Clause 2 — Addition to list of treaties

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 11:00 pm on 26th February 2008.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe) 11:00 pm, 26th February 2008

One of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stone attacks an important principle by seeking to remove the following provision in article 3b of the treaty on European Union:

"Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States."

That is an important statement of principle. It clarifies that the EU has only those powers that the member states give it through treaties, and that everything else remains with member states. It sets out the relationship between the EU and member states, making it clear that powers are given to the EU by member states, not the other way around. It makes it clear that member states are the masters of the treaties, as the German constitutional court has put it.

The duty of sincere co-operation that is reflected here—which has excited some Opposition Members—is not new. Britain signed up to that when we joined the European Community, and it is also reflected in the Maastricht treaty.

On the amendments on the categories of competences, the text gives greater clarity than before on what the EU can and cannot do. The treaty also reinforces more than any previous treaty the limits of EU competence, and competences not conferred on the EU remain with member states. The Law Society of England and Wales—not some foreign threat, or part of any great conspiracy—says in its report on the treaty of January this year that:

"EU law can only be made in those areas in which all EU countries, including the UK, have agreed that it is appropriate for action to be taken at European level."

It also states:

"There are five areas in which the UK and other countries have agreed that the EU alone may pass new laws. None of these is new to the Treaty of Lisbon."

Amendment No. 121 seeks to remove the codification of competences in the treaty. That is a denial of the reality, for the categorisation contained in the Lisbon treaty is not new. It is my strong view that as the treaty has been agreed, the allocation of competences is no longer a one-way street. Just because in the past something was better regulated by the EU than by nation states is not to say that things must remain the same for the next 20, 30 or 40 years, and the treaty makes that clear.

Amendment No. 222, tabled by the hon. Member for Moray, attacks the inclusion in the treaty of a specific reference to the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy being defined as an exclusive EU competence. However, it is an exclusive EU competence, as we knew when we joined the EU. The treaty only confirms that. The Lisbon treaty makes no changes to the extent of the competence at European level on fisheries. Community competence over fisheries is shared, except for conservation measures, which have been exclusive since the UK's treaty of accession. That was confirmed by a European Court of Justice ruling in 1981.