Friday, December 10, 2004

Why cannot the Minister answer a simple question?

This is getting tiresome. Surely the Minister can do better than change the subject to ad hominem attacks whenever a question is asked that is in some ways critical of the great European project?

On December 7 Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked whether the Government was satisfied that the new Commission was “suitably composed to act as the initiator and executive of European Union legislation”. Given the Commission’s unique position as the initiator of all EU legislation as well as the executive body and given the somewhat shambolic start to the Barrosso team’s tenure, this is not an unreasonable question.

Nor was the response unreasonable, just plain mad. Baroness Crawley for the Government replied:

“My Lords, yes. The Government have every confidence in President Barroso's Commission. We can only applaud the new Commission's focus on delivery, reform and better regulation. We look forward to working with it to face some of the great common challenges—Africa, climate change and European economic reform—during our presidency next year of both the G8 and the EU”
Absolutely nonsensical. The question was about specific points – the Commission’s make-up and its legislative role. What on earth has Africa and climate change to do with it, even if the Commission or the EU could do anything about either. Contrary to popular opinion Canute did not actually command the waves to recede in any belief that they would do so but to prove to an overzealous courtier that they would not. The Commission and Her Majesty’s Ministers appear to think that they can stop climate change, something that has happened with monotonous regularity over the centuries.

As for Africa, well, do they actually have a plan beyond a wish list?

So we come to economic reform. That must be the wretched Lisbon process again. As long as the EU and its officials believe that free markets consist of score cards that governments and businesses have to tick off, so long the idea of economic reform will be dead in the water.

Unabashed, Lord Pearson proceeded to enumerate all the various things that have already gone wrong with the new Commission:
“My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that admirably succinct reply. But is she aware that the new Commission contains six former communists,an agriculture commissioner who benefits from the CAP, an anti-fraud commissioner who has been tried for fraud, Monsieur Barrot who was found guilty of fraud but who was pardoned by President Chirac, for fairly obvious reasons, not to mention that fine example of British political probity, Mr Peter Mandelson?

Does the noble Baroness further agree that the Latvian candidate did not make it on to the Commission because she favours member states retaining their tax systems and that Signor Buttiglione was excluded because he is a good Catholic and a thoroughly decent man?

In those circumstances, can the noble Baroness tell the House why Her Majesty's Government are happy to see most of our new laws largely controlled by such people, as they now are?”
As it happens, we should all like to know the answer to that. But did Baroness Crawley give an answer? Did she heck. She went on about Lord Pearson’s record as an arch eurosceptic and the fact that he would never say anything good about the Commission but neglected to reply or to acknowledge that actually his comments were mostly accurate (I reserve judgement about the lady from Riga).

In this extraordinary activity she was aided by Lord Richard (himself a former Commissioner but because of the peculiar rules of the House not required to declare his interest) and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who is an MEP and also not required to declare that little fact.