Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 14-19)


8 JULY 2003


  14. Secretary of State, you are a very busy man so thank you very much indeed for coming to spend some time with us this afternoon to talk about the Convention and where we go from here. Would you like to introduce your colleagues and, if you wish to make an opening statement, you are welcome to do so?

  (Peter Hain) First of all, Thomas Drew is running our Convention team at the moment, from the Foreign Office, and Sarah Lyons from the Foreign Office as well, is another indispensable member of the Convention team. I did not intend to make an opening statement except perhaps just to say that I hope you will not take this as pre-emptive flattery but we are very impressed by the sheer volume of work you have done on this whole area which is very much appreciated.

  15. Thank you very much indeed. Perhaps we could begin, Secretary of State, by seeing if we could sort out the timetable a little bit. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Praesidium is meeting today and presumably they are dealing with what is described as purely technical changes to Part III, which we assume will not create any major difficulties, unless of course it includes this question that we read about in the Financial Times this morning about the Germans wanting to be sure that they keep unanimity on immigration quotas. That may be an issue we can come to later. Tomorrow and Thursday is the final plenary which we assume will then endorse the final draft which Giscard will then travel to Rome with on 18 July, after which the Council will then launch the procedures for the IGC. If I am correct so far, that is the general timetable.
  (Peter Hain) Yes.

  16. Can we take it as read that Part IV, which is not referred to in the Thessalonika conclusions; is almost a formality as that it will be signed off, presumably at the Praesidium tomorrow, and will not be a concern? I am not quite sure why it is that no mention was made of the fact that it has now been tidied up.
  (Peter Hain) I think the end of the process has been somewhat rushed but I think that there is no serious argument about Part IV except when we get into the fine print of it in the IGC.

  17. Good; that answers that question. Could I move on to the IGC itself which we understand will be launched on October 15? Mr Berlusconi is saying that he would like to see the work concluded in December, and we can understand why, so that he can get a second treaty in Rome, but maybe you could say a word, if it is in order, about what is the Irish Prime Minister's agenda? He has a compromise proposal to make. How might this affect the finishing of the IGC?
  (Peter Hain) As I understand it, the Irish think, and I think most people agree, that the IGC will run into the Irish Presidency, certainly to be concluded in time for the June 2004 European elections, and that is a really important deadline, so well before then, so that the new Member States are participating in that  knowing what the future constitutional arrangements will look like, as are the rest of us, for that matter. There has been a suggestion from the Irish Government that as a gesture to another Rome dimension to the European treaties they would be happy for a signing ceremony to take place in Rome, but I am not sure that the arrangements on that have been finalised.

  18. On the question of how the negotiations are going to go forward, Chancellor Schröder is insisting that the negotiations be what he describes as "at the highest political level" and that the work be done by state officials rather than officials from the European institutions. Is that how our Government generally sees this as being the proper way forward?
  (Peter Hain) Yes. We would expect that to happen with heads of government being the lead, foreign secretaries being involved in the detailed negotiation and officials, of course, taking that work forward from Member States like ours. My role as a Convention representative obviously by definition comes to an end when the Convention comes to an end. Fortunately, I have been let off the sessions in Brussels in the next couple of days but the whole process was always then going to be a Foreign Office/Number 10-led negotiation in the IGC itself.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

  19. The whole point of the Convention was to encourage wider debate and, in particular, you will recall, the Laeken declaration, to engage national parliaments much more in the debate about the future of Europe. We are about to have the final report from the Convention and we understand that the Intergovernmental Conference will start in early October. How does Her Majesty's Government intend to promote a wide-ranging and informed debate within the British Parliament between now and then?
  (Peter Hain) I do think this is important. For example, we have a debate on the Government motion tomorrow in the Commons, to which I am replying, and then we are publishing some documentation as command papers tomorrow which contain some of the key tests, and then we are planning to publish a White Paper, certainly after the summer recess. I am not sure that a date has been fixed. We are very keen that there is as much scrutiny and debate around the Convention outcome and IGC negotiations as is possible because one of the things that struck me, particularly as Europe Minister and in my role as representing the Government in the Convention when I joined the Cabinet, is that the number of members in the Commons, and I think probably also but perhaps to a lesser extent in your House, who are actually informed and involved in the European debate at the level that it is necessary to be to influence and follow what is going on is far too small.

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