Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 18 JUNE 2002
STUART MP AND
1. May I welcome, on behalf of the Committee,
our two parliamentary colleagues, Ms Stuart and Mr Heathcoat-Amory.
I think all parliamentarians should sit in the hot seat some time
and realise what it is like to be on the other side. So far as
I am aware, it is the first time that the Foreign Affairs Committee
has had as a witness one of its own members. For the public record,
I should say that we have not supplied any potential questions
to either of our two witnesses. Basically let me begin this way
in respect of the Convention: you have had almost four months'
experience of the workings of that Convention, which some see
as a great new chapter in history analogous to the Philadelphia
Convention; others have a rather more lowly conception of what
you are about. It would be very helpful to have your initial impressions.
Clearly there are two conflicting trends within Europe: the recognition
of the diversity of Europe, on the one hand; and the urge to centralise
the communautaire or the intergovernmental approach, the integrationist
or the recognition that, so far ahead as we can plan, the loyalty
of the citizens of Europe will be essentially to return to a nation
state. Can you both indicate your feeling, given those conflicting
trends, of what is happening in the Convention; what, in fact,
is the prevailing wind among these two trends at the moment?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I wish it was like
the Philadelphia Convention, because that was all over in four
months and we would all be home by now, having drawn up (in their
case) a constitution that lasted for over 200 years. Although
I must say, I wish we could import one thing from Philadelphia,
which is that they had a Convention of ideas, at least to start
with. They freely debated amongst themselves the nature of government,
and whether suprastate government, in their case, was possible,
and on what conditions. I regret that in the European Convention
there has been an absence of that fundamental questioning about
whether we can have a supranational democracy in a Europe as diverse
2. Is that because there is a consensus in one
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think inevitably the members
are drawn from perhaps the more integrationist sectors of their
national parliaments and the European Parliament.
3. You fit into that category yourself?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I am the nail that sticks out.
Indeed, I regard it as part of my job to challenge the consensus
and ask at every turn: are we tackling the democratic crisis in
Europe, in which the public feel completely alienated from the
political class that is running the European Union?
4. Do you feel out-grouped personally?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I have found some allies, very
few in my own EPP groupmore, I have to say, across the
political spectrum in other countries where there are members
who put democracy first and realise, as I do, that unless we tackle
the democratic problems then the Convention will fail. It is no
good talking about a more efficient Europe, a wider Europe, or
a stronger Europe until we re-engage the attention of the electors,
who are sending us messages in referendums, or in not voting at
all in the parliamentary elections, or in voting for nasty people
in general elections, as we saw in the first round of the French
(Ms Stuart) What was quite interesting about the Convention,
and where it is different from Philadelphia, is that we have got
a combination of 15 countries represented who have a long history
and experience of the Union, and 13 countries, almost half the
representatives, who do not have any experience of the Union and
wish to join it. There was a need to simply get to know each other,
and also establish some common ground. Also where we are different
is that we come to this with a 50-year history. We do not start
with a blank sheet. Some of the people at the Convention are Brussels-based,
and the national parliamentarians were the most diverse group
in terms of experience; but also we were the ones who came to
this new and had to spend some time finding out where to put our
coats. Where I think I would probably slightly disagree with Davidand
I have to say that David is not quite as much of a nail that sticks
outI think the questions he asks are asked by many people;
because the first thing to address is what should Europe do before
we go into these institutional wranglings on who should do it.
5. You agree that there is a gapthere
are not the philosophers that Mr Heathcoat-Amory believes?
(Ms Stuart) The central question which is beginning
to emerge and is beginning to dawn on people is: where would a
Government of Europe, whatever shape it takes, actually lie? Would
it lie with some people arguing that we should have an elected
Commission, Commissioners elected by the European Parliament,
but essentially in 15-20 years' time a Government of Europe which
arises out the European Parliament or the Commission; or should
the political focus lie within the Council of Ministers?
6. Where is the trend now?
(Ms Stuart) This is the interesting thing. This is
where people are beginning to start changing their minds, because
they are starting to think through the logical consequences of
their desires. It is an interesting period which people have to
face up to: do I really mean this, and what would it mean in the
7. Can you discern on which side the majority
of your colleagues are falling?
(Ms Stuart) What I have found over the last few weeks
is that increasingly people are realising that the key should
be at the Council of Ministers reform. That is equally as important;
that is what everyone else thinks. That is where the change of
opinion has happened.
8. You both are representatives of a national
parliament alongside other colleagues from the other Parliaments
of the Union. You are faced with a substantial block of colleagues
from the European Parliament who, presumably, know each other;
they caucus; they are, after all, playing on their home ground;
they know their way around the corridors. Do you feel that you
are being in difficulties compared with the integrationist view
of a caucus block from the European Parliament?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) Yes, I do. I think there is a
real danger that this Convention degenerates into a form of institutional
bargaining. The Community method in the past has been to solve
problems by making everybody happy; everybody will get some additional
powers. So the European Parliament, as you suggest, has got its
own solution for the democratic deficit, which is to give them
more power; but, of course, it had more powers in the last two
treaties but fewer and fewer people vote for them. The Commission
three weeks ago put in a paper which was a bid, effectively, for
more powers in the field of foreign affairs and in economics.
The national parliamentarians, as you quite rightly say, are much
less well organised. We have no collegiate view, and yet this
is where the problem lies. We know that the public are primarily
engaged democratically at national levels. The solution, in my
view, is to put the national parliaments back in the driving seat,
or at least in an earlier stage in the decision-making chain;
whereas at the minute we simply comply with legislation which
is developed and passed often in secret, and certainly through
an opaque process of which the public feel no part.
9. In terms of the organisation of the Convention,
Ms Stuart, are we seeing the fragmentation of national parliamentarians,
as against a coherent, cohesive group of people from the European
Parliament? Is it possible to have a degree of caucusing on behalf
of national parliamentarians?
(Ms Stuart) It would appear at first, and we certainly
were struck by the fact, that European parliamentarians came to
the Convention with agreed positions. As I say, national parliamentarians
had to get to know each other. The fact that one of the early
working groups is on the function of national parliaments
10. Which you chair?
(Ms Stuart) Which I chair.allows national parliaments
to find their mind in many ways. What we are coming up against
is, for example, with this House itself with its strong parliamentary
tradition we needed some changes to our Standing Orders to even
allow us to give evidence so that the House can arrive at a viewbecause
we have no tradition of doing that. It is our adversarial politics
in this case. It is one of those processes where it is a change
and national parliaments are making their voice heard much more
clearly. I very much hope that the working groups will be part
of that process. The other thing which we must not forget is that
we also operate in political families. When the Convention meets
there are some pre-meetings which tend to be where the political
families meet, then the national parliamentarians meet, then the
UK delegation meets and then we have the Convention meeting. The
opinion-forming goes on at various levels. You should also remember
that numerically the national parliamentarians are by far the
largest group. It may be more difficult to find a voice, but once
it has found its voice it is probably one of the loudest.
Sir Patrick Cormack
11. Do you feel yourself more in common with
each other, or with your political families, as it were?
(Ms Stuart) I think that varies tremendously on what
the question is. This is one of the exciting things of the Convention,
that the alliances are struck at various levels. One of the things
which I found most challenging is that, if you come from a British
context, we actually feel that Parliament as an institution needs
to be defended; and it should not equate Parliament with Government.
There were, for example, some voices when the working group was
set up saying, "Why do national parliaments need to be represented
in the EU architecture; they are already represented by their
governments?" In some countries that is the prevailing view.
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I regard myself as a member of
a number of circles which overlap. I am perhaps primarily a national
parliamentarian, so I need to defend the interests of this House
and national parliaments generally; but also I am of the EPP;
I am a rather uncomfortable, perhaps rather heretical member of
that group, but they have tolerated me so far. Then more generally
I am British, and I see things perhaps from a much more Anglo
Saxon perspectivealthough that again is not a very popular
term in the Convention. All these things come together. My only
criticism has I think so far been that the British Government
has not been particularly energetic in trying to coordinate a
British position. That is changing, and I have got some very effective
support for my membership of a core working group. Up until now
I think the Foreign Office has not regarded us as a member of
a single delegation. Primarily, I think we bring our judgment
and our ideas to this Convention, so I try not to be too trapped
into a block mentality too early.
12. We have recently had a tremendous change
in France. I understand that at least one member of the French
Convention has lost his seat. How do you assess the French contribution?
I do not want to talk about the President, because my colleague
will do that. How do you assess the French contribution from the
national parliamentarians, and the French members of the European
Parliament; and how do you think the recent tremendous change
in the complexion of French politics will change that, or will
it not change it at all?
(Ms Stuart) If I first tackle the question of composition.
It depends on the country's choice as to who they send to the
Convention, and if they lose their seat during the election it
is for the country to decide. In the case of Mr Moscovici it will
be up to the French Government whether they wish him to continue
to serve. This will happen with quite a number of people. What
I have found striking is that the two full national parliamentarian
members, both of them chose to be on the working group of the
national parliaments. They have made very strong contributionsalso
the MEPsvery much in line with the French thinking of creating
a kind of senate of where national parliamentarians meet. I think
it would be wrong to think of people as national blocks. I was
quite struck when colleagues suggested that they saw the British
group as one of the most organised and coherent groups of all
of them. For example, there was one country where three of their
members signed up for the same working group and it became quite
clear they had not even talked to each other to the extent of
working out that you should have national representation on the
various working groups. I think it would be dangerous if we started
to hunt as national blocks. One of the nice things of the Convention
is that we sit in alphabetical name order in the hemicycle; so
just by looking you cannot tell whether someone is a government
representative or a national representative.
13. So you do not sit together?
(Ms Stuart) No, we sit at opposite ends, but that
is a function of the alphabet rather than anything else.
14. How do you see all of this, Mr Heathcoat-Amory?
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) As regards the French, they are
tremendously energetic, and they do try and hunt as a pack. France
generally believes that it can enhance national power and prestige
through the European Union. So they work very hard, particularly
at their relations with the Germans. This does not always work.
I have noticed tension between members of the French delegation,
particularly in my working group yesterday. Gisela and I do have
a good working relationship, and we come to things obviously politically
rather differently but we do keep in touch with each other. I
hope that if the Foreign Office believes there are essential British
interests to defend it would at least tell me about them. I may
not always be able to agree, but I would never seek to embarrass
the British Government in a forum in Europe. That has not been
terribly visible so far, but I think that will develop.
15. Really neither of you envisage any dramatic
change as a result of what has been a very dramatic change in
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think Western Europe is generally
swinging to the right. In very general terms, the applicant states
have swung to the left, although it is more complicated than that.
This must affect the Convention indirectly, but in ways that are
not yet clear. I would emphasise that we are really still only
on the foothills. We have only really just got down to work in
these groups. The early debates were either arguing about the
rules, or were very general orientation debates. It is not at
all clear in which direction the Convention is going; although
I do detect this undercurrent towards an integrationist solution,
which I am very suspicious of.
16. You are not going to see it all over within
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) No.
17. I had the good fortune to have the interesting
experience of sitting on the first Convention, the Convention
of Human Rights. I was struck by a number of things and I would
like to ask you whether they still apply to this new Convention.
In particular, it was very clear to me that there was a collection
of the same old faces representing the same old vested interests.
In that particular regard I can recall very clearly that we were
subject in the Convention to the trotting out of archaic and obsolete
political theory which belonged to the time of the Marxist/Leninist
brigade, for exampleequally far right but which was trotted
out and took up a great deal of time in the early stages of the
Convention. We had the same old vested interests being represented.
The Praesidium sailed gently on and ignored most of this background
noise, but it just took up a lot of time. Do we still have that
going on now in this Convention; or are you getting new people
coming forward with new ideas and a fresh approach? What is your
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) I think there is a very real
danger that this becomes a Convention of the committed. Giscard,
although he is a very prestigious and Olympian figure, nevertheless
is the architect of the present European Union, which is essentially
a French construction; so he cannot be expected to disown it or
to attack it too radically. Heterodox ideas advanced by myself
and others are not welcome. I think we ought to be welcoming very
fundamental questioning of the nature of European Government,
because that is what the public wants. They do not understand
the present system; they do not identify with it; and very often
they do not consent to it. I think it is a very big worry. Even
the language we use tends to be opaque. I am on a working group
on complementary competences. The public have no idea what that
Sir Patrick Cormack: Do you know?
18. We must not stray too far! Gisela Stuart,
could I have your thoughts on that?
(Ms Stuart) I know those who have served on the Charter
and some are at this Convention and find it quite different. Yes,
there is an element where you sometimes go into the room and think,
"Good grief, is he still alive!" I deliberately use
the word "he" because one of the real imbalances which
is quite outrageous is the under-representation of women, but
there we are. At least Britain has sent two women. Yes, there
is a danger of the same interests, but I think the Convention
has to reach a stage where we have sufficient trust that we can
have disagreements. If people are not prepared to have disagreements
then it means they do not trust each other. Particularly for the
candidate countries, it is a very difficult position because there
may be some things they do not like in the current structure but
feel inhibited from saying so because, after all, this is a club
they wish to join. Certainly in the working groups, it is one
of the big responsibilities on the chairsand I am very
conscious of thisof allowing a climate of positive, constructive
criticism where they say, "Look, we want the Union to work";
but this will not happen, particularly after enlargement, unless
you radically change some of the structures.
19. You inferred earlier that the Chairman of
the Convention has his particular route which is traditionally
followed. You will remember, of course, that the choice of the
President of the Convention was somewhat controversial. Has the
Chairman of the Convention lived up to or down to expectations?
(Ms Stuart) He certainly has more physical and intellectual
stamina than many younger people. He sits through these sessions
of five hours presiding over them and listens to the contributions.
From the viewpoint of serving on the Praesidium, he is very often
accused of not listening, but I find in practice that, whenever
points are raised which require changes, he has really bent over
backwards to ensure that some of the rules can be changed. For
example, Laeken did not provide for candidate countries to be
at the Praesidium. We found a way of inviting a permanent representative
there. The way he has dealt with languages so that candidate countries
can speak in their native language; he wants this to work and
has the kind of political background to find ways of making things
work. The accusation that he does not listen is not one I subscribe
(Mr Heathcoat-Amory) One reason Giscard likes to refer
to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 is that Benjamin Franklin
was 81 so Giscard says that age brings wisdom! He is an energetic
and effective man, but I am afraid he is, I think, already looking
to the end game; he wants this to be his legacy to Europe. It
is noticeable than when he visits national capitals to discuss
this with heads of government he does not engage with the public.