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Baroness Ludford: The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, wondered why these proposals had been put forward. I confess that I do not know who put them forward. I hope it may have been the British Government; I would be proud if that were the case as I submit that these proposals, which do not please the noble Lord, seek to improve the quality and the accountability of the Commission.
We are dealing with three issues. The first concerns the greater involvement of the European Parliament in approving commissioners. The second concerns giving the president in waiting a say in the appointment of his or her colleagues. The third concerns encouraging the president to be a real team leader. As regards the involvement of the European Parliament, the
It is but a small further step for the president on his or her own to be subject to approval by the European Parliament. Surely accountability can only help to ensure that the president is of the highest possible standard. Will the Minister confirm that the word "shall" in relation to the European Parliament's approval process means that the European Parliament is obliged to institute an approval process--that is, it means more than "may"--and indeed that the European Parliament can approve or reject?
By the same logic of what I have said about the president, we on these Benches would like in the future to see the European Parliament acquire the right to approve individual commissioners via a series of confirmation hearings analogous to the way in which the US Senate approves executive appointments. That is not on offer now, but I flag it up for the future.
The second issue challenged in these amendments is that the putative president should have a say in the appointment of other commissioners. This is only formalising the previous behind-the-scenes soundings. I do not believe that we would think much of any nominee who did not have sufficient leadership aspirations to want to influence his team.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Will the noble Baroness give way? On my reading of the treaty, it is not that the president elect will have "some say" in the nomination of the other members of the Commission; it is that he will have a veto. It says:
To me, that means that if that common accord is not there, nobody can be appointed. It means that the president elect of the Commission can go on blackballing anyone he likes until eventually the member states come up with a Commission that suits him. That gives the man a veto.
Baroness Ludford: I stand corrected. It is indeed the approval of the president in waiting that is required. I stand corrected on my loose use of the term "a say". That leads on to the question I was about to ask the Minister. Can he confirm that the term "nominee" means after approval by the European Parliament, so that this nominee is truly the president in waiting and does not have that rather irresponsible power to horse-trade which I believe the noble Lord was suggesting? I believe that, once the nominee is the
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but I do not agree. The fact that the president elect, or the president in waiting, has become the president and as such has the power of veto to which I referred earlier does not make any difference. It merely makes him more presidential and less acceptable to those of us who support these amendments.
Baroness Ludford: The noble Lord and I will not agree. I believe that it is a good idea for the president of the Commission to have responsibility for his or her team, and the noble Lord perhaps does not. Therefore I fear that we shall not see eye to eye. What I want to achieve--and I therefore applaud these provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty--is a position where the president of the Commission cannot evade responsibility for the performance of a weak colleague, as can happen at present, by pointing out that he or she has to put up with the choice of governments; that the president simply has to take what they decide and therefore "the buck does not stop here", as it were. We on these Benches want the Commission president to be a true team leader. We do not expect team leaders in other circumstances--a sports team captain or a business chief executive, for example--to have no ability to approve the selection of the team.
Finally, on political guidance, perhaps that term should not be interpreted in the way the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, interprets it. I do not believe that it means that a socialist president--if socialists exist any more--should ensure that all his team are socialists. I believe it means political with a small "p" and that the president will be responsible for keeping the team in line and working well. We believe that giving the president this kind of influence will make him or her accountable for the effective working of the Commission as a whole and improve the chances of the Commission being cohesive and efficient. It will help to meet the aim of the declaration at Amsterdam by the heads of government supporting the rationalisation and reorganisation of the Commission to improve its effectiveness.
This provision is not about the president forcing unwanted appointments down the throats of governments. We therefore believe that the provisions challenged by these amendments are designed to improve the quality and accountability of the Commission and are laudable. It is surely not in the interests of our citizens or our governments to block improvements in the working of the Commission. These amendments cannot be supported from these Benches.
Lord Monson: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I might put one question to her. She said that her party looks for leadership qualities in any president of the European Commission. Since when has a civil
Baroness Ludford: I should have thought that anyone in a position of public responsibility, or indeed in the private sector, would be expected to have leadership qualities--the Permanent Secretary of a Whitehall department, the chief executive of a company or the captain of a sports team. Surely we are looking for qualities across the spectrum of leadership and ability to inspire loyalty, hard work and effectiveness. I am afraid I am at a loss otherwise to answer the noble Lord's point.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: Surely it is inherent in the notion of any effective servant of an organisation--which this person, as president, would be--that he or she is expected to be a good manager and to have loyalty and all the other qualities. But they are not expected to give a political lead. We cannot get round the word "political". It suggests directions, guidelines, acting as if the Union were one political body. That is what concerns us.
Lord Renton: Constitutional democracies vary a great deal, but they all have four factors in common. They have a head of state who may be, like our Queen, the sovereign head of the state, or, like the President of the United States, may also be a politician, providing leadership to the nation. All democracies have their political bodies--in our case a Cabinet and other Ministers. They all have a Civil Service; and they all have a Parliament.
With those factors in mind, it is interesting to consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, with great clarity and force in moving this amendment so that we can see and understand clearly what it is to be like in the European Union (I avoid the word "Commission" for the moment). There will not be anything analogous at all with a head of state--either political, as in America, or an hereditary head of state, as in this country, or with an elected head of state who keeps himself above party politics. There will be none of that, so far as we can tell.
We know that there is to be a gathering of democratically elected politicians serving on the Council of Ministers. That is analogous with the Cabinet in our country. We know that there is a Parliament. In our country, our Parliament, coupled with the Queen, is given sovereignty. The Civil Service does not have to share sovereignty at all. It is separate from it and subordinate to it. None of us would imagine giving the head of the Civil Service--and calling him a president--the kind of power that is now envisaged under the Treaty of Amsterdam.
The Government must do their best--they may find it very difficult--to explain two matters in particular. They must first explain how it is that the president of the Commission is to have this tremendous power, which Parliament, it would seem, in making his appointment,
The other matter I find strange is that the president of the Commission shall give political guidance to other members of the Commission. Whoever heard of the head of the Civil Service in any democracy in the world having a power and an obligation to give political guidance to his subordinates? If anyone is to give political guidance, it is the Ministers at the head of each department, but not the head of the Civil Service. The Prime Minister can give political guidance to the whole of the Government if he has the support of the Cabinet. Those are important questions to which constitutionally we must have an answer.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before my noble friend sits down, I might have misunderstood him, but I do not think I heard him recognise the fact that the Commission to which he referred, under the Treaty of Rome, has the monopoly of proposing legislation to the Council and the institutions of the Community for acceptance. So we are looking at a budding presidential system, with a president or president-elect who has the power to blackball every other member of the Commission and to give them political guidance for an institution of the Community which has the monopoly of proposing legislation. I submit that it takes my worries a little further than those expressed by my noble friend Lord Renton.
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