Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 280 - 281)



Mr Davis

  280. Some people say that the President of the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament. Some other people think that the President of the Commission should be elected by the people of Europe. What do you personally think?
  (Mr Dehaene) I am not clear myself with that. I mean by that that an election by the people seems to me, perhaps, Utopia, but then that is certainly not something that you can do at the short time—think only on the problem of languages. So I think that is not realistic. But I think it is a serious question, if you let the President elect by the Parliament or if you maintain the present form of designation. Why do I say I am not clear with that is it is very important to the role you give to the Commission. It is clear that if you make the President elect by the Parliament you give that function a much more political dimension. With the Commission today—I do not think you can call it "apolitic" but there is a certain number of "above the politic" and certainly in the sense of "not mixed in party politics"—it is clear that if you make the President elect by the European Parliament, you will inevitably have a forum of party re-grouping of votes of coalitions and so on, and that you will have a more political feel. It can be that that is the conclusion, but before you set that step, and in terms of the confidence you need in the Commission, I think you have to think twice and have good arguments to make that step. On the other hand, it is clear that the, I should say, only example of democratic deficit that is often given is the fact that the President is not elected by Parliament and is in a certain sense not, as such, responsible for the Parliament. You have somewhere to make a balance and a choice. I have no clear position but I think you have to have the arguments one next to the other.

Roger Casale

  281. One of the very attractive elements about the Convention, I think, from the point of view of national parliamentarians is that it does bring together the Council, the European Parliament, the Commission and national parliamentarians—and in fact national parliamentarians are very strongly represented. We, as a committee of the national parliament, are hoping that one of the outcomes of the Convention will be a much greater role for national parliamentarians, but, as you say, we cannot predict the outcome at the outset. What are your own personal views about the role of national parliaments? You have given a sense of that already in your responses, Mr Dehaene, but perhaps you could say a little bit more about your own personal views about the roles of national parliaments, the very important link that they can play with civil society in reconnecting the citizen with society. Because, I tend to agree with you, I think the idea that from a European level we can bridge that gap with the European citizen is just too far. We need an intermediate level of international parliaments and parliamentarians have a very important role to play. What is your view about what we do at the moment and how it can be enhanced perhaps through the Convention's work?
  (Mr Dehaene) Like I said, my project is not the United States of Europe but, only to make the comparison, with each election of the President of the United States you always had at least one candidate who campaigns against Washington. That is the same kind of problem. But once he is in Washington, bon! The first element of my response is that the feeling of failure in that context, for me it is not correct to make a critique on Europe, on what, if you go to the ground of the thing, in fact is a critique on the way the national parliaments organise themselves to control and follow it. So do not set the critics at the wrong place. Secondly, that is the reason why I am not in favour of some suggestions—and Blair made some suggestions, but I do not think he would repeat it—to have a kind of new assembly out of Members of Parliament, because the role of the place is not clear. But I will tell you something else that will happen: If you make such an assembly, you will have two or three Members of Parliament designated to assist at that assembly, and after a certain number of years in your Parliament you will say, "What are the guys doing there?" and the distance between them and you will be as great as it is today with ministers. So that seems not the solution for me. But there are a certain number of other ideas that I like. First of all, I think that you should make more transparent and clear the legislative function of the Council of Ministers. When he is sitting as a legislator, he should have open public meetings. That will then be much clearer, that in fact you have a second chamber, but you have to organise it as such. Secondly, some formulated the idea that we should reflect on, that when the Council of Ministers is sitting as a legislator, the minister could be half of half at his side. Some Members of Parliament that could be, for instance, if you do that in each of the Council of Ministers—because that is another idea, to have one council as legislator or to have the different specialised ministers, minister committees, splitting up. If you do it in the different councils, you could have somebody, for instance a committee of the environment of national parliament, going with the minister, so that when it come in Parliament, at the limit, he can be then the rapporteur and so on and make the link. So you can look for elements to increase that link. Another element where I think we should reflect on is to find there are some forms of what I should call early warnings, when from the national parliaments there is an opinion that the principles of subsidiarity are not respected. So that could also be something that we can build in.

  Chairman: Mr Dehaene, the saddest thing about this evidence session is that it does now have to come to a close. I am sure I speak for all my colleagues: I have found your candour in response to our questions refreshing. Some of us who are concerned about what you have talked about, people turning up to the Convention with mandates and pre-conceived ideas, I take some comfort from your responses because I envisage that yourself and others will be challenging that sort of thinking at the very beginning and I wish you luck on that. Can I thank you very much for coming along here today. Your responses to our questions will be of great assistance to us in preparing our report. Thank you very much for coming along.

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