Saturday, May 08, 2004

Are they listening to themselves?

On May 5, that is, some days after the Irish proposals for amending the EU Constitution were, presumably, available to ministers and civil servants who advise them, Lord Grenfell stood up in the House of Lords and asked whether in the wake of enlargement, Her Majesty’s Government “will now press for reform of the Union’s institutions as a matter of urgency”. Odd that: we were all told that the Nice Treaty was an absolute pre-requisite of enlargement. Yet, here we are, with the new members ensconced in the EU, still having to press for reform of institutions.

Predictably, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Baroness Symons of Vernham Dene, assured the House that HMG was well aware of the problem and that is why they were pushing for an early agreement on the constitutional treaty (that’s the one that is going to bring the EU Constitution in, as the noble Baroness carefully did not say).

Somewhat more surprisingly, she also assured the House that all the recent documentation will be available to the members but did not mention that much of that consists of revisions to the Constitution that take more power away from the member states and their parliaments to give it to the EU, the Commission and the Council. Perhaps the noble lady had not been briefed properly. Certainly, she could not have read even the original draft that had fallen at the December Summit.

Sure enough, when challenged by Lord Lawson on the “massive centralization” involved in the treaty under discussion, she rather smugly quoted from a report by one of the House of Lords committees, that the Constitution will shift power from the Commission to member states.

It was left to Lord Howell, who clearly had read the Constitution to point out that the power shift was to the Council of Ministers, not to the member states. In the ministerial reply there was the usual, no doubt deliberate, confusion between the two. That’s all right we were told effectively, members of the Council are elected by their member states.

This does not deal with the fact that the members of the Council are elected by different member states and are in no way responsible to all the parliaments. Furthermore, an ever growing proportion of decisions are taken on qualified majority voting. And what if a decision is taken by ministers, who are not elected by the people of this country and are not responsible to this parliament, that affects this country? Then the minister comes back, reports to Parliament and has to acknowledge that he or she is disturbed by the development. But there is nothing anybody can do to change that. Hardly giving power back to the member states.

To read the full debate click here.

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