Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-13)




  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 possibility—which is the case for us in France, in the French Senate—for this organ or for the entire body of parliament to take a stand on these texts where appropriate, after having had talks with the government.

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 right—and I am not sure if it is the case in the Senate—to 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 you, Senator.

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 Commission—after Delors and Santer—is 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 steps forward.

  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, Senator.

  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 governments—and I struggled but I have not yet reached my goal, I have not won—the 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 baton—that 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 representatives—in particular, Gisela Stuart and myself—that 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 opportunities—and it is good that today we have this first one—through 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 cards.

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 be done.
  (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, collectively—what about, I will say in a moment—and 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 competent—I am speaking in front of one of the representatives at the  COSAC—foreign 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. Thank you.

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