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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am sure that we do not need to rehearse the arguments on qualified majority voting that we had when discussing the previous amendment, but it may be worth putting on the record how the particular example of Euro-creep to which the amendment relates occurs.
When the Treaty of Amsterdam was introduced, the President of the Commission was, in effect, given a veto over the other members of the Commission appointed under him. Until then, the whole Commission had to be approved by the member states. Under Amsterdam, the relevant provision is at Article 214thoughtfully renumbered by the Brussels bureaucrats to muddle any of us who may have known it as Article 158 under the Treaty of Maastricht and earlier versions of the treaty. Article 214(2) of the Treaty of Amsterdam states:
We now see the process stalking on an extra step in the Treaty of Niceas usual, it never goes backwards, always forwardsunder which the president himself is to be appointed by qualified majority voting. I support my noble friend's amendment. I do not want to sound monotonous, but the treaty provision is yet another example of the ratchet moving eternally in the same direction.
Lord Tebbit: During the previous debate, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford presented the argument, "If it ain't broke; don't fix it". What he perhaps neglected to recognise was that, so far as the European federalists are concerned, the treaty is "broke" until it becomes a treaty for a European state. That is what they are trying to fix each time that they fix new amendments to the treaty.
However, as we are a bunch of reasonable people in this Chamber, and taking my noble friend's point that, "If it ain't broke; don't fix it", will the Minister tell us which appointment as President of the Commission he believes was so unsatisfactory as to justify a new system? Which one was it? Is it the present president or
Lord Tomlinson: I invite my noble friend, before he replies to that question, to reflect on the fact that many members of the population of this country, many Members of the Committee, and certainly many members of the European Community think that President Delors was an excellent president. In him, we managed to get as President of the European Union a good federalist who pursued a good federal line. He was there by virtue of a British Prime Minister exercising a veto. I am in many ways grateful for the exercise of that veto. We got a splendid President of the Commission as a result. The only problem was that he was frequently abused once we had got him, because he managed to do what he had said that he would do.
On the other hand, a British Prime Minister used his veto later, when the excellent candidature of Mr Jean-Luc Dehaene, the President of Belgium, who was a rather robust individualcertainly one who would have controlled his Commissionwas blackballed. As a result of that use of unanimity and of the veto that arises from it, we had President Santer. By common consent, President Santer was a nice manin many ways, an amiable manand I had much regard for him, but not even his best friends would call him a successful President of the Commission.
I ask Conservative Members of the Committee to reflect on the two stories of the use of the necessity for unanimity, and to determine of which of those two events they are most proud. I am certainly more proud of the former than the latter. Especially as we now have a treaty that looks beyond the Community of 15 to a Community of 25, 26, or 27 member states, that process of horse-trading, which has not automatically served us well in the past, is now past its sell-by date. It is now appropriate that we move to qualified majority voting.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Before the Minister replies, will the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, confirm that he said what I think that he said? I understood him to say that he thought Mr Dehaene from Belgium would have made a good President of the Commission. Did I hear him correctly?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am no more tempted into history by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, than I am by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I am lost in admiration for the historical overview of the presidency since the time of Walter Hallstein given by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but I shall not follow him in that direction either.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I hope that I shall not irritate the Minister but that is actually what I said. The three little words "by common accord" were introduced at Amsterdam. I was merely giving an example of "Euro-creep".
I do not have much more to say about qualified majority voting in these appointments. I believe that I have said it all. I think it is clear that we take the view that in these circumstances we support qualified majority voting for appointments because it will mean greater efficiency. As regards what is meant by efficiency, I think that it means less inefficiency. It means getting quicker decisions on the right person regardless of nationality.
We do not think that it would be right for one country to be able to block appointments, as has been possible in the past, or, worse, to hold policy decisions to ransom by insisting on its own candidate. I cannot promise the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that such a step will cut out all infighting; that is idealism. However, we want the best person for the job chosen on merit and experience not on nationality and we believe that this is the way to get it.
Lord Tebbit: Before the noble Lord sits down I hope that I may press him on the following point. Does he think that this change will get us a better quality of president in future than we have had in the past?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The Government have agreed to this change in signing the Nice Treaty. However, the argument always cuts both ways. It may turn out that the measure will not make much difference at all, and judging by what we have just heard, that is one possibility. Life will go on with all its complexities and, therefore, one may ask why we oppose the measure as it is not important. Alternatively, the measure may be considered an immensely significant part of the new European system and, therefore, one may ask why we oppose it as it is so important.
I refer to those of us who believe that we see a vision of Europe ahead which is modern, not centralised, in which there is not too much power at the centre; in which the laws, rules and procedures of the network prevail over the laws, rules and procedures of the hierarchy; and in which European unity is not constructed as a kind of ersatz scaled-up nation state with all its symbols and so on, but is something much more gentle, tolerant and flexible. Therefore, every time we are faced with the proposition that there should be more power at the centre we are concerned.
The Commissionwe debated this matter on earlier amendmentsmay or may not be losing power to the secretariat. The European institutions are, of course, enhanced by every QMV move. We shall discuss later the substantial listthese matters have been somewhat belittled in earlier debateswhich comprises considerable and important areas where QMV is to apply under the Nice Treaty. However, as regards the matter that we are discussing, this is one more area where we are not persuaded. The case for taking this step seems to me to be minuscule, but the principles involved in taking it, however small it may appear, are gigantic.
I was interested to hear the fair assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, of past presidents. I thought that he was fair even with regard to President Santer. I, too, shall be fair in that regard. It seems to me that President Santer was defeated by the system. He was an extremely decent man who intended to do good but he was dealing with a Commission system which has defeated others and may not yet have been put back in its box.
I hope that Commissioner Kinnock will win through with his reforms. However, when one examines the detailed progress of those reforms, Commissioner Kinnock must occasionally be rather cast down as there has been little progress as regards the Commission making big reforms and adopting the role of servants, which the Members of the Commission are. They are servants of the people of Europe and of the nation states rather than their masters. As I say, there has been little progress in that regard despite the tribulations which poor President Santer experienced. I do not blame President Santer for the situation; I blame a system which is bad and