major area on which I am working in that group, although my work, of course, relates to all areas, is the proposals for budgetary simplification, and those are inextricably linked with the common agricultural policy.

There is, for example, a fundamental demand from the European Parliament to abolish the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure. In my view, that is impossible. I have made it clear that it would be impossible for any of the national Parliaments to accept that, unless absolute commitments were made in relation to budgetary discipline, agricultural reform and the continuation of inter-institutional agreements leading to financial perspectives that limit the impact of agriculture within the overall budget.

Finally, Ms Stuart referred to the question of the dynamics of the Convention. I agree with her analysis that, at the beginning, its dynamics reflected the European Parliament, because of its culture, its work and the staff and infrastructure. The staff had been working on that agenda for months, if not years. Therefore, at the beginning, there seemed to be a drive to get the European Parliament agenda adopted as the key of the Convention. That never happened. It was resisted in disparate ways.

More recently, not only the national Parliaments and Governments of the 15 member states, but the parliamentarians and Government representatives of the accession countries have been more critical of views confidently espoused by the European Parliament, and its view seems much less likely to be

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accepted than originally anticipated. The beneficiaries of that change of dynamics have been national Parliaments and their Governments.

4.54 pm

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: The three speakers who have preceded me have covered the ground in a broad way, so it would be sensible for me to say little at this stage, but rather to answer questions.

However, I feel it incumbent on me to put a slightly different gloss on some of the matters to which the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) referred. He mentioned, for example, that the President of the Convention is expected to produce a draft constitution for Europe on Monday. However, I understand that what we receive will be very much less than a draft constitution; it will be a skeleton outline at most, which will do little to answer any of the questions that have to be answered when it is given flesh. It would be wrong to build up at this stage expectations of that document that will be dashed next week.

In talking about the work of the group to which I belonged on the single legal personality, the right hon. Gentleman went a little beyond the necessary implications of that report. It was unanimously agreed that the Union had legal personality and that it was therefore not a profound step openly to attribute such a personality to the Union in the treaty.

A number of recommendations were made that were thought sensible, but which were referred on to the working group that was established to consider issues relating to the conduct of the Union's external policy, such as whether an implication flows from the attribution of a legal personality as to the representation of the Union abroad.

May I express a slight note of concern at this stage with regard to the whole process? Understandably, because the Convention is structured as it has been, with the national member parliamentarians playing a major part, there has been a considerable focus on the role of national Parliaments, the relationship of the Union to the Governments of the member states in the working group on subsidiarity, and the concerns that are properly those of national parliamentarians about how to hold their own member Governments to account. Noticeably less attention has been paid, although it will have to be paid, to the increased democratisation of the European Union's own institutions. However, attention will have to be paid to that, as it cannot be thought that the concerns about democracy in the construction of the Union will be answered merely by changes in the relationship between the Union's institutions and the national Parliaments.

My second concern is not only that little attention has been paid as yet to the Union's democracy, but that significant consideration has not been given to the issue of effectiveness in the conduct of those policy areas that are attributed to the Union, which have been the Union's sphere of responsibility for almost half a century in some cases, and where there is a need to reconnect the citizens of Europe with the institutions that are delivering in those areas.

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I hope that the praesidium and the President and Vice-Presidents are managing the Convention so as not to prevent a full discussion of those issues in good time. It would be unacceptable if the Convention were bounced towards the end of its processes with structures that raise many questions and that are highly debatable.

I do not have concerns about the work that is being done in the working groups, which provides valuable building blocks. I particularly commend the work that has just come out, which I have read, on the incorporation of the charter. It is a weighty document, in which the British input has been considerable through the membership of the group of Baroness Scotland of Asthal. She has been playing a notable part in ensuring that what might be described as British concerns are properly taken into account.

The Chairman: I think it prudent to remind those who were here on the previous occasion, and to inform those who were not, that we have until 6 pm for questions to the representatives. That does not mean that we have to take until 6 pm, but we can go no later. Everyone will understand that. I remind hon. Members that their questions should be brief and asked one at a time.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): Would the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells comment on this? There is already a subsidiarity provision in the treaty, but we all know what the problem has been. Essentially it is open to interpretation by the European Court of Justice, which tends to do so in a way that enhances and expands the Union's capabilities and competences. If we really mean to achieve subsidiarity, we must write it the other way round and say that any interpretation of the provision by the European Court of Justice must be made in accordance with the following proviso: it should be interpreted in favour of the capability remaining with the nation state rather than the EU, unless it is absolutely clear that it is intended by the treaty to go to the EU. Has that issue been addressed by the working party and what conclusions were reached?

Ms Stuart: The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a quite lengthy debate. When we first raised the issue of subsidiarity, the response was, of course, that the court already needed to take that into account. Our response to that was, yes, but national Parliaments should be able to say whether they agree with the assessment. Without giving them a veto or allowing them to delay the proposed mechanism, national Parliaments should have the ability to flag up a warning card.

The other point that was quite significant was that for the first time it was recognised that the decision on subsidiarity is more political in the early stages and becomes judicial only once legislative proposals have been finalised. We have tried with the proposed mechanism to have a much deeper political decision before it becomes a judicial decision. The current mechanism allows referral to the European Court of Justice only at the very end of the process. There was a big debate about the third point. Very often one cannot separate subsidiarity and proportionality.

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What causes the greatest problems is the proportionality of the proposal, rather than whether it should be done at European and national level. The involvement process, which allows continuous questioning, has been strengthened.

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Prepared 23 October 2002