Select Committee on European Scrutiny Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1 - 19)



Mr Connarty

  1. Good morning, Professor Bogdanor. Thank you very much for your written submission which is very lucid and very interesting. How do you wish that we address you, Professor or Vernon?
  (Professor Bogdanor) Vernon. I think Keynes was once misnamed "Professor" and said he did not want the indignity without the emoluments. Now we will not even get the emoluments!

  2. I was very interested in your Dutch definition of the EU political process, for example, and you said that we had in Europe a "consociational" system, and that such Systems only work by denying democratic participation. That led me to think about an overarching question. What do you think the purpose of the elections to the European Parliament should be?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I think they should be to make the Commission responsible to the Parliament so that those who are voting in the European Parliament elections can be playing some part in choosing the direction in which Europe goes. I think that is even more important now that we have a monetary union, because there is a sense in which you can vote for a Europe which takes in a broadly leftward direction or a broadly rightward direction, and I think that would give sense to the European elections and it would encourage people to vote for them. At the present time it seems to make little difference whether there is, shall we say, a Socialist majority in the European Parliament or a Christian Democrat/Conservative majority in the European Parliament. Nothing changes as a result, and therefore people cannot see that voting in European Parliament elections affects the direction in which Europe proceeds.

  Mr Connarty: Thank you very much. Mr Cash.

Mr Cash

  3. Professor Bogdanor, you are talking about the question of accountability with respect to the increase in the role of the European Parliament. You oppose the Second Chamber as blurring accountability. Do you believe that the choice has to be made between increasing the role of the European Parliament and the national parliaments, or do you believe that both can be made more influential? Then I shall come back after that, if I may.
  (Professor Bogdanor) I do believe that both could be made more influential. I think that they have complementary roles. I think that the role of national parliaments is to scrutinise the stances taken by national ministers within the European system, whereas the role of the European Parliament, in my opinion, is to scrutinise what the Commission is doing to hold the Commission to account. The reason I am against the idea of a Second Chamber is twofold. First, I think the last thing Europe needs is more institutions. I think it needs fewer institutions and more streamlined institutions. Second, I think a Second Chamber, which would, in effect, be the pre-1979 European Parliament imposed on top of the post-1979 European Parliament, would tend to clog up the machinery, to make it more difficult to get anything done at all, and, as I have said, I think Europe needs streamlining, not the addition of more institutions.

  4. Do you not agree that in fact there is something rather difficult to digest in your suggestion that you would increase accountability by virtue of the fact that the national electorates, as you put it, are already linked to the Council of Ministers through their national political parties? There is the complementary question of the need to increase the influence of national parliaments. I would suggest that first of all the Council of Ministers is itself not really linked to the national political parties, in terms of policy-making, quite as well as you suggest, because of qualified majority voting; and secondly, that the idea of linking the national electorates to the Commission through transnational political parties really is blurring the question of accountability, because after all all policy-making and law-making has to come from the opinions of those who are elected. If you have this rainbow coalition, these transnational political parties, and you combine that with the unelected Commission—and that is not going to change—then how on earth are you going to make the situation more accountable under that arrangement? So I am really saying to you, will it not be far better to cut the Gordian knot, give the European Parliament certainly a suitable role in terms of scrutiny, but the real power should remain effectively with the national parliaments, subject only to the necessity to try to arrive at consensual arrangements in the Council of Ministers, but with the continuing use of the veto, if I could just throw that out?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I accept what you say about the unelected Commission. My idea is to make that unelected Commission accountable in the way that national governments are accountable, by introducing British ideas of parliamentary government into the European system. We tend to believe that people are either elected as ministers or they are unelected, when they are officials and non-partisan officials. The European Commission is not like that, it is not elected, but it has political power, and I think that if you had called Monsieur Delors an official he would have been very upset, though of course he was not elected to his position as President of the Commission. What I am proposing is for the Commission to be made accountable to the European Parliament, so that we bring in our traditional ideas of parliamentary government, British ideas of parliamentary government, into Europe. I think that would be a great advance. As for the point about qualified majority voting and the abolition of the veto, it seems to me that if we want to restore the veto, we are trying to put the clock back, which is not easy to do. We surrendered the veto in the Single European Act 1986, and we did so for reasons which then seemed in our own national interest to help secure the internal market. I think we would not have secured the internal market, which has brought us many benefits, if every Member State had still been able to veto every single issue. So I think that, with respect, it is difficult really to imagine us restoring the national veto as it was before 1986.

  5. I have one last question, if I may, Professor Bogdanor, because it is rather important. That is, that the Single European Act and the question of the veto is really a bit of a red herring, and I know you know that, because the real question is the use of the veto in the arena of European government. When you are dealing with questions relating to the constitutional implications of the kind that we are discussing now, then the real question is, in the progress of things will the veto be sustained in those areas where you are exercising European government? That is the key question. If I may say with respect, I think the analogy with the Single European Act is rather misleading, and we inherited under the Acquis abolitions of veto anyway, did we not?
  (Professor Bogdanor) With respect, I do not think it is a red herring, because we needed to get majority voting to get the measures of the single market through. It is still the case, although we have qualified majority voting, that broadly speaking ministers prefer to discuss things until they reach agreement without voting if they can. The process is normally one of consensus in the Council of Ministers. So perhaps it has not made quite as radical an alteration as is sometimes suggested, but I do think it is very difficult to go back to the days of the so-called Luxembourg compromise which, of course, is not part of the Treaty but was a convention imposed by President de Gaulle in the mid-1960s after he had secured a policy that he thought was very much in the interests of France namely the Common Agricultural Policy. He then sought to freeze the Community. We, under Margaret Thatcher's leadership, unfroze it because we thought it was in our interest to unfreeze it.

Mr Steen

  6. First of all, thank you for coming to answer these penetrating questions from the committee. We all have a different stance on Europe, on this side anyway, and some of us have some which are even more extreme than others. What I would like to ask you is, can the European Parliament ever play a role in providing the EU with legitimacy? Does the fact that it does not represent an identifiable group of people, other than the broad term "Europeans", mean that only national parliaments can ever trully provide the EU with democracy and legitimacy?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I think the European Parliament can help provide the European Union with legitimacy, and I think it is generally agreed that the European Union does need to be provided with more democratic legitimacy if it is to be successful. The European Parliament can do that, and indeed it must do that, but at present the elections for the European Parliament seem to have no connection with anything that happens, because normally at national elections we are choosing a government, a broadly left-wing government or a broadly right-wing government; we are choosing a certain direction of policy, and we are choosing a political leader, Mr Blair, Mr Duncan Smith or Mr Kennedy. But, elections to the European Parliament fulfil neither of these functions; they do not help to determine the direction of policy, they do not help to choose a leader for Europe and they do not help to determine whether we have a Europe of the left or the right, The European Parliament connected to the European Commission. It is worth remembering that the European Parliament was originally a kind of afterthought. The Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community was an afterthought, the European Parliament was an afterthought because at that time, in the mid-1950s—and I think many of the problems of Europe come from this—the atmosphere was quite different, there was much more deference to political leaders and people were happy to accept the decisions political leaders made. Now we see, most recently with the Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty (but there are many other examples), that people are no longer willing to accept what their political leaders decide for them, so they have to be able to participate more effectively. I believe that relations between the European Parliament and the Commission need to be reformed in that direction.

Roger Casale

  7. I am interested in the point you make declining deference. You say in your papers that leaders still lead but the followers do not follow. I wonder whether there is any real evidence to back that up one can make the case the other way. If one thinks about the 1960s for example, and the student revolts across Europe and the strength of Communist parties at that time, is there not a greater consensus around the centre of politics in Europe today?. Perhaps one could argue that people feel more excluded from politics! But this is something we need to address, not just with respect to the European Union. After all, we see a decline in turn outs in national and local elections too. Secondly, Legitimacy is about getting better quality of decision making, but it is also about holding those who take the decisions to account. It seems to me that much of the thrust of your argument is directed at improving the quality of decisions which is why you want there to be more democratic pressure on the Commission. You talk about a consumers' model of politics in your paper but, as we know, the decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers. Unless there is more transparency in the Council of Ministers and more pressure to hold ministers to account, how can we overcome that aspect of democratic legitimacy?
  (Professor Bogdanor) To take your first question about students, I can certainly confirm that students are less radical now than they were in the 1960s but the generation of the 1960s has come to maturity. They have enough of their old radicalism left such that they are not willing to say, simply because political leaders have made decisions, that those decisions should be accepted by the people. There are a number of examples of that in the European field. The first, was the Danish rejection of Maastricht in 1992 and then the French near rejection of Maastricht, which was a great shock, because France had been seen as being at the centre of Europe. More recently there was the Irish rejection of Nice, These were all decisions made in referendums. There is evidence from opinion polls that there is scepticism towards Europe in other countries, obviously in Britain, but also I think in Germany where survey evidence suggests that people are not quite as happy with the euro as their government. The four major parties in Germany are all favourable towards the euro, but there is some evidence that there is hostility towards the euro amongst the people. Europe's leaders have not taken the trouble to bring people along with them in the decisions they have made. Your second question was about the Council of Ministers being the main decision making forum and that is of course true but, there is in some respects a bifurcated executive in europe. The Commission is a body which we are not wholly familiar with in our own constitutional system because, as I said earlier, it is composed of unelected people but they do make important decisions. The Council of Ministers is not transparent; it ought to be made more transparent with more open procedures, but I do not think there is anything in what I have said which conflicts with that. Both reforms need to be undertaken. We need to make the Commission more accountable and to make the Council of Ministers more transparent.

Mr David

  8. There is an undeniable logic in what you are arguing but I think there are two preconditions which need to be in place before what you are suggesting can be successful. The first is there needs to be a far greater level of consciousness and active support for the construction of Europe along the lines you suggest. All the empirical evidence suggests that there simply is not that level of support, whether you are talking about elections to the European Parliament, people's awareness and support for the euro or whatever. The danger is therefore that there could be a further widening of the gap between leaders and led. The second point is that another precondition is for the European Parliament to function in this kind of way and the Commission as well there need to be transnational, political parties in the real sense. At the moment you have transnational parties, whether it is the European People's Party or the Party of European Socialists, but essentially they are confederations of national, political parties and, though there has been attempt which is recognised in the Nice Treaty to give legitimacy to transnational, political parties, it is still, to a large extent, more apparent than real. I do not see any great will amongst national, political parties to go further than what we have at the moment. There is a logic in what you say and argue for but the preconditions are not really in place to make your suggestions realistic.
  (Professor Bogdanor) That may be absolutely right. I do not disagree with either of the two points you have made. It seems to me a very considerable paradox that the main forces of the world today, the economic forces of globalisation, monetary forces, technological forces, even military forces after 11 September, are all pointing in the direction of greater cooperation between nations. Perhaps the main effect of 11 September was to show the Americans that even they are not invulnerable. If the Americans are not invulnerable, if they are vulnerable, how much more vulnerable we European countries are. As you say, we have not yet succeeded in convincing people of the merits of cooperation between countries. In Britain there was a very interesting poll in Monday's Financial Times that showed that the effect of 11 September had made people in Britain think that they should make more decisions for themselves. This is a paradox, People are getting into the bunker and this is not, in my judgment, the right response to what has happened. 11 September only highlights the need for international cooperation. It is a great problem for political leaders, how do you persuade people of the virtues of co-operation.

Tony Cunningham

  9. The European Parliament is a very young parliament and I think—I do not know whether you would agree with me or not—the basic problem is that it has never really found a role for itself. Perhaps you could comment on that. As far as the elections and apathy at the European Parliament elections, certainly the last European Parliament election need not have existed. There was no information, no media coverage, no campaign or anything else. Therefore, it was not surprising that people did not actually go out and vote. If you are conferring on the Commission the democratic legitimacy of having been approved by the European Parliament, are you shifting power and authority from the Council to the Commission and thereby, in a sense, making the Commission a political rather than an executive body? Finally, what is your view of the suggestion that the Council president should be elected?
  (Professor Bogdanor) The European Parliament is a very young parliament and, in many respects, MEPs have not used the powers they have. It is quite right to say that the turn out was very low in the elections. Very shortly before the election, Europe's political leaders decided that Romano Prodi should be the new president of the Commission and this was done, as I understand it, without any consultation with the European Parliament at all. If the European Parliament is not involved in decisions of that kind, why should people vote for it? In my judgment, the European Parliament should have insisted on being involved in that decision, which they could have done through Article 158 of the Treaty, which requires the president to secure a vote of confidence from the European Parliament. Part of the problem then is that the parliament is not exercising its powers as it should. Your second question was whether my proposed reform would increase the political power of the Commission. I think that, it would, and it would increase the power of the most communautaire of the institutions in the European Union, the guardian in one sense of the Treaties and the political institution which would help secure cooperation between countries. It would certainly do that. As to the proposal for the direct election of a president of the Council of Ministers, I am very sympathetic in principle to the idea of direct election but it would require an amendment to the Treaties. In current circumstances, it would be very difficult to secure that in every member state. I also think that the problem raised in a previous question concerning European consciousness would be even more difficult to resolve if there were to be a directly elected president, because electors would be asked to vote for a political leader from another member state. This person would come from one of the 15 member states, so the electors of 14 member states would have to vote for someone they regard as a foreigner. The French are very sympathetic to direct election, it is fair to say, and I think the Dutch are quite sympathetic to it, so there is some support on the Continent. I regard it, however as less realistic than the British idea of making the Commission responsible to the European Parliament.

Roger Casale

  10. Whether or not people are becoming less deferential (I am still not convinced about that) the European Union has certainly become more unpopular. One of the reasons, is that people see the Commission as too powerful. You have just said that you want to make the Commission more powerful. How is that going to help overcome this issue of legitimacy?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I do not think I agree that Europe is unpopular because the Commission is too powerful or not powerful enough. Europe in general is unpopular because it is not seen to deliver enough practical benefits to people. People ask themselves, "What has Europe actually done for us?" Part of the trouble is that, when unpopular decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, ministers tend to blame them on Europe to escape their own responsibilities. That is not the whole problem, however. Europe has become very remote from most people's aspirations. It needs to develop a more human and a more practical side and to deliver policies that are actually of value to people.

  11. Do you think the Commission has become weaker in relation to the Council and the European Parliament? Are you seeking to restore the balance with some of your proposals?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I think the Commission has got weaker since the departure of Monsieur Delors. The strength of the Commission depends in large part on the strength of the President. When you have a strong President like Jacques Delors or Roy Jenkins, then the Commission is very influential. When you do not have such a strong President, I think it is less influential. If the Commission was responsible to parliament, you would always have a strong Commission or at least parliament could ensure that you did and of course you would have a Commission of one political colour. It would be either a moderate left Commission or a moderate right Commission. It would be pushing together with the European Parliament in a certain direction, so I think the problem could be resolved.

Mr David

  12. What do you think of the alternative suggestion that the Commission should be more accountable to the Council of Ministers and the Council of Ministers itself should develop its own bureaucracy to a far greater extent, as is happening with common and foreign security policy?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I think the idea that the Commission should be a kind of secretariat to the Council -" a civil service as it were -"would tend to retard the progress of Europe because there would then be no transnational driving force to press cooperation forward. The danger would be that one would progress at the rate of the slowest. I think it is worth remembering in this discussion that we are on the eve of enlargement so that the Europe that is now comprised of 15 member states, and began as six member states, could come to comprise 27 member states. Such a Europe could not work with each member state having a veto or through the traditional methods by which Europe worked in the 1950s. No doubt this is one of the reasons for your own inquiry. Europe, in a sense, has to go back to the drawing board. A system which worked for six very advanced countries in the 1950s in totally different conditions, with the Cold War still being waged, is not necessarily the right system for 27 countries at greatly different levels of economic development in a totally different European environment. There is perhaps a danger for all of us in thinking we can resolve our problems by patching up existing institutions rather than thinking again about the best way to organise Europe.

Mr Tynan

  13. Before I ask the question proper, on the basis of the media, what kind of role do you see the media playing in this disenchantment as regards Europe? Do you think the accountability of the media is important in relation to improving the image of national parliaments as well?
  (Professor Bogdanor) Yes, I do think that the media, particularly the press or some parts of the press, bear a heavy responsibility for our negative attitude towards Europe. All too often they highlight silly scare stories about straight bananas or harmonising barmaids or whatever it might be in Europe rather than giving us the factual information on which we can make up our own minds. Perhaps it is an idealistic view but I think that this does harm our own national interest. This is not so much the case on the Continent. Their popular press is not as bad as ours our popular press does harm the interests of this country. There are too many negative stereotypes of foreigners, too many attempts to refight the Second World War in the popular press. All this not only does harm to Europe; it actually harms this country's own national interest within Europe. As to what should be done about it, I do not know, but I do think it is very harmful to this country.

  14. Would you agree that the actions of the press led to the low turn out as regards the national and general election here or would you see that as a factor?
  (Professor Bogdanor) Yes, I think that is right, partly as a result of the negative stereotyping of Europe. I think a previous questioner mentioned that we are seeing reductions in turn out in all elections, in national elections as well. This is one of the features I have been mentioning: that there is a declining public trust in politicians everywhere, not just in Europe, but in national parliaments and elsewhere. Europe is part of that problem because people cannot see clearly what the function of the European Parliament is. It is perhaps more of a problem for Europe than it is for national parliaments. It is part of the more general problem which I gather the House of Commons is going to investigate of low turn out at elections and lack of a sense of civic duty, if you like. Europe is a part of that.

  15. You seem to suggest that the European Parliament could ensure the political outlook of the Commission president and the Commission as a whole conformed to the majority in the Parliament, and that would give more importance to the electorate as regards participating and support. What impact do you think that would have in practice?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I do think it would encourage people to vote because there is a clear alternative between a more deregulated Europe and a more egalitarian or interventionist Europe. There are clear choices about the direction in which Europe ought to move and these choices are more important with monetary union, when Europe does take on a very important economic role and the decisions which were previously within member states about interest rates and exchange rates are now with Europe. Obviously, those decisions do affect our economic life. They affect people's everyday lives and so people ought to have a chance to play their part in choosing the direction in which they believe Europe ought to go. I think there is a left/right discussion now in Europe but the direction is decided behind closed doors and not by the European electorate.

  16. What that mean, in your view, a greater likelihood that minority views would be overridden and greater dominance for the countries with most MEPs, especially Germany?
  (Professor Bogdanor) I hope not. It is fair to say that because proportional representation is used in European elections, minorities would be properly represented. The Commission however would have to represent all the Member States and secure the support of a majority of MEPs from all the Member States. MEPs of just one or two member states would not be able to secure a majority in the European Parliament . One would have to have a very broad coalition of support to secure a majority. I do not think the danger you mention would in fact be present.

  17. What would happen if the political complexion of the Council and the Commission differed?
  (Professor Bogdanor) Then there would have to be a process of negotiation and discussion. That would help minorities because it would be likely that a group which might be a minority in the European Parliament would be represented in the Council of Ministers. That political colour would be represented in the Council of Ministers. I think the danger is not that minorities are ignored; the danger in the European system is stagnation, that decisions are not made, that it gets bogged down and totally remote from popular aspirations. It does not act efficiently and effectively enough to meet popular aspirations. I think that is the main danger facing Europe at the present time.

Mr Connarty

  18. How do you see the Commissioners being elected? Would it be a question of a vote in the European Parliament? Would all of the Commissioners be up for that electoral process or just the president, or would it be a series of approval hearings before the Parliament and then a proposal to the Parliament for voting?
  (Professor Bogdanor) As I understand it, under Article 158, the president of the Commission needs a vote of confidence from the European Parliament. In my opinion, the majority of the European Parliament should refuse to give a vote of confidence to a president who was not of their political colour. In other words, in 1994 the European Parliament should in my judgment have refused to endorse Jacques Santer, not for personal reasons, but because Jacques Santer was a Christian Democrat from Luxembourg and, the majority of the Parliament was on the left. They should have said, "We will only endorse a President and a Commission chosen from the majority." Were that to happen, it might be that, before the European Parliament elections, the various political groups would nominate their candidates for the position of President of the Commission and the other posts on the Commission, so that people would know who they were voting for. It would be rather like a direct election. In Britain, voters knew that if they voted Labour in 2001, they were voting for Blair as Prime Minister. If they voted Conservative, they knew they were voting for Hague as Prime Minister. It would be the same in Europe. If we were voting socialist, we would know that there would be a socialist president of the Commission. If we were voting Conservative, we would know the particular candidate for the Conservative Christian Democrats. That would make Europe more exciting. There would be more of a personality struggle. Much of the excitement of politics in domestic elections does come from a clash of personalities.

Mr David

  19. I do think that is a very British way of looking at things, that politics are somehow adversarial, left, right and so on. The dominant political culture in the institutions of Europe is consensual, is it not? It is about people of different political persuasions working together to try to achieve common ground, which is what the current structure seeks to do and that is why you have the situation with the European Parliament, where socialists voted for a Christian Democrat Commission President.
  (Professor Bogdanor) Some people argue that British politics are too adversarial; some people argue that European politics are too consensual and perhaps there is a middle way. I do think that we have something through our parliamentary system, which after all has lasted longer than that of countries on the Continent, to offer to Europe if we adopted a more constructive approach to the constitutional problems facing the European Union. A bit of adversarialism and excitement in Europe would not necessarily be a bad thing. It might get people interested in what is happening. From our own experience of parliamentary government, I do think there are lessons . I also think the idea of individual ministerial responsibility in Europe would be a good thing so that if a particular European Commissioner were accused of corruption or some other form of default or mismanagement that Commissioner could be singled out without the whole Commission falling under some sort of taint. In some ways, we have been too passive about celebrating the victories we have achieved in Europe like the internal market, which was a British idea. We have also been too passive in pushing forward ideas which have worked in Britain, and which would be of great value to Europe. Our whole approach to Europe, in my judgment, is too negative and too passive and that has not helped our national interest as a country.

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