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As a former justice Minister during the UKs presidency who has had the privilege of chairing several Justice and Home Affairs Council meetings, I firmly believe that there is a real issue that we have to think about. We have been clear in the UK that it is a good move to think about the creation of a new full-time president of the European Council, because we have in Europe a strategic agenda which national prime ministers and presidents set for the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly says that there are occasions when there is disagreement between member states. The role of the president is to be a functionary of the Council. The president is not making policy but rather representing the European Union on the world stage.
I looked back at the relations between the European Union and Russia, a country which was discussed earlier in our debates for different reasons. While Mr Putin was President of Russia, he met 16 different European leaders in their role as EU Presidentbeginning with Portugal in May 2000, interestingly, running through the gamut of European countries and ending up with Portugal again in October 2007. Those who have the good fortune to chair the European Council are also running their own countries and have their own priorities as national Presidents or Prime Ministers. They arrive to take over the mantle from a President or Prime Minister before them and try to continue a debate which is often at a critical stage or are in the middle of deep negotiations with another member state. From my small and irrelevant experience of chairing the Justice and Home Affairs Council, I know that just when I had got to grips with things, I handed over the
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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:Let us take the specific example of energy policy in relation to our relations with Russia, with President Putin. Germany would have a completely different view from Britain. How could this president represent those views?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The noble Lord makes a very important point. First, those discussions would largely be held between the energy Ministers working together on the appropriate Council of Ministers with the appropriate opposite number in Russia. When it came to the big strategic discussions, if there was not unanimity of agreement between the 27 member states, the President would not be able to represent a single view, and that is as it should be. We are not arguing that this person should start to make policy. The noble Lord shakes his head. I understand that that feels rather odd but it is no different from the present situation, with a rotating presidency every six months. Flawed though it may feel to the noble Lord as a strategic approach, it is the way forward in representing 27 member states where you need clear agreement on a particular policy. Rather than investing in an individual for a very short time, one is investing in an individual for a longer time. If that individual is regarded as a success, they can continue for a little longer and one gets continuity in negotiations. From his time as a Minister, the noble Lord will understand that continuity is an issue that is constantly faced. The principle behind that should be recognised by your Lordships House and by this Committee in particular.
That is, for me, the fundamental argument behind why this is such a sensible and straightforward proposition. It is not about glorifying individuals; it is about effectiveness and the ability to represent properly and see things through with a sense of continuity, which we cannot do at present.
Members of the Committee referred to the Blue Book again and I have had a letter from the author. None the less, I believe that what is said at the beginning of the book is incorrect. I shall not go into that in greater detail now, because I want to discuss it with the author. I am in no way suggesting that there is something fundamentally wrong with the book. As I said in our previous discussion, it was because I could not understand why noble Lords, faced with what is in the treaty, could reach a different conclusion that I went back to as many references as I could to see whether they might have read something that is still, in my view, inaccurate. I have asked for advice. I will not go further because I want to meet the authorI have met him beforeand I do not want to say anything more until then.
It is very important to consider how valuable someone in that position might be. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, asked specific questions about the role of Her Majesty the Queen. I want to be absolutely clear. Her role is completely unchanged. The constitutional position is unchanged. Representation for the UK would be, as appropriate, Her Majesty or the Prime Minister. Nothing is changed by the treaty or anything within it. I hope that that puts the noble Lords fears and concerns at rest.
In the end, this is a debate between noble Lords who are concerned to see in the treaty ways in which they fear the growth and development of the European Union and those who see the treaty as an opportunity to develop the European Union, retaining what is rightly ours as a nation state but collaborating effectively together and finding new structures to take that forward. I sit firmly at the latter end of the spectrum. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Baroness the Lord President puts her case very reasonably and quite persuasively, but the truth is that behind this debate is a very deep division between those who want practical, detailed co-operation in the regional grouping that is the European Unionthat is, usand those who are looking for a place in the sun, a world role, a place on the world stage, as many European leaders are calling for. They are looking, in the words of the noble Baroness, for a strategic global agenda and a representative who can lead on that: this near-permanent president, someone who can hob-nob with the United States President and the President of Russia and can answer the telephone when Henry Kissinger rings up for one number, as he once claimed he did when he wanted to find out European external policy. That always seemed to me a particularly absurd ambition, because when you ring Washington, you get about 10 different views of foreign policy there. Why he should think that we could unify in Europe, I do not know. The answer is that we cannot. We can unify on some things in practical ways, in coalitions of groupings of European nations, and we do so, but we do not need the rigidifying and codifying of this under new laws and new treaties and a central figure, who would inevitably become the celebritythe Mr Europewhose views were taken to be the views of Europe as a whole, where they could be formulated.
I agree very strongly with my noble friend Lord Trenchard that in this modern, networked world, blocs are yesterdays idea. Gathering together in some bigger groupingor scrum, as it wereis not the way forward for a country such as this with all its historic abilities, qualities and skills in negotiating the chopping and changing of foreign policy with the complete changes in the centre of power and economic gravity that are taking place, which make our links with Asia as important as our links with our nearby neighbours in Europe. So there is an important deeper division. The noble Baroness's persuasive explanation does not convince me that that hers is the right way forward. This also damages the position of smaller countries. They may have signed up to the treatysome have, but there has been a lot of grumbling. If the rotating system is to end, they will be cut out of the scene at the highest level for a time.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, took me to task about the definition of who was and who was not on the Council. I think that he was probably right, because he is very well informed on these things, but it does state in the treaty:
The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.
That may not make him a full-time member, but he is there, taking part in the work of the European Council, as well as being the vice-president of the Commission. That is blurring the international and the supranational in ways that are very dangerous for the future. If we are blind to that, we will be blind to a lot of trouble in future.
There was also an intervention, again from the noble Lord, Lord Roper, about CFSPs, a no-go area for qualified majority voting. That has been asserted by the Government and it is claimed in the treaty. I think we will be able to prove without challenge in later amendments that that simply is not so and that the CFSP is exposed to QMV arrangements in Article 32I think it is renumbered as Article 17(2)where the new Foreign Minister can bring forward decisions for QMV in the Council. There are 10 other areas where QMV also comes into foreign policy issues. Do not let us be quite so certain, as some people seem to be, that QMV is out of CFSP and that it is in an area where our veto is maintained. It is not.
FinallyI know we want to be brief so we can get a little more work done tonightas for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, I suspect he has been put up by his colleagues as the terrier who is designed to provoke the wicked Tories and to describe us as what we are not, which is anti-European. We are strongly pro-European and always have been in ways that many others, particularly the zealots who want to push everyone together in an over-integrated system, are not.
In your Lordships' House, which I much enjoy, many of my individual friends are on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Collectively, however, I really cannot conceal my contempt for their supine yesterday Europhilia. They are the embodiment of everything that brings my beloved Europe into disrepute and which elevates the worst features of unaccountable bureaucratic power in Brussels and downgrades Europes best features of diversity, variegated vitality and democratic legitimacy.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Having said that, I am very tempted to press such a serious issue but it is late and we will return to this matter because it is of
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This concerns the new voting arrangements in the treaty, about which there has been a certain amount of black smoke. The Government has asserted that our voting influence will increase as result of the treaty. This is such a partial account as to be positively misleading. What the treaty actually does is to increase countries power to pass measures but to reduce their power to block them. This is a crucial distinction that has not been adequately recognised in debates, either inside or outside Parliament.
Under the system agreed at Nice, EU laws presently have to pass three hurdles: 74 per cent of the weight of votes in the Council plus 62 per cent of the population and a majority of member states. Under the treaty there will be just two hurdles: 65 per cent of the population and 55 per cent of the member states. The highest hurdle has therefore been taken away, making it easier to pass legislation. This is what people must mean when they talk about streamlining decision making.
These changes will make it harder to block legislation. Germany will be the only large member state whose power to do so would remain roughly the same. The London School of Economics has gone to the trouble of doing the arithmetic. I hope it has got it right. They quantify the UKs loss of blocking power at 30 per cent.
As with so much of the Lisbon treaty, the new voting system is taken directly from the Constitution with the difference that it will now not come into force until five years after the rest of the treaty comes into force, in other words not until November 2014. Europe would not be Europe without a thicket of almost impenetrable detail, but I will spare your Lordships the complex interim arrangements up to March 2017 and the various exceptions and deadlock-breaking compromises in the text. These are a sideshow to the main point that stopping unwanted laws will become more difficult. Originally, and we have heard this before too, the Government were against the new system. Peter Hain said:
Why should we be more concerned about blocking legislation than about passing it? The answer is straightforward. The Union is already producing too much regulation and it is too difficult to repeal it. A recent poll of 1,000 UK chief executives found that more than half of them thought that the benefits of
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According to the British Chambers of Commerce, EU regulation introduced since 1997 has cost British firms £40 billion, nearly three-quarters of the cost of all regulation introduced since that date. So making it even easier for Brussels to churn out laws seems extremely unwise. I shall give a couple of specific examples. The UK is currently blocking the removal of our exemptions from the working time directive. We are also resisting the temporary agency workers directive. Our ability to defend our position in the Council, particularly on the second directive, is fragile, and under the new system it would probably collapse altogether. In boom times we can just about live with all these impositions, but in difficult times we become more acutely aware of the drip-drip of business going elsewhere and of companies and wealth producers packing their bags for more competitive economic climates. The Financial Services Action Plan is costing the City £14 billion to implement. That was bad enough when the financial sector was flourishing a year or two ago, but today it is a heavy blow after Northern Rock and the liquidity crunch.
As well as reducing our ability to stop legislation, the Lisbon treaty would also hinder our ability to amend it as it goes through the Council by using the weapon of our blocking power to improve draft laws and head off protectionism. Some of the more unacceptable proposals in the directives on financial instruments, prospectuses, consumer credit and transparency were only removed by the UK and other liberal member states through combining our potential blocking vote and threatening to use it. There are important regulations still in the pipeline, such as the Solvency II regulation on insurance, and it is almost inevitable that there will be a legislative response to the credit crisis. In both cases, the UK will be affected disproportionately, given the Citys pre-eminence in the financial sector. It is therefore all the more important to be able to stop ill-judged laws.
Climate change regulation is another area of some concern. The emissions trading scheme and the biofuel targets are both deeply flawed. Some in the House today have called them a disaster. Now there is talk in France of jacking up EU farm tariffs on climate-related grounds. As the Financial Times pointed out yesterday, Monsieur Barniers proposals are very dangerous. The consequences of our being unable to block agricultural protectionism are very alarming for impoverished African farmers.
The line is that without the treaty, the Union will grind to a halt. There is no evidence whatever to support this assertion. The EU of 27 member states has proved to be a more prolific legislative machine than the EU of 15. Members tonight have already
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Lord Roper: I do not wish to detain the Committee for long, but I would like to comment on one or two things said by the noble Lord, Lord Leach of Fairford, in moving this amendment. When the noble Lord came before the Select Committee to give us evidence, we were pleased when he told us that it was hard to object to the principle of recognising population in the voting system. Indeed, we were so pleased with that remark that we quoted it at paragraph 4.56 of our report.
On the more substantive issue to which the noble Lord referredthe weight of the United Kingdom in the new voting systemthere are two points to be made. As to building up a majorityand we are normally in the majorityour weight will go up from 8 per cent to 12 per cent, so we will have 50 per cent more weight when we are trying to build up a majority to get something agreed. When we come to blocking, there is a dispute. The noble Lord is quite right. Open Europe, in its report, states that the UK stands to lose nearly 30 per cent of its ability to block EU legislation in the Council. On the other hand, others, including the Government, consider that the UKs share of a blocking minority will increase from 32 per cent to 35 per cent. Therefore, there is a dispute on this matter. I happen to accept the views of the Government, which were supported by others.
There is another point. At the moment, it is necessary to have only three member states in order to have a blocking minority. That is increased under the treaty to four member states, which could be argued to disadvantage us in some way. However, we were impressed when a former British representative to the European Union, Sir Stephen Wall, told us that the current minimum of three member states to form a blocking minority was a mistake, because it is not often that we are in league with two other large member states in wanting to block something. He did not think that the minimum of four would be significant in terms of undermining the British ability to block. I do not believe that the changes in the Lisbon treaty in this respect are significant and, therefore, I do not believe that this amendment deserves support.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford. I am pleased to see in his place my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, because he and I experienced at the front line what can go wrong and why it is so important to get these checks and balances right. We encountered what is affectionately known as the Lazarus system. We were reliably informed that a whole series of directives that would have impacted on the UKs competitiveness were dead and buried. We had not realised that it was perfectly possible for them to be revived, so we knew these directives as the Lazarus directives. Some of them have been quoted by my
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Lord Bach: I start by saying how much we welcome the noble Lord, Lord Leach of Fairford, stepping in to move this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. I am led to understand that this is the first amendment that he has moved in this House; to do so at 10 minutes to 10 after a long, heavy day of Committee work demands more than is usually required. I congratulate the noble Lord, although I shall not agree with him. I hope that that does not come as too much of a disappointment or surprise to him.
His amendment would exclude the provisions in the Lisbon treaty that set out the new double majority voting system from having any effect in UK law. To us, this a key institutional reform introduced by the treaty and one which means that decision-making will become fairer, reflecting more accurately the relative population sizes of the member states and, at the same time, increasing the UKs voting weight.
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