Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-13)|
TUESDAY 24 JUNE 2003
1. Monsieur le Président, Senator, we
welcome you to this Select Committee. We are extremely grateful
that you have come across from Paris today to meet with us. As
I have explained to the Committee, you and I have met in COSAC
and the Speakers' Conference over quite a long period of time,
and I am delighted that our intention to have you come here and
speak with us in this Committee has now materialised today. What
I would like to do then, Senator, is to invite you to make an
opening statement, particularly as a start to cover how your Delegation
works and how you scrutinise European legislation. After that
we will move on to a few questions and then we will go on to the
Convention and so on and so forth. Senator, you are very welcome
to speak to us.
(M Haenel) Thank you very much, my Lord
Chairman. Thank you very much, my Lords for having been so kind
as to welcome the European Affairs Committee of the French Senate.
I have the very great pleasure of meeting again a certain number
of friends among the Lords and, on the other hand, also meeting
again some friends I had the occasion to come across at the two
Conventions in which I participated; the first one being the Charter
for Fundamental Rights when chance and alphabetical order dictated
that my neighbour would be Lord Goldsmith, and chance dictated
that at the second Convention, chaired by Valery Giscard d'Estaing,
my neighbour was again a Briton, Peter Hain. My Lord Chairman,
you asked me to explain quickly how the Delegation that I chair
functions in the context of monitoring the French Government in
everything that concerns the European Union. Well, briefly, how
does the monitoring of the French Parliament compare with the
monitoring of the parliaments of the other Member States of the
Union? Comparative studies have been carried out, in particular
on the occasion of the work of COSAC, as well as in the context
of the Convention on the Future of Europe, in the context of the
working group that was chaired by Gisela Stuart, a Member of the
House of Commons. There are basically two kinds of monitoring.
The first kind is parliamentary monitoring in the context of a
mandate, a mandate that is given to the government by an organ
of the Parliament. This is the Nordic model and mainly, if you
need to mention a country, that of Denmark. The second kind of
monitoring is based on three principles. First of all, the examination
of European legislation by a parliamentary organ and the possibilitywhich
is the case for us in France, in the French Senatefor this
organ or for the entire body of parliament to take a stand on
these texts where appropriate, after having had talks with the
The Committee suspended from 4.33 pm to
4.45 pm for a division in the House.
2. If we may continue after that interruption
for our democratic duty, some of us anyway, I have to exclude
myself. I apologise for the interruption, Senator. Please continue.
(M Haenel) I was telling you that there were basically
two systems for monitoring. The first system, as I was explaining,
which we may call the Danish system, is virtually a binding mandate.
The second system is the system that you practise and we practise:
we examine legislation, and I shall explain how we do it. We may
take an official position of the whole Senate. And we have the
possibility at any time of asking the government to account for
the positions it defended within the European Council or the Council
of the European Union. Tomorrow we shall have the Minister for
European Affairs come and tell us what the French position was
at Salonica. We regularly listen to the Justice Minister, the
Interior Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the Foreign Minister.
So, which is the better system? Some believe it is the Nordic
system, the Danish system. For myself, I do not think so, it cannot
be transplanted into our system, nor into yours, undoubtedly.
Why can it not be transplanted, why is this not desirable? First
of all, the mandate is incompatible with the institutions of the
French Fifth Republic. Secondly, this mandate system is incompatible
with a two-chamber parliament. Thirdly, the mandate system, as
I was saying a moment ago, is compatible with a coalition government,
as is sometimes the case in the Nordic countries. Taking account
of our experience, I wonder whether this Nordic system allows
our two principal objectives to be reached. What is our first
objective? It is to give not only our senators but also our economic
and social partners and our citizens in general readable and understandable
information about what is happening in Brussels. The second objective
is to influence the government. Attaining these two objectives
requires an examination of European Legislation as soon as possible,
because experience shows that we rarely go back over everything
that has already been considered as having been accepted by the
Member States. When it comes to the point, we know very well that
you cannot radically reappraise everything. It is better to monitor
things as and when they arise, ie step by step, it is more effective.
So I do not think I need dwell on our system and the way it works.
I think, if I may summarise, that what we do in the European Affairs
Committee of the French Senate is we act as a lookout, ie as on
a ship, the person who is up above and sees what is happening
all around and keeps those below informed, or, to use another
image, we are the watchmen, those who watch over things. That,
in summary, my Lord Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, is our system.
We meet regularly every week, sometimes twice a week. The texts
come to us. We sort through them along with the Clerk of the Committee.
If a text poses problems for me, I consult a colleague who specialises
in the question. If he says, "We can let that go through",
I make only a written reference. We send the summary to all of
our colleagues who, in a period of, let us say, a week, can say,
"We want this text to be examined before the whole Committee".
And after that, there is a whole system: the Committee make a
proposal for a resolution that can be examined by the competent
committee, Legal, Financial or Foreign Affairs, for example. If
we want to make it solemn, we put it to the Senate as a whole
for a decision. This has happened recently in the area of justice.
Then we have a right to a power of initiative"holding
an inquiry"getting the best possible information about
the operation of certain Brussels' organs, Europol, for example.
We could perhaps speak about this. To finish , there are three
figures, the annual averages each year. We are sent 250 texts
by the government in the context of Article 88-4 of the Constitution.
Of the 250, we will examine 50 in a meeting of the whole committee;
and ten texts will give rise to a vote on a resolution to warn
the government or to attract their attention. I regularly send
warning letters, observations to the government when I consider
it has not followed the procedure as one might have wished. For
example, and I will finish on this, about a month or two ago I
sent a letter to the Finance Minister to warn him about a certain
number of points and some time later he asked me to meet him so
that we could try to work out a system to make it work better.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, summarised in a few words,
that is the way we work.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Senator,
I can see that a number of your procedures are very similar to
our own. One of the differences is that we do have the rightand
I am not sure if it is the case in the Senateto demand
that a minister comes before this Committee to answer questions.
I think that it would be good if we moved on to the subject of
the Convention since we lost a little bit of time for the vote.
First of all, I will ask Lord Williamson to put a question to
Lord Williamson of Horton
3. President and Senator, in most of the things
we look at and you look at, we have a fairly straightforward simple
text. In the case of the Convention we have a rather more substantial
meal, but I would like to ask you whether you have a view on what
are the significant outstanding issues on the Convention. We know
that there is a large measure of agreement. I am very much in
favour of this Convention, but there are some outstanding issues
which will eventually come to the InterGovernmental Conference,
and I would like to ask you how you see these issues. Which are
the most important issues outstanding for the next stage?
(M Haenel) Well, thank you. As you know, we have arrived
at a compromise text that has permitted a consensus. On the last
day many feared we would not succeed, but the Chairman, Giscard
d'Estaing, found some allies among the representatives of the
national parliaments and the European Parliament. Let us not forget
that out of 105 members of the Convention, there were 56 representatives
of national parliaments and 16 representatives of the European
Parliament. Thus, we were easily in the majority. The beginning
of our work, which lasted several weeks, revolved around the question
of the distribution of competences between Member States and the
European Union. This was fundamental right up to the end. Right
up to the end the majority said: "Europe is doing too much,
Europe is overstepping its competences without anyone being able
to hold up a red card". We felt that this was the kernel
of the beginning of the work of the Convention. So, if you please,
my Lord Chairman, I will come back later to the role that the
national parliaments will have in the future if the constitutional
treaty is ratified. The second question revolved around the distribution
of powers, the interplay between the institutions. It was clear
that each corner of the constitutional triangle wanted "more
power for me, less for the others". The representatives of
the European Parliament, in particular, were very active, very
dynamic, thus there were frequent conflicts of interest. Even
though I am in front of the former Secretary-General of the Commission,
I am going to say there was complicity between the European Parliament
and the Commission.
4. I am having great difficulty in hearing the
interpreter. Is there any way we can turn up that microphone or
not? No, it is at the maximum. I am afraid I must ask you to shout.
It is very difficult to hear.
(M Haenel) It is very clear that the Commissionafter
Delors and Santeris in the hands of the European Parliament.
And, in the future, the election of the President of the Commission
by the European Parliament would add to its right to censure the
Commission. In my opinion, this Commission will be weakened. I
am among the people who proposed the dissolution of the European
Parliament in case of this happening, otherwise the President
of the Commission and the Commission itself will be entirely dependent
on the European Parliament. We know that the Commission has particular
functions, it represents the general interests, it supervises
the treaties and it has a monopoly on initiatives. By virtue of
these three roles it has to have a more independent status than
the one that we want to give it. On the second question, and this
is on the work of the Convention, some wanted to get rid of the
European Council, they said that it should not be an institution
and we should not give any more powers. To sum up, this is the
struggle between those who are on the side of the governments
and those who are on the side of the European Parliament and the
Commission. There is still a debate going on between unanimity
and qualified majority. On the Police and Justice domains it is
the same thing. Coming back to the triangle that I was explaining
before, this is the Commission, the European Parliament and the
Council, and, regarding the Commission, the debate between the
big countries, the medium ones and the small ones. Putting forward
equality between states is not realistic.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I would
like to come on to another question now about how we link all
this to the citizens. I think that Lord Cavendish has a question.
Lord Cavendish of Furness
5. Thank you, my Lord Chairman. Senator, can
you tell us how far you think the Convention's Treaty meets the
Laeken objective of helping to bridge the gap between the European
Union and the citizen? Perhaps you could give us the flavour of
public debate among French people on this question?
(M Haenel) What were the objectives at Laeken? They
were a more legitimate Europe, legitimate in its procedure and
its decisions, a more democratic Europe in which the citizen is
put back into the system, a more effective Europe, a Europe that
is more subject to monitoring by its citizens and a more responsible
Europe, ie the question of "Who is responsible for what?"
At present people say, "It's all Brussels' fault". Our
fellow citizens cannot identify the people who are responsible
or their responsibilities. I think the draft constitutional treaty
to some extent answers these concerns. For example, we shall have
a stable President of the European Council who will have a face,
he will be identifiable. In matters that concern external actions
and also questions that touch on Defence we shall have a Union
Minister for Foreign Affairs. I believe that these are two important
6. I did ask a supplementary, if I may. What
is the flavour of the debate among French people on the Convention?
(M Haenel) At the moment, with the French, if we go
by the French press, civil society as it is sometimes called,
the majority response is mostly positive, but without the people
knowing exactly what is in the text I have in my briefcase. We
have come up with a good result. It is going to be necessary to
explain why this result is a good one. This is very important.
Lord Cavendish of Furness: I am very grateful,
Chairman: There is a little difference here
between our two countries and that is that in your country people
seem to be quite happy when they do not know what is in the Convention
text and here they are very unhappy because they do not know what
is in that text. I would like to ask Baroness Park to continue
the discussion now.
Baroness Park of Monmouth
7. Senator, what do you think national parliamentarians
can do to ensure that as the IGC develops the debate will be both
reasonable and objective? What plans does your committee have
to scrutinise the work of the IGC once it begins?
(M Haenel) The question you ask is a key question,
a fundamental one, because when we look at the document that has
come out of Salonica, the conclusions of the Presidency, everyone
is in there except national parliaments. At the Inter-Governmental
Conference there were, of course, representatives of the governments,
representative of the Commission and, I almost said "oddly",
the European Parliament. Whereas, in my opinion, the European
Parliament has not the right to be in there which means that in
each committee, in each national parliament, we have to be vigilant.
This means that before the Inter-Governmental Conference begins,
after having studied the draft, we must have a very clear idea
of what we want and what we do not want. This means that we must
ask, in accordance with a formula to be devised in each country,
not to be present at the IGC, but to be regularly informed and
associated. After all, it is we who in the end will or will not
ratify the text. I believe this is something that has to be said
over and over again. This is what some of us said within the Convention,
"Some of the measures that you want, for example,"you
being the European parliamentarians"we are not having
any of it in our backyard", to use familiar language because
we would have difficulty getting it ratified subsequently. This
was said, for example, by my neighbour, Peter Hain and by Gisela
Stuart, to mention no names.
8. Could I pose a very simple supplementary.
In approaching this, are you already identifying the issues which
you may wish to warn your representatives about in the IGC before
they become involved in discussions late at night?
(M Haenel) Sorry?
9. Are you planning to warn your representatives
of issues which you believe to be likely to cause difficulty in
getting through the Senate, issues on which they might be ambushed
late at night?
(M Haenel) So I for one believe that if we wish to
be useful, in the coming weeks and months, in influencing our
governmentsand I struggled but I have not yet reached my
goal, I have not wonthe point is that, if the text remains
as it is, the national parliaments will be absent from the domain
of defence, if a European defence is coming into existence. It
is unthinkable that, in domains which for a long time to come
will affect the sovereignty of each state, the national parliaments
collectively should not be able to have talks with the Union's
Minister of Foreign Affairs and with a certain number of other
organs or authorities. Note that the parliamentary assembly of
the WEU is scheduled to disappear. I proposed at the Convention
that there should be a formula of the COSAC type that would take
up the batonthat would be fairly logical! The national
parliaments must meet together in another authority, which has
to be provided for in the constitutional treaty. The same thing
applies to monitoring the operation of Europol and obtaining reports
on what Eurojust is doing. This cannot come under the European
Parliament as it does not lie within the competences that have
been transferred to the Community. Anyway, as we were saying just
now during the break, we are going to have to organise ourselves
among parliaments to stay informed and be regularly alerted so
that we take up positions, for example the much talked about one-third
of the parliaments that asks the Commission to revise its work.
You know that if the Constitution Treaty is adopted each of our
assemblies is going to have a role in the monitoring of subsidiarity.
And, in parenthesis, it is thanks to a struggle between the British
and French representativesin particular, Gisela Stuart
and myselfthat we obtained this possibility. This means
that if at the end of the European legislative process the House
of Lords considers that the Union has overstepped its competences,
you will be able to refer the matter to the Court of Justice in
Luxembourg, which will say whether or not the distribution of
competences has been respected. So we shall need opportunitiesand
it is good that today we have this first onethrough our
colleagues to inform and consult each other to defend our positions
as regards the distribution of competences.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Senator. I have
two other names on my list, Lord Hannay and Lady Harris. I know
Lord Hannay wanted to carry on the point about red cards and yellow
Lord Hannay of Chiswick
10. Yes. Senator, if I may. Thank you very much
for what you said about the compromise that is now in the text
on subsidiarity. I would like to ask you, do you think that compromise
is a sufficient and operational provision or do you think that
ideally in the Inter-Governmental Conference it should be further
strengthened? The provision which strikes us as fairly weak is
the provision which says that even if one-third of the national
parliaments take the view that a Commission proposal goes against
the principle of subsidiarity, even then all the Commission has
to do is to have regard to these views and it can, in fact, maintain
its proposal and, as far as I can see, apart from possible recourse
to the European Court of Justice, there is nothing more that can
(M Haenel) Well, we had endless discussions on this
question. This was the idea developed by Gisela Stuart in particular,
who considered that if two-thirds of the parliaments thought that
the Commission was overstepping its competences everything would
be stopped. The whole process would be definitively stopped. This
was not accepted; there was a majority against it, because it
is a right of veto. Let us say, being realistic, if in fact a
certain number of national parliaments consider that the Commission
has overstepped its competences, can the Commission really carry
on regardless, saying, "Well, that's all very nice, you've
had your say, but I'm going to carry on"? That appears very
difficult to me, in fact.
Chairman: Thank you. Baroness Harris, would
you like to ask the last question?
Baroness Harris of Richmond
11. Senator, my question is on COSAC reform,
which for quite a long time has been very frustrating. At every
meeting we have proposed that we talk about how we scrutinise
European legislation, how each Member State does that, and we
will be continuing to press that COSAC will continue to do this,
particularly how they will be discussing how national parliaments
are going to be scrutinising the IGC. Could I ask what you think
the key issues are for COSAC to discuss over the next, say, three
years or five years?
(M Haenel) I have attended many meetings of the COSAC,
and it is depressing! It is depressing to find that, at a time
when a clear majority is emerging in favour of a reform to give
some genuine competences to COSAC, because this meets a requirement
of the national parliaments to meet regularly, collectivelywhat
about, I will say in a momentand almost everyone is in
agreement in wanting a reform and, at the last minute, because
at COSAC we have a delegation from the European Parliament, it
is blocked. I have frequently said within the Convention it would
be completely abnormal, even unacceptable, for the national parliaments
to end up with an inferior role to what they have now. This is
the risk: we were not able within the constitutional treaty to
improve the status of COSAC. We tried everything and we could
not do it. The last hope is the IGC and that last hope is still
us. If each parliament, during the time the IGC is meeting, puts
pressure on so that a collective role is given to the national
parliaments, we may win, we may get satisfaction. Thus, on what
could be collectively competentI am speaking in front of
one of the representatives at the COSACforeign policy,
joint security, the commercial agreements made by the Union so
that we have a general global view. When we vote on the Community
budget we are each in our own corner, whereas we could have a
joint debate in order to try and work out a joint decision, a
common point of view. Also, we could draw up together a regular
balance sheet from monitoring subsidiarity. They are the competences
that we ought to have but are being denied us. Well, if I have
a message to get across this evening, it is to say, let us make
the most of our opportunities individually and together precisely
to advance this point. There you have it.
12. Senator, I want to thank you very much indeed
for having spent this time with us and for having given us the
benefit of your knowledge of the scrutiny system in France and
the Senate, over which you preside, and also your views on the
Convention which have been extremely interesting. I think that
in view of the fact that it is now twenty to six, and you have
a train to catch
(M Haenel) The last train.
13. I hope not the last train. We should probably
let you go because I think you will need to be at Waterloo fairly
soon. The Committee will need a little time to discuss Lord Scott's
report. I think therefore that we will take a short break now
so I can say farewell to you. I have told the Senator already
that we will be doing a report on the progress of the IGC, in
fact we will do a report before it starts, and then we will continue
after that. The Senator has extended a very kind invitation to
me to go to the French Senate to explain to his Commission how
we see the progress in the IGC and to keep in contact and exchange
views on the progress that is being made. I thank the Senator
very much indeed for that generous and very welcome invitation
and I look forward to being able to join him there.
(M Haenel) Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed, Senator,
and M Laporte, from your Delegation. I will now suspend the business.