Clause 2 — Addition to list of treaties

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 20th February 2008.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe) 7:30 pm, 20th February 2008

To turn to the substance of the business before us this evening, the fact is that the position of president of the European Council already exists. The Maastricht treaty explicitly stated that the European Council is chaired by the Head of State or Head of Government of the country holding the Council presidency.

Mr. Harper said, fairly, that language is important. He, or one of his hon. Friends, went on to talk about the de facto abandonment of the UK seat on the Security Council. That is complete and utter nonsense and the Opposition know it. The fact is that the full-time president will replace the current, ridiculous system of a rotating six-month presidency of the European Council. The twice-yearly rotation causes problems with continuity and reduces the effective time each presidency has to deliver the shared agenda. As I said earlier, in the Balkans we made a commitment to the people of Kosovo to stand by them, but in the period since then we have had, I think, no fewer than 17 presidencies, and despite the best intentions, momentum in the EU has ebbed and flowed throughout that period.

The hon. Member for Rayleigh was on very thin ice when he put forward his arguments about the thin end of the wedge and about trapdoors. He also argued that the president of the European Council would in some way be the equivalent of the President of the United States of America. That assertion does not stand up even to superficial examination. The US constitution vests executive powers in the President of the United States of America; the president of the European Council will have no such powers. The US President is the commander in chief of the US armed forces; there will be no such role for the president of the European Council. The US President can make treaties; there will be no such power for the president of the European Council. The US President can appoint Supreme Court judges and grant pardons; there will be no such power for the president of the European Council. The President of the US can veto Bills passed by Congress; there will be no legislative role for the president of the European Council. We must all be careful about the terminology that we use. To argue, as the hon. Gentleman did, that this measure was tantamount to the creation of an all-powerful president akin to the President of the United States of America showed a kind of Europhobia gone rampant on the Conservative Benches.