Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, with great respect, I think that my noble friend is mistaken. My clear recollection—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, may bear me out on this—is that qualified majority voting has always been a feature of the European Union. When I was a European commissioner and when the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, was a European commissioner, Luxembourg and Germany did not have the same votes; Germany had rather more than Luxembourg. That has been a feature of the European Union since the beginning.

9 Sept 2003 : Column 235

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is right. I shall go on to give the actual figures, which have emerged from research into the new voting pattern that will result from the constitution. I shall compare it with what existed in the past.

Berlin has emerged from the convention as the biggest winner. The long-held wish of German diplomacy has come true. One expert on European politics in Brussels called Germany's new voting strength,

    "a major geopolitical development in the history of the Union".

It pointed, he said, to a "reassertion" of the geographical centre of Europe. Here, for my noble friend, are the figures. I am indebted to Neil O'Brien of the Vote 2004 organisation for his research. In 1973, Britain and Germany had an equal 17.2 per cent share of total votes. After the convention, Britain will be reduced to 12 per cent and Germany will have 17 per cent. In 1973, Germany and Britain had an equal share of the votes needed to block legislation—55.6 per cent each. After the convention, Britain will be reduced to 30.9 per cent of the votes needed to block legislation and Germany will have 42.6 per cent of the blocking votes. The Franco-German axis will have 73.5 per cent of the votes needed to block legislation.

Three years ago, when EU leaders met in Nice, the first attempt was made to reform the voting system for the growing Union. France's President Chirac caused consternation then, I believe, by resisting German pressure for higher voting weight. The result was a complex and rather arbitrary voting system in which the 80 million people of the reunified Germany were significantly under-represented—an obvious injustice, they said at the time. This time, during the work of the convention, it was the former French president, Mr Giscard d'Estaing, who proposed the new mathematical system, which gives more weight to countries with large populations. This time, President Chirac acquiesced.

The abolition of the weighted voting system and its replacement with a system based on population size will make it harder to block EU legislation that we oppose.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the noble Lord's obsession with Germany is leading him a little astray. The result of the successive enlargements of the European Union was that the small member states had greater weight in the voting than they had had at the outset. That situation risked becoming even more accentuated when the Union included nine new small member states. A change was made at Nice—which has now been increased in the proposed convention—to give the larger member states a bigger say. Naturally, since that is based on population, it means that Germany has a bigger say than France and Britain; but the overall balance that is changed is that the smaller member states have less say—which is why they are making so much fuss—and the larger member states have a greater say.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, of course that is correct. What I am driving at is that this is a change from a

9 Sept 2003 : Column 236

principle of equality with our senior partners to a principle of inequality. That may be justified and correct; and, if asked, people may accept it. My point is that people are not aware of that change, and they should be.

As I said, the abolition of the weighted vote system and its replacement with a system based on population size makes it much harder to block EU legislation. The system agreed three years ago meant that 74 per cent of the votes held by member states are needed to pass legislation. But under this new system—a second change—only 60 per cent of the total vote is needed to pass legislation. Taken together, those three changes—first, the expansion of the scope of majority voting to new areas; secondly, the reduction in Britain's share of the votes; and, thirdly, the reduction in the qualified majority threshold—will make a significant difference to our ability to control EU legislation.

The Foreign Secretary said this morning:

    "You have a referendum when you are doing something new".

We are. We are moving from an equal partnership with our senior partners to a new partnership which is not equal among the senior members. That is not a reform; it is a major change and it strengthens the case for a referendum.

Pro-European governments elsewhere in Europe understand that the creation of a real constitution is not meaningful without popular support. This constitution fulfils the classic criteria for a referendum. It is significant; it is irreversible; and the Government can claim no mandate to sign it, as it was not mentioned in their manifesto.

According to a poll for Charter 88, 82 per cent of the public believe that,

    "We are not having an open and honest debate about the future of the EU".

By not having such a debate, the Government have given birth to a new cross-party coalition that has posed an unanswerable question: if other countries are having a referendum on this matter, why cannot we? We are left to observe with some awe the wonder of democracy. With all their ministries, great departments of state and apparatus of propaganda, the Government are, I am afraid, running away from a consultation with the people.

In the end, the British people may decide to accept this—as my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, called it—stupendous treaty. Perhaps they will feel that they have no choice, or that they are bullied or blackmailed, or they may simply accept it as inevitable. But if they decide to accept it—if they take a decision that will, as the Prime Minister says, last for generations—on one point we should be definite: that decision is for them. It is not a decision for the temporary office-holders seated on the Front Bench opposite.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, it is a long, long road a-winding from February 2002, when the member states of the European Union established the convention to prepare a new treaty, to the time when

9 Sept 2003 : Column 237

the leaders of the member states decide on a text that they can all accept, when the sovereign parliaments and peoples of the member states decide that they agree to the proposals, and when the treaty itself comes into effect, in some respects not until 2009.

However, this is a very good moment to stop and examine the text that has come forward from the convention, because the next stage—the IGC that will begin shortly—is the point when the Government have the power to welcome and agree the treaty, or to decline to agree and to propose changes or deletions. Of course, at inter-governmental conferences unanimity rules. That may be a bit embarrassing from time to time, but, none the less, it is the rule.

At this stage, I look forward to hearing as much as possible from the Minister about the approach of the Government to the inter-governmental conference, particularly in relation to the common foreign and security policy, where there are changes of significance resulting from the draft treaty. I make that point because I spent a long time today reading the White Paper, which we were privileged to receive this morning. I found seven paragraphs only on the common foreign and security policy, which is not a lot. I, too, salute the excellent reports from the Select Committee, of which I am a member, which have clarified a great number of issues.

I do not want to talk too much about the common foreign and security policy, because many people have spoken about it. I shall deal with some of the other issues arising in relation to domestic policy, which are also of considerable concern and importance for the citizens of the European Union. Underlying the whole operation are two essential questions. First, is it useful, particularly in the perspective of the substantial enlargement of the European Union, to scrap the many treaties which determine the role, the powers and the institutions of the European Union—including the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice—and to replace them with a consolidating treaty containing a new, first, so-called constitutional part and another part or parts containing the articles on specific matters, which for the most part are already contained in current treaties? There is some element of controversy on whether we have taken the right course, but my answer is yes.

In the European Union the treaties determine everything of importance—the law-making powers, the competences, the institutions, and so forth. We all know that we have messed the treaties about over many years because the number of miscellaneous amendments made to the founding Treaty of Rome by the subsequent treaties is very large. That is partly because the results of the past inter-governmental conferences were packages: in the European Union, beware packages at all times. The Treaty of Rome became much more difficult to understand. It is wise to present it in a clearer form.

The first part of the convention's draft treaty—the so-called constitution—certainly has the advantage of being very easy to read and to understand. I am baffled

9 Sept 2003 : Column 238

by the comments that it is difficult, incomprehensible and complicated. What is most important for the citizen—the definition of the objectives of the Union, its powers and responsibilities and the elements of the institutions—is all contained in 30 pages of small-sized paper in double spacing, which can be read in five or 10 minutes. In my view, it is extremely clear. I know that some noble Lords may have some difficulty, but I am confident that our grandchildren could understand it in half an hour. So we have an advantage in having a much better text from the point of view of the citizen, although it has not yet been indicated to him that that is the case.

Secondly, we have the problem that underlies the whole of this convention: we start with two distinct ways of operating. On the one hand we have the Community system applying to traditional areas such as environment, regional policy, and so forth. On the other hand, we have the inter-governmental system—pillars 2 and 3—applying to foreign affairs and some elements of justice and home affairs. For actions under these pillars, the role of the Commission and the European Parliament is limited and member states decide and make Union laws themselves.

The convention is right to conclude that the time has come to look again at the structure, but that does not imply that the matters covered by pillars 2 and 3 should simply be transferred to Community responsibility and the traditional Community method, which the Government recognise in paragraph 46 of the White Paper. The reasons that led the member states to treat foreign affairs and defence differently from, for example, the single market, remain valid. Any improvements in the working of the system must not prejudice that—an important point on this convention which has been made by many speakers.

I conclude that the convention has been broadly on the right lines in responding to the two basic questions, and I return now to the substance of the proposals. Before I do so, however, I should like to emphasise once again that while I know the Government are making a big effort, I hope they will stress to the British public that the process has been more open and the role of national parliaments much greater than in the preparation of earlier intergovernmental conferences. I doubt very much whether the public has fully comprehended that the draft treaty has been drawn up by representatives of the people from national parliaments together with representatives of governments.

I turn to the substance. I intend to break with the great British tradition of complaining about and looking at the possible disadvantages of European Union proposals. Instead I seek to judge what are the advantages for Britain of the convention proposals in comparison with the present situation. For myself the three most important points are these: first, do we have a better definition of European Union responsibilities and competences; secondly, do we have a simpler system of European Union laws and regulations; and, thirdly, will there be more openness and a bigger democratic element in the European Union?

9 Sept 2003 : Column 239

As regards European Union responsibilities and competences, the first few articles of the draft treaty deal with the values and objectives of the Union, fundamental freedoms, and relations between the Union and the member states. They reiterate the requirement that the Union shall respect the national identities of the member states and the essential state functions of those member states. I find these articles quite clear and, indeed, inspiring. I think that that is the first complimentary word I have heard used in this debate.

The treaty also deals directly with the issue of responsibilities and competences, reiterating the fundamental principle that competences not conferred on the Union in the constitution remain with the member states. For the first time, the competences which have already been conferred on the Union by past treaties are simply expressed. I find this text very simple. It covers areas of exclusive competence. Examples include the common commercial policy. Most British people will be surprised to find that the list of exclusive competences is so short. It covers areas of shared competence between the Union and the member states, such as the environment and agriculture, and areas where the Union may take supporting, co-ordinating or complementary action, such as on vocational training.

That is an improvement and is far better than what is set out in the current treaties. I believe that it will work against the possibility of "Union competence creep", which is a not very clearly defined disease that may or may not have occurred in the past, but which should certainly not occur in the future. The citizen must have confidence in the clarity of his constitutional treaty. Incidentally, that is why I am absolutely opposed to the so-called Passarelle clause, which would go against that principle.

The broad outline of competences is supported by specific articles in Part III. I do not think that any other noble Lord has referred to these articles. There are 339 of them—right reverend Prelates will note that in Europe, 39 articles are no longer sufficient—of which 324 are existing texts and only 15 new drafts. I make the point because, so far as the competences are concerned, we are carrying over to a considerable degree what has already been adopted.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page