|The Future of Europe
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I strongly support that position. It is most important that the subsidiarity test is subject to a political process of decision, not a justiciable one, because the European Court of Justice is a European institution. In the United States, the Supreme Court has for two centuries gradually centralised powers to the federal Government, and
Column Number: 014the same process is at work in the European Court of Justice through a process of judicial activism. The only example of a federal system that did not do that was Canada in the first half of the last century. Disputes about powers often resulted in powers going to provinces, not to the federal level, because the court was the Privy Council in London. As soon as a court sits at the centre of a federal system, it becomes a centralising institution. Therefore, I agree very strongly that the member states and member state Parliaments, particularly, must have strong, perhaps decisive input to the question of the workings of subsidiarity.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): As well as considering the minutiae of the European Union's decision-making process, has the convention given any consideration to the huge distance between the people of Europe and European Union institutions, and exactly how the two might be brought together so that there can be a consensus about Europe's future direction?
Lord Maclennan: The convention is extremely aware of that and regards it as one of its major tasks.
The Chairman: Order. Perhaps I should alert the Committee to the fact that I am partially deaf. In order to ensure that the proceedings are conducted in a proper manner, I must hear what is being said. Therefore, please address comments through the Chair.
Lord Maclennan: I beg your pardon, Mr. Cook.
The Convention seeks to take account of the views of the public in its work so far as is practicable, but I have to say that it has not been wholly successful, because its resources are limited. Meetings with civil society have taken place, and it is possible to criticise them as not entirely representative of the full range of opinions in Europe. More importantly, the Convention is anxious to engage in those institutional arrangements that are, inevitably, a turn off for the public. Therefore, clarity and simplification are in the minds and in the remits of the working parties that are considering the detail.
Perhaps even more fundamentally, when we come to consider institutional reform, there may be—I have heard it discussed at the margins, at least, of the Convention—a recognition that when people vote for parliamentarians in most national Parliaments, they anticipate that two things will flow from the casting of votes: that leaders will be thrown up who will have responsibility and that policies may be affected. Neither of those is demonstrably a consequence of votes in European elections, so thought may be given to how to connect the European Parliament, for which votes are cast, with the leadership of the European Union, whether, for example, by nominating the President of the Commission, perhaps subject to advice and consent of the Council of Ministers, or vice versa. Such debates are taking place because of the Convention's desire to grapple with the sense of distance between the decision-making process and the citizens of Europe.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The alienation of the public is at the heart of my concerns. It shows up in the low
Column Number: 015turnout for European parliamentary elections and in referendum results. There have been three recent referendums on Europe: Switzerland said no to joining; the Danes said no to the euro; and Ireland said no to the Nice treaty. The public are either completely switched off from or delivering snubs to the European Union. They see a technocratic edifice run by a priest class of experts, and feel no part of it. Two plenary sessions ago—Lord Maclennan alluded to this—we supposedly talked to the public. In reality, we talked to lobby groups and discovered that many of them existed only because they were paid for out of the European Union's budget. Brussels was talking to Brussels, while pretending that is was talking to the public. That is a profound problem. The solution to it is to re-establish the whole system from the bottom in member states' Parliaments in which people can engage and see the results of their votes.
Lord Howell of Guildford: May I endorse Lord Brabazon's thanks to you, Mr. Cook, and, through you, to the powers that be, for allowing us to come from the other place to participate.
I have a short question for Ms Stuart, who made some fascinating comments on the possibility of visits by Commissioners to speak in this Parliament. Has it been suggested that there might be more than speaking, such as sharing views, shaping the agenda with national parliamentary members, and perhaps surrendering the monopoly on initiative that the Commission has had as a result of earlier treaties? That could allow some initiatives to begin at the grass roots in nation state capitals. Has anything of that kind been suggested? Was anything said about not only rejigging the way in which subsidiarity is decided, but about reconsidering the whole shallow and quite recent concept of subsidiarity, which never fully matured when it first emerged, and which does not meet the need to decentralise and transfer parts of powers to the lower and better level of the nation state?
Ms Stuart: I have tried to gain support for two ideas. I have been successful on the first, but singularly unsuccessful on the second—I shall not give up yet. The first idea is that an engagement between the Commission and the national Parliament could lead to something that might be described as a traffic-light system. If a Parliament said that a breach had taken place, the case would go back to the Commission and back to the drawing board. A proposal that was based on a treaty that required anonymity would require only one national Parliament; one that needed a qualified majority would require several Parliaments. That issue has received lively debate, and when Commissioner Barnier gave evidence to the working group that I chair, I raised it.
I keep putting the second idea on the table but no one will take it up. It is that rather than talk in precise detail about the redefinition of responsibility, we must come up with a mechanism that allows a two-way flow of competences. At the moment, there is only a one-way flow. Rather than allow the Convention to get bogged down, which it would if we reallocated
Column Number: 016responsibilities, it is extremely important to introduce a mechanism that allows movement both ways. The next step would be to decide who polices that. I am working on that.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I welcome this important Committee, as I welcome the Convention. I am delighted that we have already heard from our representatives about the commitment that they will make to ensuring that the Convention has a successful outcome. It may be early days, but does my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston believe that if the outcome of the convention is successful, the exercise could be repeated? After all, part of the point of having a mandate is to seek to extend it. Does she believe that the Convention should be run on a permanent basis?
The Chairman's attention having been called to the fact that ten Members were not present, he suspended the proceedings; and other Members having come into the room and ten Members being present, the proceedings were resumed.
The Chairman: I should make the point that when we come to questions and answers, and more especially to debate, it will be much easier for me to recognise anyone seeking to catch my eye if they present something to me other than their posterior.
Sir John Stanley: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. I received advice from the Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the quorum for the Committee is 10, and I made a count before walking out on the basis of that advice. I would be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Cook.
The Chairman: The quorum is 10, as stated on the Committee list. That means seven Committee members, plus two delegates and the Chairman. Peers are allowed to visit, bless them. They are more than welcome to participate, but they do not count towards the quorum.
Roger Casale: That puts the rest of my question in a nutshell. Do our other representatives believe that the Convention could be made permanent if it is successful, or would they say from the outset that it is just a one-off?
Ms Stuart: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) for his report on national Parliaments, which I read. It contains some useful ideas, especially on benchmarking.
On the future of the Convention, all my instincts tell me to be extremely suspicious of any body, when the first thing that it wants to do is to continue to meet. The charter has been successful, as I hope that the Convention will be, but to try and make it permanent goes against all my instincts. All institutions should have a sell-by date. We resurrect them if we need them again.
Lord Maclennan: Mr. Casale asked for the views of other representatives. I strongly support the view expressed by Ms Stuart, perhaps for a slightly different reason. It seems to me that the purpose of the Convention is to reach a stable constitutional settlement that, by definition, will last. The very concept of re-establishing such a mechanism implies
Column Number: 017that we have already despaired of reaching that happy equipoise. One aspect of the European Union gives rise to more anxiety than any other: the phrase in the constitutional document about ever closer union. I would be ready to trade that phrase for a genuinely satisfactory constitutional settlement that met the objections that are being raised, and stilled the anxiety about a process of creeping centralisation once and for all. Of course, that does not mean that some methods would not have to be incorporated in any settlement for amending provisions that were seen to be not working or not adequate to the new situations.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 16 July 2002|