Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am surprised that another place should have let this go through without much discussion. We see the power seeping away gradually from the British Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular. They seem not to realise what is happening. My noble friend and others have exposed what is happening, but the House of Commons does not appear to understand that every time it gives the power to an institution of the European Community, it takes perhaps just a little bit--but it is a little bit or a big bit--of power away from Parliament.

Let us take the appointment of the president of the Commission. Up to now, or up to the time when the Amsterdam Treaty goes through, he will have been appointed by the elected representatives from their parliament, in other words the individual governments. So our Prime Minister will have something to do with the appointment of the president of the Commission, untrammelled by anything else.

Now the European Parliament comes into it, so that in itself weakens the vote of the British Prime Minister and every other Prime Minster. Thus another little bit of power has seeped away from Parliament, in particular the House of Commons. Of course, the House of Commons is the real representative body of the people of Britain. When it gives the power to the president to refuse the nomination of a representative of its Parliament--the Prime Minister--again it loses a little bit of its power. The House of Commons has ceded it to someone else; indeed, in this case not even to an elected body but to an appointed person. So the House

27 Apr 1998 : Column 117

of Commons has now ceded its power to an official, for that is what he is. Because they will weaken the political presidency and have given a share in political guidance to an official, they will have weakened themselves and a bit more power seeps away from the House of Commons to the institution of Europe.

That is why I am surprised that the House of Commons did not block this. It was its duty to block it. It is the true representative of the British people. It is to the House of Commons that the people have given power and the people do not give power for it to be ceded to somebody else. I am sorry therefore that it did not do what I consider to be its duty.

However, as my noble friend Lord Bruce said, it is part of the plot. We know well that the federalists or the unitarists wish to see the Commission as the government of Europe. That is no secret. The European Parliament passed a resolution in that regard. That is the game plan--that eventually the Commission will become the government of Europe and the parliament will become the parliament of Europe. But they want to speak for the peoples of Europe; not Westminster, but Strasbourg and Brussels. They are the people who will speak for the British people. Anybody who doubts that needs only to look at the issue we are discussing. It is a move forward to that position.

I asked a question as to why, in discussions, reference was made to "President Santer" rather than to the "President of the European Commission", but reference was made to the "President of the Council" rather than to "President Blair". I thought that the real president of Europe was the president of the Council for the time being. That is Mr. Blair, for the time being. The answer came back that the president of the Commission was always referred to as "the president". So, by nomenclature, he is already the "president of Europe" and poor Mr. Blair is relegated to being the "President of the European Council".

One can see where we are going. We are going away from an elected system to an appointed system. That is not democratic. I thought we were all democrats here. In fact, it is anti-democratic and should not go further. Indeed, the reason these amendments are tabled is to try to prevent it going further. We believe it is dangerous.

In relation to political protection, we must know from my noble friend what that means--whether it means that the president of the Commission will give a political lead or whether he will become the political leader rather than the troika which is at present the leader under the presidency of the European Council for the time being. We also want to know whether the president is the president with a writ firmly to impose his views and his discipline, or whether he is primus interpares. That is an important distinction and we are entitled to know exactly what the president will be. If we are not careful, we could be on our way to a nasty little dictatorship. The question is asked, "Why do people like Stoddart, Bruce and Tebbit become so worked up about this whole thing?" The answer is that we believe in democracy. We see steps like this as taking us away from a proper democratic system in which the people and not the officials rule.

27 Apr 1998 : Column 118

I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some answers tonight that will put our very real fears at rest. I am not at all sure that he will be able to.

Lord Moynihan: The amendments that I have tabled on Article 2.40 and 2.41 relate to another area addressed in the treaty which has been debated by noble Lords on both sides of the Committee. The debate has focused on the reforms to the appointment of the president of the Commission and new commissioners from member states. It seems yet again that the Government may simply not have been present at the time of negotiation on these points for nowhere in the treaty is the Government's negotiating failure more clear. Nowhere in the treaty is the Government's giveaway more apparent and nowhere in the treaty have the Government sacrificed national interests so greatly for the sake of the Brussels bandwagon with so little apparent thought. Of all the changes agreed by the Government in Amsterdam, these reforms are potentially of the most long-term significance for the people of Britain. That is why the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, focusing on why the other House had not addressed this subject in greater detail, was extremely important. I hope that in due course this House will provide the other place with another opportunity to discuss the matter.

In this treaty the Government have given away important national powers. As we have heard, in future the European Parliament will have to approve the new president of the Commission. The freedom of member states to appoint commissioners of their choice is diminished, as the president of the Commission has been given new powers to veto the appointment of new commissioners and can therefore effectively pick the other 19 commissioners. What is more, those new commissioners will be required for the first time to work under the political guidance of the president. I shall come to the interpretation from the Liberal Democrat Benches of the word "political" in this context, which frankly I find astonishing.

My amendment, to remove Article 2.40, would correct the situation where, first, the European Parliament has been given a veto over the agreed nominee of the president of the Commission. This means that even a candidate on whom all member states had unanimously agreed could be blocked by the European Parliament. Secondly, my amendment seeks to remove the proposal that the president of the Commission should have a veto over the nominee for commissioner of each member state. This means that if the United Kingdom, France, Germany or another member state wanted a particular person as its commissioner, the president of the Commission could say no. I should like to know whether the Minister agreed with the attempts of the Euro socialists to block the appointment of the European Commission in January 1995 under the leadership of Pauline Green, MEP for London, North. For this is the parliament which in future will have the right to veto the appointment of the president of the Commission.

27 Apr 1998 : Column 119

Under the existing arrangements the president is appointed by common accord by member states after consulting the European Parliament, so the power to appoint the president lies quite properly with member states. Under Maastricht, the nomination must be unanimously agreed by the member states, which is an important and necessary power. Previously, the European Parliament was consulted about the presidency but had to approve or reject the Commission as a whole. That is no longer the case.

It is true to say that the treaty does not provide for the right of nomination for the European Parliament, either originally or in the place of a rejected candidate, so the nomination of the president still lies with member states. But given the Government's approach to protecting our national interest in this area, it is wholly legitimate to wonder how long that will be the case.

Furthermore, Article 2 paragraph 40 of the treaty provides that,

    "governments of the Member States shall, by common accord with the nominee for President, nominate other persons whom they intend to appoint as Members of the Commission".

That gives the president of the Commission the completely new right to veto the appointment of any other member of the Commission thus substantially diminishing the unfettered right of member states, under the Maastricht Treaty, to nominate their own representatives to the Commission.

Under the Maastricht Treaty there was a duty for member states to consult the president of the Commission when putting forward their choices for the commissioner. That was simply and rightly consultation. Member states were free to ignore the views of the president if they so wished and to appoint a person of their choice. That has been the position since the Treaty of Rome. The previous government successfully defended that arrangement every time the European treaties were negotiated. Why did this Government fail at their first attempt?

I move on briefly to my second amendment which addresses Article 2 paragraph 41. That paragraph states,

    "The Commission shall work under the political guidance of its president".

As Members of the Committee have pointed out this evening, it is a short sentence but far from being an innocuous one. In the context of this new sentence Article 160, left unaltered by the Amsterdam Treaty, is worthy of some reflection. It provides that,

    "If any Member of the Commission no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duties ... the Court of Justice may ... compulsorily retire him".

Article 2 paragraph 41 of the Treaty of Amsterdam imposes a new condition on each commissioner to work under the political guidance of the president. That is not under the managerial effectiveness or leadership of the president, about working well or helping to keep in line and doing the job, but under the clear political guidance of the president. Is it not the case, then, that if a commissioner, in the president's opinion, fails to toe the president's political line, shows too much independence of thought, or questions the president's political

27 Apr 1998 : Column 120

direction or even disagrees with it, the Commission can simply apply to the European Court of Justice to remove him or her.

If the commissioner is found to have failed to follow the president's political guidance the court would then have little option under the treaty but to remove him or her. I accept that in practice it is unlikely that such a case would reach the court, and I sincerely hope so, since the president would use his powers to force the resignation of the commissioner in question. But I give it as an example to illustrate the potential danger of these new powers concentrated in the hands of, as has so rightly been pointed out, an unelected official, the president of the Commission.

What may be the Government's justification for allowing these changes from the debates that we have had in another place? Does the Minister agree that these changes take power away from democratically elected governments who are accountable to the people of their countries and place it in the hands of an unelected official? The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, searched for this: what is the justification for such a change? Why did the Government agree that the president of the Commission should have the power to veto commissioners chosen by member states? On what criteria will selection by the president be based? What assurances are there in the treaty that the commissioners who take office in the year 2000 will not all be drawn from one political party or from one point of view? What assurances did the Minister seek on these issues? If he sought none, why not?

The Government have said that amended Article 2 paragraph 40, which amends Article 158, represents an enhanced role for the Commission president in the appointment of commission members. I do not understand the justification for this enhancement. The Minister of State in another place has said that the changes are very much in Britain's interests. Does the Minister think that it is in our national interest that no President of the European Commission can be appointed unless the European Parliament agrees?

The Minister of State said that he,

    "cannot foresee a situation in which the European Parliament would reject someone as President if the Council is agreed on who he or she should be".

He would not be the first Minister to fall into the guessing-game trap of what might or might not be a realistic scenario in Europe. Does the Minister really think that it is in our national interest that we in the UK can no longer be guaranteed the right to choose our own Commissioner? Does he really think that it is in our national interest that the Commission must in future work under the political guidance of its President and that the President now has the power to hire and fire? Does the Minister really think that it is in our national interest that the balance of power in Europe has shifted away from nation states and from intergovernmental control towards a political Commission led by a political President with the word "political" spelled out in the papers before us?

What possibly can be the justification for that fundamental shift in the nature of the Commission where the President can use his veto again and again to

27 Apr 1998 : Column 121

ensure the right result for himself or for the Commission but possibly the wrong result for Britain? Once the President is appointed, all the Commissioners must work under his political guidance. Why has the independence of the Commissioners been removed? What defects are these proposals designed to correct? What flaws have the Government identified in the existing arrangements? I looked long and hard to find criticisms from the then Opposition on these points. I could find none that warranted and pushed for the changes that are now being sought.

The Minister of State justified the powers to the European Parliament saying that,

    "as Members of the European Parliament come form the same countries and political parties as Council Members, I do not think their views will be very much out of line with the majority Council view. The fear is therefore unrealistic".

That was a direct quotation from the Minister of State. Is that faith in MEPs why the Government have undemocratically and repeatedly tried to gag their own MPs when it came to hearing them express a socialist agenda? Was that faith in MEPs justified by the Euro-Socialist group's efforts to block the appointment of the Santer Commission in 1995?

If the Minister cannot,

    "foresee a situation in which the European Parliament would reject someone as President if the Council had agreed on who he or she should be",

what was the reason for enshrining in treaty form a provision to allow the European Parliament to set aside the unanimous view of its member states? The Minister of State justified the shift to a political Commission because,

    "some Commissioners do not always take the Commission ... view and grind their own axe. Some Commissioners have a view of their own and go off on their own track"--[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/98; col. 544.]

That is what he said. Is it now government policy that their appointees--indeed, their Members--should not have a view of their own? If that is the case, even when that view being expressed or that axe being ground happens to be in their view in the British national interest, I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister could justify that fundamental and inexplicable shift in power to the President of the Commission and the European Parliament with no apparent gain whatsoever to the British people.

Ultimately, it is still for member states to decide by unanimity the big issues. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the Commission clearly plays a role in driving the EU forward and in setting the agenda. These are major changes with major implications yet they were not even mentioned by the Prime Minister in his Statement in another place on his return from Amsterdam. They represent a significant step towards an overtly political Commission in which unprecedented powers are concentrated in one individual's hands. Taken together with the extension in QMV and the substantial additional powers for the European Parliament, which we have yet to debate, the treaty represents a significant shift from the nation state to the central institutions of the European Union. It is no mild amendment to the current position in Europe. It is a

27 Apr 1998 : Column 122

fundamental shift. It is therefore vital that today we hear from the Government why these proposals were agreed by them, their implications for Britain and why they consider them to be in the national interest.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page