Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 160 - 180)




  160. Do you support Mr Lamassoure's proposal for a clearer definition of subsidiarity and enforcement of the principle by a constitutional court?
  (Mr Hänsch) I am reluctant, I am not opposed to a clearer definition of subsidiarity, but in my opinion subsidiarity is not a juridical item, it is a political one. In the end you cannot tell people or tell the governments who decided on a European level that this was not possible because of the principle of subsidiarity. No, subsidiarity has to be respected by politicians, that is government, the Commission and Parliament itself. I do not think we can do it or can make out of it a juridical question, it is a political one and an important one.

Jim Dobbin

  161. Voters are becoming more and more disenchanted with politics and politicians, that goes for national parliaments, and more so probably for the European Parliament. How do you feel we could make the Parliament itself more relevant to the voter?
  (Mr Hänsch) Clearly by giving the European Parliament the full right of co-decision on all legislative acts of the Union. I underline legislative acts of the Union. The majority in the European Parliament, the qualified majority in the Council, all legislative acts at European Union level have to pass the Parliament in co-decision and this makes it relevant for people, more relevant than today. The other point is the election of the President of the Commission, by the Parliament which is in a way a contribution to personalise the institution of the Union. One of most relevant criticisms of the Union is that the Union is presenting itself with institutions while nobody really can understand what an institution is. Politics have to be represented by persons. There is a political lack in the Union if you come to a more personalisation of European politics we will interest more people.

Mr David

  162. Can I also say, Klaus, it is nice to see you again. You speak with such clarity and forcefulness just as you did when you were an excellent President of the European Parliament. My question is about the role of the regions. It has been suggested that those regional authorities with legislative powers should have special "Partners of the Union" status. I would like your views on that. Also, how do you think that regions may have views articulated in the Convention when they are not represented. The Committee of the Regions has no representation as such in the Convention? How is their voice going to be heard?
  (Mr Hänsch) The Committee of the Regions is represented by observers in the Convention. I think the regions have no reason to complain on that, that is the first point. The second point is, as a German I like giving the regions a more important role in the framework of European decision-making processes but the internal structures of our member states are different due to their history, to their ethnic situation, and so on. The European Union should refrain from organising those things or making proposals. I think it is a decision of member states how they are structured and it should remain a decision of member states. There are centralised member states France, Greece or Portugal. There are others who have a certain federal structure such as Belgium, Germany or Austria, and so on, so when you are talking about regions we are not talking about the same. When you look to the United Kingdom to Austria or Portugal or Sweden and so on, it is always different, it will remain different and this makes it difficult. I think presentation in the Committee of Regions is a good instrument but I do not think that much more can be done.

Mr Casale

  163. I wonder if you could say a little bit more about how you see the relationship between the European Parliament and national parliaments? It seems to me that the European Parliament by itself cannot restore the link between the European citizen and the European decision-makers but the role of national parliaments, in particular committees such as ours, is very important in terms of reinforcing that connection between the citizens and the European decision-making processes. With the Napolitano Report there is a suggestion of creating constituent power so we talk not just about the Commission, the Council and European Parliament but the four elements, the European Parliament, the Commission, the European Council and national parliaments as well. I wonder what you can say to us about the Napolitano Report and your impression of that, also the prospects of bringing national parliaments into play in the future through the Convention?
  (Mr Hänsch) Let me put it a little different from the Napolitano Report. The first thing is no there is competition between the European Parliament and the national parliaments on influence in the Union or on the relevance to the people, and so on. I think this is wrong structurally and it is wrong by intentionally because both have a role to play in European policy. I see a clear division of roles between the European Parliament and the national parliaments. It is quite clear that the European Parliament has a role to scrutinise the Commission and to have its say in co-decision on the decision of European regulations and directives, that is to say the day-to-day legislation in the Union. That is the task of the European Parliament. The national parliamentarians have to control the European policy of their own government. They are elected to decide on the fundamental decisions of the European Union. All things which have to be ratified by national parliaments such as the financing of the Union, all of the things which form the general orientation of the Union, that is the task of the member states' parliaments. It is quite clear there is a place for both. What we need in addition to that is better information on what is going on in the European Parliament and what is going on in the national parliaments and maybe COSAC can play a more important role in that. You did not ask this, but what I am opposed to is creating a new institution on a European level by a sort of parliament of delegates of national parliaments, I think that would be a mistake, it would not contribute to more transparency in the Union.


  164. Are you against a second chamber?
  (Mr Hänsch) Yes.

  165. So am I.
  (Mr Hänsch) Excuse me, if I might add, a lot of people think the German Bundesrat is a second chamber, it is not formally a second chamber because there are no senators or directly elected people, there are representatives of the ländér governments and only the ländér governments. This is formally not a second chamber. It has an important role to play in a framework where you have different member states. So the Council is not a second chamber and a chamber or delegation of the national parliaments is not necessary.

Mr Davis

  166. As a member of the Praesidium do you think then there should be votes in the Praesidium and the Convention, and that the way people vote should be recorded so that it is publicly available?
  (Mr Hänsch) There is no decision in the Praesidium till now as to how we will proceed. There is a tendency, and the tendency is that we have avoided voting in the Praesidium in any way and in the Convention also. How will you count the votes? There are 16 members of the European Parliament, there are 30, or so, of the national parliaments, there are representatives of governments, there are two commissioners, and so on, and so on, how will you count the votes? By components of the Convention, by hats or what. That is the first difficulty. The second difficulty is that we have to try to come to a consensus in the end which does not mean unanimity but a broad support for what should be the proposal of the Convention. If you permanently vote on this or that question you create losers and winners and this would be a mistake in view of the final consensus we need. I think that the experience of the Fundamental Rights Convention gives us some advice. They voted only once or twice and I have been told the result was once or twice a chaos, but in the end they had a result, in end they had a broad consensus on the Charter of Fundamental Rights. We should not exclude votes, but we should avoid them.

  167. I did not ask about the tendency of thinking in the Praesidium. I asked what you thought.
  (Mr Hänsch) I told you what I think.

  168. Is that your view? I was asking for your own opinion?
  (Mr Hänsch) As a member in the Praesidium I try to influence them.

  169. How do you establish consensus if you do not take a vote?
  (Mr Hänsch) By listening, by proposing, and by listening again.

  170. Can I press you a bit on that. Who does that listening and proposing? Who has the responsibility? Is it the Praesidium of the Convention or the whole Convention?
  (Mr Hänsch) Responsibility for?

  171. Deciding what the consensus is, responsible for listening and deciding.
  (Mr Hänsch) I think it will be the Praesidium. If the Praesidium feels that there is no longer any relevant protest against a proposal. In practice we all know how it works. I do not think in all situations you will come to a decision by a vote. You all have a certain ability to bring opposite views which have been expressed in the end together in a clear proposal. It depends a little bit on the ability of the President and of the Praesidium to conclude correctly what have been the main ideas and main tendencies in the Convention.

Mr Hendrick

  172. On this point I totally agree with what Klaus is saying in terms of getting a consensus. Is it not also the case you want to come up with options for solutions in the future rather than just come to one consensus?
  (Mr Hänsch) Maybe in the future we will come to a situation where we vote on certain options.

  173. You give options as a result of a meeting?
  (Mr Hänsch) I am opposed to a Convention finishing its work by presenting alternative options to the public or to the inter-governmental conference, because then you will have a situation where the public does not know what the Convention really wants to do and the governments will do what they want. This is not the task of the Convention. We have to propose a unique, clear and coherent draft for the coming Inter-Governmental Conference and then they may decide, of course. Coming with options where the public is discussing what is the most, should I say, anti-European option, or about what is the most European option what is necessary is to have a proposal which brings things together, not dividing things.

  174. What you are giving to the government and to the public is not a debate, you are giving one solution on a take it or leave it basis?
  (Mr Hänsch) Pardon?

  175. If you come up with one solution and you give it to the government and the people of Europe and say, "This is our solution on the future of Europe", there will not be a debate amongst the people and there will not be a debate amongst the government.
  (Mr Hänsch) Even after the consensus of the Charter of Fundamental Rights there was a debate. That is the first point. The second point is, of course, if you come to a consensus, a broad consensus then the representatives of government are, to a certain extent, in it because otherwise we cannot have a consensus. I agree, you are limiting the influence of the public debate afterwards. But if we do not act like this why was it necessary to have a Convention?

  176. Are you saying everyone is represented anyway?
  (Mr Hänsch) You could leave this to the government, you will have a Finnish, a German, a British or whatever proposal and these are all options and the Convention is to find a way and a proposal which meets most of the ideas of reform of the Union which are given to the public. We will not invent a new thing, it will not be a new Union, but, I hope, a better Union.

Angus Robertson

  177. What proposals do you hope the Praesidium or the Convention will adopt which will take what has been discussed in the Convention in Brussels to the public regularly?
  (Mr Hänsch) We will have to have a debate on how to involve the public in the work of the Convention in the second meeting of the Convention and this will be an important item of the second meeting. A general idea of mine and some other members of the Praesidium is to propose that we have public hearings and debates with governmental organisation of all orders in Brussels, not exclusively in Brussels, that is necessary but not sufficient. We need, I think, also public debates, hearings, in the capitals of the member states with national organisations where we should organise not only by the Convention but also by national parliaments because I am sure you have an impact on public opinion. We need to have it in all our member states', capitals, wherever you want to meet, not all of the whole Convention, but two or three people of the Praesidium and some people of the Convention will come to London or Stockholm or wherever and have an intense debate or more than one intense debate on the issues of the Convention.

Mr Cash

  178. Can I ask a quick question, looking at full list of members of the Convention I will be very surprised—I know a lot of individuals concerned—if there are more than three people in the entire Convention who have any serious doubts about the whole concept of a European government and what the future of the Europe debate is about. How can you have a proper debate when there are only Jans-Peter Bonde, Heathcoat-Amory and another in this Committee? There is a strong tendency against the sort of views I hold, but that is not the point, I want to know how you can have that?
  (Mr Hänsch) I have not to scrutinise national parliaments, they decide on their representatives in the Convention.

  179. The Convention takes on a life of its own, it presumes to be able to deal with procedures, as yet undisclosed. We had the Assizes of 10 years ago—you may have been on those yourself—it was complete farce.
  (Mr Hänsch) It is a Convention to reform the Union, to make out of it a better Union, not to destroy it. I think national parliaments who had the decision on whom they sent to the Convention made their decision in their heads. And the European Parliament was the Parliament who dared to send it two of its anti-European to the convention which the larger pro-European groups, the PPE and the Socialists gave away one of their seats. It was our decision to do that.

Mr Casale

  180. The Convention itself, I believe, was something proposed by the European Parliament, from within the European Parliament. It is going to have to experiment in some ways if it is to be a successful experiment and I think, in a sense, what is very promising is that it brings those four institutions together, the national parliaments, the European Parliaments, the Council and the Commission and, perhaps, not in a chamber but into a kind of constituent assembly. If that experiment is successful would you like to see it continued, it would almost be a kind of new institution?
  (Mr Hänsch) If the procedure and the Convention is successful I think it will be an example for further treaty changes, a good example. There is already the role of national parliaments in the Convention: so that is what we and what you want to have, a broader role of Parliamentarians in European affairs, a contribution to that. I think if it is a success we will continue that experience.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. We have overrun the time. I am sorry to have kept you longer, it is because we found the exchange most interesting. It is always a good sign if we run over. We really appreciate you coming along and I am sure we will find your opinions and information and responses to our questions helpful when we prepare our report. Thank you.

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