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2 Dec 2002 : Column 675—continued

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): In the context of good ideas that need to be proposed, does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of the 1957 Euratom treaty, which has dominated energy policy in Europe for the past 50 years, needs to be on the convention's agenda, with a view to being included in the discussion at the intergovernmental conference in 2004?

Peter Hain: A friend of mine raised this issue with me for the first time over the weekend, and I am sure that it will be considered in convention proceedings if there is scope for doing so.

At the moment, too many people believe that the process of taking decisions in the EU is impenetrable and distant, that there are no clear means by which they can influence these decisions, and that the bureaucracy

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in place to implement them is complacent and inward-looking. People have lost a sense of what Europe is for—a point amply demonstrated by increased votes for anti-European parties during this year. So we need a new sense of Europe's purpose, to reconnect Europe to its people. This means identifying what citizens expect from the institutions that govern them and acknowledging that they will look principally to their national Governments to deliver answers, but demonstrating that co-operating with our European partners in many policy areas can add value, and that—where it does so—a willingness to pool sovereignty is in our national interest.

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the European Union has adopted many important measures that affect citizens, in areas such as equality rights, the environment, working conditions and so on? Does he further agree that the work of the convention should be about helping citizens to understand what measures have been adopted and their effect, and has he any plans to push for an easily digestible form of what the EU is about for our citizens, rather than the complicated treaties that exist at the moment?

Peter Hain: My right hon. Friend makes very telling points, particularly her suggestion for a concise new constitution to replace the current tangled web of impenetrable treaties. That is an objective that we must try to secure.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): If better definition of competences, greater democracy and an enhanced role for national Parliaments are key objectives of the right hon. Gentleman, can he please identify for the House a single example of a European Union directive or regulation that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam?

Peter Hain: It is precisely because we need to ensure that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are properly enforced and policed that we are proposing a new mechanism, to which the convention has agreed in principle. That is a British idea, which I shall explain to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

We already pool sovereignty with the United States of America and others in NATO, because by doing so Britain has stronger defences. Pooling sovereignty in appropriate policy areas can make nations stronger; so, too, in the United Nations, the resolutions of which have the force of international law. Everybody, including Britain, has to respect them, but as a permanent member of the Security Council, we get to make the laws. We also pool sovereignty in the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, in international treaties such as that banning land mines, and in the European Union. By pooling sovereignty, the British people have greater influence in building a safer, more stable world.

Pooling sovereignty can mean compromises. That is sometimes hard for certain commentators and politicians to understand, but real people know that in real life, we cannot always get exactly what we want. Nor can other countries in these international bodies,

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but we can better advance British interests by being right at the centre of NATO and the United Nations—and, indeed, of the European Union. That means creating a new, delivery-oriented EU, identifying and focusing on the policy areas in which the EU can contribute, and creating a decision-making framework to drive this through in an efficient, transparent and democratic way.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Do the United Kingdom Government totally dissociate themselves from the outburst against Turkey by the former President of France, who chaired the convention, and should not Turkey be welcomed as quickly as possible, once it meets the necessary conditions? Were not those remarks from the chairman of the convention totally wrong and anti-Turkish, and do they not seem to betray a belief that Europe should be a fundamentalist Christian affair?

Peter Hain: The answer to all my hon. Friend's questions is yes.

We must preserve Europe's ability to adapt quickly to new challenges, and to address old issues in new and innovative ways. It is the flexibility of our current system that enabled us to react to the new political realities, following the attacks of 11 September. The world changed, and the EU was able to reflect that change by agreeing on common policies and mechanisms to fight terrorism together. Acting together through the Xjustice and home affairs" agenda, with the Commission taking the lead, we can improve security for all Europeans.

We need a new European Union constitution, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) said, must be clear and concise. It must have a short and inspirational preamble. It must clarify what the EU is, what its objectives and values are, and who does what. This would help to bridge the gap of understanding between the EU and its citizens. It would also mean a better-organised EU that is even better able to deliver practical benefits for citizens.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Does my right hon. Friend think that such a constitution might act as a very real and necessary brake on the Commission when it decides to interfere in the business of member states?

Peter Hain: Yes I do, and that is one of the purposes—although not the exclusive one—in designing this new constitution.

The chairman of the convention, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, has presented to it his draft outline constitutional text. Flesh now needs to be put on the bones of this skeleton. The drafting of individual chapters and articles will begin after Christmas, and a consolidated text is likely to be issued at or near Easter. The Giscard text mirrors our thinking in a number of key areas. It is founded on the basic premise of a union of sovereign states, not a blueprint for a federal super-state, and it aims to settle the relationship between the EU and its member states for the foreseeable future, halting the sense of permanent treaty change that disturbs so many of our citizens. The draft text also

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reflects our proposal for a subsidiarity mechanism whereby national Parliaments can monitor new EU proposals to ensure that it is acting only where it needs to act. Assessing subsidiarity involves a political judgment, which should be vested in national Parliaments. In practice, they will be e-mailed new Commission proposals for determining any breach of subsidiarity or—equally important—any breach of the principle of proportionality: whether new legislation, even if laudable, is too heavy-handed and intrusive. This new early-warning mechanism would make national Parliaments the watchdogs of subsidiarity and proportionality.

Mr. Allen: May I ask that my right hon. Friend seek the services of a poet, rather than someone who is competent in Euro-babble? Many hon. Members will fear that, if such descriptions are going to get longer, those outside this place will not understand them.

In my right hon. Friend's view, will the concept of subisidiarity be justiciable by local authorities and regional authorities within the countries of the European Union, rather than merely the nations—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Peter Hain: My hon. Friend does raise an important point. We are in favour of subsidiarity being determined not by the courts but by elected political representatives—a point that is also important in respect of proportionality. As he knows, national Governments and Parliaments have the right to go to the European Court of Justice, and that factor will doubtless form part of the outcome. However, we should not encourage the courts in a rush to judgment in determining these matters.

Mr. Bercow: I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I am sure that he wants his answer to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) to be complete. Will he confirm that the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality says that the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance, and that it shall not affect the balance between national law and community law? That is the reality; that is the record. Will he confirm it?

Peter Hain: The answer is yes. I am always impressed by the hon. Gentleman's ability to recite from articles, treaties and legislation without a text in front of him.

We are pleased that the draft text also includes the idea of an elected President of the European Council, which we and others have been advocating in the convention. However, there are a number of proposals that we do not support, such as changing the name of the European Union. It is a successful brand name. Giscard's suggestion of a United States of Europe implies a federal superstate, and his Europe United sounds more like a football team. Significantly, nobody supported a name change when that was discussed in the convention.

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