The Future of Europe

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Lord Howell of Guildford: Thank you for that ruling, Mr. Cook. It will certainly make my life a little easier. This is turning out to be an extremely interesting and valuable evening, and I offer the Committee my profound apologies for arriving a few minutes late for the opening of this part of the Committee sitting, but we have quite a long way to walk to return from our dinner.

I begin with the strongest expression of congratulation to the two representatives of the Convention and to the substitute, Lord Maclennan, on their fortitude. Their task is impossible. They are called representatives, but under the system in the House of Commons, there is no recognised validity in

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the concept of representatives. Each Member of Parliament represents their own constituents, to whom they owe their judgment, and Parliament can reach by majority certain views. The idea that the views of Parliament on these vastly complex and evolving issues can be effectively represented is too ambitious. The task of our excellent Members in the Convention will be extremely difficult, and they have my sympathy and support in trying to find a way through the labyrinth.

The House of Lords, which is, for the moment, an advisory, scrutinising, second-thoughts Chamber, without democratic mandate, has a tradition of addressing seriously and in detail a range of issues that relate to the European Union and its development. Speaking only for myself, as I represent no constituents these days, there is a very deep concern about the future of European unity and the effectiveness of the European Union. The more we go into detail in our Committees and the more we debate such matters—at the moment there is not much time, as we are full-time in handling legislation that arrives from your House, Mr. Cook—the more alarmed we become that the issues that will bind Europe together are not being addressed and that matters that will tear Europe apart and create impossible tensions are being allowed to fester.

We heard eloquent comments this evening from Mr. Cash and others about the feeling of remoteness in relation to all European institutions. That inevitably includes the Parliament as well as the Courts, the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is partly related, as the Prime Minister told another Committee today, to problems in each of our democracies. Each member state's Parliament is experiencing additional problems in the information age in maintaining communication and not living in a political vacuum. That is a problem at national level, but it is a particular problem and, indeed, is accentuated at European level. The question is whether it is being addressed.

The two representatives who have spoken so eloquently must by now have a clear view about the fundamental issue—not that of power to the Commission, to an intergovernmental Council of Ministers or to the Parliament, but of relating decisions to and commanding the trust of the people of the different nation states of Europe. That is the central issue, and until it is addressed, one watches with growing foreboding the forces that will tear—undermine—the European unity that many of us have worked for and been involved in for many decades.

We have that problem and the imposition by, inevitably, elites and political groups and lobbies of certain views that are not properly debated. We have sheer overload in a system that is trying to achieve in the next five years something that really should take another 50 years to do in the way of a single defence and common foreign policy. The single money is going ahead, and a single diplomatic corps has been suggested. Those are all huge projects that, if crammed into the next few years, will create impossible indigestion.

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We have the new applicants, and their fears about the acquis communautaire. Countries such as Poland are worried that if they are asked to be net contributors to the budget of the enlarged Union, they will find the proposal unsaleable. Any responsible Polish leader—there have been many in this Parliament in the past few weeks—will tell us that that is the danger. Such countries will find that they cannot carry their constituents toward the development and enlargement of the European Union.

The agonies of reforming the common agricultural policy are just beginning to emerge. I do not know how the convention will address such problems and avoid the feeling that the applicant states will be second-class states on low rates of subsidy or none at all, and therefore placed at an appalling disadvantage compared with the protected farmers of western Europe. On the foreign policy side, a growing sense of rivalry with the United States is entering the language. There just is not room for rivalry with the United States in the modern world. Europe must work with it on every front if we are to confront the much larger dangers facing us all.

I remember going to see Jean Monet as a young man, and listening to his plans of how progress would probably have to be made by stealth because democratic Governments would not agree to it. Perhaps I should have pressed him with the fact that, after 40 years of success, the Monet model would be over. There can be no further proceeding on the basis of stealth. There must be a total involvement. If the worries expressed can help delegates and their substitutes in the Convention, they are worth uttering, but we are very, very concerned that the true interests of Europe are not being addressed by the Convention, or by any other rather remote institutions that take power, decisions and trust away from the people.

9.27 pm

Mr. David: I should like to make three brief points, but before I do that I thank the three representatives of the convention, Lord Maclennan, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston and the right hon. Member for Wells, for their reporting back this evening. It has been first rate, even though some of us may disagree with some of the points made. I thank them very much indeed.

My first point is that if we accept, as I do, that in essence the European Union is an association of independent sovereign states that choose to pool their sovereignty from time to time and from issue to issue, the Convention will have to focus increasingly on the role of the Council of Ministers. The Council has to have a far more strategic role in the future. If we look at the second and third pillars, for example, there is an argument to be made for greater coherence on common foreign and security policy, on the new European security defence policy and on justice and home affairs. Those areas are very technical, but they get to the core of how Europe might develop in the future. The role of national Governments is central in that respect.

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That development of Europe requires the Council to take a much more hands-on role. The Council, rather than the Commission, must take a strategic lead, perhaps coming forward with a multi-annual work programme that sets out exactly where the national Governments see the European Union going, not in months, but in years ahead. An interesting suggestion that has been made, which has not, I think, been referred to tonight, is the notion of having a president of the Council. There is much to be said for that. I hope that serious consideration will be given to that during the months ahead.

My second point relates to enlargement. I thank the representatives for correcting me when I made the erroneous remark that the representatives from the accession countries were there as observers. They were clearly not, but I can be forgiven for thinking that because I understand that the contribution from those representatives has been very small. The driving force on the Convention has come from the representatives of the 15 EU member states. That is a shame, and it needs to be addressed in future.

I say that not just because of the internal work of the Convention, but because, during the next couple of years, there are likely to be referendums in those accession countries for people to decide whether they want to join the EU. The questions that will be raised during those referendums will not simply concern the terms that have been negotiated, but will be asking people how they see Europe developing in the future. It is very important that their representatives in the Convention are clearly seen as stakeholders in the development of a new Europe, so that they already feel a sense of genuine ownership of what is being discussed, debated and hopefully agreed.

My third and final point regards the issue of the role of national Parliaments. Like many other Members, I think that in future much will depend on whether we can win the argument in favour of national Parliaments having a central role in Europe's collective development. There is a broad measure of agreement on that, not just between the two Houses in this place, but between the political parties. I hope that our representatives, although they will have profound political disagreements during the course of the next few months, make a concerted effort to ensure that there is a degree of common ground.

Mr. Cash: I do not want to tempt the hon. Gentleman into territory that he would not want to engage in, but he may remember some of the remarks that I have made during recent months concerning the Whipping system and issues of vital national interest. In the context of the EU and its movement towards integration, and the desire that by all accounts we all share to enhance the role of national Parliaments, some reform of the Whipping system is required if national Parliaments—as compared with national Governments in the light of qualified majority votes—are to have the opportunity to have their voices heard, rather than talking about whether it is a good idea for them to be heard. The difference is between action and talking.

Mr. David: The hon. Gentleman is right. I shall not be tempted into that area. I shall stick to the remark

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that I was making, which is a limited but important comment on the Convention.

Representatives of this national Parliament should make every effort to find common ground in terms of the developing influence of national Parliaments. I think that it is a case that can be legitimately argued because, as the hon. Gentleman will know, during the European Scrutiny Committee debates, significant common ground was established between the parties. The report that was agreed by the Committee received overwhelming support from all parties involved. That is an indication that it is possible to have agreement on the role of national Parliaments. I would conclude by saying that the acid test for many people of whether the Convention has been successful will be whether a coherent, well-thought out position is expressed, with regard to the role of national Parliaments. I certainly hope that that will be the case as far as our national representatives are concerned.

9.33 pm

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Prepared 16 July 2002