European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 20th November 2001.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:30 pm, 20th November 2001

The Government have agreed to this change in signing the Nice Treaty. However, the argument always cuts both ways. It may turn out that the measure will not make much difference at all, and judging by what we have just heard, that is one possibility. Life will go on with all its complexities and, therefore, one may ask why we oppose the measure as it is not important. Alternatively, the measure may be considered an immensely significant part of the new European system and, therefore, one may ask why we oppose it as it is so important.

I refer to those of us who believe that we see a vision of Europe ahead which is modern, not centralised, in which there is not too much power at the centre; in which the laws, rules and procedures of the network prevail over the laws, rules and procedures of the hierarchy; and in which European unity is not constructed as a kind of ersatz scaled-up nation state with all its symbols and so on, but is something much more gentle, tolerant and flexible. Therefore, every time we are faced with the proposition that there should be more power at the centre we are concerned.

The Commission—we debated this matter on earlier amendments—may or may not be losing power to the secretariat. The European institutions are, of course, enhanced by every QMV move. We shall discuss later the substantial list—these matters have been somewhat belittled in earlier debates—which comprises considerable and important areas where QMV is to apply under the Nice Treaty. However, as regards the matter that we are discussing, this is one more area where we are not persuaded. The case for taking this step seems to me to be minuscule, but the principles involved in taking it, however small it may appear, are gigantic.

I was interested to hear the fair assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, of past presidents. I thought that he was fair even with regard to President Santer. I, too, shall be fair in that regard. It seems to me that President Santer was defeated by the system. He was an extremely decent man who intended to do good but he was dealing with a Commission system which has defeated others and may not yet have been put back in its box.

I hope that Commissioner Kinnock will win through with his reforms. However, when one examines the detailed progress of those reforms, Commissioner Kinnock must occasionally be rather cast down as there has been little progress as regards the Commission making big reforms and adopting the role of servants, which the Members of the Commission are. They are servants of the people of Europe and of the nation states rather than their masters. As I say, there has been little progress in that regard despite the tribulations which poor President Santer experienced. I do not blame President Santer for the situation; I blame a system which is bad and which is not in any way improved by what we are being asked to do in the Nice Treaty in this respect. Therefore, I suggest that we would be far wiser not to tinker with this area, but to look for other deeper reforms to make a better Europe than the one we have today. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.