Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton 5:45 pm, 4th March 1993

The Government have already decided that the matter will be decided by a Boundary Commission and by an extension of the number of existing seats. The Labour party is currently engaged in a major study of electoral reform, and I do not want to pre-empt its findings. However, speaking personally, I believe that the worst way of introducing any type of electoral reform or proportional representation would be to say that the creation of six seats was to cause a major change to the British constitution merely because we did not have time to establish a Boundary Commission. There would be plenty of time if the Government would start now and then consider the future role for European Parliament seats when we are clear about what will happen.

The European Parliament gains some new arid significant powers under the Maastricht treaty. Of course, that is despite animated opposition from the Government to any extension in European Parliament powers. In December 1991 the Foreign Secretary said: We are not persuaded by the case … for adding again to the powers of the European Parliament". However, it has new powers. It gains a new power of veto. The negative assent procedure is the Euro-jargon method of dodging the difficult word "veto", but, in certain restricted, although important, aspects of law making, a veto is exactly what the European Parliament will have.

That means that the European Parliament now has a total of five co-decision powers to influence policy in the Council of Ministers. All are complicated and dense and virtually all are incomprehensible, even to the Members of the European Parliament. The Maastricht treaty provides it with a new influence over the appointment of the European Commission, its President and its programme. There is a new right of citizens to petition the European Parliament, and the creation of an ombudsman to allow individuals to have Community maladministration investigated.

However, these powers are in no way sufficient to fill what is fashionably called the "democratic deficit". They in no way properly reflect the fact that there is more qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers—and there is a big extension of qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers despite opposition from the Government.

In Glasgow in 1991 the Foreign Secretary made it clear that the Government were opposed to significantly extended qualified majority voting". However, there have been 61 new extensions of qualified majority voting in the treaty signed at Maastricht. Decisions on laws are now taken and implemented without any further reference to the elected representatives of the people who will be affected by them. That has to be unacceptable and, at the 1996 intergovernmental conferences, the accountability of the Council to elected representatives must be high on the agenda.

The European Commission came out of the Maastricht process virtually unscathed. Despite the fact that it is unelected and has considerable power and influence, and despite the fact that there is growing concern at its monopoly on initiating legislation, its powers were scarcely trimmed and it was not made more accountable. In fact, having been given the new power to fix penalties for not complying with European Community laws and decisions, the Commission has been handed significant influence and control.

It will remain one of the ironies of contemporary European history that it was largely Lady Thatcher's enthusiasm for penalties and fines against Governments for non-compliance with Community laws which will now give the European Commission, which she so hated and loathed, the most remarkable new power to enforce Euro-policy.