Memorandum by Lord Russell-Johnston President
of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
The Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw last autumn
on the future of Europe launched a debate in which all prominent
European political personalities, including, recently, the German
Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the French Prime Minister,
Lionel Jospin, have taken part.
Their visions for tomorrow's European Union
are different, often conflicting and sometimes clearly contradictory.
Substantial differences in political motivation underpin their
interventions and influence their respective analyses, but there
are some issues on which they all seem to broadly agree. The need
for the setting up of a second chamber, or senate, to the European
Parliament, composed of representatives of national parliaments
of the European Union member states is the most important.
It is broadly accepted that the European Parliament
has so far failed to garner sufficient grass-root support and
its democratic legitimacy is therefore questioned in member states.
This has been obviously reflected in the disappointingly low turn-out
in the last European election. Both its agenda, which deals almost
exclusively with European Union legislation, and, perhaps paradoxically,
the direct suffrage through which it is elected, contribute to
In a way, the European Parliament is a victim
of its own success. The fact that many of its most prominent personalities
are virtual political unknowns at home is also serious and is
shared by other international Assemblies including that which
I chair, in which a lot of people do a huge amount of relevant
dedicated work, which is not known or recognised.
Even for a convinced European, and former member
of the European Parliament such as myself, it is evident that
the widespread perception of the European Union's only parliamentary
body as remote and even irrelevant to the everyday life of European
citizens, contributes to the perceived "democratic deficit"
in the European Union, and, as such, represents a serious obstacle
to the development of "an ever closer union" stipulated
in the Treaty of Rome. Against this background, a chamber composed
of representatives of national parliaments, could stabilise attitudes
towards the Union and enable thinking about future integration,
and its pace, to proceed with wider understanding and acceptance.
Others may have different motives, and hope
that the setting-up of such a body would give a more prominent
role to those who wish to protect the interests of "the nation
state" as opposed to the federal aspirations of many Brussels-based
MEPs. Either way, creating a second chamber, founded in the national
parliaments, would enable a dialogue to proceed which all could
view as open.
And that we certainly need.
So my contention today is that in a very complicated
situation, there is acceptance in general terms of the need for
a second chamber and that the existing Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe should be the starting point. I think
this is a practical commonsense position.
This paper cannot claim to formally represent
the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe but is intended
to draw to your attention some of the thinking in the Assembly
Apart from the European Parliament, which is
directly elected, all other international parliamentary bodies
in which our country is represented, namely the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union and the North-Atlantic
Assembly, are composed of members of national parliaments.
A future second chamber of the European Union
would have to meet with regularity and have a workload that would
go significantly beyond that of any of the parliamentary assemblies
mentioned above, with the possible exception of the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is, through its plenary
sessions and the working bodies, sitting on a virtually permanent
basis; and is the only international parliamentary body which
has significant statutory prerogatives within the Organisation
of which it is a part (election of Council of Europe's Secretary
General, election of judges of the European Court of Human Rights,
the obligation of the Committee of Ministers to respond to its
recommendations, the possibility of initiating international conventions
. . .).
Consequently, such a chamber would have to be
assisted by a secretariat, by infrastructural and logistical support
that would be notably greater than that available to the other
existing parliamentary assemblies.
In the present circumstances of an exceptionally
large majority, the British parliament, either through the House
of Commons or through the House of Lordsprovided that its
representation in a possible future second chamber would be allowedwould
probably be in the position to set up a new delegation to take
part in the work of a possible new European Union chamber.
However, a significant future reduction of the
majority could threaten the normal functioning of such a representation,
particularly in the light of the suggested frequency of the sittings
(a report in favour of a second chamber, recently presented in
the French Senate, envisaged six annual sessions lasting a day
and a half each. But that's all notional of course. I think it
would inevitably be more.
Similarly, in most of the parliaments of the
European Union's smaller member states, present or future, the
setting up of a new body would create significant, even dramatic,
difficulties, and for some of them, the requirements for participation
would be impossible to meet. On the occasion of my official visits
to parliaments of the Council of Europe member states, 41 visits
so far, all member states except Cyprus and the United Kingdom,
I have discussed this matter and often been told, particularly
in smaller countries, that they have reached their limits.
One should take into account that the Luxembourg
parliament, for example, has only 60 members, Estonia, for example,
has 100 and Slovenia, not the smallest of the possible future
European Union members, has only 90. With the electoral systems
in most of the countries on the continent being predominantly
proportionate, majorities are often counted in single digits.
To envisage, in such circumstances, a regular monthly or bi-monthly
attendance at a possible future second chamber of the European
Union with a delegation of five or 10, or even more parliamentarians,
is just not realistic.
It is therefore clear that international institutional
proliferation must be avoided.
Consequently, the best way forward would seem
to be to try to combine the work of a future second chamber with
the operations of an existing one. For the obvious reasons described
above, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europethe
only one which sits virtually permanently and has at its disposal
a relatively numerous and highly qualified secretariat (80 in
the Assembly Secretariat, 1,700 others in the intergovernmental
part with which it closely co-operates), lends itself as the obvious
candidate for such a role and also already facilitates dialogue
with non-EU countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Macedonia, etc.
I would mention that the Assembly already serves
as a body for parliamentary discussion to a number of international
organisations other than the Council of Europe, such as the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European
Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Of course I know that what I am saying challenges
established institutional positions and would represent a radical
change in the existing international architecture but I put it
forward for two, I believe sound, reasons:
1. It would enable a genuine democratic
expression not only in the EU but wider more effectively and stronger
than the existing arrangements.
2. It would be cost-effective and possibly
quick to implement.
28 June 2001