Examination of Witness (Questions 40-59)|
2 JULY 2008
Q40 Lord Wright of Richmond: Commissioner,
you gave us a very helpful written answer to our question three
about the Annual Policy Strategy and the implications of the Irish
referendum result. I would like to ask two supplementary questions
to that. In your introduction today you told us that you hoped
that this would spark a dialogue and you have talked about launching
a dialogue in a written reply. Where has the dialogue got to?
Are we still at the beginning, or have you, other than this witness
session, started a practical dialogue?
Commissioner Wallström: I think we are
at the start of this dialogue. We are receiving from different
national parliaments, for example, their comments, and their positions
on this, so we are engaged in a constant dialogue also with the
national parliaments. So far, we have had four replies from national
parliaments. That is the latest figure. Of course, with the European
Parliament we have wanted to make this a process which is political;
more than entering into details where the different committees
will ask, "Why don't you have this proposal on insurance
companies" or whatever, but rather, "Are these the right
priorities?" and "Do we see that we can change this
whole European project further?" This is still something
we are struggling with, to make it a more political process also
in the European Parliament. But with national parliaments it has
Q41 Lord Wright of Richmond: One
of our questions was: "Will the contents of the Annual Policy
Strategy have to be reconsidered in the light of the Irish referendum
result?" to which you said, "The Treaty of Lisbon would
not in itself have affected the timing ..." Can you add anything
to our question about contents?
Commissioner Wallström: It would have been
on the implementation. We were preparing for, though not anticipating,
implementation measures. I can give you one example. We had already
planned in the autumn to discuss with the Parliament and to call
for a stakeholder conference on the citizens' initiative. To have
the citizens' initiatives implemented we would have needed to
prepare a proper proposal from our side, including all the rules
for how to control the number of signatures and what would be
the role of the institutions, the Commission, and the Member States,
et cetera. That would have had to be prepared in the autumn to
be presented early next year. This, of course, we cannot do as
the situation is now. So there could be separate implementation
measures, in particular, that would have to be taken up.
Q42 Lord Wright of Richmond: Thank
you very much.
Commissioner Wallström: Of course it will
affect a whole debate about appointments, the new posts and all
of these things, so there are also some rather dramatic effects.
That is an overall concern for the whole of the European Union
and not so much on the very practical proposals, I could say,
but it affects the whole political debate and atmosphere.
Lord Wright of Richmond: Thank you.
Q43 Lord Powell of Bayswater: I have
one supplementary question on that point, Commissioner. Suppose,
for a moment, the Commission and the European Union's efforts
to reach a solution which allows Ireland to ratify the Treaty
do not succeed, is the Commission doing some contingency planning
as to how certain portions of the Treaty could be brought into
effect without needing to have a treaty which is ratified?
Commissioner Wallström: There is no alternative
plan worked out. I think everybody has been so engaged now in
trying, first, to negotiate this new treaty and then to have it
ratified and, also, to start to look, in case of ratification
from all Member States, at what we have to do in terms of implementation.
That is where we have focused our attention and our efforts. If
this fades, then we have to rethink the whole situation of course.
But there are a few things. If it is not entering into force next
year, there is, for example, one provision in the current treaties
which talks about the number of Commissioners, for example, and
this is something that will have to be solved. There are a number
of questions that have to be discussed, but I think everybody
prefers not to engage in some kind of alternative plan but focus
on ratification and solving the problems that we see right now.
Q44 Chairman: Could I come back one
of the two priorities which you listed in the APS, Putting the
Citizen First. I have been looking at the report which
Alain Lamassoure has presentedwhich of course is made to
the French Government but does have some major implications for
Europe as a whole. It identifies a certain number of problems
experienced by Europeans in understanding the European Union and
I wonder whether you are taking this on board and whether you
are reacting to it, albeit that it is a report to the French Government
from a French Member of the European Parliament.
Commissioner Wallström: Of course I have
met with him: he came to see me. Indeed, the things that he will
bring up are very interesting and accurate as well. I think we
use every opportunity to be inspired or to learn the lessons from
those who work on issues like this. I hope that we can make full
use of the work that he has been doing for the French Presidency
and we are in touch with him, without being able to say something
very, very concrete. Of course the Better Regulation Agenda is
already one of the points that we are working on. We have already
integrated better regulation into our daily work in the DGs as
part of our political priorities, so that is definitely one thing.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Q45 Lord Tomlinson: Commissioner,
I would like to follow up on this idea of Putting the Citizen
First, linking it to the discussion we were having in relation
to the outcome of the Irish referendum. In the analysis that the
Commission are making and linking those two ideas together, what
is the general attitude of the Commission? Is it that Ireland
have not understood you? Or is it that you have not understood
Commissioner Wallström: Some people put
it even more bluntly. They say, "Why don't you take no for
an answer? What is it in "no" that you don't understand?"
Then we say, "Well, no is an answer, but it is not a solution."
We did immediately one of these sort of flash Euro-barometer polls,
an opinion poll that could make us understand why did people vote
yes and why did they vote no in Ireland, to better understand
the different reasons and the motivations. We found a whole range
of reasons why they said no. It was also an important element
that this was in no way a no to the European co-operation or the
EU membership in Ireland, because even the "No" side
argued, "The EU has been good for Ireland; let's keep it
that way." It was clear that this is not a general EU-sceptic
mood in Ireland but, rather, I would say, many different motivations.
It was clear, also, that the political context had been maybe
more important than the text as such. As always, when you asked,
a rather higher proportion of the "No" voters would
say, "We feel that we don't know enough, that we can never
get enough information." It is a complex legal text and,
whatever you do, of course not everybody will have read it, so
you will always ask for more information. But then came a number
of reasons: everything from the risk of losing Irish identity,
to the trade issue or agriculture, or a number of different reasons
why they voted no. They all agreed that the "No" campaign
had better arguments and a better campaign than the "Yes"
side, and, of course, also that they were not pleased with the
national politicians and it was a kind of protest vote against
the politicians. We have to understand why they said no. Is this
something we can help, because it affects the rest of Europe.
It will affect those 19 Member States that have ratified, and
the ones that have not yet ratified will also want to have their
say. This is exactly what is going on right now. The Irish themselves
have to make the analysis and come back and tell us what they
think is the way forward. Was this an end of it? Or is there a
way to solve some of the problems being raised and some of the
reasons behind the "No" votes? I think this is a natural
way of handling a situation like this: better understand the reasons
and see if there is a way to remedy or to overcome the problems.
Q46 Chairman: Thank you very much,
Commissioner. I am not sure whether I agree with the statement
that the "No" vote had the better argument, but that
is what you said. I would say that they had the louder arguments,
but based on some rather strange theories.
Commissioner Wallström: But, you know,
it is always more effective of course to mobilise fear for change.
I think this is a natural streak in all of us, that we fear change.
If this has been good for Ireland, then the argument "Let's
keep it that way" was an effective one. Also, on the fear
for changes that the new Treaty would bring, it was more emotional
than the "Yes" side and the arguments that the "Yes"
side used, so I think it hit home in a more effective way. What
was very worrying was of course that the young people were very
negative and also women. Those were among those who did not vote.
This is something we recognized from both France and the Netherlands,
that women and young people feel apparently detached from very
much of the political process or the European project. This is
something that we have to take seriously. What are we doing wrong?
Q47 Lord Roper: Commissioner, in
your second answer you discussed the question of immigration.
The French Presidency has suggested that an immigration pact is
one of the things which they intend to put forward. Has the Commission
had an opportunity to discuss with the Presidency the interaction
between your proposals and the ideas which the Presidency has
in this matter?
Commissioner Wallström: I am convinced
that, yesterday, in the bilateral meetings or cluster discussions
that the Commissioners had with their counterparts in the French
Government, this was raised. I was not in that particular cluster,
but this of course will be part of the agenda where we now have
to co-ordinate with the French Presidency. This is important,
also, from a timing point of view: when can certain proposals
be presented, how will they work on it, and what can we anticipate?
This particular issue of the pact will also be discussed at the
informal Council in Canneswhich is next weekso already
next week the pact idea will be discussed at an informal Council.
Q48 Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: We
asked about the stronger presence of the Commission at international
financial institutions. It seemed to me that your written answer
really says that the answer to the question is that the Commission
should have an observer's place on the Financial Stability Forum.
Is it now agreed by the other members of the forum that the Commission
should have an observer's place or is it merely a hope on the
part of the Commission? It seems like a very good idea.
Commissioner Wallström: This is how we
see it. That is the Commission's position but, also, we are looking
for support from the Member States for that. Not yet, but this
is what we have put on the agenda. This is our starting point.
We have discussed and presented these issues, I think at two occasions
recently, and this is part of the package that we have prepared,
that Almunia, McCreevy and others have discussed and prepared.
Not yet, but this is what we are looking for Member State support
Q49 Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: I
see that ECOFIN suggested that the Commission should participate
in the Financial Stability Forum as soon as possible. Are observers
allowed to participate? Does that work? Or does the Commission
really want a place in the forum? May an observer speak in this
forum or must it merely sit and observe?
Commissioner Wallström: They can speak.
Q50 Baroness Cohen of Pimlico: Thank
you. But the Commission does not yet have clearance for this and
Commissioner Wallström: Exactly.
Q51 Lord Freeman: Commissioner, good
afternoon. Thank you for a very helpful answer to point nine on
energy. Clearly 2009 is going to be a year of concern, not only
to European citizens, about energy security and about climate
change, but also to the French Presidency in the six months prior
to 2009. How important, in terms of policy initiatives, will be
a follow-up to what we assume will be agreement at the December
Council on energy efficiency targets, energy renewable targets,
and, indeed, other related issues all to do with fuel prices?
Commissioner Wallström: I think we cannot
overestimate the value of this discussion and the decisions that
we are taking. I can only follow the media in the different Member
States. These are the headlines. These matters are at the top
of the political agenda in all the Member States right now. It
feeds into and leads to debates on oil prices, on food security.
All of these issues are interlinked and this is why it is extremely
important. We of course hope that we will have a successful result
from the December meeting. We would also underline implementation,
because we want all Member States not only to decide and establish
great objectives and goals but also to start implementation as
soon as possible. That is what I can say. I really see that it
leads into all these other debates as well and maybe allows us
to have a more holistic political debate on these issues.
Q52 Chairman: On the question of
enlargement, you made it perfectly clear in the Annual Policy
Strategy that you wanted to implement the renewed consensus on
enlargement and that accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey
would continue. President Sarkozy and, it appears, also, Chancellor
Merkel have said that there can be no further enlargement without
the necessary reforms being put into place. I know that President
Barroso and your colleague Olli Rehn and some governments like
our own Government here are on the record as saying, "Sorry,
Sarkozy and Merkel, but they are going to go ahead." I just
want your view on this. Is it the Commission's view that there
should be no interruption in the accession negotiations, and that
if, for example, Croatia were to complete the negotiations in
2009, while the institutional reforms may not yet have been put
in place and if the Lisbon Treaty has not been implemented, nonetheless,
this would not be a block on them coming in, in 2010?
Commissioner Wallström: As all of you are
very aware, this is a decision that has to be taken unanimously
by Member States to change anything or to decide on enlargement.
We have made very clear and strong commitments towards Croatia
and Turkey. That is why we have started these negotiations and
membership negotiations, and they follow very clear criteria and
clear rules. We have no intention of changing that commitment,
but to engage the way we have started. If Member States want to
change that, it takes a unanimous decision by the Council. But,
of course, the current treaty provides the legal framework and
this also has to be obeyed and followed. This is where the rules
are set on how to continue. My impression is that we continue,
and we follow the commitments we have made and we follow the structure
of these negotiations that have been started.
Q53 Lord Wright of Richmond: Commissioner,
I would like to follow up the question from Lady Cohen about financial
institutions. You have explained very clearly in your reply your
role with the Financial Stability Forum, with the Basle Committee
on Banking Supervision, and so on. Does this in fact reveal a
desire to become more closely involved with the main institutions,
with the IBRD, with the IMF? Do you have it in mind, possibly,
even to have representatives attending their meetings?
Commissioner Wallström: I am glad that
you think that I have the capacity to answer all of these very
detailed and good questions on any subjectwhich of course
I do not have the competence of doing. What restricts us as the
Commission is, of course, where the European Commission has competence;
otherwise, it has to be left to the Member States. I think the
general discussion has been very much about some of the guiding
principles of more haute finesse and better control, and,
also, to make sure we play our role properlylike being
an observer and so on. But we cannot expand on our competence
without having changed things in the treaty or the legal framework.
That is how the debate has been going.
Q54 Lord Powell of Bayswater: Commissioner,
I would like to go back for one moment to your written answer
to question eight, where you said that the Commission systematically
examines contributions from the Member States on the Strategy
and takes them into consideration when drawing up the Legislative
and Work Programme. Would you or your colleagues be able to point
me to one or two examples where the Commission has significantly
changed the proposals and policies set out in the APS in response
to Member States' suggestions?
Commissioner Wallström: I guess that what
we discussed and debated and decided today in the Commission is
one example; that is the social issues and the social package.
That was introduced last year and, also, in part of some of the
seminars that we had in the Commission as well. This was not initially
in our proposal, but clearly became one of the demands from Member
States to achieve a better balance. It is not only on the internal
market and the growth in jobs, but it is also about social protection.
This reflects, also, a changed political agenda, if you like,
in political discussion and atmosphere. In the light of globalisation,
this became much more pressing, to make sure that we clarified
the laws and rules on antidiscrimination, for example, or the
protection of workers. Maybe that is the clearest example.
Q55 Lord Powell of Bayswater: Could
I go back to one of your other earlier answers, when we were dealing
with Ireland and you said the Commission was very sensibly examining
the many reasons why the Irish voted, by a majority, "no".
Presumably it must worry you, as Commissioners, that on the occasions
when people are consulted in referenda they generally do say no,
whether it is the French or the Dutch or others. Do you think,
from your examination, that the reasons are mostly about the general
direction in which the European Union is moving or do you think
it is more down to an inadequacy of communication to people of
the reasons for the Community's policies? Or do you think that
most of the reasons are nothing much to do with Europe but just
with people taking revenge on their governments or other sorts
of extraneous reasons? Where do you think the balance lies?
Commissioner Wallström: That is a 1
million question, almost, today. It is a very relevant question.
I counted, and it turns out that Member States have arranged 15
referenda on treaties: 10 have given a yes, and in five cases
there has been a no; so it is not entirely true to say that every
time you arrange a referendum people voted no. This is not exactly
Q56 Lord Powell of Bayswater: I think
I said recent referenda.
Commissioner Wallström: Yes. Of course
this is exactly the kind of analysis we are doing right now. I
think it also has to do with the nature of putting a question
like an international treaty of several hundreds of pages, to
a referendum. In many Member States they would choose something
a bit more manageable or a question that can be more easily interpreted
to a referendum, where you can provide the information. The upside
of a referendum is that you are obliged to inform citizens, to
provide them with proper debate and all the information they need,
but on an issue like this it will always pose an enormous challenge
to make sure that people have read the text. You always risk having
it sort of contaminated by all other things. We know fairly well
through opinion polls what were the reasons behind the noes. There
were different reasons, for example, in the Netherlands and in
France and in Ireland. In France, you could see that there were
very specific reasons, like the social issues, behind the noes,
and in Holland there were other more specific issues. In Ireland,
right now, it is much more diverse. It goes in all directions,
right now, and it has also been affected by the general political
climate and atmosphere in Ireland. I think it is a mix of the
things you have mentioned yourself, and the inherent problems
with such a complex issue to interpret the results is. I think
it is a mix of all these things.
Q57 Lord Powell of Bayswater: It
is of course difficult to get even ministers to read the Treaty
let alone the general public.
Commissioner Wallström: This is one of
the arguments used.
Chairman: That is why we did an impact analysis
of the Treaty here in the House of Lords, in our Committee. The
hope was that this would be useful to the House of Lords when
they debated the ratification of the Treaty, in having what we
would like to think was a very, very, objective explanation of
what the Treaty was all about. But that came to nearly 300 hundred
pages, a simple explanation of what it was without any value judgements.
There is a problem there about what you present to the public.
Q58 Lord Tomlinson: Perhaps I might
add, My Lord Chairman, that it produced some very good voting
results in the House of Lords. We might consider selling the package
to the Commission, so that they can use it to help them through
their dilemmas in the countries that might have to rethink their
Commissioner Wallström: It would be highly
appreciated! Thank you!
Q59 Lord Tomlinson: I am going to
turn back to written question seven. Your written answer to question
seven was about consistency between priorities in the Annual Policy
Strategy and the resources outlined in the Preliminary Draft Budget,
and you give us three examples of it. But perhaps I could preface
my remarks by making a criticism about the whole Annual Policy
Strategy process. I appreciate what is intended, but there seems
to be almost an inevitable consequence that we get something at
such a level of generality that it is very, very difficult to
identify a policy strategy. We can identify a subject word, but
very rarely a policy strategy to go with that subject word. I
will give you one example and ask you to comment on it. If we
are really going to do those two things, have a Common Immigration
Policy and Putting the Citizen First, I suggest that possibly
public opinion in the United Kingdom would express its concern
about the pattern of immigration into the United Kingdom following
enlargement. The pattern of migration has changed radically. That
would have consequences, if we followed it to its logical conclusion
of putting the citizen first, of maybe questioning a policy that
I do not want to question, which is the enlargement of the European
Union in the Balkans. Because there is no doubt that if we canvassed
public opinion in the United Kingdom, mass migration from the
Balkans would be seen as a major immigration policy. We have all
these words dotted about, but we do not have them as coherent
policies that we are advocating. I want to know how we can get
an Annual Policy Strategy that does not put in a little mention
for every Commissioner's area of interest but really does focus
on two or three priorities and takes the title beyond a title
into an explicit view of what it is that you want to do?
Commissioner Wallström: I think the easiest
thing for me is to agree very much with you.