Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-23)|
WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2003
MP, JOHN FLETCHER
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
20. It seems to me that you have mentioned it
in this very helpful memorandum, in terms of common efforts to
control communicable diseases.
21. I do not think anybody is floating the idea
that every country has to inoculate everybody against all of the
same things. In the area of a number of the more exotic diseases
and under that banner, however, it would surely make sense, would
A. It would. I was thinking that, for instance,
a European competence on MMR is not something we would want to
get into. However, in terms of communicable diseases, as you rightly
remind us, vaccination is part of that agenda.
22. Minister, I wonder if I could take you to
your intervention? We only had sight of it this morning, so I
apologise if we have not all come immediately up to speed on it.
Could I first talk about the part where you say, in the third
paragraph, "The group was unanimous that we can only ensure
a Europe with social justice for all if we promote employability;
if we are adaptable and flexible". My question is where you
go on to say, "We do not want to go the route of the United
States with its poor social standards, weak communities and high
levels of poverty". Could you explain to us why the European
Community always seemingly uses the US as a benchmark?
A. I think they use the US as a benchmark in
terms of competitiveness and productivity. It undoubtedly has
higher levels of productivity and is more competitive in pretty
well every respect. Europe has a tendency to look at itself in
a rather inward way, saying, "We need to consider policies
that affect the Single Market", and so on. Actually, Europe
exists in a very competitive global situation and Europe is not
competitive enough against America or against the Far East, and
certainly not against China. I think that is the kind of benchmarkon
economic productivity and competitiveness grounds, not on social
standards grounds. I refer, as you quote, to the very poor social
standards that there are in the USA, which are causing enormous
problems to their own social cohesion.
23. If we move to the area of QMV, in the fifth
paragraph you say, "And the truth is that unanimity has not
prevented Europe from adopting key social legislation". I
wondered if you had any examples you were able to give us of that.
A. Yes. For example, social security legislation,
regulation 1408/71, which facilitates the free movement of workers.
There was quite a lot of argument in the working group by those
advocating more QMV that it would enable easier handling of cross-border
issues, but there is an example of a cross-border issue which
has been handled quite adequately under unanimity. What concerns
us about extensions of unanimity is that we would start to get
into areas which, frankly, are a matter of national exclusivity.
For instance, we could see it straying into social security and
tax policy. I used the instance of the pension credit, which the
Government is due to introduce in October. At the moment, pensioners
can relocate to the Costa del Sol and draw their state retirement
pension. There is actually a ruling somewhere which allows them
to draw their winter heating allowance as wellwhich I am
not sure you need on the Costa del Sol! At any rate, as a specific
entitlement, that is what happens. The pension credit, however,
is an integration of social security with the tax system. You
could therefore get something like cross-border mobility on pensions,
which is there anyway. If you started introducing QMV, people
might want to take it further; then they would get into our tax
system. That is one of the reasons why we are opposed to it. We
think that the system has worked very well so far. The European
Council could decide by unanimity to extend QMV, as was decided
at Nice, in a number of areas. It could decide to do that in the
future, if it thinks that there are obstacles in the way of good
progress on other issues.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Minister. I
do not think that there are any other members who wish to speak
in this particular policy area.