Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-23)

WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2003

PETER HAIN MP, JOHN FLETCHER AND TIM GOODSHIP

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

  20. It seems to me that you have mentioned it in this very helpful memorandum, in terms of common efforts to control communicable diseases.

  A. Yes.

  21. I do not think anybody is floating the idea that every country has to inoculate everybody against all of the same things. In the area of a number of the more exotic diseases and under that banner, however, it would surely make sense, would it not?

  A. It would. I was thinking that, for instance, a European competence on MMR is not something we would want to get into. However, in terms of communicable diseases, as you rightly remind us, vaccination is part of that agenda.

Chairman

  22. Minister, I wonder if I could take you to your intervention? We only had sight of it this morning, so I apologise if we have not all come immediately up to speed on it. Could I first talk about the part where you say, in the third paragraph, "The group was unanimous that we can only ensure a Europe with social justice for all if we promote employability; if we are adaptable and flexible". My question is where you go on to say, "We do not want to go the route of the United States with its poor social standards, weak communities and high levels of poverty". Could you explain to us why the European Community always seemingly uses the US as a benchmark?

  A. I think they use the US as a benchmark in terms of competitiveness and productivity. It undoubtedly has higher levels of productivity and is more competitive in pretty well every respect. Europe has a tendency to look at itself in a rather inward way, saying, "We need to consider policies that affect the Single Market", and so on. Actually, Europe exists in a very competitive global situation and Europe is not competitive enough against America or against the Far East, and certainly not against China. I think that is the kind of benchmark—on economic productivity and competitiveness grounds, not on social standards grounds. I refer, as you quote, to the very poor social standards that there are in the USA, which are causing enormous problems to their own social cohesion.

  23. If we move to the area of QMV, in the fifth paragraph you say, "And the truth is that unanimity has not prevented Europe from adopting key social legislation". I wondered if you had any examples you were able to give us of that.

  A. Yes. For example, social security legislation, regulation 1408/71, which facilitates the free movement of workers. There was quite a lot of argument in the working group by those advocating more QMV that it would enable easier handling of cross-border issues, but there is an example of a cross-border issue which has been handled quite adequately under unanimity. What concerns us about extensions of unanimity is that we would start to get into areas which, frankly, are a matter of national exclusivity. For instance, we could see it straying into social security and tax policy. I used the instance of the pension credit, which the Government is due to introduce in October. At the moment, pensioners can relocate to the Costa del Sol and draw their state retirement pension. There is actually a ruling somewhere which allows them to draw their winter heating allowance as well—which I am not sure you need on the Costa del Sol! At any rate, as a specific entitlement, that is what happens. The pension credit, however, is an integration of social security with the tax system. You could therefore get something like cross-border mobility on pensions, which is there anyway. If you started introducing QMV, people might want to take it further; then they would get into our tax system. That is one of the reasons why we are opposed to it. We think that the system has worked very well so far. The European Council could decide by unanimity to extend QMV, as was decided at Nice, in a number of areas. It could decide to do that in the future, if it thinks that there are obstacles in the way of good progress on other issues.

Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Minister. I do not think that there are any other members who wish to speak in this particular policy area.





 
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