Orders of the Day — European Assembly (Elections)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1976.

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Photo of Mr Frank Hooley Mr Frank Hooley , Sheffield, Heeley 12:00 am, 30th March 1976

I confess to being somewhat agnostic about the question of direct elections. I sometimes think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have become prisoners of their own intellectual logic. On the one hand we have the presentation of apocalyptic euphoria, a European paradise towards which we are steadily marching, and from the right hon. Gentleman we have a presentation of apocalyptic horror which seems to threaten the ancient powers and privileges of this place, for which I have as much respect and concern as he does.

In the end, however, it will be not the institutions in Europe but the political will and economic power of the individual member Stales which will determine the pattern. We are in some danger of being mesmerised by the Euro-heresy that somehow the institutions are the important factor and of overlooking the true political and economic factors.

The key issues in the next few years will be the power of the German economy, the fragility of the political and economic set-up in taly and the possible development of a Communist-Socialist coalition in France. These, and not constitutional semantics about direct elections, are the factors which will determine the pattern of Western Europe in the next few years.

We would probably do well to examine what has happened in the great international institutions of the United Nations. There we have seen how they have become moulded and developed to take account of the shifts of political and economic power in the membership. In so far as they take account of that shift and develop to meet new occasions and new duties, they work effectively. Over many fields they have worked very effectively. Where they have fallen short and failed to take account of changes in military, economic or political power, they have not worked effectively and have fallen down on the job. But what matters is the political and economic power of the members and the way in which they exercise it, and the institutions themselves become moulded by that force, and not vice-versa.

The EEC has demonstrated in the past few years that it is irrelevant. It was irrelevant to the oil crisis which occurred in 1973. It could do nothing about it and it said nothing about it. The EEC was irrelevant to the commodity crisis which developed following the oil crisis. It was irrelevant to the world food crisis. It is irrelevant to the economic recession. It has offered nothing to solve the problems of the economic recession.

The EEC has offered nothing to solve the problems of unemployment. In fact, it is a rather curious irony that the countries which decided to stay outside the Community, such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, do not have anything approaching the levels of unemployment that exist among the member States of the EEC.

The EEC has offered nothing in the field of nuclear power. Britain is going its own way in this respect. France and Germany are adopting their own separate policies. The EEC has offered nothing towards the solution of the currency crisis. It has offered nothing constructive, positive or useful to the great international centres of tension in the Middle East or Southern Africa.

So far, the EEC has failed totally to devise any coherent policy, to the best of my knowledge, at the highly important world conference in Nairobi, UNCTAD IV. Indeed, it was very significant that when the Prime Minister wanted to take an intiative on the whole question of commodities and international economic relationships he chose the Commonwealth as the forum and not Brussels or the EEC.

The common agricultural policy has been a matter for contempt and ridicule. I believe that a revolt against it has developed in Britain, and possibly in some other countries, which will create a political conflict and political controversy as great as the controversy over the corn laws more than a century ago. The obsession with harmonisation is again in the process of coming into ridicule. It is a factor in European thinking that has dominated much of the work that has been done so far.

My belief is that this sudden obsession with direct elections is a cosmentic exercise to try to paper over, or to bring some justifications for, a Community which has brought no solution and made no contribution to the massive world problems that I have just listed—problems of commodities, oil and food, and the political problems of the Middle East, Southern Africa and elsewhere. The Community has contributed nothing to the solution of those problems either directly or indirectly.

I do not like the phrase "Euro-fanatics". That is a bit unfair. Let us say that the committed Europeans are now saying "All right, let us see what we can do to show that this arrangement, this Community, is really going forward. Let us have some direct elections, and let us develop along a constitutional line. We can do nothing in economic or practical world politics, so let us have some fiddling around with the constitutional arrangements." This issue, therefore, has suddenly become important.

Why is it important now? For 15 years the Six could have proceeded, had they wished, to a fully-elected Assembly. In that situation it would have been almost automatic for those member States, such as ourselves, which came in at a later stage—had we done so—to have had to fall into line with the elected Assembly idea. But the Six did not do that. Why not? If it is of such paramount importance and such a critical feature of the future of Europe, why were the Six so uninterested? It was in the Treaty of Rome from the beginning, as has been said, yet they took no positive, practical step to deal with that aspect of the Treaty. Why have we got this now, suddenly, at this particular stage? I suggest that to a very considerable extent it is a cosmetic exercise by the committed European to try to prove mat we are moving somehow towards something that is realistic and meaningful.

In my view, the key debate in the next stage of development of the Community will be about expansion of membership. As a democrat, I do not attempt to repudiate the massive majority decision of this House and the electorate that we should be and remain members of the Community. We are members by virtue of a two-thirds majority decision of this House and a two-thirds majority decision of the electorate. The next stage that is of importance is not the question of direct elections but the expansion of membership to take in other European countries—Greece, for example, which is on the agenda already, and possibly Portugal some day in the future. I have not abandoned the hope that possibly the Scandinavian countries may come in with us in due course. And there is possibly Turkey as well.

The question of nuts and bolts, the mechanics of the elections, can be left to the Select Committee. However, hon. Members make a mistake if they suppose that the electoral mechanism will develop as a sort of parallel to our own election system. Some people have talked of canvassing. How can one canvass half a million electors? It is an absurd notion. I believe that it will be much more comparable with the referendum exercise of a little while ago. Assumptions that it will follow the normal party patterns in Britain are very hasty. There may well develop European Movement candidates, anti-European Movement candidates and so on in the system as it develops. We cannot take it for granted that the election arrangements will be in any way parallel to those to which we are accustomed for elections for membership of this place.

However, what matters ultimately in Europe is the political will of its member States and their economic power. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was quite right in saying that, if we have the determination to say within the Community that certain interests of this country are essential and must be safeguarded and pursued, we in this House have the power to do it. I do not accept that mere membership of the Community—which I opposed and which I still think is mistaken—in itself abrogates the power of this House to make decisions on behalf of the 55 million people in the United Kingdom. Ultimately it is a matter of political will. I am not convinced that this issue of direct elections, for either those in favour or those against, will be a fundamental issue in the developments of the next few years.