Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 4th March 1993.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 7:30 pm, 4th March 1993

I respect my hon. Friend's knowledge of the treaties, but I think that he will find that, apart from the famous Gaullist Luxembourg compromise, the treaty of Rome contains far more articles requiring the unanimity rule than articles requiring qualified majority voting. We need not argue too long about that, however. The important thing is to note the new areas of Community competence.

First there are the old ones: agriculture, fisheries, transport, common commercial policy, free movement of goods, persons and services. Then there are the new areas: economic and social cohesion, environment policy, research and technology development, development of trans-European networks, health protection, contribution to education and training, policy in the sphere of development co-operation, contribution to the strengthening of consumer protection, and energy, civil protection and tourism measures. Nearly all these are new policy areas brought under the qualified majority voting procedures as developed under articles 189b and 189c of the Maastricht treaty.

It follows that the ability of a Minister on the Council of Ministers to veto developments, given the new arid wider areas of treaty competence, has been removed. Ministers can no longer veto or demand unanimity. Wherever qualified majority voting is agreed, the powers of national Parliaments to hold Ministers to account are virtually abandoned, because Ministers can always turn up and say, "I did my best but I was outvoted by a qualified majority vote; I could not stick to the position which I know my own Parliament wanted me to retain."

As we are to deal separately in another debate with economic and monetary union and with all three stages thereof, I need not do more than mention the qualified majority voting in economic and monetary union, which is also enshrined in the treaty. That union covers matters of great importance.

I want to mention the powers of the Commission and also to focus mainly on the European Parliament. The powers of the Commission are also extended to all the new competences established under the Maastricht amendments to the Rome treaty. The Commission retains its powers as sole initiator of policy and its responsibility for enforcement. In one area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) mentioned, under stage 3 of economic and monetary union the Commission is given powers of a formidable kind. They are powers to propose fines and penalties for member states when it is held that they are in breach of treaty obligations. That will lead to an interesting shift in the power relations between the Commission and the Council of Ministers.

The most important changes, however, are in the powers and procedures of the European Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton began referring to the right of petition and the establishment of the office of ombudsman. Those are trivial powers, and I do not believe the European Parliament needs the Maastricht treaty to establish such rights and offices. Indeed, petition rights are already in force, so I thought it rather odd to concentrate on the most trivial of all the increased powers given to the European Parliament.

The more important aspects of the European Parliament's powers are the procedures under articles 189b and 189c of the treaty. Under article 189b, the so-called co-decision procedure greatly elevates the powers of the European Parliament in relation to the Council of Ministers and to the Commission. Henceforth, under article 189b—this includes those matters which are to be resolved by the procedures set out in the article—the European Parliament will have the right to reject a Council proposal, whether it is a majority, a qualified majority or a unanimous decision. The Parliament will have the right to reject the proposal outright by means of a majority vote of its Members. After all procedures have been exhausted, the European Parliament still possesses the right—on Third Reading, as it were—to vote down a Council proposal.

As the Committee will know, a conciliation committee is to be established, with equal numbers from the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, to negotiate differences between the two bodies when amendments have been proposed and not accepted. This represents a substantial shift of power in favour of the European Parliament.

Extension of powers will not stop there. It is interesting and significant to read paragraph 8 of article 189b, which states: The scope of the procedure under this Article may be widened, in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article N(2) of the Treaty on European Union, on the basis of a report to be submitted to the Council by the Commission by 1996 at the latest. There we have it. By "1996 at the latest" there will be brought forward to the Council a proposal for changing or developing further the procedure of co-decision. Undoubtedly, the Council will be in favour of enhancing the powers of the Parliament.