Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

National Parliaments (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:35 pm on 15th December 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:35 pm, 15th December 2014

My Lords, this has been a rich debate which has ranged widely between the lack of a European demos to the future of Britain’s role in the European Union, to the popular disenchantment with the European institutions across much of the EU to the role of COSAC. Having read the report and having listened to the first two or three speeches, I must say that I was beginning to think that COSAC had improved enormously since I was last a member. Then I heard the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, almost say that it might take another generation before COSAC becomes an effective body. I remember eating very well when I went to COSAC and some of the discussions were useful. However, all that was a long time ago, and I am sure that it has improved a great deal.

The British Government do accept that the European Parliament, the British Parliament and other national parliaments have complementary roles. We absolutely insist as part of our proposal for European reform that national parliaments need to be more actively engaged and that relying on the European institutions alone to provide legitimacy is no longer acceptable, possible or publicly achievable. We all know about the negative image of the European Union—the image that UKIP puts out that the EU is attempting to accumulate more and more powers in Brussels and has to be resisted so that power is pulled back. I am old enough to remember the old idea when I first went to meetings in Brussels and elsewhere when we were discussing joining the EU that it was there to replace national Governments. National Governments represented the old way and national parliaments were part of that. Jean Monnet, who hated the French National Assembly and was never himself a parliamentarian, believed that technocracy was much better and more efficient than democracy. There were those like Altiero Spinelli who had a passionate belief that the European demos was there, somehow, to be discovered, if only one worked hard enough for it.

We have discovered in the generations since then that it was not really there, that all politics remains local, and that the problems we are now facing are that while politics remains local, economics, finance and markets have become international and often global, security has become international and often global, and the gap is one that we are all struggling to fill. We also had a number of discussions about rivalry between the European Parliament and national parliaments, with the European Parliament sometimes claiming greater legitimacy because it represented the European demos. I recall one Member of the British Parliament attending the convention when the European Convention met and feeling from the start that she was being patronised by Members of the European Parliament. She became and she remains a rather sceptical Labour MP.

There is something of a Brussels bubble. We understand that Brussels does need a culture change, and I listened with interest to the optimism expressed about the new Commission, perhaps about the new European Parliament, and some of the new Commission officials. Again, I mark that we do not send enough British officials to the Commission for a whole range of reasons. I am glad that my own Government have reinstituted the European fast stream and are working to try to get more British officials to go through the concours and to come in as seconded national experts at all levels because that is part of the way we can change the culture of Brussels.