|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Commission, in its paper, referred to the system of rotation institutionalised in the treaty while respecting the strict equality between the member states. So everybody may find themselves being rotated. The size of the Commission and the weighting of votes, as the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, indicated, are both highly political matters. In part, they are the way in which member states sell the Community to their public. That applies particularly to the candidate
Even if we remain at one Commissioner per country, there are real problems, which were addressed particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Tomlinson, in relation to the possible arrangements of the hierarchy--increase in the number of vice-presidents--which the Government, in their reply to the Commission, suggested that they might be willing to accept. Indeed, they put that forward in March. But it may produce more problems than it solves, as the recent issue of European Voice indicates.
Some other considerations apply to weighted votes. There can be a loss of face if one's proportion of votes is decreased. My recollection is that at Amsterdam it was the fact that Belgium was no longer going to have equality with the Netherlands which brought the negotiations to a stop. Member states want to be sure that they have a sufficient say in the decision-making process. The key question, of course, is whether the IGC goes for a re-weighting or for a system of dual majorities, as argued by the committee. The committee favours the dual system. I have some sympathy for the position which the Government put forward in their response.
I have a feeling that the dual system tends to be rather cumbersome and not necessarily very transparent; it is quite difficult to explain to voters. I was therefore interested to read recently that, when the Commission tested the two main proposals--that is, a direct re-weighting or, alternatively, a double majority system--in relation to the decisions which had actually been made in the three years of legislation before Amsterdam, it was found that, whichever mechanism had been used, not one decision would have been different. I believe that such empirical testing is at least of interest, although perhaps people might have voted differently if different voting systems had been in place. However, if one analyses decisions within the EU one finds that decision making is rarely, if at all a battle between larger and smaller member states. People line up on rather different issues.
Perhaps the most difficult and important issue, particularly for this country, is qualified majority voting. It is worth recalling that the United Kingdom was not the most reluctant about qualified majority voting at the time of the Amsterdam negotiations.
However, I do not believe that that will be enough. I believe that even the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, might be prepared to see the arguments for moving to qualified majority voting on environmental matters, for which he made such an eloquent plea in his important intervention. The same could probably be said for the common commercial policy, without getting into the area of greater sensitivity referred to as the "ring fence" of Her Majesty's Government; visas, immigration and other Schengen-type matters, social policy or taxation.
As regards qualified majority voting, there is something of an irrational fear in this country. Again, it is worth looking at the evidence. It is interesting to know that, of the four largest members states in the EU, the UK finds itself in a minority on issues decided by qualified majority voting less frequently than any of the others. Perhaps the Foreign Office has done some detailed work on that and the Minister will be able to refer to it.
We on these Benches agree with the committee that co-decision by the Parliament should follow the shift of decision making in the Council, as referred to in paragraph 88 of the committee's report. On that matter, we do not share the view expressed by the Government in their reply.
As regards flexibility, I have more sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howe, about the risks of rhetoric rather than reality than with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shore, who on this occasion did not seem to suffer from the English vice of understatement. I am always puzzled by calls for more flexibility because so little has been done to make use of the opportunities which already exist in the treaties. I should be more interested in people calling for it if people had used what they had. Therefore, I should want to examine more carefully the issue of the emergency break but I am worried about the risks of one country being able to block what is clearly in the interest of another, as Greece was able to do for a significant period over the recognition of Macedonia.
In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the speech which we understand the Prime Minister will make next week in Warsaw, and in particular to the suggestion that there might be a second chamber for the European Parliament. For one who has recently arrived in your Lordships' Chamber, it might be though inappropriate to be opposed in principle to a second chamber. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I believe that the United Kingdom Parliament ought to be consulted before such a proposal is formally made. At this stage, I, like others, see many objections, but in view of the time I will not elaborate on them today.
I should have liked to refer the noble Lord, Lord Owen, to paragraph 26 of the committee's report, which he may not have been able to see. However, as he is no longer in the Chamber I shall follow the conventions of the House.
Finally, I turn to the question of a further IGC which I broached at the beginning of my remarks. Since the informal meeting of foreign ministers at Evian, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the statements by Chancellor Schro der and Prime Minister Amato, the issue of a second IGC has come to the fore. It is a tempting prospect. There are many on these Benches who would support the views put forward so effectively by Simon Murphy MEP, who spoke so eloquently at Brighton at the conference of the party opposite. He called for the opening of a debate on a written constitution. I assure noble Lords that I shall not open that debate here today.
I believe that the Government must undertake a careful analysis of the costs as well as the benefits of another early IGC. If there was a prospect of a further IGC before enlargement there might be leftovers from Nice, as there were leftovers from Amsterdam. Would the candidates be involved? We remember the effects of decisions on fishing made just before the United Kingdom came into the European Union in 1973. I believe that there should be further reflection on these issues, but ratification of the first group of accession treaties should be completed before the substantial negotiations on a future IGC are undertaken.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to this debate today. That is not surprising considering the immense experience, knowledge and skill of those who have participated in the debate. Almost all of the participants have at one time or another played a part in the great issues under discussion. It is a pity that it is all being tucked away on a Friday. That is the inevitable outcome of the Government's business timetable. It probably means that there has not been much media interest in what is really the central issue of our times and this country's future.
As everyone has recognised, the report is excellent and makes good reading, as one would assume, since it was produced with the guidance and skill of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I had the honour of being a member of the committee at the beginning of this inquiry, so I can assert--I shall probably be contradicted--that the early stages were excellent. I greatly enjoyed serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord.
The subject of the report is precise and sensibly focused; indeed, it was the intention that the IGC should be narrowly focused. The whole argument was that the IGC would focus on the issues left over from Amsterdam--the Amsterdam triangle--push through the work according to a tight schedule, produce a new treaty and then enlargement could roll forward. That is the scene which the report perfectly sensibly
Although it is important that the IGC should be signed, sealed and produce results, its momentum has been blurred and slowed and other things have got in the way. In setting out some of the diversionary, distracting issues that create real questions as to whether the IGC will deliver on time, or, if it does, whether its results will help enlargement, I should like to hear how the Government intend to tackle these matters. No longer do we want to hear that there are no wider problems and it is a matter of minor adjustment with the screwdriver and everything will roll forward. The position is that a profound debate is going on throughout Europe, even within applicant countries, about the future shape of Europe and its stance.
Although a parallel debate can go on, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, rightly said, the truth is that it is a bit like saying that there is a need to adjust the engine of a motor vehicle while it is in motion. That is very tricky. One needs to put the motor vehicle into a garage before one can do anything of even a minor nature. Therefore, to proceed with an IGC which touches on issues that are part of an enormous new swirling debate is bound to be difficult. I hope that the noble Baroness will reveal to us that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which earlier appeared to try to suppress debate in this country, despite the noise and din coming from every corner on the future of Europe, has now woken up to this and is producing some new ideas. We hear one or two new ideas like a senate, an upper House or a second-tier Parliament on top of the European Parliament. I do not think that that will work, but at least that is an idea coming from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We have rightly avoided a post-mortem on the events yesterday in Denmark. I do not intend to depart from that trend now. If there is an obvious message from the result yesterday, it is that Europe works best when it lets countries decide their own affairs. If a country departs too much from that, rejection for this or that scheme--in this case joining the euro--is bound to result.
Running through this debate has been the enormous question that the Select Committee addresses. Of course it means dozens of different things. As the committee says, in a sense it is a state of mind. There is plenty of room in existing treaties for flexibility, with different groups doing different things. We have that now. I do not feel too strongly that that is a vast new issue. Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear--this again muddies the waters of the IGC--that different groups of countries will push ahead--or along, not always ahead--in different ways. We should not lose too much sleep about that.
In the middle of the IGC in Berlin there was the potential torpedo by the President of France when he said that there should be a completely separate secretariat and another agenda with a different schedule which would rush towards greater
The Europe of the future will get all its dynamism from greater diversity and from greater variations and within the overall framework of the European Union itself. There are plenty of visions of Europe other than more integration and there are plenty of other ways of moving Europe forward other than pushing Governments, and possibly unwilling peoples, more and more together. The more readily the rulers of Europe understand that Europe is a vast diversity of countries about to increase the better. There is a Europe of Poland and Sweden, a central Europe of the Czech Republic and Hungary, a Europe of the Iberian Peninsula and a Europe of the Nordic countries. All these Europes can and should be allowed to work together or not work together in various ways in a multi-patterned mosaic. Any group that says, "No, we are the real Europe. We are the ones that are ahead and the rest of you are dragging behind", is making arrogant assumptions about its own plans, which may well come apart. There are other visions of Europe.
That is the difficulty which has blurred the IGC operation and made it difficult to be sure that these neat conclusions will stay in their boxes and all be delivered on time. The second problem that has dogged the whole situation, and it is woven into one of the key IGC issues, is the Commission. The IGC is concerned with what kind of Commission there should be in an enlarged community. We have discussed that in detail this afternoon. The Select Committee evidence also shows that the present Commission is in disarray. It is having great difficulty in carrying out its remit. We know the Commission is in disarray. We know that the Kinnock reforms, which were designed to try to help some of the worse excesses, have become bogged down.
Despite the fact that the Commission cannot perform its existing tasks efficiently, it is nevertheless in a mood of expansionism on almost every front. It is moving more and more into foreign policy. A training school for Commission diplomats is now being set up as part of the Commission's foray into that area. It is moving further and further into defence, even though the EU was intended to be a civil power and not a military power. As the noble Lord, Lord Owen, rightly reminded us, it is, by a side door and by headline arrangements to match the military arrangements, moving more and more into the defence area. But at every point it has to stop and admit that it does not
If one looks at the overseas aid programme, we have the candid and robust remarks of Clare Short that it is a grossly inefficient programme. In fact, she has had even stronger words for it in subsequent years. It is proof that the Commission is not suited to running and delivering the kind of aid and development programmes which the separate nation states, although co-ordinated, were able run and deliver in a much better way. I agree with the Select Committee when it says on page 15 of its report that reform of the Commission is urgently needed. I shall not go into the question of whether we move to one Commissioner for every one of the 20 or 30 countries which may join.
I turn to the problem of enlargement, back to which the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, brought us with a sharp jolt. The whole enlargement programme, which is what the IGC is supposed to be helping, is faltering. If one talks to the more and more depressed experts in Budapest or Warsaw, they will say that they now fear that the whole programme will drift into Never Never Land. They have begun to see that there is no momentum behind resolving the difficult political issues and bringing great countries like Poland or small countries like Estonia into the European Union as proper members. When they heard Commissioner Verheugen say the other day that perhaps there should be a referendum in Germany to decide whether there should be enlargement, that merely confirmed their worst fears.
In a joint article in the Financial Times with the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr Persson, the Prime Minister said how much he wanted enlargement. Everyone makes speeches about it. Perhaps this is a point where, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, the rhetoric and the reality part. Everyone is in principle in favour of enlargement. In practice, nothing is happening. The political will is not there. A feeble Commission is prey to lobby and pressure groups throughout western Europe which are against enlargement because they feel threatened. The whole process is drifting dangerously to the point where some people in Warsaw and elsewhere believe that it will never happen.
There is another distraction. I refer to the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. What is the point of it? I admire the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who is struggling to keep it declaratory and non-binding and to remove the more difficult pieces. However, I have to tell him and the Government that, whether or not it is binding in the end, it is the view of senior judges in this country and supreme court judges in the United States that it will be used vigorously as a basis for judgments by the European Court of Justice and will help to build up a further case for promoting European centralisation against the interests of the diverse Europe we want to see.
My view is that in the network age we shall see continuous treaty-making and continuous amendment of the relationships between the member states--what has been called by Manuel Castells and others "a Europe of continuous bargaining". People may not like it, but we shall see a situation of being permanently in commission--a sitting constitutional conference which will try to weave together the very rapidly changing interests of the countries of Europe in conditions that are totally different from anything in existence when the European Community was founded.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shore, reminded us, the truth is that the real issues of Europe today are far wider than the more technical sounding issues, although on closer examination they turn out not to be technical all. As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, pointed out, they raise vast issues in themselves. The real problems facing Europe are those surrounding how it is to adjust to totally new conditions in a network age. It was born in an age of communism, an age when trade was visible and could be measured in a way that cannot be achieved now, and in an age before globalisation. Furthermore, it was born in an age when the network worldwide web had not even been thought about. Yet all these elements are shaping a completely new social order as well as completely new political and cultural orders. It is into these that the modern European Union must fit.
To do that, Europe will need to abandon many of the shibboleths and presumptions of the past treaties and will require a great deal of new thinking that goes well beyond the present proposed treaty reforms. It is in that process that I should like to think that the intellectual minds of the administration in this country--the Government and all the brains contained within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office--will think up new initiatives and plans to direct the reformed EU in the right direction for the future. I hope that they are doing so; at the moment I have heard very little evidence of it. As a nation, we must play a vigorous part in achieving a Europe that is dragged into the network age and can compete with the other great regions of the earth, thus ensuring the stability and prosperity of all its people.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I thank the House for today's interesting and wide-ranging debate. In particular I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for
Perhaps I may also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I believe that this is the first occasion on which he has spoken from his Front Bench. He has done the House an honour in discharging that duty in a splendid and erudite fashion.
The committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has produced an extremely useful report which has stimulated a great deal of interest among others. I apologise; I wish to refer to the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. Perhaps I was seduced by the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, sits beside him and they are often seen together. The Government welcome the report and thank the committee for its efforts. In particular, we commend it for the beneficial effect on the thinking of a number of noble Lords. That was reflected in the remarks we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and my noble friends Lord Shore of Stepney and Lord Bruce of Donington. It is clear that the erudition of the report has made a lasting impression on many noble Lords.
As is customary with such reports, the Government have already responded formally to each of the recommendations made by the committee. For that reason, I do not intend to do so again today, but perhaps I may attempt to address as many as possible of the issues raised during the course of our debate. I shall turn to specific points in a moment. However, I am sure that the House will not be surprised if I first take the opportunity to restate in more general terms the Government's commitment to this Inter-Governmental Conference.
As the committee's report rightly notes, and as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, rightly reminded us, enlargement is a key issue. The new member states are making considerable efforts to prepare for entry, so it is right that the current 15 member states prepare too. Institutional reform is vital if enlargement is to succeed. That is why we have always welcomed this conference and why we have been engaging actively and positively in the negotiations. The noble Lords, Lord Tordoff, Lord Grenfell, Lord Tomlinson, Lord Shore of Stepney, Lord Harrison, Lord Beaumont, Lord Borrie, and every noble Lord who emphasised this as an important aspect were right to do so.
At this stage, I should like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who painted a rather dismal and gloomy picture of Europe's future, that the IGC has not been blurred; its purpose is clear. As many noble Lords will know, negotiations have been quite intense. I appreciate the committee's concern that progress has been slow, but I should stress that there are still several months of talks to go and, as a result, it is still too early to talk of solutions to individual issues, particularly on
But there are clear signs of progress. As we say in our formal response to the committee, we are particularly pleased at the way that reform of the European courts is coming on. When the IGC began in February, it was not clear that the Court of Justice or the Court of First Instance reform would be discussed at the IGC. But, as the House will recall, the UK singled this out in February as a key issue for the conference to tackle and pushed for its inclusion on the agenda. We are happy that others have agreed. This is one instance, I hope, when the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, will be pleased to see that something suggested on the Floor of the House was picked up and used well.
Our overall aim has not been to solve all the courts' problems but to give them, and where appropriate the Council, the flexibility to improve the way they are run. We have already made significant strides towards achieving this. There is consensus on a number of important points. To single out only one example, we now have agreement on a move to qualified majority voting for any changes to the courts' rules of procedure. Again this has been a key aim for the Government, and I was glad to see that it is one the committee agreed with in its report, as has been mentioned.
As the committee notes, on other issues we are still some way from final agreement, but two important principles should help us to succeed. First, the clear commitment to end the IGC in December. This is vital if we are to be ready for the accession of the first new member states and is something which I believe all member states support. Secondly, the fact that the agenda remains focused. The topics we are discussing are still those we identified back in February--that is, the basic Amsterdam issues with just a few additional items: co-decision, reform of the courts, closer co-operation and the composition of the European Parliament and other key Community bodies. Those are all areas that we should be looking at as enlargement approaches.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page