Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 80 - 95)

TUESDAY 3 JULY 2001

LORD RUSSELL-JOHNSTON MP

Baroness Billingham

  80. But honest.

  A. I think it would require certainly some change in the attitude of the media before any change was evident. Personally I think the BBC has an educational duty to have programmes about Parliament, about the various assemblies which serve the country and also about the European Parliament but it does not. It is the only institution upon which you can, as it were, bring some public responsibility, pressure to bear, you cannot do very much with The Daily Telegraph.

Lord Tomlinson

  81. Lord Russell-Johnston, first of all, I found the paper very interesting because it was a thoughtful piece even though it does not offer the solution. What I might just do is pick up two questions. One is the question we are looking at, this whole idea of a Second Chamber, which arose partly from the Prime Minister's speech in Warsaw when he spoke about the need to "better connect Europe to its citizens". Now if we had a Second Chamber comprised of national parliamentarians, a structure rather like the Council of Europe, can you see any reason why it should produce any different result other than that which you described when you said you found vast ignorance of the Council of Europe? Would it not fail in the same way that the Council of Europe has failed in terms of better connecting with the citizens? The second question is a slightly different approach which is the institutional question. Is it not the role of national parliamentarians to control their national governments? They have their influence over European decision making by doing that efficiently and effectively. If it is not efficient and it is not effective they have got nobody to blame but themselves. Should they having that power on the one hand also become part of the co-decision making process in legislative terms? Does that not produce an internal inconsistency in terms of institutional relationships?

  A. From my own point of view, yes. You have been in the European Parliament for such a long time that you know exactly how it works. Of course, you are absolutely correct in saying that the national parliament has the power to regulate what the government does, the government serves in the Council of Ministers or its representative is there and therefore we have seen so many times in the House of Commons when we were there together the attempt being made by Parliament to secure some assurances from ministers before they went to the Council of Ministers. It was not what I would describe as a particularly successful series of attempts but, yes, that is correct. I do not think that necessarily prevents or precludes you establishing a second chamber which is composed of members of national parliaments. You would say of course they are getting two bites at the cherry but I do not think that is so bad a thing if it has the effect—which was the first question you asked—of increasing national awareness of what is happening there and national concern at getting involved with it. Of course it is quite impossible to guarantee that it would have such an effect but I think if you take members of parliament out of here and put them in a body which has a specific responsibility vis a vis the European Union this changes their attitudes, and we will doubtless come in due course to the great difficulties these people would face in reality. I think they would also become somewhat of a channel for the person with grievance, the person with opinion, the person wishing to change some policy. I cannot say of course that it would but I repeat what I said at the very beginning, Lord Chairman, that I am not necessarily advocating a Second Chamber, actually I am fairly neutral on the subject. I think it will come in the end. I think it will come. I do not think it is yet necessary to have it but that is a personal view. I am not against it. If and when it happens it is going to be fiendishly complicated working out how to do it but anyway that is another question.

Viscount Brookeborough

  82. Lord Russell-Johnston, thank you very much for your paper. You did mention disinterest but you said also the growth of disinterest. Do you think that there really was any great interest in it at any stage and it was not just ambivalence to it from the very beginning? Secondly, surely the interest in it is directly related to the ability of the public to have any influence over it and what they perceive are decisions that are taken there can be ratified, or should be ratified, by each nation state. However, when it gets down to the nation state many people feel it is already a fait accompli so they then feel that they can do nothing about it, but that does not increase their interest in the Council of Europe. Last of all, you said that it might be necessary in the future to have a Second Chamber, under what conditions do you say that?

  A. If I could take the last question first. I think that the arguments for a Second Chamber are similar to the arguments for bicameral systems in any national state. Normally the Second Chamber, the Senate, the Lords, or whatever it is called, is the place where there is opportunity to revise and improve legislation which has gone through the lower Chamber. There is usually some kind of, at least, delaying power so that what some would regard as more thorough attention to objections can be enabled. I think also, in this case, and this is also true of a number of senates in different countries in different parts of the world, there is a feeling that an Upper House should also reflect the geographical make-up of the whole union, which of course is very diverse and is composed of a number of different countries. These are the reasons that I would think that would be adduced in favour of, at some stage, introducing the Second Chamber. Now, you said that the reason that the public were disinterested was perhaps because they were never interested in the first place, if I picked you up correctly.

  83. You said it was a growth of disinterest and I wondered why you felt it was a growth when quite clearly they do not seem to have been interested in the first place. Apart from the general formation of the EU they really have not been interested in that subject, the Council of Europe.

  A. Well, I am not sure that is quite true. It depends, like so many things. For example, when I was in the European Parliament in 1972 to 1978 serving with the late Lord Gladwyn of your Lordships' House, that was the time when the Regional Fund began and was also put under the control of the gentleman who is now Lord Thomson of Monifieth and who at that time was George Thomson. Consequently, coming from the Highlands of Scotland, as I did, that was very interesting. We saw it as a possibility to obtain both sympathy and perhaps financial support and technical support for the problems we had and there was very considerable interest, I can assure you. When I managed to wangle my way up to the Regional Fund Committee of the European Parliament, that enabled me to talk about it and to do something about it and to respond to representations about it. I suppose that is what we mean by "relevance". There are quite a few people who take the kind of view you attributed to the majority of the population who take it towards this House of Commons, otherwise 40 more per cent would have voted for them.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

  84. I must apologise, my Lord Chairman, I am going to have to leave at some stage, but may I ask two questions? The first is, we are, a lot of us, concerned that if this second chamber proposal were to be put forward and made to work it has to make sure that senior members of the national parliaments attend. Could you say a little more about the ease or difficulty which the Council of Europe and the Parliament—whether it was directly or indirectly elected—had in getting both senior and experienced members of national parliaments to participate? My second question relates to that and is on the timing of meetings, since, clearly, from what you say of the French senate proposal, the biggest problem is how are those who are asked to attend going to find the time to attend? Would you recommend, for example, weekend meetings or a full week in September—or are there other particular points in the week, month or year during which you think it is more likely that some new second chamber might actually manage to attract people? Or is it a simple impossibility?

  A. The first question is do we have difficulty getting senior members to take part. It depends on what you mean by "senior". If you mean old, the answer is no. If you mean important within the party, the answer is yes. If I may talk about the Council of Europe for a second, there is considerable difficulty in getting people of quality to come. There is a marked difference between the attitude of what you might call the older, Western European countries and the new, Eastern Bloc countries. The new, Eastern Bloc countries have sent their best people because it has been an admirable sort of seminarial training college for people engaged in foreign affairs. The Prime Minister of Romania was one of our members in the Council of Europe, and so was the Minister of Finance in Estonia. I cannot remember straight-off all of them but there are a lot in that category. On the other hand, the older, Western countries do not go. The people who are important in the party do not go because that would mean missing out on the challenges that are the most important for them, politically and domestically, at home. That is a difficulty. About a third of the membership of the Council of Europe Assembly changes every year. That does not mean to say that the whole lot is changed after three years, of course; it is simply that there is a turnover due in part to elections but also due to a reluctance to stay too long. If you accept—and I am not saying this for reasons of self-glorification—that the President of the Assembly is the most prestigious person in it, then look at what happened to my immediate predecessor, Leni Fischer, who was a Christian Democrat in Germany. She did not get high enough up on the list to be elected, and she had been president. Before her, Miguel Angel Martinez, a Spanish Socialist, made a swift sidestep into the European Parliament, but if he had stayed in the Cortes he would not have been elected. If that happens to the presidents, what about the poor old foot soldiers? Many of them go to the Council of Europe but then keep it a deadly secret that they have actually been there; they do not make any kind of song and dance about it. So that is a considerable problem. I think you have to remember, and I am sure you know but I will preface these remarks by promising all of you faithfully that I am not about to embark upon a lecture on proportional representation, that since proportional representation operates in most European countries it has the consequence of producing, inevitably, coalitions and these coalitions almost always have small majorities. That means that members have to keep going back and going back and going back to keep their government in power. This also can happen under our system but, also, our system is capable, which PR systems are incapable, of producing large majorities, as at present with Mr Blair and as previously with Mrs Thatcher. That is also something that you have to take very much into account. So it is not easy. I think we have to remember how many of these indirectly elected assemblies there are; not only is there the Council of Europe but there is the WEU assembly and there is the OSCE assembly, which I notice, by the by, has decided now to meet twice a year instead of once a year. Meeting once a year was simply a cosmetic of democracy; the idea that you can exert any influence or control by meeting once a year is ridiculous. Never mind, they are now going to meet twice a year. So you are going to have to man all these assemblies; people have got to go to them to make them work—and their committees, remember. The Council of Europe Assembly has ten committees. All right, it has got 300 and something—notionally 600—members, so it has got enough people, but if you are a little country (and I point that out, I think, in the memorandum), if you only have 100 members and there is a majority of 3, then it is not easy. Timings of meetings: as you perhaps know, there is a meeting every two years of Speakers and Presidents of Parliaments, which is held at various places. The last one was held this year in Strasbourg and I had the dubious responsibility of chairing it. I very nearly interrupted Betty Boothroyd but had not the courage in the end, although she spoke over the limit more than anybody else. There is a great tradition, of course, of having international meetings where there is great agreement expressed by everybody and then nothing happens at all. That was true of this meeting. They agreed that they had to have what you were talking about, specific time slot allocations, agreed—in other words that you would, for example, take the first two weeks of September, whatever it was throughout the year—and these would be for the abroad exercises. So that the abroad exercises would be clearly defined, the public would also see that they were taking place instead of the national parliamentary activity, and it would also enable them to take place without disruption and without the kind of running back and forth that takes place. For example, I think it is on Wednesdays that the Netherlands Parliament has votes, not any other day. I may be wrong, my Lord Chairman, about Wednesday but it is one day of the week and all the Dutch members rush back to the Hague for that purpose. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it at all because that is their national parliament, which for each of them is their first priority. So if we could reach an agreement about this I think that would be very practical and good. This has been agreed, I gather, at three meetings of Speakers and Presidents of Parliament, but nothing has happened, mainly because nobody can take control, decide, initiate or push because it would be quite a complicated exercise of negotiation.

  Chairman: We have Lord Jopling next, who was a Member of the OSCE.

Lord Jopling

  85. Thank you, my Lord, I will come to that in a moment. Lord Russell-Johnston, I wonder if I could take you, one by one, through three thoughts I have on this? First of all, the business of having a dual mandate between the parliament here and another organisation somewhere else. I was the Government Chief Whip when the European Parliament moved from being appointed from here to being directly elected. My perception—and I am going to ask you whether you think I am right—is that those members here (and I speak for my party alone, I am not going to talk about your party or the Labour Party) who had opted to go, as well as being members of the House of Commons, in particular, to members of the European Parliament have ended up by doing both not very well. They were, if I can use a Yorkshire phrase which will totally confuse the shorthand writers, "neither nowt nor summat". Nothing or something. Would you agree with that?

  A. Is this the first question you wanted me to take stage by stage?

  86. I would like to take you through them, yes.

  A. No.

  87. You do not?

  A. Not really. I think that this is terribly dependent on the individual person. Some would suffer exactly the way you describe, others have an appetite for work and a capacity for work and an ability to do these things. One can think of a number of people who have performed, I think, quite well in both places, but there is that tendency. That is as far as I would go in agreeing with you. It depends, of course, on the extent of the pressures at both ends. If it is a very busy parliament and a small majority here it is going to, obviously, make it much less easy for the person to do anything effective elsewhere within the European Parliament.

  88. The second point I want to put to you is that if one were to do this and one were to decide, as you suggest, that the Council of Europe should be considered as a vehicle, I notice in your paper you talk about the European Parliament—and I am very reluctant to get into personalities here—and you state the fact that many of its most prominent personalities are virtually political unknowns at home. I can remember, in those days in the mid-1980s, getting into a certain amount of hostility when I said that I could not remember anything which had been raised and discussed in the Council of Europe ever being raised and discussed in the House of Commons, because there seemed to be a total blank in the House of Commons to refer to anything which was discussed in the Council of Europe. I would guess—I do not know—that if you were to ask the average member of the House of Commons who the members of the delegation to the Council of Europe are they would not be able to think of very many. You talked about a "vast ignorance"—and those are the words Lord Tomlinson referred to as well—of the Council of Europe. What I am going to say to you is, what are the particular merits of the Council of Europe which would make it a more acceptable vehicle than it seems to be now? You yourself refer to the fact that a good many people were not interested in going there. You said that a few moments ago.

  A. I agree with you about what you have just said. Mind you, it is not that the Council of Europe is unacceptable as opposed to acceptable, it is that people do not know anything about it, very often. It does not arouse antagonism, in the same way as the European Parliament, for reasons we do not need to go into today, arouses antagonism. I do not know how, exactly, to put this. You are quite right to say that if you ask members "Who are the members of the delegation?" in most cases they would not be able to tell you. I do not think that is because they are opposed to the idea or anything else, but I think it is because they are not interested. You can also ask some urban members "Who serves on the Agriculture Committee?" and nobody will know. You have got to take account, also, of what people are interested in. I do not know if I can add very much to that.

  89. Perhaps I can go on to the third point. What we have not discussed is what this vehicle would be responsible for and what it would discuss and what it would look at, which, it seems to me, ought to be at the starting point rather than a start from thinking what the vehicle may be. Would it not be better, in the light of what I have been saying, if you were to look at the issues to be dealt with by a national parliament if you want to? If you are going to have intergovernmental issues, such as the proposal for the Rapid Reaction Force, would it not be better to have horses for courses, as it were, and to have existing bodies, maybe the Council of Europe being one, which might look and have a responsibility for certain issues over European Affairs? For instance, with regard to the SDI, you have a body, the NATO Council (I was personally a member of that for ten years) but my experience is that there is a good deal more defence expertise in that body than there is in the WEU, because people go on to the WEU purely because they are members of the delegation to the Council of Europe. Would it not be better, for instance, that you pick on an individual existing organisation to have a parliamentary responsibility for certain issues? I merely quote the NATO assembly as an example that might have a responsibility on an inter-parliamentary basis for the SDI. You can think of other organisations—the OSCE might be another. I may say I was solely responsible with Daniel Purcell, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on insisting that that organisation only met once a year—the two of us came to a dirty deal over that—because we did not want to set up an organisation which had committees going hither and thither round the world throughout twelve months of the year. We felt that it was not necessary to do that. They have now decided to meet twice a year, but I am not sure, still, whether that is a good idea, but that is a separate point. Would we not be better not to have one body to deal with intergovernmental affairs but to try and farm them out among existing bodies?

  A. First of all, in case anybody does not know this, the reason why the WEU and the Council of Europe are the same people is because it is laid down in the Brussels Treaty that those attending the WEU assembly, certainly the full members of the WEU, must be drawn from those who go to the Council of Europe. So the two are the same. Many people in a number of countries have occasionally argued this link should be broken but it has not been. I do not know. I ask myself, for example, why is it that in international democratic assemblies like the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, like the WEU Assembly, like OSCE, which is kind of betwixt and between, defence is separate. Defence is not separate in this Parliament, or in the Dutch Parliament or in the German Parliament, it is part of the warp and weft of argument in general. Why should it be separated in international assemblies? I am not quite sure. But I can see the argument for having, as it were, specialist assemblies which have particular functions and responsibilities. I can see that would run into the problem that we touched on earlier, my Lord Chairman, of the difficulty some smaller countries have of manning all these assemblies and providing the necessary people not only for the assemblies but for the committees which they breed. It is also very complicated to break it down functionally. My reason for getting in touch with this Committee was really quite limited, and that was, as I said at the beginning and I have taken the opportunity to repeat it, to say to you, "All right, if you decide that there is some merit in looking to a second chamber, please remember that we exist." It is not only that the assembly exists but the Council of Europe as an institution has a staff of 1,800 people, it is a large organisation, it deals with a whole width of questions and therefore should be taken into account. I think the idea of having a number of functionally-related assemblies would be very difficult to implement though I would not be against it in principle.

Lord Grenfell

  90. A year ago I was rather attracted to the idea of a second chamber because I felt it might provide a solution to the democratic deficit and it might deal effectively with the function of policing subsidiarity, which seems to me to be very important. But in the course of the year and a lot of study of the issue I have come round 180º and I am now absolutely convinced there is no case to be made for a second chamber. I would ask you whether you might agree with the following propositions. The first is that the proposals which have been made for a second chamber by a number of countries have normally rested on the principle that those who sit in it should be national parliamentarians, and the more I have looked at that the more convinced I am that this is impractical. I think your final paragraph on page 3 of your memorandum drives another stake through the heart of this proposal. At the same time I have to ask you, would it not be placing an unnecessary burden on the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly to make that the second chamber of the European Union? Having been a delegate to the Council of Europe, I have been enormously impressed by the very special role that it plays, particularly so since the former Communist countries have become members of it, or are becoming members of it. It has a very special role in the field of human rights—and I take the opportunity to congratulate the position your Assembly has taken on the death penalty, for example. I wonder whether it would not be muddying the waters and risking detracting from the very special function that the Council of Europe has, its very special role, if it was to assume as well the functions of a second chamber of the European Union, which would involve it in a lot of matters which are germane to the European Union, often very nitty-gritty problems. Secondly, and lastly, would you not agree that the better route to take, since we are talking about the democratic deficit, would be on the one hand to see what could be done to open up the Council of Ministers and make it much more transparent and accountable, because they do work in a very secretive manner. I think the proposal the Germans made to convert the Council of Ministers into a second chamber was probably prompted by the idea that if nothing else, it would create a more transparent Council. Maybe this is the only way to go. I do think that is one way to go, and I wonder whether you agree. And on the other hand, and I think this may be more important, should we not be paying far more attention to ensuring that scrutiny by national parliaments of what their governments are doing in our name in the institutions of the European Union really is properly pursued? As Richard Corbett, our MEP from North Yorkshire and Humber, was saying recently, instead of inventing new chambers we should focus on improving national parliamentary scrutiny over ministers, and he cited the case of the Nordic states where parliamentary committees hear from ministers not only before they go to Brussels but when they come back. If there is a problem about setting up such a chamber then maybe the solution is to forgo all the problems of setting up a second chamber—the costs and the difficulties of getting people there—and do much more to ensure that the scrutiny of the national parliaments of the activities of governments in the institutions of the EU is taken far more seriously and does the job which a second chamber would probably not do very well.

  A. To start with that one, firstly that will not happen until one or other of the major parties carries its belief in greater scrutiny from opposition into government. Secondly, despite the relative ineffectiveness of the procedure I have to say to you that this Committee in your Lordship's House has the very highest reputation throughout Europe as being a body which produces wise and sometimes trenchant comment on European affairs, because obviously you realise the Council of Europe contains all members of the EU so we often talk about all the things together. That is my answer to that. Going backwards through your questions, the idea of opening-up the Committee of Ministers to transparency is a thought much beloved of democratic people but I doubt it will happen because each government when it becomes a government likes to keep its cards close to its chest. It does not like having the press nosing about in delicate negotiations, and therefore although it will publicly say this is a splendid idea, and it may even in fact admit the trappings of doing it, it will never actually do it. Allow me to put in brackets a point of grievance—a complaint, if you like—which shows us how the Council of Europe gets treated. We have a Ministerial Council in the Council of Europe and the last one attracted 16 foreign ministers out of 43, the previous one attracted 12. The last time a British foreign minister, or a French foreign minister, or a German foreign minister, attended has to be looked at in the archives, they just do not go. Why do they not go? Because it is not human rights. It may be important to democratic theory but it does not have the same immediate demands of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. That is the reality. Would it not be an unreasonable burden on the Council of Europe? It would be an extra burden, that is quite true. The pluses would be that there would be some merit in having an assembly which provided a bridge between the European Union on the one hand, across the countries that will one day join it, to the countries which will not join it. You can hardly expect Russia to join the European Union; at least, I do not think so. It is very doubtful the Ukraine would ever join it. You can argue the pros and cons of a number of other countries in what you call Central Asia but a number will. For example, let us take one specific example where at the moment there is an advantage, I think. The Parliamentary Assembly deals with agriculture, as you probably know, we have now combined the environment and agricultural remits together. As I am sure you also know very well, one of the big problems about enlargement is Polish agriculture, which is very large. The Assembly is one of the few places where people who are concerned about the future of the CAP but not in the European Union, not able to exercise direct influence, can talk about it, not only on the floor of the hemi-circle but also to the individual Germans, Brits, Spaniards and so on who are in the European Union. I think that is an advantage and it would be an advantage. I am not a constitutional lawyer—sometimes I am grateful for this—but I have no doubt it would be very complicated to try and join the two things together. It is not impossible. When the OSCE Assembly, which Lord Jopling referred to, was established, the Council of Europe made an official stand, or at least the Assembly did, saying, "We will do it for you, it is not necessary to have an additional assembly for the OSCE", and it would have been perfectly possible, despite the Kurdistans and the Kazakstans and all the other "stans" in the Central Asian republics, to have done some asymmetric juggling and we could have done the same sort of arrangement as we do with the OECD where for a particular day or days people come from Korea, Japan, Australia, wherever, to participate in debate. So it is possible to do these things but, I agree with you, it is not of course easy and it would also require some of the other reforms such as we were talking about with Lord Wallace earlier, about giving more known and specific time allocations for attendance which I think the people serving these dual mandate situations would, particularly if the burden was heavier, need to have. I remember, if I can end on this point, when I went to the European Parliament in the old days, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party in my constituency naturally sought to take some advantage out of this rather foolish thing their Member of Parliament had done and some clever fellow coined the slogan, "Where's Russell? Russell's in Brussels." I think dual mandate people have got somehow to be protected from this. One of my defences at the time was, "What is the difference between me having a dual mandate and me being a minister, even a junior minister?" It is very demanding being a junior minister, as you all know. There is no fundamental difference in those terms, and this comes back to the question of doing two things at once and not doing either of them well. So I think it can be defended but I am not trying to make a case, as I said at the beginning.

  Lord Grenfell: Thank you very much.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

  91. Lord Russell-Johnston, I find myself very much in agreement with Lord Grenfell in what he was saying, but I am also interested in what you think could be done to correct the democratic deficit, because that is part of what this is supposed to be about. You say, very rightly, in your paper that the incoming new countries are going to find and would find this a tremendous burden and they have the whole acquis communautaire to absorb and they have to go on absorbing a lot more and they have to attend further institutions, and it is obviously going to have a serious effect on the benefits of enlargement; it would not be a benefit but a disadvantage. Would you agree that one possible approach might be, first of all, as you very rightly said at the beginning, very, very much greater publicity in this country for all the European institutions, so people know what they are doing and that they exist, but as well as that the real issue is, do national parliaments have sufficient control through scrutiny? Would you agree that if scrutiny were changed from six weeks to three months, or even longer, there might then be a prospect, first of all, of slowing down everything that is happening, because every presidency wants to make its name with more new initiatives, but, secondly, it would make parliaments take the value of the relationship with Europe more seriously if they really had the opportunity and the duty to look at everything instead, as our Committee can testify, constantly being told, "Actually the Minister had to sign, it was really too difficult to refer it to you in time, so we thought we would not bother with scrutiny this time." Would you agree that the three things—a lengthening of scrutiny, greater publicity and some sort of regard for not producing any further institution about which the incoming, small, new countries would have to learn and would have to master—might help with the democratic deficit?

  A. They might. I suppose all of us would like life to proceed in a graceful, orderly way, unfortunately it does not do so very often. It is certainly true that we could take more time in this Parliament now. The Nordic example, which is mainly the Danish example which was quoted earlier, is apposite. Different parliaments do it in different ways but I do not think we do it particularly well. I think we should do it better. That is not a very original thing to say but that is what I feel. I am afraid there is a lot of truth in what you say, that if you rush at things you make more mistakes, but frankly I have never really witnessed the European Union rushing, with the possible exception of the Delors period, when you had this very strong, driving personality, who wanted to do things and get on with it, but in general the European Union moves quite slowly. Do not forget a lot of the things we are talking about are speculations rather than propositions. If you say to me, "When do you expect some arrangement of some kind like a second chamber", I could not give you an answer. Certainly not soon, that is for sure. The Union does tend to move in jerks—stops and then jerks—and that is partially related to what you said, that each new presidency feels it must scorch its mark on the tapestry of history, but normally does not succeed in doing so.

Viscount Bledisloe

  92. Lord Russell-Johnston, you and most of your questioners have discussed the various ways in which new bodies could be created or existing bodies could be expanded in order to improve or remove or reduce the uninterest and alienation showed by the ordinary man or woman in the street. Do you not recognise that in fact the only possible way of reducing that uninterest and gaining approval from the man or woman in the street is to reduce significantly the enormous number of existing organisations which there are, to cut down the vast quantity of talking and paper which is produced at the moment, and that until that is done the man or woman in the street will never be interested in Europe?

  A. I doubt if it makes much difference to the interest or uninterest of the man or woman in the street in Europe whether there are many organisations or only one or two. It is rather, as was being said earlier, about the possible merits of some kind of functional assemblies being more interesting than trying to jam everything together. I sometimes think, what is the point of having the OSCE Assembly, the WEU Assembly, why not just have one assembly, it would save money, there is no reason why the Council of Europe should not deal with defence, but I do not think that will happen at all because, as you know, institutions have the great power of self-defence; they dig into the ground with their claws. It is an understandable sentiment you have expressed but I do not think it is either going to happen or, if it did happen, which is most unlikely, it would make so much difference to the other thing. By the way, I did not say that a second chamber or the creation of a second chamber would cure the democratic deficit. I simply said that this was one of the propositions before us and we had to remember that the Council of Europe existed when contemplating solutions.

Chairman

  93. You noted in your paper that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has very good links with the intergovernmental side of the Council of Europe. Would you say the Parliamentary Assembly has good links with existing EU institutions?

  A. Yes, I would say so. We have joint meetings from time to time between committees, although the problem usually is that because the two assemblies, the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly, each have their own agenda and priorities, we have not really got all that time for discussing co-operation. Co-operation takes place at the level of officials a great deal. Co-operation also takes place in terms of talking to people. For example, Romano Prodi came and spoke to us in the Assembly in April I think; certainly this year. Last month I had some time with Chris Patten, in that particular case to talk about the Stability Pact and the future arrangements for Kosovo where the Council of Europe was going to be involved in observing and managing the proposed elections. So we do have regular contacts and links. We do not have arguments, by and large, the European Union pays for quite a number of the programmes which the Council of Europe devises for which it does not have separate expertise. There are silly things from time to time. For example, three years ago, perhaps four years ago, there was a campaign run by the Council of Europe against racism, "All Equal, All Different" and we did a lot of work. I do not know if it had a great impact because the people who practise racism, generally speaking, were out of contact, but the anti-racists spoke to other anti-racists about how bad it all was. That is one of the weaknesses of some of these campaigns but, never mind, we stirred up a bit of excitement and a train went from Northern Europe to Southern Europe and stopped at stations and meetings were held and so on. We had finally a great big rally in the hemi-cycle. Then the European Union decided to do the same thing and we said, "Here is our slogan, here is our logo, take it over." No, no, no, they wanted something different, a different logo, a different slogan, they had to have something different. I said, "But in your countries the same people will be doing all this work, exactly the same people who are interested in this", but no. So there are silly things which happen but, generally speaking, it works.

Lord Shore of Stepney

  94. Is there not in fact a kind of competition and tension between the European Union and the Council of Europe, and has there not always been between the predecessor, the Common Market, and the Council of Europe? The second question is, the European Union has yet to decide where the boundaries of Europe rest, is that a question which the Council of Europe has already decided? If so, are we not in for some astonishing developments in the years ahead?

  A. Firstly, if I may express a personal opinion, I think there is more competition between the Council of Europe and the OSCE than there is between the Council of Europe and the European Union, because they are overlapping the same areas, and the OSCE is always pushing to do more, and the OSCE is much more governmentally-led than the Council of Europe is. The boundaries of the Council of Europe—that is a nice question. At the moment, Kazakstan is seeking to be an observer country. There have been approaches from Morocco and there is a relationship with the Maghreb. Before Lord Shore says anything about human rights in Morocco, we are all very alert to that, I can assure you. What I am pointing out is that I do not think we will have any more full members, with the exception of Yugoslavia, Belarus, Bosnia and possibly Monaco; those four. I think there may well be some kind of relationship established with countries in Central Asia, countries in Northern Africa, the riparian countries, if I can put it that way, but I do not think they will become full members. I do not think there will be any more full members than the ones I have listed. There is one change which is taking place: someone mentioned the death penalty, we had a report for the first time directly criticising an observer country, that was the United States, which is not an observer of the Assembly but is an observer of the Council of Europe, the governmental side, as is Japan, and we had a report in the Assembly criticising them both for maintaining the death penalty. The argument runs that, all right, you may be only an observer but why do you want to be an observer if you are not interested in the values which the organisation tries to project? It does not make sense to proceed in a way directly contrary to what the organisation is committed. That will be a development I think. So if Kazakstan joins as an observer but not as a full member, it is going to still expect there are going to be people who will show an interest in what is going on, because I suppose if you want to be an observer it represents some kind of political cachet and you should have to pay for political cachets by your behaviour.

Chairman

  95. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you very much, Lord Russell-Johnston for coming this afternoon. We have covered a good deal of ground and it has been most helpful in our inquiry. On behalf of everybody can I say we are most grateful for your coming today. You will be aware that we will be having a recess shortly but we hope to have one or two more meetings on this subject and hopefully will produce a report sometime in the early autumn. Thank you very much once more for coming.

  A. Thank you very much indeed.





 
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