European Union (Amendment) Bill
Lord Howell of Guildford (Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs; Conservative)
We come now to amendments that concern the conferring of a legal personality on the European Union in toto. They raise a number of issues that need careful scrutiny, in accordance with our remit and the recognition that we have the task of line by line scrutiny to perform on this complex and wide-ranging Bill, and on the treaty it embodies. Here, once again, we are largely in the hands of the lawyers—which may be nice for the lawyers—and of the Court, as we are on many issues in the treaty. This is because the treaty, which is almost word for word the constitution, lacks in itself the safe, secure legal provision to circumscribe and define the powers of the EU institutions, as opposed to the powers of member states. We will come to this debate later, when we look at competencies. All the while, we have to be aware that it is legal decisions and lawyers' judgments and assessments, views and counterviews that will decide how these things work out.
I anticipate that the defence of this provision in the treaty from the Government and their apologists will be that there is, of course, nothing very new—that the old European Community had just such a power to sign international treaties and had, in a sense, a legal personality. Indeed, even the European Union under the previous treaties had a treaty-signing power, which automatically gave the EU a kind of legal personality, which has been recognised by a number of professors and legal experts. Now the difference is a big one—with the collapse of the Third Pillar into the combined new constitutional structure of the Union, this power extends considerably from the limits of old Pillar 1 issues, mainly on trade, which the European Community possessed, to foreign policy, defence, crime and judicial issues, and covers all the Second and Third Pillar issues that were previously beyond the reach of the EU.
This is a big change. We will have different views on whether it is good or bad, but we must recognise that it is there. It will be, in the words of the former Commission President and former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi,
"a gigantic leap forward. Europe can now play its role on the world stage thanks to its legal personality".
Something very big is happening and we cannot be blind to that. The French authorities helpfully went on to explain that:
"The European Union naturally has a vocation to be a permanent member of the Security Council, and the Constitution will allow it to be, by giving it legal personality".
Even the present Labour Government choked on this one, because this is going very far. I do not know about the position of the Lib Dems obviously, because that is never too easy, but the Government found this very awkward.