Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-65)


8 JULY 2003


  60. I would like to continue with the rest of the areas that we wanted to cover because I know that you will not have too much time, Secretary of State. The first thing I wanted to ask you on the institutional question was this: what on earth are they going to do with all of those non-voting commissioners? How will they be kept occupied, because up until 2009 they will be there? Is this just cosmetics or will they really have a substantive role to play?
  (Peter Hain) No, I do not think it is just cosmetics. I do think that the reforms suggested or proposed in the constitutional Treaty are to give the Commission a much better organisational focus in order to make it leaner and, therefore, more efficient and better at delivery hopefully. As to whether they are the right ones to do, well, at the same time I think everybody has supported the principle of one commissioner, one Member State, and this is particularly important to some of the new Member States and some of the smaller Member States. I argued in the context of the Convention that you have now got a European Union of 25 and in the future more and simply to make sure that the whole of this large body is knitted together properly in any Commission portfolio, it would be extremely useful to have supporting, albeit non-voting, commissioners to be the link commissioners to Member States in their particular areas. If you take a new area, like north Africa and the strategic importance of north Africa, you might have under the commissioner dealing with external relations subordinates dealing with that issue, for example, as well as other big policy areas, so I actually think there will be plenty of work to do, but in fact we have got rid of the principle that every time a new country joins, you have got to find a job for a commissioner to do.

Lord Dubs

  61. You have already indicated your support for the post of President of the European Council, but could I ask you a little bit more about it. What do you see as being the functions of the post and what kind of person will be eligible to hold it? You have said it should be full-time elected, but what would be the process for doing that and when might that process start? Also do you see any difficulties in presenting the EU to the outside world given that we will have these two posts of President of the European Council and President of the Commission?
  (Peter Hain) Well, on the one point there is already a President of the Council, but the President changes every six months, so it is a question of instead of the job being for six months, the job will now be elected, full-time for up to five years, and I think people will then see a change of accountabilities because governments will elect that person right the way down through governments, national parliaments to the citizen, and I think it will be better for democratic legitimacy. The role of the chair is to increase Europe's global influence. To answer the proverbial question as to whom does the foreign president pick up the phone, who does President Bush phone, I think the full-time President of the Council would be that person because he would know that he spoke to somebody who was accountable to and spoke for the governments. Then in addition it is chairing and taking forward the European Council's work, co-ordinating the work of the General Affairs Council, preparing it, co-operating with the Commission President, just providing a much more serious co-ordinating role than can be done by a job that changes every six months. It was very interesting that the Danish and Greek Presidencies changed their minds from opposition to the principle for small Member States to support this when they actually had to do the job, and envisaging how you could do the job as a sitting Prime Minister with a Europe of 25, to do the tour of capitals probably twice in six months just is an impossible job. As to who the candidates would be, I think most people see it as being a former Head of Government, although an explicit requirement for that in the original draft was taken out, with my support actually because you might find somebody like Javier Solana, for example, who enjoys the confidence of member governments because when he was Secretary General he was so good for the job.

Earl of Selborne

  62. Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or whatever name you are going to give him, have the right of initiative on defence?
  (Peter Hain) No.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

  63. I just ask this very quickly, although I think that you have in a sense answered it, Secretary of State. You are rather pessimistic about trying to engage the wider public in the work of the Convention and the outcome of the Convention, so I wonder could you tell me what HMG is doing to engage the public in that wider debate on Europe, and also tell us whether it represents a good deal for us? What resources are you putting into telling this good story?
  (Peter Hain) I have explained the parliamentary procedures, publishing a White Paper and so on. We have also put a ten-point summary of the document on the website, which is virtually a single-sheet breakdown of what the Treaty looks like and what it means in proper language. The Europe Minister, as I did when I was in that post, is doing lots of meetings around the country and there has been quite a lot of extensive parliamentary debate. As to what it represents, I think it is a good deal for Britain. I think it preserves an essentially inter-governmental new model of Europe, which is where it needs to be, and an integrated Europe where it needs to be in our interests, and I think all of our vital national interests have been preserved and where we still have final words to negotiate, we will do that.

Lord Jopling

  64. The Government have made it clear that they were very uncertain about the role of the so-called European Foreign Minister, what his status would be  in the Commission, to whom he would be accountable and who would mediate in the event of slipping between the Council and the Commission, and there are a whole lot of other problems. What progress have you made with clearing the precise role of the European Foreign Minister? Finally, in the Thessaloniki meeting, the Council welcomed the recommendation submitted by Mr Solano for an overall strategy in the field of foreign and security policy, and this is due to be adopted by the European Council in December. Is it intended that whatever the strategy of foreign and security policy is agreed, it will be parachuted into the IGC at some time and added to the proposals which we have been discussing this afternoon?
  (Peter Hain) I do not think so. On the question of the remit for the foreign representative, we are very clear that it must be a post accountable to and appointed by the European Council, that is to say, Heads of Government. There is a lot of detail to negotiate to get that satisfactorily pinned down so that the link and the co-ordination with the President of the Commission does not result, as it were, in a reverse Commission takeover. Perhaps what I might do, Chairman, in the circumstances, or I will be censured by my Whips, is to write to you setting out that position.


  65. That would be fine, and also if you could write to us on whether you are going to press on the reform of the Court of Auditors.
  (Peter Hain) Indeed, I will do that.

  Chairman: This is a rather hot topic in this Committee. Well, you have been very generous with your time, it is very much appreciated.

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