HL Deb 12 October 1993 vol 549 cc88-90

3.3 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will state the role and powers of the European Council and, in particular, whether this institution can act independently from the European Commission (as opposed to being required to act only on a proposal from it) and whether it can issue direct instructions to the European Commission.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, under Article D of the Treaty on European Union, the European Council brings together the heads of state or government of the member states and the President of the European Commission. The European Council shall provide the union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define its general political guidelines. The Commission does not enjoy sole right of initiative in the European Council and may be given instructions by it.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for having provided such a comprehensive Answer to my Question. Is she aware that there is, as yet, little evidence to show that the European Council serves any useful purpose other than to provide the illusion to the prime ministers of member states that, at any rate once for a half-year every six years, they can truly demonstrate that they are at the heart of Europe, obviously to the approval of their constituents? Can the Minister give any single instance, bearing in mind that when acting within the areas of Community competence the Council has no extra powers whatever, of what useful purpose it has served?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, would accept the following example which affects every member nation within the European Community. I refer to the steps that the leaders of the European member states have taken in moving the GATT negotiations forward. That is something that we should not underplay. It is critical that those who have come together in economic common interest should be fighting for a successful resolution of the GATT Round. That they have done.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, is it correct that the modified Brussels Treaty which deals with defence matters still gives the prerogative to deal with defence matters to the WEU and not to the Commission or indeed in some measure to the European Council?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Finsberg is right, but of course under the pillar of a common foreign and security policy it is right that the member states together should discuss that as well as discussing it in the WEU.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister please confirm what I understood to be her original Answer to my Question, that in areas outside Community competence, under the Treaty of Rome, as amended, the European Council can, in fact, without any proposal coming from the Commission itself, issue direct instructions to the Commission?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may explain the background to this matter, because I believe that I know why there is sometimes a measure of confusion. The European Council may issue instructions to the European Commission whether it is within or without Community legislation, but it is to the various Councils of Ministers that the Commission will propose. They, if they wish to instruct the Commission, would do so through the European Council; in other words, the heads of government or heads of state.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, does not the European Council and indeed the Council of Ministers clearly illustrate to Europe, and, one would hope, to some of the opponents of the European Community, that the governments of the member states have a vital and important role to play in the running and development of the Community?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend is right. It is the member states and the Council of Ministers, in the case of individual subject areas, or the European Council which decides. It is only by their decision that we can move forward, and perhaps correct some of the things, such as subsidiarity, that we have undertaken to correct. That we shall be doing.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, to what extent is the Council accountable to the European Parliament?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, accountability between the European Council and the European Parliament is a matter of question and answer and reporting to that parliament. The parliament has no power over the European Council as such. It does, of course, have the power over the European Commission, and that power has been enhanced by the Maastricht Treaty.