|The Future of Europe
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Chairman: Order. There are no interventions on the statements. Questions come afterwards, and the debate will follow them.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I shall be brief because I am as anxious as you to listen to the debate, Mr. Cook.
My solution is to bring national Parliaments truly into the debate at the start. That would change the nature of other institutions in turn. The Commission would cease to be a proto-government, or at least to have a monopoly on initiative, and would become a secretariat to what national Parliaments and the European Parliament collectively want at European Union level.
I turn to the working group of which I am a member. It addresses the question of where competences or powers should reside. Existing powers should be returned to national Parliaments unless they can be explicitly defined as matters that can be carried out only at European level, such as cross-border issues and trade matters. They must not be defined by reference to objects, but to subject matter, because reference to desirable objects, such as completion of the single market, has been used as justification for practically any action. The notorious articles 94 and 308 are both used to justify regulations and directives for which there is no treaty competence elsewhere. The working group meets again tomorrow. I shall attend it in order to continue that task.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: It will be evident during questions, if it is not evident already, that the Members who are representing what they see as the interests of this Parliament and their country do not have identical views or co-ordinated positions, and that nor do we operate within the Convention in the defence of a pre-identified mandate. Consequently, the perceptions of those of us who have attended the Convention from the beginning may be thought to be descriptive of rather different happenings; I suspect that that has less to do with the functioning of the Convention than with the angle of vision of the observers.
During the initial meetings—the plenary sessions—a historic gathering of people with very varied experience of the operation of the Union, some of whom come from the candidate countries, has been coming together to engage, to form judgments about each other, and to test whether those participating in the debate do so with good will and in good faith because they are seeking to strengthen the objectives of the Union and the effectiveness of its democratic accountability. With such a diverse galère of people
Column Number: 008present, it is scarcely surprising that it took some time to get down to brass tacks. However, I believe that those initial meetings were valuable; they established some degree of confidence that there is a purposive intent not merely to reform the institutions of the Union to enable enlargement without constitutional disruption, but to seek to answer some of the criticisms about the operation of the Union that are widespread in many member countries.
It is generally felt that the president, Giscard D'Estaing, having sat throughout each session for up to six hours at a time, listening carefully to what was going on, and then, perhaps, at the end or on the following day, delivering himself of utterances which, though bringing his personal view to bear, reflected that he had been closely following the debate, has engendered some confidence in the direction and leadership of the Convention. That has been fortified by the work of the two vice-chairmen, Mr. Jean-Luc Dehaene and Mr. Guiliano Amato, as well as by the work of the praesidium, which has been available for questioning both collectively in plenary sessions and at meetings of the national parliamentarians. There have been several examples of the processes being adapted to take account of suggestions made by rank and file members and alternates, such as myself.
The Convention is working well. It is a large body, which has to work on the detail in sub-committees—or working groups, as they are called—in order to produce responses of the kind that I have suggested that it sees itself as being in the business of producing. At the beginning, some criticism was voiced at the plenary session that the focus was not immediately on restructuring the institutions of the Union, but rather on an analysis of what the Union's functions should properly be in the world in which we now live, which is different from that of 50 years ago, when the basic institutions were set up.
I have given a more general and rather more optimistic report than that delivered by Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, whose substitute I am. I am sure that it was not a surprise to him—although it may have been to the plenary session last Thursday—that when I took his place the views that I expressed were not those that he would express. However, that is the nature of the Convention.
If it is possible to criticise the legislative outcome of the European Union—I do not doubt that many examples could be offered of faulty, defective measures that have an effect that was unseen in advance by those responsible both nominally and actually for the legislation—that is no peculiarity of European legislation. The finger can be pointed at many products of the Parliament of which we have been Members as similarly defective legislation. I hope that I shall not be thought partisan if I mention the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989.
It is none the less right to try to identify ways of improving institutionally and tackling the Union's remit. I have not noticed at this stage—I believe that the pattern has been set—any demand to alter significantly the Union's competencies. There is a broad consensus about that. On the areas of policy tackled in the Union's institutions, whether in the field
Column Number: 009of trade and commerce and the single market—the preoccupation of the Communities under the original treaty—justice and home affairs competencies exercised in respect of cross-border crime, for example, or the field of common security and defence, I have detected no desire on the part of the Convention to depart from those broad remits and greatly to add to or detract from them.
I have heard a suggestion that consideration should be given to repatriation when possible, but when examples have been sought, they have been few. One Convention member suggested that education was such an example. A French socialist, Olivier Duhamel, pointed out that the Community has little responsibility in that sphere and asked whether it was seriously being suggested that the Erasmus programme should be scrapped. The answer was yes. That concrete suggestion aroused neither a round of applause nor, indeed, any enthusiasm. I have not yet heard a suggestion for repatriation powers that commanded an obvious ripple of assent. It is too early, in my judgment, to be sure how effective that would be as a method of reforming the constitution of an organisation such as the European Union.
The work of the working group on which I have served, on legal personality—which, although it may be thought arcane and specialised, has none the less substantial implications for the Union's treaty-making activities—demonstrates high seriousness in and commitment to the task on the part of those participating. They have taken evidence from lawyers in the Commission, in the Parliament and in the Council. Before attempting to reach a view, they sought outside academic evidence and the evidence of lawyers commending themselves to national Governments. I think that that is a responsible approach. More than that, at this stage, I feel I cannot say.
The Chairman: We have until 9 pm if need be for questions to the representatives, but I must remind Members that questions should be brief, pertinent and asked one at a time. Each representative may offer a response to those questions, should they so wish.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): This is a special day, the first time that we have had a Standing Committee of this kind. Earlier, I met the Prime Minister in a Select Committee for the first time, so the work that we have had in Committee today is quite interesting.
I am interested in being here, and particularly interested in a comment that Gisela made about COSAC. We have seen the response that the setting up of a working group on the role of national Parliaments had in certain quarters of the European Parliament. My hon. Friend made the point that COSAC has its flaws, if it is to be considered as a substitute for a second chamber. As a member of COSAC and probably the father of that distinguished body, having been a member of it for 10 years, I hope that no one is even considering making it into a second chamber.
Can my hon. Friend tell me whether her working group is considering examining COSAC and coming up with recommendations to make it more
Column Number: 010representative of national Parliaments by following the lines that she suggested? Our suggestion for the reform of COSAC was to take representatives from the European Parliament out of COSAC and out of the troika. Would that be something that her working group would consider? I should be interested to hear the responses of the working group on that.
The Chairman: Order. Before hearing the hon. Lady's response, I remind the Committee that the form of address here is not to be the Christian name, but the formal address, as usual.
Ms Stuart: What we are trying to do in the working group is to define first what should be done before going into much closer detail about who should do it. It is becoming quite clear that the question of subsidiarity mostly involves a political process before it involves a legal process. The question is whether only MPs and MEPs combined should be involved. Some doubts are arising as to whether a joint body means joint responsibility, or the divided application of responsibility.
The three models being put on the table are a strengthened COSAC, a second chamber and a senate. I confess that one option that I hope the Committee will look at is to make the Commission not only present its proposals to the European Parliament but to come to national Parliaments, perhaps with an equivalent of the Queen's Speech, as in the British model, that can be debated. National Parliaments would then be able to say whether something was a breach of subsidiarity. The outcome of such debates will allow us to look at the appropriate role, or change in role, for COSAC.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 16 July 2002|