Memorandum submitted by Brendan Donnelly,
Deputy Leader of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party
This "disconnection" varies in degree
between individual Member States. Similarly, the reasons underlying
it vary from country to country. In some countries, there is a
fear that the European single market is simply a local mask for
unchecked globalization, with all its attendant economic and political
ills. In other countries, the stabilization of state finances
necessary to enter the euro has led citizens to fear for levels
of welfare provision. In yet others, the reduction of regional
and agricultural expenditure in individual Member States has led
to a cooling of European enthusiasm. In a limited number, notably
Denmark and the United Kingdom, a political debate has been kindled
which calls into doubt the whole philosophical and legal basis
on which those countries can remain members of a sovereignty-sharing
Against this background, there are a number
of things the European Union can and must do to make itself more
efficient and accountable. These will emerge in response to later
questions. But national attitudes towards the European Union and
its institutions are primarily formed by national governments
and national political elites, operating to shape opinion in their
own countries. National governments have made a poor job of explaining
to their electorates the necessity and desirability of increasing
international trade competition, of balanced national budgets,
of welfare reform, of the reduction of agricultural and regional
subsidies. All too often, they have preferred to blame "brussels"
for decisions in which national governments have themselves participated,
and which in the long run are beneficial to national electorates.
Europe's institutions can and should be improved.
But this improvement will count for little unless it is accompanied
by advocacy of and education about their role by national governments.
This is particularly true of the United Kingdom, where successive
governments have refused to enter into a serious discussion of
the European Union's institutional structure. Caricature and over-simplification
are the order of the day, both among the European Union's critics
and its supporters. The level of the debate is well illustrated
by the fate of the term "federalism". On any rational
definition of the word, the European Union is a "federal"
structure, which the United Kingdom has freely decided to join.
Yet even many of those supposedly sympathetic to the European
Union in this country seem reluctant to accept that reality. How
far this federal structure is to be developed is a matter of legitimate
political debate. What is not is that as long as Britain remains
in the European Union, it will continue to have an important part
of its governance decided in and through Europe's federal institutions.
Unambiguous explanation of this reality (which has nothing to
do with the bogey of a European "superstate") by the
British government would go a long way towards reconnecting British
citizens to the European Union.
It is an exaggeration to think of the Council
of Ministers as a particularly secretive body. Lobbying groups
in Brussels and Strasbourg find little difficulty in gaining access
to individuals and documents. Nevertheless, the Council should
certainly legislate in public. To do otherwise simply fuels criticism
of the supposedly "anti-democratic" nature of the European
Union. Public voting in the Council would also have a useful educative
aspect, forcing governments to explain why they voted as they
did, and occasionally accepting that they have been outvoted.
At the national level, national Parliaments should be given, and
make use of, the greatest possible opportunity to comment on proposed
legislation. This is not simply a question of deadlines and procedures.
It is also a question of the willingness of national governments
to be frank with their Parliamentarians, and the willingness of
national Parliamentarians to take the necessary time for thorough
3. NATIONAL REFERENDUMS
National referendums are a matter for national
governments, who both call them and are bound or guided by them.
It would be inappropriate for recourse to national referendums
to be imposed by any European decision. Equally, in its response
to national referendums, the EU should take its cue from the appropriate
While the concept of Europe-wide referendums
has some theoretical attraction, it would involve a degree of
sovereignty-pooling well beyond that currently accepted. It is
difficult to imagine the electors of this country being willing
to accept a decision against which they had voted, even if there
were a substantial majority for the proposal in the rest of the
4. ELECTION OF
In general terms, it must be more appropriate
that those who exercise executive and political power like that
of the Commission, should do so on the basis of a democratic mandate.
Simple nomination after negotiations between national governments
cannot be sufficient. For the role of the European Parliament
in this matter to be enhanced would be a natural evolution of
present trends. It is difficult to imagine a Europe-wide election
for the President of the Commission. The number and identity of
the candidates would be contentious, and it is not clear that
a contest between, say, a German Christian Democrat, a Greek Socialist
and a Dutch Liberal would awake great interest in France, the
UK or Italy. As long as each Member State has the right to nominate
its own Commissioner(s), a national election for national Commissioners
would be conceivable. The matter will become much more complicated
if and when not every country has its own representative in the
5. NEW INSTITUTIONAL
The legislative arrangements of the European
Union are already long and cumbersome. The introduction of a new
institutional element, such as a "second Chamber" of
national Parliamentarians, would risk making these arrangements
more complicated, and consequently less transparent. Nor would
there be any real gain in democratic accountability. If national
Parliaments are unable to hold their national governments properly
to account in national capitals, there is no obvious reason why
they should make a better job of it in Brussels. Much of the impetus
behind the proposal for a Chamber of national Parliamentarians
springs from the hope that the institutions of the EU can be "renationalized".
Even if this were a desirable goal, it is highly unlikely that
the necessary consensus could ever be developed among the existing
Member States of the EU for it to happen.
See question 2. In general, the existing democratic
scrutiny of European legislation is considerably better than its
7. NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS
It must primarily be for the institutions of
the EU to inform the public about their day to day activities.
But, for the reasons set out above, national Parliamentarians
and governments have a central role to play in shaping wider public
attitudes towards the EU and its institutions. As to the role
of national Parliaments in channelling public views to EU institutions,
two factors should be borne in mind. First, the political, regional
and social background of individual MPs will inevitably shape
their perception of public opinion. There would, for instance,
be no consensus within the British Parliament on what the British
public might think about direct election of the Commission President.
Second, Members of the European Parliament would rightly regard
themselves as following the movements of national opinion on European
issues just as closely as their colleagues in national capitals.
If European institutions are out of touch with public opinion,
then MEPs are failing in an important part of their job.
An agreed delineation of competences between
national governments and the European Union would be reassuring
to those who fear a never-ending process of transferring power
to Brussels. The government, therefore, has every interest in
achieving such a delineation. It should not be checked in its
attempts to do so by the likelihood that some will describe any
such settlement as a "constitution for the European Union".
The Treaty of Rome and its successors are already part of the
British constitution. A European constitution is something to
be welcomed rather than feared. If a workable definition of "subsidiarity"
can be incorporated into that constitution, so much the better.
It must, however, be doubtful whether agreement would be possible
between the existing 15 Member States on a statement of the EU's
purpose that was both substantial and clear.
Discussion of a "variable speed Europe"
has gained in currency over recent years, with the growing imminence
of enlargement. But it seems likely that those countries joining
the EU in the near future will be eager to participate as soon
as possible in as many of the Union's policy areas as possible.
For them, a variable Europe would seem the equivalent of a second
rate status for themselves. In the monetary field, a variable
speed Europe already exists, with Britain, Sweden and Denmark
remaining outside the euro. This decision of the three governments
was based, at least in part, on pre-existing "disconnection"
in their countries from the European institutions. It would be
difficult to argue that this "disconnection" has been
lessened by remaining outside the euro.
9. REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS
At a working level, the contribution of regional
and local government to the European Union is already immense.
Nobody working in the European Commission or Parliament can be
unaware of the energy and effectiveness with which sub-national
authorities pursue their interests. This work of local and regional
authorities is underpinned by the Committee of the Regions. If
changes are to be made in the direction of greater representation
for Europe's regions, the existing Committee of the Regions is
the obvious starting-point. A genuine check, however, on the development
of this Committee is the wide variety of regional and local government
structures between and even within the European Union's Member
States. The United Kingdom is very much a case in point. Its largest
element, England, has no regional government structure. Its second
largest, Scotland, enjoys a large measure of regional autonomy,
while its third, Wales, has substantially less devolved power
than Scotland. A special devolved arrangement currently obtains
in Northern Ireland. How and by whom Britain's regions should
be corporately represented in Brussels is only one of a series
of brain-teasers facing any attempts to extend the powers of the
Committee of the Regions.
10. THE EUROPEAN
The European Parliament is an essential building
block of the European Union's democratic structure. It performs
at a supranational level many of the tasks performed at a national
level by Westminster, the Bundestag or the Cortes. It does not
provide a government for the European Union, but it does scrutinize
on a day-to-day basis the legislative and executive acts of the
European Commission and of the Council of Ministers. The more
fully and consistently the European Parliament is associated with
the workings of the Commission and the Council, the more democratic
an organization the European Union becomes.
On an individual basis, and within Member States,
there is certainly much more that could be done to encourage co-operation
between national and European parliamentarians. Both sides would
benefit from greater personal and social exchanges, reciprocal
rights of access to buildings, speaking rights in committees,
joint working groups and a variety of other shared projects. But
it must be stressed that the spheres of operation of the European
Parliament and of national Parliaments are different, running
in parallel to each other. It will never be possible for the European
Parliament to hold national governments to account, even in their
European policies. In the same way, it will never be possible
for national Parliaments to hold the European Commission or the
Council of Ministers corporately to account. These differing roles
are sometimes ignored in proposals for enhanced institutional
co-operation between the European Parliament and national Parliaments.
Any new bodies or procedures can only work fruitfully if they
fully reflect the distinct, although complementary responsibilities
of national and European Parliamentarians in the EU's institutional
structure. Any attempt by either national or European Parliamentarians
to encroach on each other's competences is doomed to failure.
11. THE FUTURE
It seems highly unlikely that national governments
will be prepared genuinely to cede to outside bodies their right
to determine the future structure of the European Union. Whatever
conventions, committees of wise men or special representatives
are set up over the next two years, the outcome of the next Inter
Governmental Conference will almost certainly be determined exclusively
by negotiations between the fifteen governments, culminating in
a European summit.
3 October 2001