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2 Dec 2002 : Column 688continued
Mr. Ancram: Clearly, individual referendums are matters for the countries concerned, but I share my hon. Friend's concern in the respect that it is bad for democracy in Europe, and bad in terms of trying to interest people in the political process in Europe if, when questions are asked, and the wrong answer is given from the point of view of the Government or Europe, they continue to ask the question until they get the answer that they want. That is not necessarily the right way to proceed.
We propose, too, that there should be a rough European equivalent of the Law Commission, to examine the acquis communautaire, to identify out-of-date legislation and to slim down the 85,000 pages of EU law. We also want a simplified decision-making process. The EU currently has 30 different ways of making decisions. We propose to bring that down to just two: binding laws and non-binding recommendations. Binding laws shall, basically, deal with the rules for the single market and other essential areas. In other areas, the EU should have the power to issue recommendations for member states, which are always free to adopt higher standards if they so wish.
We support moves to make the Council a more open institution. It has been far too secretive, allowing Governments to blame each other for unpopular laws and for added bureaucracy. Council voting should be on the record and in public. We would also like the General Affairs Council to sit every two weeks in open forum and not just deal with foreign affairs issues. The Spanish Government have led progress on this issue.
With enlargement, the current system of rotating Council presidencies simply will not work. Something has to be done. We oppose, however, the proposal for an individual president elected by his peers for five years. Let us leave aside the Prime Minister's retirement planswe believe that the concept is fundamentally wrong. It would do nothing to make the EU more accountable or democratic or to decentralise it. Indeed, it would do quite the opposite. We support team presidencies, with perhaps one large member state working with two small ones for one or two years. Such a reform would have many benefits. It would provide longer-range Council planning, it would be a model for international co-operation and, above all, it would not be a threat to the position of the small member states of the EU.
Peter Hain: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his opposition to a full-time president of the Council is shared by all the federalists in this debate? They do not want such a president because they want all the power in the European Parliament and the Commission. They do not want a strong Council. How is that compatible with his vision of a Europe of nation states?
Mr. Ancram: I will always gratefully receive support from wherever I can find it. My reason for opposing a five-year presidency has nothing to do with federalism. It is a centralising proposition that would make the post
The Commission, too, is in need of reform. Its monopoly of legislative initiative compromises the EU's democratic standards. We want a streamlined Commission, with its powers of initiation curtailed. The Commission should move towards becoming a secretariat under proper democratic control, in which the European Parliament would have a central role to play. We would like directives to be issued once again on a genuine framework basis, with the Commission only stating the desired outcome. Methods of implementation should then be left to the national Parliaments.
Mr. Ancram: We would like to see a new system of full and junior commissioners, with the larger member states being guaranteed full posts. Smaller member states would have a proper voice through their junior commissioners.
There is another issue that the convention should just leave alone. The continued mad dash, boosted again by the Prime Minister last week, for a united foreign policy is to fly, particularly at this time, in the face of reality. It will not happen and it would not work if it did. We have a right to our own distinct view on international matters. We should fight to preserve that right and not to compromise it.
These are some of the ways in which we can build a European Union that is more dynamic, more adaptable and better able to play a role in the modern world. It is the antithesis of integration and centralisation. It disperses power back down the chain. I want the European Union to succeed as a partnership of sovereign nation states. However, to succeed, it must re-engage with its peoples. Centralisation will never be the answer. It is interesting that politicians from the accession countries often tell me that they do not want a centralised Europe. Those countries have not freed themselves from the yoke of Soviet centralisation to submit to the same from Brussels.
Tonight's debate is useful, but we need a far broader national debate on the future shape and structures of Europe. This debate is too important to become a narrow discussion conducted by what I would call Euro technicians. The future of the EU will fundamentally affect the lives of all the peoples of Europe, including the
When the convention started eight months ago, it was not clear what we would achieve. Some people thought that we would produce options. It is now clear that we will produce something that represents a constitution. The United Kingdom has been strongly represented. Despite Cabinet changes, and my delight that we have a new Minister for Europe, I was extremely pleased that the convention representation remained the same. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain) has been strong and effective, and I would not have wanted a change, despite the fact that he is now Secretary of State for Wales.
It should be recognised that the convention breaks historic ground. Both national and European parliamentarians are involved in treaty changes for the first time. That is a huge step forward. Treaties used to be cooked up by civil servants and approved by Heads of Government. They were then delivered to Parliament, which could say yes or no. That has changed and we are involved, but that puts a huge responsibility on parliamentarians. I use that word deliberately. If the House, as a Parliament, wishes to play its role effectively, Parliament as an institution must find its voice. It has to stop name calling across the Benches. It must take stock and think about what is at stake for parliamentary sovereigntyI also use that term deliberatelyrather than national sovereignty.
The real issue is not one of federalism or centralism. Instead, it is how parliamentariansnational and Europeanhold the Executive to account. If we are honest, we have been far from perfect in that. Some of the limitations have been institutional. If hon. Members care to look at the report of the working group, they will see that it supports the Seville recommendation that the Council of Ministers opens its doors. It also supports not only the much better flow of information, but the idea of making far more politically intelligent use of it.
To use scrutiny properly and not just as a replacement for sovereignty, it must have a proper political impact. When we scrutinise European legislation, it must be seen as scrutiny of the Executive. What are at stake in the convention are the mechanisms for doing that. The contention that federalists are the real threat is not true. There are true federalists at the convention, but they are in the minority. However, I must issue a note of caution to the Government. The long accepted British view is that in order to prevent the federalist influence, it is necessary to promote the intergovernmental alternative. That is not necessarily so, because the intergovernmental method can simply mean that we replace a remote federal structure with a remote group of Ministers, and although they represent majorities, they are not necessarily more accountable. How do we make them more accountable?
The step taken on subsidiarity is hugely significant. I agree with the mutterings that I detected in the House that subsidiarity on its own is not the issue. Subsidiarity was defined in the treaty of Maastricht, and a protocol requires its observance. However, on no occasion has a decision been blocked. Evidence concerning the observance of the principle is scant, and we ask for much more evidence. The British insistence on continually combining the word Xsubsidiarity" with Xproportionality", and our success in doing so, has emphasised the importance of that combination.
The right hon. Member for Devizes suggested that five member Parliaments should make up the watchdog on subsidiarity. We decided that there should be a significant number, which was translated by many as being about 40 per cent. However, that structure on its own will not be sufficient. If Parliaments do not wake up to their responsibility and if parliamentarians do not develop a mechanism by which they share their experiences and exchange their views, there will simply be a process of divide and rule. The danger of the convention is that although we will refer to national Parliaments in the constitution and give them mechanisms, parliamentarians will not use them unless they wake up to their responsibility.
European Union decision making will have to be firmly based in the national institutions. If hon. Members will forgive the analogy, the situation reminds me of putting up a tent as a child. The tent is held on the ground only if we peg it down, and national Parliaments must be those pegs, because the electorate relates to them. If all the proposals in the convention and in the working group of national Parliaments are implemented and work as they should, the sign of success for me, and the desired outcome, will be evident in my Friday night surgeries.