Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 18 JUNE 2002
STUART MP AND
40. May I clarify one point which Mr Illsley
put. Where is now the debate in respect of the end product? Will
there be options, or will there be a single text?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think the answer is, we do
not know definitely, but Giscard has said that he would prefer
a single recommendation or set of recommendations which have a
consensus of the Convention behind them. I think that is highly
optimistic, so long as I am a member. Also, I am afraid it will
probably only be achieved by giving everybody something. All the
institutions will get something of what they want. Meanwhile,
the public will be utterly bemused and will regard this as another
example of Brussels consulting itself and coming out with something
that satisfies the political class but not them.
(Ms Stuart) I do not think I can add anything to that.
Sir Patrick Cormack
41. Ms Stuart, you are a member of the Praesidium,
as I understand it. It has been said in certain quarters that
the Praesidium is dominating the Convention. Could you just tell
us actually what being a member of the Praesidium involves? Secondly,
would you comment on the accusation and then perhaps I could also
call in Mr Heathcoat-Amory to make his comments as well.
(Ms Stuart) In terms of time commitment, it means
there is certainly always a Praesidium meeting before the Convention
meeting and there will be one in between that.
42. That is a lengthy meeting, is it?
(Ms Stuart) That varies. Some of them have sometimes
been two or three hours. We had one meeting in early May which
was virtually a whole day, which was more on the politics of it.
At the beginning there was a real tension as to what would be
the function of the Praesidium. The opposing views were that we
either were the shop stewards whose job it was to deliver consensus
from our group which we represent, or it was the drafting committee.
43. Just remind us how many you are.
(Ms Stuart) We are now 13for those of you who
are suspicious, this is a bad number! It originally was 12. So
you have got two MEPs; originally two national parliamentarians,
which were then augmented by a third from the candidate countries;
two commissioners (which incidentally, is the sole representation
of the Commission on the whole Convention); government representatives
from the Troika (Spain, Denmark and Greece); the President; and
two Vice-Presidents. Then the question was, "Will you do
the drafting committee?" Those who wanted to do the drafting
committee, then, by implication, almost had to impose the setting
up of the working groups because they had become the drafting
committee. I think there were early suspicions and tensions. The
reality, as I see it now, is that we are a bit of both. By chairing
the working groups, it is up to the Praesidium members to ensure
that some coherence comes back but not impose their will. It is
part of our function to deliver a kind of consensus from the blocks
of interest which we represent. As I said, in practice, whenever
strong representations were made to the Praesidium by the Convention
for things to be changed, I hope the feeling was that we did respond
and did change things.
44. Perhaps you can tell us this, David, does
she dominate you or does she respond?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I always like strong women, particularly
when they are in a position of responsibility, and I believe Gisela
is doing a good job in defending the interests of national parliaments
and I am delighted that she is chairing the very important working
group on the role of national parliaments. Can I just add that
I think it is important that we get past the polite phase in the
Convention and start to argue with each other. There is a slight
tendency for people to read out prepared positions and they want
everything. They want more of this and more of that, more democracy,
and they want Europe to do more in the field of foreign affairs
and security and the environment and social protection. We are
not really making choices. To do that, I think we need to argue
and ask difficult questions. This is particularly true about enlargement.
Everyone is very polite and welcoming to the members from the
accession states, and I am personally delighted, genuinely delighted,
that they are there and I think they have a lot to offer, but
there are some very difficult questions about enlargement. No
one has really tackled the question of costs, the question of
movement of people in the context of immigration problems, and
we all know there are human rights and minority issues in these
countries which are unresolved. We are, in addition, imposing
on them the full burden of the acquis communautaire. I
asked for a working group on the acquis. It is a huge burden.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) It is 85,000 pages, I am told.
So poor little Estonia and Malta are going to have to put all
of that into their legal system and comply with it, and I do not
think that is really realistic. Anyway, my request for a working
group to slim the acquis was turned down. Possibly too
heretical a thought. Perhaps they thought I was trying to roll
Europe back. Well, to some extent I am but I think that should
at least be considered and debated rather than turned down. I
sometimes feel I am regarded as the man with the demolition charges
here but what I am really trying to do is to challenge the consensus
to get an outcome on which we can all advance.
46. This is all very interesting but could you
answer the question. Do you think the Praesidium is dominating
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I look to the Praesidium to generate
this debate. Rather than simply try to deliver a unitary solutionwhich
I think was Giscard's early hopeI would instead hope that
the Praesidium is the ringmaster but encourages this almost adversarial
debate which should take place on the floor of the Convention,
rather than trying to sweep it all up into a convenient package.
You may ask me: Is that happening? Gisela is in a much better
position to tell you what goes on in the Praesidium but I believe
that they are debating issues as well as rules.
47. So you are really pleading guilty to your
own political defence on the subject. You are failing to engage
in argument on this issue at the moment but you would like to
believe that the Praesidium would do the things which you have
advocated this morning it is not yet doing.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) To emphasise, we are at a very
early stage in all this. I think when the working groups report
back to the plenary session in the late summer or early autumn,
then we will be armed with more detail and we can start to challenge
each other and ask these difficult questions. I would regard the
Praesidium's duty not to try to deliver up pre-packaged solutions
on each working group.
48. Of course, you are a third of the way through
your allotted time. You realise that. Could you just tell me something
about the Secretariat. I understand Sir John Kerr, who has of
course a very splendid record in this country, is running the
Secretariat. How is that working? Is it giving both of you the
back up that you need? Would you also tell us, as you are answering
to this Committee, whether you think we, in this Parliament, are
giving you, as our representatives, the back-up (secretarial services,
research assistants and all those other things) which you certainly
need in order to put forward the views that you are putting forward.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I am very grateful to the House
of Commons for funding a dedicated researcher, which I have and
who comes out with me to help me. It does not create an equality
of arms between myself and the MEPs and the well-briefed ministers,
but it is a huge help. Our office facilities over there are very
primitive: I cannot, for instance, pick up my e-mails from the
parliamentary server, but that is a technical problem which, though
it has taken them four months, I hope they will eventually solve.
I have no complaints about what the House of Commons is trying
to do. On the second issue, the Secretariat, I am sure, is looking
always for the end solution and trying to find the right compromises
through this maze. And, of course, one has to sympathise: it is
very difficult to assemble one or even several texts for all the
different views expressed. Sir John Kerr is the man to deliver
something and I think we are lucky to have a British person in
that position of influence. Perhaps I can just make the additional
point that the Secretariat or even the Presidency is not all powerful
in one respect, which is that in the mornings before the plenary
we also meet, either in our political family groups or, in our
case, in a meeting of the national parliamentarians. That is under
the chairmanship of the country that happens to have the six months'
Presidency. That, in our case, has not been well organised by
the Spanish. We hope for better things when the Danes take over
in July. I think, to echo a previous point, that one of the reasons
that national parliaments are not punching their weight so far
in the Convention is that the Spanish Presidency were not good
at synthesising a point of view on which we could perhaps table
ideas between us in order to enhance the influence of the national
49. Would Ms Stuart like to comment on those
various points? Also, as you are a member of the Praesidium and
have extra responsibilities, are you getting the back-up help
that you need from this Place?
(Ms Stuart) I pay full tribute to the House authorities
for the speed at which they have responded to our needs. As we
always criticise creating big bureaucraciesand, of course,
two researchers would be better than oneI think, in terms
of the facilities that have been made available to us, they allow
us to function. But may I make two additional points? One is to
pay tribute to the House's foresight in setting up a Brussels'
office. Only three out of the other 15 countries have a permanent
representative there. Nick Walker, who is based in Brussels, has
been of tremendous support also in helping to get the national
parliamentarians coordinated. One of the things which we have
done, with the agreement of the Danish, is actually to create
a permanent structure now so that we do not change with the Presidency
all the time, so that our support does not change when it goes
into the Greek Presidency, that we already work together as the
Troika now, so that we organise it a bit better. In terms of the
Praesidium Secretariat, there is a minimum support. I have been
given two officials to support the work of the working group and
I think that is sufficient. But, just as a personal aside, for
any politician to see three thorough professionals like Giscard
D'Estaing, like Giuliano Amato (the other person whom we have
not mentioned, the former Italian Prime Minister) and like Sir
John Kerr and simply to watch them operate, I think is a joy and
something to learn from.
Sir Patrick Cormack: That is a very nice positive
answer. Thank you very much.
Sir John Stanley
50. When the Foreign Secretary came in front
of us on 13 March after the Barcelona Council, I referred him
to what the Government said in their February 2000 White Paper
which was headed ITC Reform for EnlargementBritish Approach
to the European Union Intergovernmental Conference 2000. In
that White Paper the Government stated: "Clearly some areas,
such as treaty change and accession, will have to remain subject
to unanimous agreement. The Government has also made it clear
that we should insist on retaining unanimity by the key issues
of national interest such as treaty change, taxation, border controls,
social security, defence and own resources." Later on, I
asked the Foreign Secretary, in relation to each of those five
items on which the British Government had previously said we should
insist on retaining unanimity, on which of those five items that
still remained the British Government's position. The Foreign
Secretary responded: "There is a Convention on the future
of Europe on which a representative of this Select Committee sits.
That is likely to come forward with a series of proposals and
from that we will make decisions. If you are asking me: am I going
to say to you now that, whatever the arguments put forward by
the Convention and whatever the change in circumstances, we regard
the current position on QMV and unanimity as fixed in concrete?
the answer is no, because I cannot believe that would be in the
interests of the British people." So the Foreign Secretary
indicated that the British Government's current position is that
each of those five areas previously stated in the White Paper
as being ones on which the British Government believe that we
should insist on retaining unanimity is apparently up for further
consideration as to whether unanimity should be maintained by
the British Government. I would like to ask you both this: In
this key area do you get the feeling so farand I appreciate,
of course, this may only be very much personal judgment from each
of you at this stagethat, within the Convention, any area
that previously was regarded as being sacrosanct as far as retaining
unanimity is concerned might now be an area that would be the
subject possibly of being moved into qualified majority voting
subsequently? Or do you get the view that within the Convention
there may be still just one or two areas, for example treaty change,
just to take an example, which you think the Convention will,
by a majority at least, be absolutely firm on retaining as items
that should be remained subject to unanimity?
(Ms Stuart) I think it really is too early to tell,
but I just want to put two arguments which surprised me when I
first heard them and, on thinking through, I see some real reason
behind. One argument was put forward against extension of QMV
and maintaining the single veto because they said it actually
forces government to state what they really think and it forces
them to take responsibility for their decisionsbecause
with QMV they very often can hide behind others. I had not thought
about it in that light before. The second one was that realisation
that in the last five years or so QMV has very often been used
not to achieve decisions, which is what we thought originally
its purpose was, but to split up blocking minorities, and in some
areas QMV has been the very mechanism by which countries have
prevented decisions happening. I am using that as an illustration.
We are at a stage when people are really thinking through what
is important and what is not. Where is QMV actually in our interests?
In Britain, for example, we want it on some justice and home affairs
issues. Some decisions have been made more on QMV than others
have. So my personal expectation will be that you we will have
a process where people will really think this through a bit more
clearly, on what it means in reality, and there will be such things,
like treaty changes, where I will be extremely surprised if people
would not continue to insist that that must be subject to veto.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) The retreat has already started,
in fact, on unanimity. On border controls, it may be perhaps true
that we will retain those and not submit to majority voting on
that form of security; nevertheless, Lady Scotland, the Foreign
Office Minister in the last plenary, said that on asylum and immigration
matters this should be a common policy decided by majority voting,
so I regard, to that extent, our borders will be subject to majority
votes. On tax, I think they will not be called taxes, they will
be called charges, and they will be subject to majority voting.
Also, on the structure of our tax systems rather than the actual
level of tax, we will also lose unanimity. Of course, one reason
the Irish voted no in the Nice Treaty is that they do not like
the enhanced cooperation proposals in the Nice Treaty because
they see this as one way in which the national veto could be overridden
even on constitutional issues. For instance, if the Irish vote
no on a subsequent treaty and the Nice proposals are in place,
all the other countries could agree to move ahead, with or without
permission of the Irish Government, under the enhanced cooperation
proposals, leaving the country that says "no" isolated.
In a way, that is an indirect way of overriding national vetos
even on treaty changes. So the whole matter is very much under
review. It is said that eating words is a nutritious diet but
I think the Foreign Office can look forward to quite a meal of
this at the end of the Convention. If I could just make one more
point, Chairman. All this tends to be justified because of enlargement.
It is said that, if we have a union of another 10 members, of
course we must have more majority voting, but that is a technocratic
solution. It is not a democratic advance; it is simply saying
to Member States and electorate that they are more likely to be
out-voted and find themselves in minority, and perhaps permanent
minorities, on permanent issues. That, in the eyes of the citizen,
is a loss of democracy, not a gain. But it is always dressed up
in terms of enlargement, because: Who can be against enlargement?
51. Could I raise another area of a great deal
of interest and importance, which is the issue of the six months'
rotating presidency. That is certainly seen, particularly by some
of the smaller countries, as being a really unique opportunity
whereby they are able to be, for a six-month period, centre stage
in Europe. Can you tell us whether you see the Convention moving
towards the suggestion that has been made of the Presidency being
occupied on an elected basis through the Council of Ministers
and being held, say, for a period of two years rather than six
months. Is that gaining ground or not?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I would comment that this raises
the issue of tension between the big and the small states. The
bigger countries like this idea because they want the European
Union to have a personality at its head on the world stage; small
countries see the dangers, that it simply gives more influence
to the big countries. I do not know how that will come out. Personally,
I feel this is starting at the wrong end. It is trying to create
a more efficient, more effective Europe rather than a democratic
Europe, and it also feeds the sort of vanity of the European Union
that it must challenge America on the world stage. I, personally,
do not agree with that as an ambition unless Europe does more
together at a lower stage, in which case it can earn its place
on the world stage rather than simply taking it as something of
(Ms Stuart) I will get to the point even if it may
not sound very immediate. If you want national parliaments to
have a greater influence on European decision-making and want
to be involved earlierwhich I think we probably all agree
that we do wantthen we need to be able to lock into a process
which is much more long-term and strategic. The Commission brings
forward its proposals on a strategic basis and there is a mechanism
there. The one part of the jigsaw which at the moment chops and
changes all the time and has no strategic direction is at the
Council of Ministers' level, when, with the change of a Presidency
every six months, you also change the kind of priorities. I think
there is an increasing awareness that the current system of the
Council of Ministers with the Presidency is an unworkable one.
I am at this stage slightly agnostic as to what I think the precise
details of the changes which are needed are going to be, but I
think it will have to be on a three-year, if not five-year, kind
of block, where you have a permanent head of this but then you
could still have your Vice-Presidency which is a host country.
You could still meet in the various countries, which gives them
that kind of exposure, that kind of buying into the feeling of
being part of it, but still have a stronger and more permanent
strategic role within the Council of Ministers. What is important
for me is that, if we want to have a strong Commission, a strong
Council and strong national parliament then there has to be kind
of equality and synchronisation in the way in which they work.
That view is increasingly getting support, rather than a specific
proposal on what this will look like.
52. On the working groups, Ms Stuart, you chair
one of the key groups. Can you say anything about the case for
coordination of the work of the several groups? We have had, I
am sure you will have seen this, a very helpful paper, sent to
us by Giovanni Grevi of the European Policy Centre,
showing the degree of integration which already exists. It might
be helpful to give the Committee (i) the way in which the work
of the several groups will be coordinated and (ii) a bit more
about the proposal to establish further groups and in what areas.
(Ms Stuart) The working groups in many
ways are overlapping. If we want to look at the whole spectrum
of the European Union then there will always be a strong interrelationship.
The most immediate overlap between the group I am chairing and
another group is the one of subsidiarity and we have actually
planned for a joint session in September. One of the key people
who will give evidence to the working group and national parliament
is an academic author called Maurer who did a survey of what all
the European countries are doing and he is also giving evidence
to the group on subsidiarity. So we are trying to make sure, where
there is already a natural overlap, that we also to meet as committees.
As to further groups, I think some of them are already clear that
they will have to happen because of the remit of Laeken and also
53. In which areas?
(Ms Stuart) I would expect to see working groups on
justice and home affairs. I would expect to see working groups
on European security and defence policy. I would expect to see
working groups on the way the instruments work and how to police
54. Would the timetable allow that? Remember,
we are moving after the August break into a period where, presumably,
ideas will be collected together by the end of each year. If new
working groups are established in the autumn, there will be very
severe time pressures on these groups.
(Ms Stuart) But they will also, I think, become smaller.
At the moment, my working group is some 30 people. I think they
will become smaller and they will have shorter remits of their
Sir Patrick Cormack
55. It is very helpful to have all this evidence
this morning. We are grateful for it. You have made a report to
the House. How often will you be reporting to the House?
(Ms Stuart) I was hopingbut we were not quite
able to do itthat the second report would actually be with
us this week. At the moment we are looking at 24 June for the
second report. It is theoretically on a monthly basis, though
in some months the calendar month does not make any sense: as
nothing will be happening in August, there will not be an August
report. But the second one is in the pipeline.
56. You report to the House. How does the House
indicate to you, other than via this Committee, what it thinks
of those reports? Are you satisfied that there is an adequate
mechanism for you to know how your colleagues in the House are
viewing what you are doing on their behalf?
(Ms Stuart) I think this is where we are hoping the
new committee, where the standing order went to the House last
57. Of which we are all members, of course.
(Ms Stuart)are able to set up meetings of that
as early as possible. I think that will be the mechanism by which
both Houses can feed back.
58. Would you concur with that?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) Yes. In addition, there are other
committees interested in the subject. The European Scrutiny Committee
is, I understand, to produce its report on this at the end of
this week. We have a debate this afternoon on European affairs.
I think all these are extremely important ways of asserting not
just British interests but national parliamentary interests, which,
as we have indicated so far, are wanting at the minute in the
59. May I just be allowed to ask a policy question?
It seems to me that fundamental to any successful enlargement
is a successful reordering of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Is your Convention addressing that? If so, how is it addressing
it, and with what optimism do you view those addresses?
(Ms Stuart) The answer is no. You see, the problem
is some people would argue that CAP should be taken out of EU
level and repatriated to national governments. That is a policy
decision. What I think the Convention would look at is: Are you
going to have a mechanism by which you would this kind of process
to occur?rather than say, specifically: "The CAP is
something which you should take out."
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think it was a great mistake
to open negotiations with 10 candidate countries without solving
the problems of the CAP and the existing inequalities in the budget.
That was not resolved at the Berlin Summit in 1999, as it should
have been. As too often happens, we are then drifting forward,
pushing these difficult decisions in front of us, but they have
got to be faced at some point and I would like a working group
to have gone into this. It may be difficult, it might have even
caused some controversy, but that is what the Convention should
welcome. To widen my answer slightly, I also asked, specifically,
for a working group on the economic future of Europe, because,
in my view, the European Union does not have a political or social
future unless it is competitive in the world. Far too much of
the discussion is very internal to the European Union. I want
us to be aware of the wider worldboth our competitiveness
in the wider world in an economic sense and also I would like
to have witnesses from developing countries. The European Union
has the highest peak tariffs against developing countries of any
of the trade blocks. The EU launches more anti-dumping measures
against developing countries than American or Japan according
to the recent Oxfam report. The European Union may be popular
or unpopular in Europe itselfand we can debate thatbut
I know, from my experience as a former Foreign Office Minister,
it is extremely unpopular in a number of developing countries,
where it is seen as a rich man's club. So it is those wider global
issues that I want discussed in the Convention as well, and so
far they have not been.
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