Memorandum submitted by The Rt Hon Peter
Hain MP, Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
1. What are the underlying reasons for the
apparent "disconnection" between national electorates
and the EU?
There is no definitive answer to this question.
But there is recent evidence of the problem: the result of the
Irish referendum on the Treaty of Nice and the decreasing turnout
in EP elections. In my view, there are a number of possible reasons:
(i) A general trend in many countries
to non-participation in the orthodox political process: seen in
the US as well as across Europe.
(ii) The language. Eurospeak can obscure
the benefits of the EU for ordinary people. Member states are
as guilty as the EU institutions. The Government is committed
to cutting through the jargon. The Commission's recent White Paper
on Governance is a welcome step in the right direction.
(iii) The disconnection from national
parliaments. There is a need to involve national legislatures
more closely in shaping and monitoring EU decisions (see below).
(iv) Institutional introspection. The
way that the EU functions is vital. Its institutions need reform.
But there is sometimes a tendency in European debate to focus
too exclusively on institutional issues. Most voters do not appear
to care much about these. What they do want is an EU that delivers
practical benefits in their everyday lives. That is one reason
why the Government attaches so much importance to the EU's practical
agenda for boosting prosperity, creating jobs etc.
(v) Confusion over who does what. The
Treaties are difficult to read. The balance of responsibility
between the institutions is hard to understand. And the demarcation
of powers between the EU and the member states is unclear. That
is why the Government agreed at Nice that the next Intergovernmental
Conference in 2004 should address Treaty simplification and the
demarcation of competences between the EU and the member states.
(vi) Lack of consultation. The EU
is improving the way it consults its citizens on issues of concern
to them. The preparations for the next Intergovernmental Conference
are a good example. With UK support, it was agreed at Nice that
this will be preceded by an open and wide debate on the Future
of Europe at national and European level. This is an opportunity
for everyone to contribute to shaping the future EU.
(vii) Worries about excessive interference.
Member States agree legislation; and are often behind ideas
for new legislation. So this isn't exclusively the fault of the
Brussels institutions. But there is a perception that the EU does
too much, at too detailed a level.
2. How can decision-making be made more open
and governments more accountable for the decisions they make in
the Council? Is it essential for a more open and accountable EU
that the Council meet in public when legislating?
The Government is keen to enhance accountability
and openness in the way the EU does business.
Governments are already accountable for decisions
they make in the Council. British Ministers are accountable to
Parliament: scrutiny, Parliamentary Questions, debates, and the
work of the select committees all help ensure this. And in the
UK any change to the EU treaties requires primary legislation.
EU decision-making is already quite open. Council
schedules, agendas, conclusions, minutes, documents going to the
Councils and draft legislation are all available to the public.
With the Government's support, the recent Regulation on Access
to Documents has taken this a further step forward, providing
a public right of access to almost all unpublished documents held
by the EU institutions. The Council also holds public debates
on issues before it at least once per Presidency.
The Government believes the Council should meet
in public when adopting legislation.
EU? HOW SHOULD
THE EU RESPOND
Referendums are matters for individual Member
States. Amendments to the EU treaties, for example, require ratification
by all member states. In most countries, such as the UK, that
involves a Parliamentary process (in the UK it requires primary
legislation). Some member states, such as Denmark, France and
Ireland, have also held referendums as part of this process, depending
on the content of the proposed Treaty change. Denmark, for example,
held two referenda on the Maastricht Treaty but none on the Nice
As regards the latest Irish referendum on the
Treaty of Nice, the position is clear: unless all member states,
including Ireland, ratify the Treaty it will not enter into force.
The UK and the other member states have stressed the importance
of the Treaty for successful enlargement, and underlined their
readiness to help the Irish government address the issues arising
from the referendum.
The Council is already composed of representatives
of democratically elected governments. The European Parliament
is composed of democratically elected MEPs.
The Commission needs to be independent and be
seen to act in the interests of all. An elected Commission President
could be seen as partisan and therefore have less authority to
carry out the Commission's vital role as guardian of the Treaties.
If, for example, the Commission President were elected by the
dominant group in the EP how politically independent would s/he
EU, SUCH AS
The Prime Minister's proposal for a Chamber
of national parliamentarians is designed to strengthen the links
between national parliaments and the EU. It has three main purposes.
First, it could serve to re-connect national parliaments, and
national parliamentarians, with decision making in Brussels. Secondly
it could help provide a solution to defining where the EU should
act and where action should be left to the individual member states.
And third, the Chamber could provide oversight of areas of EU
activity which go beyond the traditional work of the Community,
such as European defence, and justice and home affairs.
The Government is committed to ensuring that
Westminster plays the fullest part possible in scrutinising European
legislation. That is why the UK supported the Protocol on the
role of National Parliaments annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty,
which (among other things) stipulates that there should be a minimum
period of six weeks between the tabling of a legislative proposal
and decision in the Council, (to allow time for national scrutiny).
It is also why the Government conducted an overhaul of domestic
scrutiny processes, as outlined in the White Paper of November
The effectiveness of scrutiny procedures varies
enormously between the Member States: and to some extent this
will always depend on parliamentary time-tables and how they mesh
with EU business. But UK scrutiny arrangements are now generally
acknowledged as among the most developed in the EU.
EU AND ITS
Yes. The British Parliament, its Members and
its Committees already play a significant role in informing the
public about EU issues. The Government already reflects, in its
dealings with EU partners and the EU institutions, the views of
the UK public and Parliament. But the Government would welcome
greater direct contact between Westminster and the Commission,
European Parliament and individual member states' governments.
The Government believes that greater clarity
over what the EU does and does not do would help reassure the
public. The EU's agreed principles for this are good. Subsidiarity
requires that the EU should act only if the member states cannot
achieve the aim on their own. Proportionality requires that when
the EU does act, it should do so as lightly as possible, leaving
as much as possible to the member states themselves. But these
principles have not always been fully respected in practice. Nor
are they well understood by the general public.
So as the Prime Minister suggested in his Warsaw
speech it makes sense to clarify the principles by which it is
decided whether and how the EU will act in a given area, and find
mechanisms (including perhaps a chamber of national parliamentarians)
to make those principles better respected in practice. Designing
arrangements to do this will be one of the main tasks for the
A positive first step is the proposal in the
Commission's White Paper on European Governance. This proposes
giving greater priority, from 2002, to the Annual Subsidiarity
Report on how the principle is applied by the Union in pursuing
its main goals.
The Government also believes that a more flexible
EU will help sustain popular support. And a more flexible EU will
be necessary after enlargement. That is why the Government supported
new arrangements in the Treaty of Nice for "enhanced cooperation"allowing
groups of member states to move ahead in certain areas covered
by the EU treaties without a requirement for all member states
to participate. The Government does not believe, however, that
such cooperation should be allowed to undermine eg the Single
Market, or create a two-tier Europe: the Treaty of Nice makes
The EU treaties (eg Article 2 of the Treaty
on European Union) already set out the EU's objectives. But there
may be a case for a clearer statement of the EU's core tasks.
The Government also sees a strong case, as the Prime Minister
proposed in Warsaw, for an annual EU agenda set by the European
Council. This would allow all Europe's citizens to see what was
being done in their name.
UK AND ELSEWHERE,
THE EU HAVE
The relationship between member states' central
governments and their devolved, regional or local authorities
is a matter for member states, not the EU.
But the Government agrees that regional and
local interests have a voice in Europe. The 1998 devolution arrangements
give certain responsibilities in EU matters to the Devolved Administrations,
and provide for consultation between the Devolved Administrations
and the UK Government on the range of EU issues. And the Government
supports an active Committee of the Regions (COR), which plays
a consultative role on a number of areas of EC legislation.
The Government also welcomes improved consultation
between EU institutions and the devolved, regional and local authorities.
The Commission's White Paper on Governance proposes a Code of
Conduct on consultation intended to give a greater sense of participation
by regions etc, in eg framing legislation.
EU? IS THERE
Of all the EU institutions, it is the EP which
has changed most significantly since the Treaty of Rome was signed.
It is now directly-elected and has wide-ranging legislative powers:
over 80 per cent of EU legislation is co-decided by the Council
and the EP. It is also, with the Council, the joint budgetary
authority of the Community. The EP can require the resignation
of the Commission and can vote on the appointment of a new Commission.
The EP's assent is required for the conclusion of major international
treaties between the Community and third countries and for the
accession of new member states.
So the EP clearly and rightly plays an important
role in promoting a democratic and accountable EU. So too, of
course, do national parliaments. The Government therefore supports
greater co-operation between national Parliaments and the EP.
This is one of the reasons underpinning the Prime Minister's Second
It was agreed at Nice that the 2004 Intergovernmental
Conference should be preceded by a wide and deep debate, involving
all stakeholders. The Government believes that there should be
two strands to this: national debates, which are already taking
place in member states in accordance with their own traditions
and circumstances; and debate at European level, involving elected
representatives from national parliaments.
For this second strand, the Government would
like to see a Convention involving national parliamentarians,
MEPs, and representatives of member states and the applicant countries,
augmented by a process, or a structure, to allow business, unions,
civil society and NGOs to make their contribution.
The composition and working methods of the Convention
and associated structures are still under discussion, and are
likely to be agreed at the Laeken European Council in December.
The Convention will feed its ideas, in the form of options, into
the Intergovernmental Conference. But decisions on treaty change
will remain for member states themselves in the IGC. This is right:
treaty changes are choices of national governments about what
powers they wish to share at EU level and the governments are
in turn accountable to their electorates and parliaments for their
30 September 2001