Aspects of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty

Report by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, 23 March 2005

The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee’s report on the European constitution drew in several places on evidence submitted by Federal Union. The relevant passages are reproduced here below.

Legislative meetings of the Council in public

41. Several submissions referred to the greater ability national parliaments would have to hold their Ministers to account.[referring to Federal Union’s evidence]

51. The Federal Union noted that at present in the Council ‘amendments and proposals arise for agreement during the meetings themselves and there have been occasions of genuine uncertainty about what is being proposed and discussed’. It wanted ‘a more orderly legislative process’, and particularly the publication of legislative proposals and amendments in time for analysis and scrutiny before formal decisions are made.[78] We and our predecessors in previous Parliaments have consistently criticised last-minute drafting,[79] and we agree that ‘a more orderly legislative process’ is needed. We share the Federal Union’s view that public meetings of the Council when legislating will contribute to this.

The EU’s Foreign Minister

64. The relationship between the Foreign Minister and the President of the European Council also potentially gives rise to problems. The Federal Union stated that:

‘The new Foreign Minister will be a Vice-President of the European Commission, at the head of the EU’s external representative services and a member of the Commission that coordinates trade, aid and the other external policies of the EU. The Chair of the European Council will have none of these resources or responsibilities, but rather a symbolic role in external representation. The two posts can work well together, but foreign policy will have to be developed through the EU’s institutions — thereby respecting the role of the member states — rather than on the hoof.’ [98]

65. We would have preferred a less grandiose title than Minister for Foreign Affairs, but we recognise the need for better co-ordination of the EU’s foreign policy, and we hope that creation of the new post will have that result. Matters of responsibility and accountability are particularly difficult in foreign affairs because of the differing roles of the EU institutions and of Member States. It remains to be seen whether ‘double-hatting’ will work well, but, on balance, it would appear that the indications are positive.

Enhanced cooperation

73. On the other hand the Federal Union thought it ‘likely that in the future, a grouping will emerge based on the eurozone countries and seeking to establish more cooperation on economic matters such as corporate taxation and the employment rights of migrant workers’. This would result not from the provisions of the Constitutional Treaty, but from the UK not having adopted the euro, and might make it harder for the UK to adopt the euro in the future.[113]

75. The provisions on enhanced cooperation have, to some extent, been simplified, but we agree with our witnesses that such simplification will not, in itself, make enhanced cooperation more likely. Of greater significance are political factors and the fact of enlargement of the Union to 25 Member States. We believe it is right to maintain strict conditions for the commencement of enhanced cooperation, in order to protect the interests of non-participants, but we accept that a procedure limited as in the Constitutional Treaty might provide a useful safety valve. On the other hand, we would regard as unacceptable any tendency to use the procedure as a means of coercing individual Member States into agreeing EU measures and policies.

Consequences if the Treaty is not ratified

151. The Federal Union considered the most likely result was that ‘Britain would … be forced out at least of the European mainstream and possibly out of the European Union altogether’.[225]

154. We do not accept that if the UK was alone or nearly alone in rejecting the Constitutional Treaty this would necessarily lead to its exclusion from full membership of the EU, but we do accept that such a decision would result in a crisis in the UK’s relationship with the EU, with unpredictable consequences, which could well undermine Britain’s national interest.

Read the House of Commons report here

Read Federal Union’s written evidence here

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