Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 93 - 99)




  93. Commissioner, thank you very much, and welcome. It is very good to see you again. I was recalling with my clerk when we first took evidence from you, and I can remember taking evidence from you some years ago when we were in Brussels, I may be the only one present who was at that evidence session. We found it very interesting then and it would certainly be equally, if not more so, interesting now. Can I ask the first question, how optimistic are you that the `disconnection' with citizens and the European institutions can be remedied? Which do you regard as the crucial aspects of the Laeken Declaration in that respect?

  (Commissioner Barnier) I will address you in French through my interpreter, if I may. I am just doing my little bit to defend cultural diversity in Europe. I must admit it is probably easier for me and for you if I speak in French. Mr Chairman, I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet your Committee once again. We in the Commission attach great importance, and I personally attach great importance to dialogue with national parliaments. I never forget when I myself was a member of the French Parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, for 22 years. Laeken is quite a new method when it comes to reforming the institutions and the workings of the European institutions, it shows that heads of state have come to the realisation that the traditional approach was no longer a workable one. For the first time in 50 years Laeken was the genuine start of an open European debate and at the same time a very puralistic debate which involved national parliaments, the European Parliament, Commission, the heads of state and of Government of course, last, but not least, civil society, which will also play an important role. The first thing to say is that the Convention which will follow Laeken will not make decisions, it will simply make proposals that will be put to the heads of state or Government, hopefully workable proposals, which they will then act on, or otherwise, as the case may be. Before actually deciding on the institutional tools we need for the job we need to decide what we want to do, and that will be something I will be looking into also with my colleagues, Mr Vitorino, who you will be meeting tomorrow, and we need to decide, first of all, what to expect of Europe and what we expect to do. This is, perhaps, the first time since Maastricht we have been able to discuss and to look into institutional issues in a wider, political perspective, and I think that is very important. It is all very well fiddling round with the bits and pieces of the engine but if are you taking 12 new passengers on board in the very near future you need to know first and foremost where you want to go before you begin adjusting the motor.

Roger Casale

  94. When you were the European Minister of France you launched a national dialogue for Europe—
  (Commissioner Barnier) A long time ago.

  95.—with the help of the commissioner, now you work as a Commission how do you see this kind of dialogue, perhaps not just in France but across the European Member States? How can such a dialogue with civil society be set up and how can it be sustained over a period of time? Is this not the most important challenge, really, for the Convention and for us as Europeans to address?
  (Commissioner Barnier) First and foremost I would say I have always been happy to talk with European citizens right across Europe, and I certainly make no exception for British citizens in that. I was in London, in Edinburgh, and I also met Denis Skinner. I have some very happy memories of that meeting with Mr Skinner! When I was a minister in France on one occasion we organised a 30 week public debate programme, a very active, wide-ranging debate across all of France and across the regions in some of the overseas territories and this was a very open and interesting debate and what it showed in particular is that our citizens in many case are more interested in Europe, and in some respects more ambitious, than we politicians. This is a concern, an awareness I brought with me to Brussels when I became a Commissioner here. I think the key point here is that we have to work with citizens and not just for citizens and on their behalf. Citizens are concerned about Europe but they are fundamentally in favour and we want to work with them and not work over their heads.

Miss McIntosh

  96. Commissioner, one of the difficulties at the moment is that the national parliaments do not feel they are given sufficient time to consider the draft texts of the proposals. COSAC did suggest a 15 day period between COREPER agreeing the text and the text going to Council? Would you envisage—and I believe it would helpful to all concerned, because the national parliaments are closer to the people of Europe, the electors, than the commissioners or members of the European community—that it will be possible to build more time into the legislative process to allow consideration of the draft text?
  (Commissioner Barnier) I wonder if your question is not addressed more to the Council than to the Commission? I am certainly not against that idea in principle. If others share the same view I would certainly pass that on to the powers that be. The only other consideration one has to bear in mind is would it not add extra delays into the system, delaying what is already a long and complicated process. Later on if you have any questions I would like to come back to the issue of national parliaments and their role.

  97. It is our impression from where we sit that it is the Commission who is trying to put pressure on, to speed up decision-making. If I give you an example, the Equal Treatment Directive in 2000 was agreed at the last minute, whether the pressure was from the Commission or the Council, but it excluded the national parliaments from the final input, so you will see the problem we have?
  (Commissioner Barnier) I will certainly check up on that point you raised. My experience as Minister for European Affairs in France is that the Commission does not really put too much pressure in that respect and does try to move this forward in a timely fashion. I would just say in defence of the work of the Commission, some of initiatives have taken a very long time, the Taxation Directive took 15 years, European Enterprise took 20 years and in my particular field of responsibility, Regional Policy, introducing new legislation takes around three years, so I do not think you could say we are putting too much time pressure on it.

  98. How fast will the fast-track procedures in the White Paper be for reviewing and simplifying EU legislation? What timetable does the White Paper envisage?
  (Commissioner Barnier) That is one relatively small aspect of the great debate on Europe, I do not think there is any hard and fast time frame on that.

  99. Perhaps you could consider the timetable now?
  (Commissioner Barnier) Point taken. It is the first mention I have heard of this for two years, to be quite honest, so my trip here has not been in vain!

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