Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Future of Europe

On Tuesday I attended the Hansard Society/Parliamentary Affairs Annual Lecture. Andrea Leadsom, Co-Chair of the All-Party Group on European Reform and joint founder of the Fresh Start Project gave an interesting address entitled, "The European Union and the Democratic Deficit". I can't say that I agreed with all of it - it reflected an ideology and world view that I have profound problems with. However I was encouraged to hear much greater emphasis put on tackling the 'democratic deficit' at Westminster.

I have been involved for many years with both the European and Westminster Parliaments. I'm impressed with the independence of the European Parliament. It takes its job of scrutinising legislation seriously, and is not subservient to the Executive. [By this I mean the European Commission]. It is directly elected (though I do think that there are problems relating to EU citizens - we still tend to vote at European Elections on the basis of our feelings about national politics, rather than on European issues; the Parliament and the elections are not adequately covered by the national media; and the party list system in huge constituencies doesn't help), and its members have a much greater opportunity to develop legislation than backbench MPs at Westminster.

But I would agree with Ms Leadsom that transfering more powers to the European Parliament won't tackle the real democratic deficit. It is a strengthening both of scrutiny, and direct involvement in European issues, at Westminster which will do that.

We do a scrutiny system - for further information follow these Links
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/european-scrutiny-committee/ [House of Commons]
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/eu-select-committee-/[House of Lords]

Ms Leadsom proposed some useful reforms, which included -
  • Encourage greater specialisation within the committees (have permanent sub-committees which specialise in particular subjects) - particularly in the Commons
  • Have more pre-legislative scrutiny
  • Have MEPs and EU Officials make reports to the committees
  • Give the committees power to veto appointments to the Commission or UKREP [the Civil Service body representing Britain to the EU Institution]
  • Encourage closer work with MEPs
She also suggested that the Europe Minister should be a cabinet post. These are all ideas worth exploring.

The Hansard Society hopes to have the recording of the meeting available on its website. At the time of writing it was not available - but try here.