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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, at present the European Union is not a federal state in the full sense of the word, as may be seen in states such as Australia, Canada or the United States. Nor, on the other hand, can it be regarded as no more than a forum for co-operation between its individual member states. The existing practice for the appointment of the President of the Union, before the Treaty of Amsterdam, leaving it wholly in the hands of the individual governments acting through the Council of Ministers, does not provide any satisfactory degree of democratic legitimacy or accountability. It is a notable and significant step forward that the European Parliament--it is a democratically elected body accountable to the people of Europe--should have a power of veto over the appointment of the President. In effect it becomes a matter of co-determination, recognising the proper balance between the individual governments, represented through the Council of Ministers, and the people of Europe, represented through the European Parliament.
We also welcome the amendment to the treaties through the Treaty of Amsterdam enabling the President appointed and elected by that process to have a say in the appointment of the individual members of the
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I touched on this matter at Committee stage and have no further contribution to make. However, I wish to ask the Government a question. I hope that they will be able to reply fully. What do Her Majesty's Government understand by the words "political guidance"? What do they believe that that empowers the President of the Commission to do? What do they believe is the real meaning in practice of the term "political guidance"?
Lord Monson: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that the European Parliament is a democratically elected body. Yes, it is elected democratically, but it is not a truly democratic body in so far as the smaller countries have many more seats per capita in Parliament than do the larger countries.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, perhaps I may make one point to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He mentioned that the President of the Commission will have a say. It is more than that. He has a right of veto in the provisions set out in the treaty at present. That is why those of us who have put our names to the amendment support it, and reject the wording of the treaty.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am afraid it is probably still the case that I am seriously lacking in imagination: I do find some of the constructs put on these relatively minor clauses fantastic. The Government do not wish to accept this amendment. It would not prevent ratification of the treaty; however, it is in our view unnecessary. We regard these changes as relatively minor management changes, desirable improvements in the way in which the institutions of Europe do their business.
I know that there is enormous suspicion in regard to the Commission in certain quarters of this House, not least on the part of my noble friend Lord Bruce. However, a Commission which acts coherently and effectively is in the interests of the United Kingdom. The Commission has a key role to play in the Community and the functioning of the Union. It proposes legislation; it implements decisions made by the Council; and it acts as the guardian of the treaties. An effective Commission and effective president are in our interests and in the interests of Europe. The good running of Commission business is surely a sensible step to introduce into the treaty, particularly in preparation for enlargement.
It is surely right that the President of the Commission should play some part in ensuring that the Commission itself, which is a collegiate body, is made up of a spread of people of the right ability, right representation and right competences.
The initiative still clearly rests with member states. Some noble Lords have suggested that the nominee for president might reject a whole series of potential Commissioners. I do not consider that to be a feasible situation. It is surely fanciful to think that the Commission President, just appointed by the 15 governments unanimously, would go ahead and offend the member state concerned unnecessarily, particularly given that it is the member state alone that can nominate any candidate.
The proposal regarding the president's right to give political guidance to the Commission recognises the reality that has existed since the Treaty of Rome first came into force. It is again a relatively minor change confirming current practice. The president does play a political role. He is more than a civil servant, but is substantially less than a political overlord. At the end of the day the Commission carries out decisions reached by the Council. The president remains an appointed, not an elected, figure. Ministers in the Council are national Ministers responsible to national parliaments. The position of member states is totally safeguarded. To say that there is a sudden translation of the President of the Commission into a political figure is surely nonsense. Since we first became members of the European Union, successive governments have appointed senior politicians to be Commissioners. Why did they do so if the Commissioners, and the President of the Commission in particular, were not to have a political role?
My noble friend Lord Bruce asked me to explain what I mean by "political role". I mean a political role in the sense of presenting and implementing policy, offering advice and opinions and dealing as an institution of the European Union with each of the member states and the other institutions of the Union. That is a political role; almost all nominees to the Commission have been politicians, and it is a political task that they carry out. However, at the end of the day, the political responsibility rests with the Council of Ministers, and the Council of Ministers is responsible to its national parliaments and in certain respects to the European Parliament.
Far from being an anti-democratic move, there is another change in this part of the treaty which relates to the increased democratic accountability of the Commission and consultation with the European Parliament as regards appointments to the Commission. This is a package, not for a federal Europe, not for a superstate, but for a more democratic Europe, a more efficient Europe, a Europe which is more prepared for the challenge of enlargement.
I may not be able to convince my noble friend Lord Stoddart and others that their constructs do not indeed flow from those changes. However, I hope the noble Lord will accept that I have given sufficient explanation, and that this amendment, requiring further explanation
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend has not convinced me one bit. Indeed, I have been impressed with some of the arguments that have come from the other side. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, fundamentally disagrees with paragraphs 40 and 41 in the same way as I do. Those paragraphs are not about a Europe of nation states. They represent a further turning of the ratchet towards a federal Europe. If the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is worried about that--and he is not as sceptical about Europe as I am--then I am entitled to take comfort from that. The noble Lord has reached the same conclusion as I have, although we take a slightly different view on the whole concept of Europe, and that has to be taken into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, as I expected, believes that the new proposals are perfectly all right. Since the Liberal Party takes a federalist view, I suppose they are all right because they are federal in their concept. But we should make no mistake about it, in a Europe of nation states it is the national parliaments that have democratic legitimacy. It is they that are elected directly by their own people, and they have the final say. They cannot, and should not, hand over any of their real power of sovereignty to another body for decisions to be made not by their own nationals but by the nationals of 14 other states. Therefore, while I understand the noble Lord's point of view, this is nevertheless a recipe for a federal European state.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that the new procedure under paragraph 40 comes nowhere near the sort of procedure that would be found in a genuinely federal state? In the USA, for instance, there is no question of the governments of individual states being asked to take part in the election of the President.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: No, my Lords, but we are talking about federal states. Here we have the European Parliament, which can veto the appointment of the President of the Commission, a decision which has been agreed by all the national leaders presumably with the consent of their national parliaments. That weakens the democratic accountability of this Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons. That may very well be all right for the federal system, but not for a Europe of nation states.
The noble Lord also mentioned the president in relation to the appointment of Commissioners. He said that the president will have a say. Nobody objects to the president having a say. But under these articles, he has a veto. That is the problem. He does not merely have a say; he is not being consulted. If the article stated that he was to be consulted, nobody would be concerned about the matter. But he does in fact have an effective veto, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.
My noble friend says that he still considers those matters to be minor managerial adjustments. I have to say to him that if they are mere managerial adjustments, why can they not be dealt with administratively? They may need alteration later if they are merely managerial adjustments. Once they are in the treaty, we have to have unanimity before they can be altered or taken out. So even on my noble friend's argument, it is very unwise to put such matters into the treaty.
My noble friend says that it is not feasible that the President-elect of the Commission would use his power of veto. How do we know? We are not futurologists. It may well be different once the President of the Commission has been appointed. What if the president does not like a particular representative, such as Mr. Kinnock? If he had had those powers when Mr. Kinnock was appointed, what would we have said if he had blackballed Mr. Kinnock? It is feasible for the President-elect of the Commission to use his power of veto, but I do not think it is a power he should have.
Finally, in relation to the political role of the President of the Commission, as I have already said, what goes into the treaty is what will be interpreted by the Commission and the courts. When we talk about having a political role and giving political guidance, we think we know what we mean. We think that politics is about making political decisions. The impression given by the article is that the President of the Commission will in future make political decisions. I believe--and I hope that many other people believe--that political decisions are for elected political leaders and elected parliaments, and not for appointed functionaries.