Select Committee on European Union Twenty-First Report

PART 1: introduction

1.   The Praesidium of the Convention on the Future of Europe has published Draft Articles of the proposed Constitutional Treaty concerned with the Institutions. Our Committee[1] has been commenting on the Draft Articles as they have emerged from the Praesidium, with a view to making short reports to the House for information in advance of the Plenary debate in the Convention on the relevant Articles. This report falls into that sequence. The Committee will continue to keep the work of the Convention under review, and will in particular scrutinise the final output of the Convention in advance of the forthcoming IGC. Printed with this report is evidence we took from Peter Hain, the Government's representative on the Convention[2].

2.   The Laeken declaration[3] set the direction on the debate on the future of Europe, clearly describing aspirations and posing questions to be answered through a Convention made up of the main parties involved in the debate. Laeken set high ideals, stating that the EU derives its legitimacy not only from its democratic values but also from "democratic, transparent and efficient institutions". The draft articles for Title IV of Part I of the Constitution should accordingly be expected to increase the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the current institutions, improve the efficiency of decision making, and also address the role of national parliaments.

3.   Title IV of Part I of the Constitutional Treaty will redefine the competences of the main European institutions in an attempt to clarify the Union's inter-institutional balance. This has led to a number of proposals on the institutions, focusing on the balance of power between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament in particular. France and Germany issued a joint contribution to the Convention on the Union's institutional structure before the Convention plenary debate on the institutions on 20 and 21 January 2003[4]. At the end of February 2003, Peter Hain made a joint contribution with his Spanish counterpart Ana Palacio to the Convention entitled 'The Union institutions'[5].

4.   The key elements of the Franco-German proposal are:

·  Election of Commission President by qualified majority vote by European Parliament, approved by the European Council by QMV;

·  The Commission President would construct the College of Commissioners which would be appointed by the Council by QMV;

·  Election of one person as President of the European Council for 5 year term or 2.5 year renewable term by QMV in the European Parliament, approved by the European Council by QMV;

  • This Council President would be responsible for preparing, presiding over and giving impetus to the European Council's work on the overall strategy of the EU (together with the Commission) and defining the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP);

·  The Council President would represent the Union on the international scene at meetings with   Heads of State and Government;

·  There would be a 'double-hatted' Foreign Policy representative attached to the Council, but with a presence in the Commission: this Foreign Policy Representative would have a formal right of initiative in the CFSP;

·  The possibility of a European Congress bringing together representatives from the EP and national parliaments once a year to adopt resolutions or recommendations only.

5.   The key elements of the UK-Spanish proposal are:

·  Commission President appointed by QMV in the European Council, approved by the European Parliament;

·  Full-time 'chair' of the European Council appointed for four years;

·  'Chair' responsible for presiding over European Council meetings, ensuring follow-up of decisions taken there by chairing General Affairs Council, adding profile to the external representation of the EU and informing EP of work;

·  Collective Council Presidency consisting of a team of Member States. The share of 'portfolios' within the team could be fixed in advance. Each member of a four member team chairs two Ministerial Councils for six months, so that over two years they chair the different Councils;

·  Extension of European Parliament power through broader application of co-decision procedure and QMV in the Council;

·  Minister of Foreign Affairs who chairs External Relations meetings, participates in the Commission meetings and has a formal right of initiative in the CFSP;

·  Possibility of European Congress bringing together representatives from the EP and national parliaments once a year to adopt resolutions or recommendations only;

·  More effective division of labour between the Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance and the judicial panels foreseen in the Treaty of Nice. The ECJ should only handle the most important cases.

6.   While there are differences between these proposals, the broad thrust is the same: the Council should be granted greater continuity through a reform of the six-monthly presidencies. Both proposals would strengthen the role of the Council.

7.   Seven of the smaller Member States developed a 'common voice' on these issues in preparation for the spring European Council on 21 March 2003. By the Athens Council on 16 April 2003, 16 of the smaller current and future Member States had signed up to a paper entitled Reforming the institutions: Principles and Premises[6]. This calls for maintaining and reinforcing the Community method and takes a firm stand against "any arrangements which sought to establish a hierarchy of Member States", and against the establishing of a permanent Council President which the smaller States see as likely to be a former leader of large Member State who would only take large Member State interests into account. To prevent this, the small countries want to maintain the current six-month rotating Presidency.

8.   The paper also calls for a merging of the foreign policy posts held by the External Relations Commissioner and the EU foreign policy High Representative. This (the paper argues) would be "seen as highly significant and strengthening the coherence and visibility of the Union's external projection and coherence." The small countries also propose that the Commission President be elected by "a joint electoral college" made up of European and national parliaments. The signatories also call for one commissioner per country to be maintained "provided there is full equality."

9.   Sweden, Denmark and Poland have not made a clear commitment to any particular proposals although the Government counts on their support for the strengthening of the Council[7].

10.   Articles14 to 23 on the institutions and a new Article X were published by the Convention Praesidium on 23 April 2003. In the sections that follow we consider the implications of the proposed articles for the three key institutions, indicating, where we can, the position of the United Kingdom Government and giving our own comments on the proposed Articles.

11.   We make this report to the House for information. We stress, however, that it is clear that the balance of power in the European Union is going to shift from the Commission in favour of the Member States if the proposals here are adopted. This makes it all the more important that the Treaty makes adequate pro

1   See Appendix. Back

2   References in the form (Q00) are to that evidence. Back

3   14 December 2001 Back

4   CONV 489/03. Back

5   CONV 591/03. Back

6   CONV 646/03. Back

7   Q4. Back

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