Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 258 - 279)




  258. Mr Dehaene, welcome. We are delighted you were able to come along. I wonder if I can ask you: How do you plan to to carry out your task of organising dialogue between the Convention and civil society? In particular, how will you seek to obtain views from ordinary people as opposed to people who are already interested in European Union matters?

  (Mr Dehaene) I think that the so-called civil forum, like the declaration of Laeken calls it, has to take several dimensions. The first dimension is that we should use the means of communication, of information of this century, and that we have on the net a large possibility for everybody who wants to introduce ideas and proposals. It will be up to the Convention to organise things so that they can distill and try to see what the common elements and common lines are, and that way individual as well as group contributions to the web can be introduced in the Convention discussions. Secondly, I think that there is an important element of feedback to national discussions, and that all the members of the Convention to start with, to representatives of national parliaments and representatives of national governments, to organise at national level—and that can mean also at regional level—a debate, so that they can hear what the people and the organisations in the national framework think. They also can have feedback to ideas that are discussed in the Convention, so that it will not be a momentum but you have that kind of feedback during the whole Convention, and each member of the Convention has an important role to play in that. Thirdly, there is then in the Convention, the social part, the Economic and Social Committee, who has observers. These observers also have an important responsibility—and we will tell them so—of feedback. For instance, the members of the Economic and Social Committee are all members of national organisations. The social and economic organisations who are represented on the Economic and Social Committee, they too should make the feedback to their national socio-economic organisations. We will try then to mobilise also the media, so that they open their columns for contributions out of the different Member States. Finally, we will also try to have the anchorage at European level, organised through EGs, to regroup and self-organise themselves so that they can follow the work of the Convention and give impetus to the work of the Convention, and we accept the role so that we will make a bridge from two or three members of the Praesidium to have contact with them and so on. So we try to have a very diverse way of possibilities for civil society to have a contribution to the Convention and it will be at the Convention to see how we integrate it in our work.

  259. To what extent do you regard this dialogue as the responsibility of Member States and national institutions? Are there ways in which the Convention and its offices can assist Member States in this?
  (Mr Dehaene) Like I said, I consider that, indeed, the national states have a responsibility to organise that national debate and members designated by national parliament, but also the European Members of Parliament, each in their country of origin, must consider it as their responsibility to organise that national debate. I know that different Member States as well as candidate Member States have already organised such a debate before the Convention, others are organising it from the beginning of the Convention, and I hope that there will be a kind of benchmarking and exchange of experience and of ideas within the Convention between the different Member States so that they can learn one from another.

Roger Casale

  260. I am very interested in this dialogue with civil society. I hope that it will take place in the UK and I believe that national parliamentarians will have a very important responsibility in Britain in promoting that. Can I ask you a little bit about what underlies your own thinking about this dialogue with civil society in the context of the Convention, because traditionally the European construction has been based on treaties between contracting nation states, but I have always seen the European construction as also a kind of social contract which brings together the different individuals and the groups and organisations within civil society. I think this has been very neglected in the European construction up to now and this Convention and the dialogue with civil society is perhaps an important new departure. If it is a successful experiment, do you see it as something that might become a permanent feature of the European construction, something that would perhaps be put on a more permanent footing?
  (Mr Dehaene) I am not tempted to take conclusions before I see that can produce something, so let's first have the work in the Convention. My approach is that with the challenge we are confronted with now, the classic method of IGC has not been successful to produce what we need, so, to be very frank, my analysis is that enlargement will take place and will take place on the basis of Nice, but if you have no prospective of something more than Nice it will enter a big crisis because it will not work. That is the responsibility now. And, as I say, after two failures of IGC, the conclusion of the European Council was, "Well, we have to try another method." Indeed, the last time that there was a important qualitative jump at European level was in Maastricht, but Maastricht was well prepared by the group of the law with the bank directors and so on. What we are looking at here is to have a larger debate than is apparently possible in the classical IGC, where diplomats and so on are at the front line, to have that larger debate, and let's say that, principally on the impulse of the European Parliament, the relative success of the previous Convention was one of the arguments to say, "Let's try the method of the Convention." I think it is worthwhile to try, but at the same time I have also a warning sign that the mission of the previous Convention and that of this Convention is totally different. One of the reasons the former Convention had success was that they had a clear mandate (namely, made of codification of existing rights in the treaties, so that is really a technical mission) and those who tried in that Convention to define new rights soon were confronted with, "That's not the mandate" The only way the Convention achieved success was to concentrate and limit themselves to the mandate. So today you have a Convention with an open and a very large mandate and the whole question will be: Is such a large group, such a diverse group, is that grouping capable of creating the chemistry to come to a real proposal? When journalists ask me the question, "What do you consider as a failure? What do you consider as a success?" well I always say, "If we come out with a report with hundreds of different possibilities"—something like Mao's "hundred flowers"—"that will be interesting for the library but that will have no influence at all." At the other end is what I call Utopia; Utopia being a Convention of more than a hundred men and women coming out of 25 different states with also European Parliament and European Commission, coming in consensus to a new basic treaty of the union of this century. That would be of big influence of the next IGC. Probably the result will be something between the two. The more it is to my Utopia, the more it will have influence; the more it is to the catalogue, the less it will have influence. So, saying beforehand that that is now the method and we will put that in the treaty, I am a little bit more careful.


  261. What is your view on road shows and the possibility of the Convention looing at other cities?
  (Mr Dehaene) I think the members of the Convention have to be ready and disposable for coming to national meetings and so on. I do not think that it is a good idea to have a road show of the Convention through the Union because that means that if you do not go to each of the 15 members and the 10 potential members you will create more frustration than something else and I do not think that is the best method to work.

Tony Cunningham

  262. There will no doubt be quite a lot of media interest.
  (Mr Dehaene) Certainly in the beginning!

  263. Yes, at the beginning. The problem is, you have said yourself, that it is a very large group, it is a very diverse group, and for the first few months—
  (Mr Dehaene) It will be chaotic!

  264. Yes, it will be chaotic. An attempt will be made to listen. A number of people have said, "For the first six months we will be listening." Out of that large, diverse group will come a huge range of ideas. What ideas do you have to encourage the media to take a serious interest in the role of the Convention and not pick out one or two odd bits that come out of it and say, "The Convention is doing this" or "Europe is doing that" or whatever? Have you any ideas?
  (Mr Dehaene) You think the Convention is something like a Soviet subject? I do not know how we can manage the media. The media are the media and I thought you in Great Britain know something about that?

  265. That is why I have asked the question.
  (Mr Dehaene) Like I said at the beginning, it will be something chaotic and, to start with, that is something the media does not like, because if it is chaotic they have to try to understand and that is the last thing you have to ask of the media. You have to keep your nerve and you have to go through that phase or that stage. The role of the Praesidium will be at certain moments to try to distillate out of that chaos proposals that then can be discussed in the Convention, where the Convention can react to them and so on. On that way, I am a very pragmatic and realistic guy and I have no illusions. The same, I know perfectly for the moment the Praesidium is under enormous pressure to multiply the meetings of the Convention. I know perfectly that we will respond to that, but that after five meetings along will be a hundred, because that is the dynamics of such a thing. So you have to be realistic in that and fight your way. That is also something I learned in the previous Convention, where I was also a member: you have to have enormous flexibility. You cannot have rigid rules of procedures, you have to be very flexible. There are two key elements in the success of a Convention. That is, on the one hand, the chemistry of the members of the Convention. If each member of the Convention comes with a closed mandate and no openness to discuss, the result will be nothing and then the report will be the report of 20 different mandates. If, on the contrary, there is a chemistry in that Convention, that can give unexpected results. That is one element. So giving time—and that is also that first stage—to the members of the Convention to know each other better, to confront their ideas, to have also informal meetings, is a very important element to create that chemistry. The second element that is also essential—because I know nobody of more than one hundred members that ever produced a text; texts are always produced by a smaller group and then tested in the larger group and so on—is to create a confidence between the Praesidium and the Convention. There you have to give time too. In the previous Convention, for instance, the fact that the former President of the Bundesrepublik, Herczog, was known as a great specialist in the fundamental rights that people know the secretariat, the guys with a high know-how on these matters created a confidence in the working. So here, as it is so large, it will be much more difficult, but that is essential. If that does not exist, we will not produce a result that is workable for the IGC afterwards. That brings me to another point: what the influence on the IGC will be, what the timing of the IGC can be. You can say no sensible thing now without knowing the result of the Convention. If the Convention delivers that catalogue I spoke of, then I say, "Wait with that IGC, when that IGC will deliver another catalogue." If the Convention delivers a clear treaty, well, then, work as fast as possible because in the meantime there can be a new discussion so that you cannot see that one forward.

Miss McIntosh

  266. It is a pleasure to have you here to share your views with us, Mr Dehaene. Could I ask what you personally would regard as a successful outcome of the Convention? Do you believe that this should be an opportunity to reach out to civil society, to the people of Europe and give them an opportunity to relate better to Europe? Would you personally look to achieve a written document, a written constitution, if you like, at the end of this—which would not be my desire, just to explain that—or do you believe that the Convention should come forward with a number of options which are then put before the IGC?
  (Mr Dehaene) There are different dimensions in your question. First of all, it all depends on your point of view of what you wish. I will invest in that Convention in the hope that it is useful time and that it serve to something. From that point of view, I think the Convention should try to deliver something which the IGC can do something with. There my point is the more you deliver conclusions in the form of treaty texts, the bigger the influence on the IGC will be; the more you deliver literature, the less the influence will be. My focus will be to try to go as far as possible in delivering legal texts. That is one point. The second point is that, independently of what etiquette you put on it, one of the elements of non-transparency for citizens is the complexity of the treaty matter of the Union at this moment. The people are convinced there is one treaty, forget it. There are seven treaties that are not always being well involved with one another, so it would already be a positive element for the transparency if you make one treaty without for the rest changing nothing. That is the exercise that I hope you know the Institute of Florence have done. If you see the text that Florence has made, that changed nothing at the treaty but assembles the basic elements in one treaty and those who are more executioned in another treaty. And, give that a structure, you have already a much better idea—not that I think every citizen is keen to have that in his bed locker and write it every evening, but the one who wants to do it has already agreed a few things. From there on I say, "Indeed we need one treaty." For me, the etiquette you put on it is totally secondary. Even if you call that different in the different Member States because the sensibilities are different, I have no problem with that. If you ask me, "Do you need a constitution?" I say no. If I have a basic treaty, that is for me the point. If calling about constitution creates ideas of federal states, super-state, etc, my point of view is not that we need the United States of Europe. So you can perfectly call that a basic treaty, but, to respond to one of your concerns, to have better transparency for the citizens it is clear that you need a treaty that somebody with a minimum of formation ... what do you call it?

  267. Education.
  (Mr Dehaene) ... education, can read. That is one point. The second point: there are two things that I always said there is something not correct in that approach. These two things are: the severe way some people are talking about the democratic deficit of Europe or the link or comprehension of the citizens with Europe. My reaction to that is that I do not directly see where the democratic deficit is, and, if it is, it is as big in each of the Member States and I do not see why you should focus more on Europe than on the national states. Secondly, you have to have the realism to know that the more you go to institutions further from the citizen, the more there will be a distance. It is a complete illusion that you can take at European level decisions where every citizen knows where it goes on and so on. That is the same, that the distance between London and the home town is also bigger, and that is a normal phenomenon. I should say that that achieves a sum-up, when you see the decisions are very important, of, for instance, the World Trade Organisation. There the distance is very great, without ended, but the decisions are there. So I think you have to have the concern (i) to be transparent; (ii) to have a democracy but in terms of something that is building up, so that you can, indeed, say the basis is a democratic mandate; and (iii) I think the concern of many citizens—and I picked the term from David Milliband in the Laeken group—is more about a deficit of delivery of Europe than a concern on democratic deficit and so we have to organise things so that they deliver, indeed, the results that people expect. The paradox is that in all opinion polls you see greater expectations in the fields where Europe is mixed. What the citizen expects is internal security, managing of migration, the fight against terrorism, directions for all, and, on the other hand, he says, "How can we be more effective in the Balkans?" ". . . in the Middle East?" and so on. So that is also the sectors where we have to see how can we organise ourselves so that we are more effective.

  268. You mentioned that if the Convention is going to be successful it depends on the chemistry amongst its members. You will be aware that there is criticism that the members of the Convention are going to come up with pre-conceived ideas. How would you rebut that criticism?
  (Mr Dehaene) I am perfectly aware they will come with pre-conceived ideas and some will come with mandates. If we can convince them through the chemistry of the Convention that that way we can achieve nothing; if we cannot convince them, then the Convention will fail.

Mr Cash

  269. Mr Dehaene, I found your analysis, if I may say, very interesting, and as perceptive as I would have expected. But it is very important, this Convention, to a lot of people, including those who come from my side of the political spectrum, which is the questioning about the assumptions on which the development of European integration is based. Anne McIntosh, who is from the same party as I am—
  (Mr Dehaene) I still do not know what party that is.

  Mr Cash: Conservative party, but I think I am probably better understood as a Euro-sceptic or Euro-realist, so that from a national point of view I take what I think is a commonly understood cross-party position because there are members of the Labour party and even members of the Liberal Democrats—

  Mr Hendrick: Very few.

Mr Cash

  270.—who share the views that we have.
  (Mr Dehaene) As far as I know, the contrary is true.

  271. Mr Dehaene, you look at the opinion polls and nobody, including Tony Blair, is under any misapprehension that the argument is more than finely balanced. But let's leave it at that. These are important questions. If this Convention—and I am talking serious territory here—in fact is based on assumptions—given the range of the Florence Institute's compendium and the questions of lists of competences, all the issues which are inherent in this process—if the basic questions which are to be dealt with are too heavily geared in advance—this notion of pre-conceived ideas or mandates, or whatever you like to call them—in the direction of the Acquis Communitaire as it now stands—in other words, you said at the beginning it is an open question as to how the whole thing will go, there is an open agenda—is there an open agenda or is it based on the assumption that Mr Ellerman and his friends in the Florence Institute produced a consolidated treaty? I admire the idea that in fact it should be made more clear and more transparent, but is it merely to be a progression towards further integration, which I know you personally would believe in?—and, indeed, so would most of the people: Giscard d'Estaing, all the people who are in the Praesidium, for example. In fact if you look at the composition of the Convention, there are, I think, maybe five people who come from the other point of view (if I can put it that way). If that is the gravitational pull, how much confidence can be placed in the conclusions of that Convention? Really what I am saying is: Should we not be listening to Europe's people rather than to the pre-conceived ideas of the direction in which this gravitational pull has been going for so long? In other words, should you have a blank sheet or should you actually be looking at it based on the assumption that the Acquis Communitaire is there and there is an inevitable progression towards a further degree of integration with all that goes with that? We could spend hours on that, but you know what I mean.
  (Mr Dehaene) Let's say—and I say a little bit in black and white what you say—I can imagine that the mission of the Convention should be: Here you have a blank sheet, nothing has happened, what will we do in Europe? It is clear that we had a mission by the European Council out of the Nice results and that out of that, out of several important speeches that have been given by European leaders, Blair and so on, the European leaders said, "OK, with that framework, with the new dimension of Europe after enlargement, but also in the new world well Europe has to play"—because I think also we have more and more also to integrate in the finality of European litigation. The answer to the question: Do we wish that Europe play a role as an important power in the world and that can co-determine the organisation, the equilibrium that you want at global level? my answer—not only mine but what you mostly read in Nice—is that none of the Member States is capable to do that on its own and that only the weight of the whole of Europe can play a role on that level. But you have to organise that too. Let's say, on the one hand, I have no problem to have a screening of some elements of the Acquis where you can indeed say, "OK, we have to review some elements," and where on the other hand I say—and I am referring to the opinion polls and so on—"There is an expectation of delivery to Europe that Europe can deliver the way it is organised today," there, in that kind of sectors, you probably need more Europe or more integration to act efficiently together. Let us say, from that point of view, we should, indeed, have an open-minded approach in the Convention, but not in the sense that we start from scratch, because that in my view has not much meaning and would not be correct to be the candidates too, because they negotiate two words, the "European Acquis", and that is also what the European negotiators put on the table in that enlargement discussion.

  272. Is that not partly, if I may just make this point, the real question which lies at the heart of this issue described as a democratic deficit, which is the role of the national parliaments.
  (Mr Dehaene) The national parliaments?

  273. Indeed, if I may say, because in the United Kingdom and, indeed, the other countries—but if I could just speak from our own experience—our ministers are, when making policy, whether it is in the Council of Ministers or otherwise, directly accountable to some very hot questioning in the House of Commons, in Select Committees, etc, and we regard that, as, indeed, in our own committee here, as an absolutely crucial function of a democracy.
  (Mr Dehaene) I completely agree. What impeached you to do that to what they do in Europe.

  Mr Cash: But it does not apply in some other countries, where, for example, European treaties have been put through by decree.

Mr Hendrick

  274. But that is up to them. That is subsidiarity.
  (Mr Dehaene) Subsidiarity is that.

Mr Cash

  275. But that affects us.
  (Mr Dehaene) No.

  276. It affects the United Kingdom.
  (Mr Dehaene) No, it does not affect the United Kingdom. It is your parliament who approved the Treaty. It is your parliament that is controlling your ministers in a council of ministers. Do your job your way and each of the Member States do their job their way. You want a referendum, you do a referendum. I do not want a referendum, I do not do a referendum. Why do you want to dictate me what I want to do.

  277. Would you have a referendum on this Treaty in each Member State?
  (Mr Dehaene) No.

Mr Hendrick

  278. It is up to them.
  (Mr Dehaene) No. I do not consider the referendum as a symbol for democracy

  Mr Hendrick: Some parliaments trust their governments, as well!

Angus Robertson

  279. Mr Dehaene, you talked about two elements which you described as the recipe for success: the chemistry in the Convention and the confidence between the Praesidium and the Convention as a whole. Can you perhaps talk a little bit more about what role the Praesidium can play in furthering those goals in the recipe for success?
  (Mr Dehaene) Something you have to understand well is that the Convention is something ad hoc. Most of the members are Members of Parliament but it is not a parliament. We in the previous Convention did once exercise a voting. That was a catastrophe, because the source from where the members come are so different that you cannot see that as simply as one man/one woman, one vote. On the other hand, you need somewhere a place where a tentative synthesis is formulated. The whole chemistry is that on the basis of technical word of the secretariat. The Convention has to make a political synthesis and put that before the Convention and that is a delicate way to see that you grant to the greatest possible consensus. But I think that it was wise in the text of Laeken not to oblige the Convention to come to a general consensus, that there is no place for alternatives and so on. The whole question will be to express what eventually was a large consensus and what really were alternatives that had a certain support in the Convention. That will be a delicate exercise, I am perfectly aware of that, and my great concern is to indeed work on the way that there is an important confidence between the Praesidium and the Convention.

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