Memorandum submitted by the Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats have argued for the institutions
of the European Union to be more open, democratic, and accountable.
We start from the belief that political structures
should be built from the bottom up, not the top down, and that
sovereignty should rest with the people. We recognise that conformity
can quickly become the enemy of diversity, and that the imposition
of social blueprints leads to authoritarian, centralised government.
Our approach may be summed up with this simple
statement: local where possible, national where necessary, European
The EU must have the resources and powers to
act in areas where problems cannot be solved at a national level.
But it should stay clear when European action is not necessary.
Power should be exercised at the lowest practical level. We are
as anxious to see any unnecessary powers devolved from Brussels,
as we are to see decentralisation from Westminster to the nations
and regions of the UK.
Liberal Democrats have argued that in order
to achieve the goal of a successful and legitimate Europea
stable and wider Europethe Union must be based on a constitutional
system that creates a decentralised, democratic and responsive
Europe. That means that structures must be clear and open, with
powers more clearly delineated, and exercised as close to the
people as possible.
It is also important to remember that the EU's
Member States are Nation States, with individual identities and
diverse experiences. All powers that the EU holds have been passed
up by national governments, in accordance with national constitutional
arrangements. Until such a time as a greater European-wide identity
exists in both the social and political spheres, with citizens
possessing identities that go beyond their nation states, European
statehood cannot be a reality as it will appear to have been imposed.
The Irish rejection of Nice is a measure of
the crisis that exists between the EU institutions, the nation
states and ordinary people. The connection between the Union and
its citizens is clearly malfunctioning. Many people do not trust
the EU, as they do not know what powers it really has and they
have no clear conception of where it is heading to.
This is not exclusively a problem created by
a perceived distant and technocratic elite in Brussels, but also
by the paucity of the national debate on all issues European.
A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that only
17 per cent of British citizens have any trust in EU institutions.
British citizens came bottom of the class in virtually every single
category of knowledge about the EU. Almost a third of us said
we know "nothing" or "almost nothing" about
EU policies and institutions. 73 per cent of Britons feel they
have received no information about the single currency at all.
This is a dreadful situation.
EU Member States have recognised that the piecemeal
process of reforming the European Union has raised legitimate
concerns among the people of Europe about the method and objectives
of integration. The Nice Summit agreement that an intergovernmental
conference will be called in 2004 to discuss proposals emanating
from the "Future of Europe Debate" is an important step
Only by being clear and open about its structures
and ambitions can the EU hope to retain the support of the people
of Europe. Only then will people be comfortable with institutions
designed to represent them.
Liberal Democrats have proposed a "Constitution
for Europe" to provide a stable and legitimate framework
in order to reinforce democracy and restore public confidence
in the EU.
We believe that a Constitutional Convention
should be established, composed of representatives from Member
State governments, national parliaments, the European Commission
and European Parliament. It should be charged with drawing up
a "Constitution of the European Union".
A Constitution for Europe would:
Define and limit the powers of EU
institutions ensuring that decisions are made at the most appropriate
Set out the roles, responsibilities
and powers of EU Institutions in relation to Member States;
Set out the rights of individual
citizens, with the Charter of Fundamental Rights at its heart;
Enhance transparency by clarifying
and simplifying European treaties; and
Provide a stable and legitimate framework
for the democratic development of European politics at all levels.
Since the inception of the EU, an ever-greater
burden of tasks, competencies and budgets has been placed on its
institutions, most notably the European Commission, by the EU's
Almost unnoticed, the Commission has been transformed
from its primary role as a policy innovator into an administration
bogged down by executive responsibility for overseeing the spending
of the European Union's pooled budgets. The European Commissionwith
only 23,000 staff, half the size of Birmingham City Councilis
increasingly overstretched, leading to inefficiency and mismanagement
in areas such as overseas development and humanitarian assistance.
In many cases, it often seems that the British
Government is determined to create interpretations of EU directives
which serve to add costs and complexity. The Pratt Report commissioned
by the Meat and Livestock Commission showed that other EU states
are less stringent in their application of meat hygiene directives
than the UK leading to a lack of competitiveness for British meat.
This is an example of the UK "gold plating" regulations
with rules enforced more rigidly and at a greater cost to UK farmers.
"Gold Plating" must end.
The European Parliament's primary purpose is
to operate as a co-legislator with the Council of Ministers. It
also serves to scrutinise the work of the other EU institutions
ensuring that legislation is enacted and budgets spent in the
interests of all citizens of the Union. The Commission's "Work
Programme for 2000" consisted of 12 pages of prose summarising
action in each policy area followed by a 23 page annex which listed,
in almost unreadable fine print, the precise measures proposed.
The annex provided no explanation or justification for each of
the measures proposed. It merely provided the title and target
date for each new initiative. It included 257 new legislative
measures and 246 new non-legislative measures (including "autonomous"
measures adopted by the Commission itself).
To improve scrutiny by the European Parliament,
Liberal Democrats believe that in future, each measure should
be more fully described and justified, not least in terms of subsidiarity
and proportionality. The ability of the European Parliament to
ensure that measures proposed by the Commission meet subsidiarity
and proportionality criteria needs to be enhanced. We believe
that better co-ordination between the European Parliament and
National Parliaments is essential if we are to ensure the greatest
level of parliamentary scrutiny possible to European legislation.
Greater co-operation between "select committees" at
European and national level should be investigated.
With administrative overload in the Commission,
the Council of Ministers is increasingly taking over from the
Commission as the driving force of EU policy making. But, the
Council's working methods remain opaque and result in unaccountable
political trade-offs, poor legislation and diminished transparency.
At the general Election, the Liberal Democrats
made the following proposals on the reform of EU institutions
that may be relevant to the European Scrutiny Committee's inquiry:
Establish a Constitution for the
European Union to define and limit the powers of the EU ensuring
that decisions are made at the most appropriate level. It would
set out the roles, responsibilities and powers of EU institutions
in relation to members states. It would provide a stable and legitimate
framework to reinforce democracy and restore public confidence
in the EU. The Charter of Fundamental Rights should be at the
heart of a Constitution for Europe.
Focus the scope of European Union
action. We need to improve the quality of EU governance. The EU
should focus its policy-making only on those areas for which EU-wide
action is indispensable. This means ensuring that the principle
of subsidiarity is fully respected. Each new EU legislative proposal
should include a justification of why EU action is necessary.
A standing scrutiny committee in the European Parliament should
be established to ensure that EU proposals meet the criteria of
subsidiarity and proportionality.
Make the European Commission more
democratically accountable. The Commission President's "State
of the Union" speech should be accompanied by a detailed
list of proposals, individually justified and explained. The committees
of the European Parliament should be able to cross-examine individual
commissioners on the proposals under their responsibility. The
Commission's annual work programme should be put to a vote by
the European Parliament in plenary session. The European Parliament
should have the power to vet and veto the appointment of each
and every commissioner and, if necessary, sack individual Commissioners.
Make sure that European Union bodies
are more open. All EU institutions should conform to the principles
of freedom of information. The Council of Ministers should meet
in public whenever it discusses legislation and publish a record
of its proceedings. The political leader of the country holding
the Presidency of the European Council should appear before the
plenary session of the European Parliament both before and after
all meetings of the European Council.
Maintain the veto in areas of vital
interest to the UK. We favour the application of majority voting
in the Council where necessary to ensure that the EU functions
effectively. But, we will maintain a veto on the constitution,
defence, own resources, budgetary and tax matters and regulations
on pay and social security.
Improve Westminster's scrutiny of
European legislation and of the activities of UK ministers attending
the Council of Ministers. There should be no substantial initiatives
for European legislation in the Council of Ministers which have
not been scrutinised by the UK Parliament. Ministers, including
the Prime Minister should give evidence before a European Union
Affairs Committee in Westminster prior to European Council meetings
and any significant meeting of ministers.
Increase the transparency of the
European Central Bank. The Board of the Bank should publish its
minutes and votes, following the practice of the Bank of England's
Monetary Policy Committee.
Remove unnecessary regulations and
reduce administrative costs. We support moves to streamline the
role of the EU Commission and to strengthen measures against fraud.
We will push for obligatory regulatory impact assessments on all
new EU proposals with a direct bearing on businesses. We will
also stop the practice of "gold plating" EU regulations,
whereby the UK government unnecessarily adds requirements to minimum
All European countries should comply
fully with EU environmental standards. The Commission should receive
the resources to ensure compliance. We will support the initiative
started at the Cardiff summit to integrate environmental objectives
into all EU activities.
2 October 2001