The Future of Europe

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Lord Tomlinson: I say that because there is a frequently voiced misconception that European legislation is made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. Of course, the Commissioners have no vote in the legislation; they merely make the proposal. If there is a major problem in relation to the quality of legislation, national Parliaments have a responsibility to examine their scrutiny methods, the degree to which they hold their Ministers accountable and the facility with which national Ministers allow legislative proposals to proceed when they should be ditched at an early stage.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): At the national parliamentary caucus meeting on 3 October, the right hon. Member for Wells, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, said that he felt that national parliamentarians should be bolder and more demanding. Will he explain what he meant by that?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Yes, I will. I think that we are being outplayed, because the game takes place on someone else's pitch. We go to Brussels, the home of the European Parliament, where all know each other well and work as a team. Members of other member states' Governments turn up, wonderfully supported by the usual phalanx of civil servants, whereas we arrive, not knowing each other, and are treated as tourists in someone else's building. We are at an institutional disadvantage and are not thinking as a group of people who want to democratise the European Union, in the knowledge that most people

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exercise their democratic choices through their member state Parliaments. It is, perhaps, inconvenient and unpopular to say that, but it is a fact.

Member states' Parliaments and their representatives should not accept—important and welcome though it is—the comparatively minor concession that we shall have a role in policing a mechanism like subsidiarity, which should be happening anyway. Instead, we should be much bolder, not in trying to enhance the powers of our own institutions, but in trying to breathe democracy through this European Union decision-making and legislative structure, which I regard as almost comically undemocratic, as is shown by the electors.

The electors are trying to tell us something. Why did less than a quarter of our fellow citizens even bother to vote in the last European Parliament elections in 1999? Why did the Danes, despite all the pressure on them, vote no to the Euro? Why did the Irish, of all people, vote no last year to the treaty of Nice? Then, of course, they were asked the same question on the same treaty and were overwhelmed by the pressure and the money and the bullying. People are trying to send us a message. If we persist in not listening to it, the whole project risks catastrophe.

Ms Stuart: May I add a very brief, fundamental word of clarification? I do not accept the notion of those who suggest that there is a lack of democratic legitimacy in the European Union. There are two sources of democracy. One is direct elections, which we have for the European Parliament, and the other is representation by Ministers. I do not want to unravel my representation by the British Government, which is an essential building block in my and other citizens' representation at European level. It is, first and foremost, parliamentarians' role to scrutinise and influence at home Ministers' actions in Europe.

I suggest that the argument that democratic legitimacy is lacking and that therefore we need to unravel representation by Government is more of a wrecking mission than a serious suggestion of a way forward. The logical outcome of that argument would be to set up a federal state of Europe with everyone directly elected, and cut off the nation state. I do not subscribe to that view.

Lord Maclennan: It is possible to argue—and it is being argued in the European Union—that there is a deficit not only of democracy, but effectiveness, and that to some extent the public's disaffection with Europe may be attributed to Europe's failure to respond to the issues that cannot effectively be dealt with by national Governments. I am thinking, for example, of the debate about justice and home affairs, to which exception has been taken on the ground that those are matters for the nation state. The reality is that the nation state has patently failed in some of the areas in which there is now an attribution of power—for example, immigration control, cross-border crime and drugs.

If the public are disaffected it is not because the Union is being over-emphatic in those matters, but because the Union has not delivered. There should be, and will be, at least as much attention paid in the

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Convention to that deficit as to the others that have been rather more the focus of attention today.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston mentioned that many participants in the Convention had articulated the widespread resentment at the apparent continuous, one-way, incremental, piecemeal transfer of powers from member states to the European institutions. She invited us to believe that the establishment of a constitution as a result of the Convention would put an end to that process. Her suggestion might work on a primary school audience, but I find it insulting to be invited to accept such a non sequitur, particularly given that the hon. Lady revealed its absurdity when she talked about processes to vet subsequent changes or proposed changes of competence, which would have to undergo the subsidiarity procedure. The establishment of a constitution will clearly not put an end to the problem, but make it possible for such changes to be made by majority voting: if they were to be made by unanimity there would be no need for the process in question.

Is the hon. Lady aware that when the Conservative Government had to negotiate the original subsidiarity clause we were advised by the highest legal authorities that it was impossible to frame any clause effectively to prevent a transfer of power? Either there would be unanimous approval by all member states or the proposal would be passed by majority and vetted by the European Court; the court would then rule that if a majority of members had voted in favour there must be good practical reasons for the decision. There was no way of phrasing a law to prevent that.

The only way in which the hon. Lady could demonstrate a genuine will on the part of the Convention to move towards subsidiarity would be by presenting evidence, of the kind requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), of a single proposal to transfer competence from the European institutions back to the member states. If she cannot do that, we must accept that the on-going process will be accelerated, not slowed, by the Convention.

Ms Stuart: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I hold him in too high esteem to want to insult his intelligence. His question, raising the issue of whether the mere existence of a constitution would be a safeguard, is a penetrating one. However, the constitution will pull together for the first time all the various treaties, which have developed higgledy-piggledy.

We hope that at that stage there will be much greater clarity as to who should perform what function. For example, the Commission's role must be much more clearly defined. Some problems occur because the Commission is trying to do too much and is not doing well. It should be much firmer on certain areas. I agree that, if there were no two-way valve in any treaty at the end of the Convention to allow that, it would be deeply disappointing. It is right to say that

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the existence of such a valve is vital to the serious future of the European Union, a Union of 25.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I was interested in the remark by Mr. Heathcoat-Amory that what happened in Philadelphia in 1787 was the working out of exactly what needed to be done by the centre and by the states—or words to that effect. That is interesting because it took them 11 years, from 1776 to 1787, to get where they got to, and then there was something called the United States of America. In one way, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy to say that we have got to the united states of Europe, simply because the analogy is with Philadelphia in 1787. Once we start saying that the analogy is with Philadelphia in 1787, that becomes the result.

However, I should like to ask Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and other colleagues whether we have the following problem. Even if we had a constitutional outcome—the word ''constitution'' comes into the conversation—that did the maximum to define a separation of powers, subsidiarity and so on, as he wishes, would it not inescapably still be thought to be something like that of Philadelphia in 1787, precisely because we are now talking about a written constitution? However, is not the upside of that that it would still be the best thing for Britain to go for in the Convention?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The best commentary on American democracy was written by a Frenchman called de Tocqueville, with whom I am sure Lord Lea is familiar. He identified certain conditions for a federal democracy, including a common language and, perhaps more important, a common political culture. However, those are absent in Europe at present. Today, de Tocqueville would certainly say that we cannot construct anything approaching an American-style federal system in a continent as diverse as ours. Therefore attempts to democratise institutions such as the present Council or Commission are doomed.

It is much better to bring democracy back to the people and to work where there is a political demos, a public opinion, a people, a shared political experience and language at the level of member state. That does not rule out co-operation with other member states, the closest possible relations or even the synthesis of common positions on areas such as foreign policy. However, that cannot be constructed on anything like a federal or quasi-federal level.

That is the lesson of the American democracy, but the type of thinking that we have heard in the past few minutes is entirely absent in Brussels this year. We are straight down to business, with everyone trying to bid for what they want in their own particular interest, with preconceived notions. At the start, I tried to introduce a little more blue sky thinking, but I was rapidly disillusioned, so at the moment I am just trying to fight my own corner.

 
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Prepared 23 October 2002