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Ms Stuart: I accept the hon. Gentleman's comment that televising the Council of Ministers is only one step. Does he accept that the fact that national Parliaments will know how their Ministers vote, so that, if they do not vote in the anticipated way, they can hold them to account, is a significant step forward?
Mr. Moore: I accept that. In being slightly scornful of the proposal, I do not wish to rubbish it completely. However, the fact that it is being heralded as a great move forward highlights the rather pathetic state of the development of accountability and transparency in the EU.
We are also hearing ideas about team presidencies, on which we are rather short of detail. The Minister has a burgeoning in-tray, but I am sure that he will be hoping to flesh out that proposal as well. Currently, it conjures up only inelegant images of three-legged baton racers, none of whom is quite sure who is in charge at any given moment.
The review of European policy is clearly important for us all at this time. The debate at the convention will be important and I know that many in this House and in another place are trying to follow its proceedings as closely as possible. As a party, the Liberal Democrats are in the process of reviewing our policies in this area, and the Conservatives have even launched a website about the future of Europe. What, then, of the Government? We have seen no White Paper about this major development in Europe; indeed, not even a Green Paper is in prospect. After Laeken, the Government were supposedly committed to launching a great debate about the future of Europe. I suppose we must ask ourselves whether this is it, because there has been very little other evidence of it in the wider country.
Many Euro-barometer polls are used to track attitudes to Europe and many of the related issues. Such a poll has recently exposed the United Kingdom as the least knowledgeable country about the EU and its institutions. Almost a third of United Kingdom respondents said that they knew nothing or almost nothing about EU policies and institutions, and 73 per cent. said that they had received no information about the single currency.
Before this debate, I took the opportunity to review the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to see what it was doing to promote discussion about Europe more widely in the country. One very helpful section states:
The Laeken declaration set out 54 questions under four headings. It mentioned better division of competences between the institutions, Governments and Parliaments of Europe, simplification of instruments, better democracy and transparency and even the evolution of a European constitution. All those aims are worth while, from simplifying the treaties to opening up the Council of Ministers to some form of public scrutiny. The Government were party to the process that set the questions at Laeken, and in any walk of life, helping to set the questions is usually quite handy when one comes to provide the answers. When can we expect the Government's detailed response? Right now, it is not entirely clear where they think they are taking this country. Surely, the onus is on them to lead that debate.
Mr. Walter: I have been listening very closely to the hon. Gentleman. He has been asking what the Government's policy is, but I was rather hoping that we might hear about the Liberal Democrats' policy on the future of Europe.
Mr. Moore: I am sorry, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been paying quite as much attention as he claims. We are in favour of a great deal of the reform agenda that is currently being discussed, and we think that there is a useful and lively debate to be had about that, but we are also in the process of reviewing our policies. I look forward to having a full debate with the hon. Gentleman in due course. Indeed, I respect the fact that, although his party has developed an interesting quietness about this subject in recent months, it claims at least to be willing to enter into the debate.
The single European currency has been launched since we last debated European matters on the Floor of the House. As most of us who support the concept predicted, the world has not ended and the sky has not fallen in. Perhaps that will give the Government confidence that they can now take a lead. Modesty in a politician is rare and modesty of ambition in a political party even more so. The former may be an attractive quality but the latter is certainly not. The Government have a real opportunity to take a lead on many aspects of the European debate, but Liberal Democrat Members would argue that so far they are failing to take it.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): As we have heard, this weekend European Heads of Government will meet in Seville. When they met at Laeken last year, they agreed to the setting up of the convention on the future of Europe. That convention is composed of representatives of national Parliaments from the current 15 members of the EU as well as a further 13 applicant countries, including Turkey. Almost half the convention is therefore composed of people who do not have direct experience of the workings of the EU. Government representatives, Commissioners and members of the European Parliament serve on the convention.
I am privileged to serve on the convention as one of two representatives from the Houses of Parliament. May I reassure the shadow Foreign Secretary that we regard ourselves first and foremost as representatives of both Chambers of the Houses of Parliament? I am also a member of the procedural committee which guides the proceedings of the convention. Our terms of reference are broad, and recommendations are to be made to the intergovernmental conference in 2004. At the end of the second world war, my parents' generation could not have imagined the peaceful progress that has since taken place and the general lack of enmity between the nations and people of this continent. Football matches between Germany and England are serious, but not that serious.
We have lost our way a bit, however. Europe has to take a new direction and needs a new mandate. In considering what it is for, and who does what and why, we could learn from the formation and success of the European Coal and Steel Community. National Governments agreed on the clear objective of bringing together European coal and steel industries. An institution with supranational higher authority was set up with clear responsibilities and accountability for meeting that objective. The institutions of today's EU can be traced back to the ECSC, but too often the supranational institutions of the EU have accrued functions and taken initiatives with no authority but their own inclination to expand. That helped to drain much of the enthusiasm for the EU.
That must be put right. Identifying what we are trying to do is a key priority. We must decide what the appropriate institutions are, whether supranational or national, to achieve that priority, and give them the power to carry out that function but no more, then hold them accountable in an appropriate way. We do not have to start afresh, but must clarify areas where individually and collectively the countries of Europe truly benefit from co-operation and collective agreement. Those objectives are genuine, but they are not all-embracing. In too many areas, Europe has encroached on activities which should be left to the control of individual countries.
The convention is necessary because the world has changed fundamentally from the days when the most important objective appeared to be preventing Germany and France from fighting one another. The cold war, which gave western Europe a clear identity and purpose, is over. Germany is united. So what is the EU for? For many, the answer is no longer about ensuring peace but about providing a European answer to globalisation.
The EU is growing. Having started as six member states, it has grown to 15 and will soon have as many as 25, if not 27 or even 28 states. Changes need to be made simply because some decision-making processes will not work with such a large number of participants. Other changes are necessary because the dynamics of relationships have changed. It is salutary to realise that, after the next wave of planned enlargement, member states will include six large countries and one medium-sized one, accounting for 85 per cent. of the population of the EU and almost 90 per cent. of its gross national product.
What do the institutions do and why? In recent years, some EU institutions have lost their determination to act in the interest and on behalf of the union, and have taken sectoral and national interests into account in a manner which has not been constructive. Confidence has been lost in the Commission, the guardian of the treaties. Rather than focusing on their areas of responsibility and enforcing them, the institutions have sought wider powers. Even now, only 60 per cent, of internal market requirements have been implemented. The European Parliament has started to vote in overtly national blocs. The Council of Ministers has not used qualified majority voting to increase its decision-making powers, but QMV has often been used to build blocking minorities.
Do European citizens know how to make decision makers accountable? A number of them have lost faith in many of the institutions and the way in which they relate to one another. When those citizens go to the ballot box in European elections, they do not feel that they are electing a body that they can hold to account, as they do in national elections. Yet the European Parliament has become immensely important in decision making.
Given that assessment of the challenges that we face, what should the convention achieve, and how? We expect to report in spring or summer next year. For many, the real question is where the government of Europe lies. Some believe that we should aim for a Commission elected by the European Parliament. Others argue strongly that political control must reside with the Council of Ministers. We need to address practical questions, such as whether the six-monthly rotating presidency is
Those questions are extremely valid and important, but there is a danger that we may make a big mistake in focusing on institutions rather than their functions. Before we even begin to look at who should do what, we must ask what should be done. The convention has set up several working groups to look at some issues in greater detail. I chair a group which was asked to look at the way in which the role of national Parliaments is exercised in the current EU architecture; which national arrangements function best; and whether there is a need to consider new mechanisms or procedures at national or European level. The group will meet for the first time next week, and we hope to report in October or early November. I do not want to pre-empt its conclusions, but I shall draw the attention of the House to one area that we will consider in detailthe scrutiny of European legislation.
The House of Commons, compared with the Parliaments of many other European countries, has a proud record of scrutinising EU legislation and proposals. I recommend that Members read the 20th report by the Select Committee on European Scrutiny for the Session 200102; it addresses many of the issues to be tackled by the convention working group. I assure Members that we shall take its observations into account.