Select Committee on European Union Forty-First Report


THIRTY FIFTH REPORT—THE FUTURE OF EUROPE: PROGRESS REPORT ON THE DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL TREATY AND THE IGC[146]

1.  The Government welcomes the Committee's Progress Report and forward look to the forthcoming Intergovernmental Conference (IGC). We have valued the Committee's interest in the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe and look forward to a continued exchange of ideas during the IGC negotiations.

2.  Heads of State or Government agreed at the Thessaloniki European Council, 19-20 June 2003, that the IGC will be conducted by themselves, assisted by Foreign Ministers. We welcome wholeheartedly the decision that the acceding States will participate fully in the IGC, on an equal footing with the current Member States. The three candidate countries will take part as observers.

3.  Negotiations are due to begin on 4 October. At the time of writing, the Italian Presidency has not yet finalised the detailed arrangements about how the IGC process will work. We do not yet know how long they will last, although the Conclusions from the Thessaloniki Summit called for the IGC to "complete its work and agree the Constitutional Treaty as soon as possible and in time for it to become known to European citizens before the June 2004 elections for the European Parliament."

We accordingly make this Report for debate, and recommend that such debate takes place jointly with that on the Government's motion on 9 September. (Paragraph 6 of the Report)

4.  Time on the floor for debates is, of course, a matter for the Business Managers. We look forward to the debate that has already been arranged on the Convention on 9 September and hope that it will be possible in that debate to look ahead to the work of the IGC as well.

5.  The Committee will be aware of the considerable pressures on Parliamentary business. We shall do our best, however, in consultation with the Business Managers, to identify suitable time to examine the work of the IGC.

We accordingly welcome evidence to help us with our final report. Evidence should be submitted in writing by 10th September. (Paragraph 6)

6.  The Government notes the twelve Explanatory Memoranda deposited with Parliament on the draft Constitutional Treaty, as well as the Government Responses to the many Reports published by the Committee and its sister Committee in the House of Commons. We have published two Command Papers containing the text of the draft Constitutional Treaty. We are publishing in early September a White Paper setting out the Government's approach to the IGC. We are considering what additional documentation would be helpful.

We recommend that the Government publicises its strategy for keeping Parliament informed of the work of IGC (to include both written reports to both Houses and proceedings on the floor, including statements and debates). The Government is also working to present the draft constitutional Treaty to the public and should do more to make known the content and effect of the Treaty. (Paragraph 7)

7.  Without knowing yet the precise arrangements for the IGC negotiations, it is difficult to determine how best to ensure that Parliament and the public are kept informed about progress. The Government does take this issue seriously and we recognise the need for Parliament to be aware of the process as early as possible, in order to put in place its own mechanisms for following the IGC's work. We undertake to inform Parliament at the earliest opportunity of how the IGC negotiations will be organised, and set out our proposals for keeping Parliament informed. The Government hopes to respond positively to the proposal for a Joint Standing Committee on the IGC.

8.  As part of the Government's continuing efforts to ensure that the public is informed about the future of Europe debate, we are as stated above publishing a White Paper, setting out our thinking as we approach the IGC negotiations. In addition, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has launched an on-line consultation on the draft Constitutional Treaty. This public forum is open to all members of the public, including parliamentarians. It was officially launched by the Minister for Europe on 19 August and will run throughout the Summer, until the IGC begins on 4 October. The Hansard Society - an independent, non-partisan, educational charity which promotes effective parliamentary democracy - is monitoring the consultation.

9.  The Government hopes that this will be an opportunity for the public to feed their opinions on the draft Constitution to the Government, as we make our preparations for the IGC.

10.  In addition, the Europe Minister, Dr Denis MacShane, is undertaking a series of visits around the United Kingdom to discuss with regional audiences the Union's enlargement and its implications for the future of the European Union. Details of his regional visits are available on the FCO website (www.fco.gov.uk).


146   Government Response dated 4 September 2003.  Back


 
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