|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I see no reason for the noble Lord to apologise for having detained the House even at this late hour on a matter of extreme importance. He spoke about it in a knowledgeable and helpful way, and I agree with a great deal of what he said. I shall be brief in my remarks because I do not think there is need to go over the same ground.
It is vital to reform the institutional structures as we move ahead to further enlargement. We all recognise that if the next six countries--the so-called first wave--were to join the European Union it would be difficult to run the institutions. If the second six were to join the Union, it would be almost impossible in any effective way to run the institutions of the Union well. I do not put too fine a point on it in saying that most people will agree that with 15 members states it is already difficult to find jobs of adequate weight for all the commissioners. One does not tell a story out of place by saying that there is a good deal of jockeying to decide which responsibilities commissioners will have, since clearly some tasks have more heavy, weighty and significant responsibilities than others.
As regards the consensus which has begun to form around the idea of one commissioner for each member state, I regret that it removes what I believe is the excellent principle that certain of the large countries should have commissioners drawn from different political parties. In the United Kingdom, it has become the custom that one of the two commissioners comes from the leading opposition party and the other from the government party. In Germany, one of the two commissioners normally comes from the junior partner in the coalition. The idea that the commissioner should not necessarily be of the same party as the government of the country is valuable. In many ways it is an
I should like to see commissioners becoming junior ministers to other commissioners so that we can develop a greater degree of integration within the Commission than exists at present. That is the way things are going. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan said, if they go in that direction, it is essential that there should be a re-weighting of votes. From these Benches, we somewhat prefer the idea of a dual voting system. We think it important that the populations of the member states should be reflected in the decisions made. That requires a system under which there is weighting for population as well as the existing weighting of votes. That is vital because of the disproportionate contributions to the budget made by different member states, and the probable increase in weighting of responsibilities that will occur if we move towards a common foreign and security policy, even in a limited way.
I do not wish to detain the House further. It is an issue which Amsterdam hardly had time to more than pass by. It will be a major responsibility for either the next IGC or some European Council in the next few years. What is clear is that we need to resolve this issue as soon as possible, otherwise it will be a difficult issue in the centre of the enlargement discussions, and I think all of us would regret that.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, while I cannot disagree with anything my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, he observed that most of the applicant states are small. That is true of countries such as Slovenia and Estonia. However, I should remind the House that the population of Poland is between 40 million and 45 million. When it is compared to the other countries in Europe, it cannot really be described as a small country.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will recognise, I have some sympathy with much of what he has said. The fact remains that the amendment he asks us to agree would prevent the UK from ratifying the Amsterdam Treaty until agreement had been reached on the re-weighting of votes in the Council. As such, it would delay not only progress in Europe, but progress on enlargement.
I understand the concern in the House that we were not able to reach agreement. Her Majesty's Government accept that that was disappointing. When we came to the negotiating table, after 1st May last year, there was some degree of deadlock on this matter, and the Dutch presidency decided strategically to leave the matter until the endgame of negotiations at Amsterdam. At Amsterdam, both the Dutch presidency and ourselves did our best to broker a deal. Given a little more time, we might even have reached agreement. I think I can say that we ought to have reached agreement. Ultimately, however, there was no consensus, and no definitive reforms were written into the treaty. That is a disappointment, but not a disaster. We did make some
I accept much of what the noble Lord says in relation to the need to change the voting systems prior to enlargement. However, I shall not be drawn tonight on the arithmetic or the different systems. I note that the noble Lord, speaking for the Official Opposition, seems to favour a system based on the existing weighting system; and I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, seems to favour, on balance, a dual system. Either approach could safeguard Britain's relative position. Therefore they will be subject to further negotiations.
I draw the attention of the House to the terms of the protocol. Article 1 states that when the next enlargement takes place, the Commission will comprise one national of each member state, but only provided that the weighting of votes in the Council has been modified to increase the relative clout of the large member states. The noble Lord suggested that in my previous quotation from the protocol I missed out nine words. He is of course right. But either way, my final words--namely, that it would increase the clout of the large member states--apply, whichever route we take.
We consider that that protocol represents in the circumstances a sensible deal. We have agreed to surrender a second British Commissioner. I understand the anxieties of the noble Baroness. Nevertheless, we believe that on balance it is sensible to do that, but only if there is an acceptable change in the voting system. Amsterdam recognises for the first time explicitly in the treaty that the weighting of votes in the Council is inequitable and needs adjustment.
Moreover, there were other changes in the Amsterdam Treaty--I would argue, on qualified majority voting; on flexibility; and on the limit of the size of the European Parliament--which were designed to prepare the way for enlargement. However, in order to achieve the enlargement challenge, our first priority is to get the Amsterdam Treaty effectively out of the way and to achieve ratification in all 15 member states. When that is secured, we can start focusing and finding a political agreement to settle the outstanding issues of vote re-weighting and Commission size.
The noble Lord argued that this failure at Amsterdam puts at risk the whole enlargement process. We do not believe that to be the case. I went into some detail on Tuesday night to say that we have already launched the whole process of enlargement. The agreement at Amsterdam has allowed that to happen. The issues of Commission size and voting weights would have to be addressed anyway in accession negotiations. Any new member state means changing the voting weights. All member states will have to examine the issues, just as they had to at every previous enlargement.
However, Article 2 of the institutions protocol states that at least one year before the membership of the Union exceeds 20 following the accession of five new members, an IGC would be convened to review the composition and functioning of the institutions. That
We believe that it can take place well before any accession of a new member state. There is talk of it happening during the German or Finnish presidency next year. Perhaps that is true; perhaps it will take a little longer, but it will take place before there is any accession of a new member state.
The fact that Amsterdam did not involve substantial moves towards solving the issues is not a problem in terms of engaging in the enlargement process; nor should it be a problem for us now in agreeing to the ratification of the treaty. The amendment would prevent us ratifying the treaty. The noble Lord's objectives of resolving the issues and moving into the proper enlargement process are worthy ones which we on these Benches share. However, if the amendment were carried, it would slow us down, if not entirely prevent us ratifying the treaty. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He displayed greater support for the arguments I was deploying than I anticipated this evening. That in its own right will lead me to withdraw the amendment in a moment because I see the power of his argument with regard to the amendment. To be fair, I was aware of it from the outset.
The points that the Minister made are important and will be studied in detail. I have only one brief observation to make at this stage. I believe the Minister is being over-optimistic in believing that an IGC which he now defines as a "technical IGC" will necessarily, in the context of what he has said, become a limited exercise. I have a feeling that on this subject the chances of such a technical IGC being a limited exercise are slim. However, I may be being a little cynical at this late hour of the evening. Perhaps the noble Lord is right; we shall see.
Having made that passing observation, I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive reply and for his support for the many points raised. He did not go into detail on all the questions I asked; nor, sadly, into the mathematics. I was looking forward to that. Those reflections apart, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her comments and observations on the matter. In the light of what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.