Clause 4 — Increase of powers of European Parliament

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 3rd March 2008.

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Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Minister of State (Europe) 10:00 pm, 3rd March 2008

The powers of the European Parliament are being strengthened in a positive way. There are 40 extensions to co-decision in the European Parliament, 30 of which apply to the UK. The other 10 will apply to the UK should we choose for them to do so. It is an important set of reforms that enshrines additional responsibilities on the European Parliament, although some of the debates in this House suggest a collective denial of the fact that European parliamentarians, including those from this nation, are elected by a democratic process. It is a step in the direction of improving the co-decision making of the European Parliament.

It is right that we make provision in primary legislation recognising that the Lisbon Treaty increases the powers of the European Parliament. These changes are intended to strengthen the co-decision extensions. Experience suggests that co-decision leads to better legislation—the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals regulation, or REACH, is a good example. The co-decision powers will not be extended everywhere, and will not apply to key strategic policy areas—such as foreign and defence policy.

Of course, some Conservative Members will oppose clause 4 and the extension of co-decision, but I am sure that in private, reflective moments they will recall that the principle was introduced by the Maastricht treaty, which made the European Parliament a true joint decision-making body for the first time. The Maastricht treaty introduced co-decision procedures in 15 separate articles, on issues such as the free movement of workers, services, internal market, education, public health, consumer protection and environmental policy. All those co-decision arrangements were introduced by the Maastricht treaty.

Of course, the Lisbon treaty also caps the number of Members of the European Parliament at 751—down from 785 at present—and we welcome that smaller European Parliament as well. The European Parliament will elect the president of the Commission. Under new article 9d, the European Council will have to take account of the political complexion of the European Parliament when nominating a new Commission president, and MEPs will gain separate votes on the Commission president and on the college of Commissioners. Of course, that is not a new change in substance. The European Parliament's approval, which it delivers by a vote, is required now to appoint a new Commission. The new wording reflects the procedure followed during the appointment of the Barroso Commission in 2004.

I sense from the mood of the House that hon. Members would like me to bring my comments to a conclusion— [ Interruption ]—but we still have nine minutes or so of the debate left before hon. Members perhaps seek to divide the House. I wish to give Mr. Francois the opportunity to respond. I think that it is fair for me to conclude my remarks, except to say that we believe that these extensions of co-decision to the democratically elected European Parliament are an important reform. These reforms are supported by political parties across the EU. They are supported by the Governments and the main Opposition parties in all 27 countries of the EU. It would be a shame if, in the UK alone, one major political party opposed these extensions as they are now proposed as a consequence of the Lisbon treaty. With those comments, I suggest that clause 4 remain part of the Bill. [ Interruption. ]