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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I make a brief intervention. I am extremely puzzled by part of the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Stoddart of Swindon, and the noble Lord who speaks for the Official Opposition. Time and again the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, in a very eloquent speech referred to loss of democracy. On a number of occasions he said that he deeply disapproved of these sections of the Treaty of Amsterdam because they represented a loss of democracy. I do not understand the English language in that sense. I believe that the proposals in the treaty represent a democratic gain. In the past proposals for nominating the president of the Commission have been conducted secretly by governments. Governments have reached precisely the back-door deals of which the noble Lord has expressed such powerful disapproval. They have never consulted Parliament or the people but simply reached understandings with other member states about the name of the person to be advanced as president of the Commission. I am sure that the Committee would not wish me to detain it by going through the history of previous presidents from the very beginning. But if noble Lords care to consider the matter they will find that time and again the president of the Commission has been appointed following agreement between two or three powerful member states.
The shocking crime of Her Majesty's Government is to have agreed to a change in the Treaty of Amerstdam which for the first time subjects the president of the Commission to some kind of democratic procedure. I can understand the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who leads for the Official Opposition-- I acquit the latter to a certain extent in this matter--only on the basis that democracy is defined to exist only in national parliaments and in no way at the level of the directly elected European Parliament. We may not like the directly elected European Parliament, but the truth of the matter is that the people of Britain, France, Germany and Italy have elected freely the people they wish to represent them by a recognised democratic procedure. That parliament will now be able to approve, or I assume refuse to approve, the name of the person put forward as president of the Commission. By any simple standard that must represent an extension, not a diminution, of accountability of a democratic kind.
Similarly, in relation to the second part of the paragraph which the amendments address, the Committee has heard over and over again about the "veto exercised by the president of the Commission". The truth of the matter is that the provision precisely states that nomination will lie in the hands of member governments and that member governments must reach a common accord with the president of the Commission. In ordinary English, it means that they must continue to consult until such point as they can agree upon a name. It resembles the strange process by which in this country we manage wisely to appoint bishops. There is an almost endless process,
I believe that this debate has entered a rather strange self-contradictory phase. In my view, and I believe the view of any fair-minded person who reads the treaty, there is an improvement in democratic accountability. There is a requirement on both member state governments and the Commission president to agree the names of commissioners. I believe that that is very much in the interests of good government within the European Union.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: We were discussing earlier what the word "political" meant. Perhaps I might draw the Committee's attention to Article J.1 where the member states are required to support the Union's external and security policy actively and unreservedly, and work together, and refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.
Lord Tebbit: I had not intended to intervene in the debate. It is worth mentioning that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has once again clarified issues for us. If the EU is to be a state, then what she has said had some force; if, on the other hand, the EU is to remain an organisation comprised of sovereign national states, then what she has said is absolute nonsense. That is where we divide: between those who, like the noble Baroness, want to create the state of Europe and those of us who do not.
Lord Whitty: Like the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, because until then I thought that I was becoming slightly unhinged. I should be used by now to recognising that all European debates in this place give rise to a degree of paranoia and demonology about the Commission. But I had not expected to have the fantastic constructions put on the relatively minor provisions that we have heard in the past hour.
I am even more surprised that the Official Opposition should go along with those interpretations, because these proposals are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, about the quality and efficiency of the governance of the EU, and what is important, they are about the European dimension of the accountability and democracy of the EU. They are not about creating a superstate; they are not about creating a president of the European Commission who is the equivalent of a President of the USA. That may be a complete misunderstanding and an attempt to apply British structures and British definitions to what are evolving new apolitical institutions within Europe.
Indeed, the debate in another place which my noble friend Lord Stoddart had clearly read was at the more superficial level of why we called Jacques Santer president in the first place. I suppose that I would expect this place to be more respectful of title, but it must be recognised that the title "president" does not imply that one is running a superstate. Some Conservative Members in the other place were making an issue of us changing to President Santer, as respect requires, the previous government's convention of referring to Mr. Santer simply as Mr. Santer. They saw it as a major shift of politics and sovereignty away from this place towards Brussels and Strasbourg. Those are fantasies.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I thank my noble friend for giving way. It is not fantasy when the president of the Commission is called Mr. President and the president of the Council is called the President of the Council. That is the point that I was making: the official is called Mr. President and the president of the Council is called the President of the Council. That is not fantasy; that is fact.
Lord Whitty: I was not directly referring to that contribution of my noble friend but to expressions in another place that our designation of the president of the Commission by his proper title somehow shifted sovereignty and power from here to Brussels. Admittedly, the debate here has been a little more sophisticated, but let us return to the proposal.
The first part increases democracy within the European Union. The European Parliament is now part of our democracy. Those who resent it are rejecting the past 30 years, whereby we in this country--Parliament by Parliament and Government by Government--have agreed that some of our powers should be pooled within a pool sovereignty within Europe; that there should be a European Parliament to look after the democratic interests of the British people and the rest of the peoples of Europe; and that we should provide for accountability in the exercise of those powers.
The Amsterdam Treaty changes the relationship between the Parliament and the appointment of the Commission in one important way. I clarify the interpretation understood by everyone until tonight, when the noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised the issue that the Parliament is not obliged to give its approval, that it does have a choice. Admittedly, it is unlikely that that choice would ever be exercised in contradistinction to the decision of the Commission to appoint a president. However, it is important that we have made this change so that we have a separate power to appoint the president and the Commission.
The UK has always supported an elected European Parliament having a stronger role in appointments to the Commission. The European Parliament will not have the right to nominate the European Commission's president; only member states will have that right. The European
The second issue is that of concord over the appointment of member states' nominees to the Commission. The current position is that the nominee president of the Commission is only consulted about nominees to that Commission rather than having a separate voice. But it is already a common accord. We are moving from a common accord of 15 member states to a common accord of 15 member states plus the president. The president will already have been agreed by all the member states, including this one, and by the European Parliament in order to become a president in waiting.
Surely, it is sensible that the Commission president should play a part in ensuring that the Commission is made up of people with the right ability, the right spread of representation and the right spread of competence. But that common accord for appointing all the members of the Commission is not new. We are extending the right of participation to the presidency, and that already existed for all 15 member states to approve each other's nominees.
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