HC Deb 20 April 1999 vol 329 cc686-8
6. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

If he will make a statement on the future role of the European Commission. [79950]

11. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

If he will make a statement on the appointment of the new President of the European Commission. [79955]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

The Government are in favour of a European Commission that is efficient, transparent and accountable. The independent experts' report revealed a catalogue of deficiencies in the Commission's internal structures and practices, but the resignation of the Commission gives us an opportunity to ensure that, in future, the Commission carries out its functions more effectively and makes much better use of taxpayers' money. The Berlin European Council took a decisive step towards that by agreeing the nomination of the new Commission President.

Mr. Blizzard

Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the only sensible words ever uttered by the noble Baroness Thatcher were that "advisers advise, Ministers decide"? That is the principle that underlies the civil service in this country; should it not also be true of the European Commission? Will the people of this country not accept more readily the institutions of the EU if they are confident that decisions are taken by democratically elected Ministers, rather than by unelected bureaucrats? Will my right hon. Friend use this opportunity to press for reform of the European Commission that brings about that state of affairs?

Ms Quin

The Government have tabled a number of proposals for reforms. It should be emphasised that, in European decision making, the elected Council of Ministers has the final say and is responsible for making final decisions; that is a system of which we approve. As for the accountability of the European Commission, a great deal can be done to improve matters in terms of its relations with both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and we have made proposals in that respect.

Mr. Bercow

In backing for the presidency of the European Commission Mr. Prodi, who says that economic and monetary union and political union are two sides of the same coin, why can the right hon. Lady not admit in Britain what is widely acknowledged on the continent—that Mr. Prodi is a committed "federast", who is determined to create a single defence policy, a single economic policy, a single foreign policy, a single immigration policy, a single social policy, a single constitution, a single Government and a single state called Europe?

Ms Quin

First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the appointment of Mr. Prodi at the Berlin Council was linked firmly with Commission reform, and that is why he received the support of all member Governments. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman obviously has a short memory. I am not sure whether he was in the House when Romano Prodi's predecessor was appointed, but I remember the press coverage at the time about the fiercely federalist Jacques Santer, who was the Conservative Government's appointee.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Does the Minister agree that, in taking forward the essential reform process, we must establish a mechanism whereby individual acts of proven misconduct against individual Commissioners can result in their disciplining or dismissal? We should not always have to take the nuclear option of forcing the entire European Commission to resign.

Ms Quin

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We must not only move ahead in appointing a new Commission, but consider the terms and conditions that govern such appointments in order to address some of the issues to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Mr. Prodi has declared his intention to use his presidency to create a single economy and a single political unity; yet the Foreign Secretary said recently that the Maastricht treaty was a high water mark of integrationism. How can those positions be reconciled?

Ms Quin

I am always surprised by the contrast between Opposition Members' present paranoia about the word "integration" and the policies that they adopted in government, which led to much greater integrationism than those that we have pursued. We have said that we will consider proposals on their merits and agree to policies that are in our interests. We have even introduced our own initiatives in the defence sphere, for example. That is the way to proceed in Europe. I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the reasons why Mr. Prodi was appointed and the important tasks that we expect him to carry out and about which he will report to the Cologne European Council.

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