HC Deb 10 March 1976 vol 907 cc274-7W
36. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reactions he has received from his EEC colleagues about the Green Paper on direct elections to the European Assembly.

Mr. James Callaghan

The Green Paper is designed to bring to public attention in this country the issues we shall face on various aspects of direct elections. It is not intended for other Governments and I do not expect to receive reactions from them.

45. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement concerning the form and content of the proposed draft Convention on EEC Direct Elections.

Mr. James Callaghan

The Council of Ministers meeting on 1st and 2nd March examined a draft in preparation for the European Council on 1st and 2nd April. Discussions on the form and content will continue. Following is a full summary of the main points in the draft:


1. Discussion on the form and content of the proposed agreement between member States is still continuing in the Council framework. On some points a consensus has been reached but on many others differences of views remain to be settled. The United Kingdom has been participating in this work on the explicit understanding that Her Majesty's Government will examine the results in the light of the consultations now taking place in the United Kingdom.

2. Agreement has yet to be reached on the legal form of the agreement, a matter on which discusion between experts continuing. Consideration in the Council so far has in general been based on the assumption that the agreement will take the form of a Convention; and this note is drafted accordingly. Another question that remains to be decided is whether the agreement should refer to the "European Assembly" or the "European Parliament".

3. There will be a preamble but no decision can be taken on the text until a decision has been taken on the lgal form of the agreement.

4. The draft will provide that the representatives in the European Assembly shall be elected by direct universal suffrage. The precise wording of this article remains to be agreed.

5. The Convention will lay down the size of the Assembly and the distribution of seats. While various proposals have been put forward, no agreement has been reached on these questions, which have been reserved for consideration by the European Council. There will probably be a procedure for making further changes—e.g., to take account of population changes—in the number of members and the distribution of seats, but a text on this question also still remains to be agreed.

6. Representatives would be elected for a term of five years. The five-year period would begin at the opening of the first session after each election and may be extended or curtailed in accordance with the date set for the following elections. The individual term of office of each representative would coincide with this period.

7. The draft provids that representatives are to vote on an individual and personal basis and are not to be bound by any instuctions nor to receive a binding mandate. They will enjoy the privileges and immunities accorded to members of the Assembly by the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities Annexed to the Treaty Establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities.

8. The draft envisages that the office of representative in the European Assembly can be held at the same time as membership of a Parliament of a member State.

9. There will be an article providing, as proposed by the European Assembly itself, that a number of Community offices and membership of the Governments of member States should be incompatible with the office of representative in the European Assembly. It will also be open to each member State to lay down rules at a national level concerning offices which are incompatible with membership of the European Assembly. Representatives who in the course of the five-year period take up offices incompatible with membership are to be replaced in accordance with the procedure provided for filling vacant seats.

10. In accordance with Article 138(3) of the EEC Treaty and the corresponding Articles in the ECSC and Euratom Treaties, a provision is envisaged under which the European Assembly would draw up proposals for a uniform electoral procedure. It has not been agreed whether there should be a deadline for submission to the Council of these proposals as proposed by the European Assembly. Pending the entry into force of a uniform electoral procedure the electoral procedure is to be governed in each member State by national provisions.

11. There will be an article providing that no one may vote more than once in the election of representatives to the European Assembly.

12. The draft provides that elections to the European Assembly shall be held on the same day in all member States. A majority of member States favour inclusion of a provision that a member State may decide that voting will take place within a few days earlier or later than the fixed date, while holding different views as to the extent of this flexibility. Arrangements are to be made by the Council to ensure that the official and final election results are declared on the same day by the member States.

13. The draft provides that the first elections to the European Assembly shall take place on a specific date in May 1978—agreement has yet to be reached on the date to be named—and that subsequent elections will take place on the same day in the last year of each five-year period; but that should it prove impossible to hold the elections in the Community on that date another date will be fixed not more than one month earlier or one month later. Agreement has yet to be reached on the procedure for fixing this date. The European Assembly is to sit on the first Tuesday following an interval of one month from the date of the elections; and the outgoing Assembly is to cease to hold office at the opening of the first session of the new Assembly.

14. The draft provides that the European Assembly is to verify the credentials of representatives and rule on any disputes which may arise out of the provisions of the Convention, but not on those arising out of the national provisions to which the Convention refers.

15. The draft provides for each member State to lay down appropriate procedures for filling any seat which falls vacant during the five-year period. Where a seat falls vacant as a result of national provisions it will suggest that the member State inform the European Assembly, and in other cases the European Assembly is to inform the member State.

16. The draft provides for the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the European Assembly, after consulting the Commission, to adopt measures necessary to implement the Convention. Some doubts have been expressed as to the need for such an article. A difference of view also remains as to whether the Council would require to obtain the approval of the European Assembly or only to seek to reach agreement with the Assembly by a conciliation procedure.

17. The draft provides for Article 138(1) and (2) of the EEC Treaty and the corresponding Articles of the ECSC and Euratom Treaties to lapse. It is still open to discussion whether they should be replaced by new Articles reflecting the situation which would be reached if the Convention were to come into effect. This is linked to the question of legal form.

18. The draft provides for the Convention to be drawn up in the Community languages, all seven texts being equally authentic.

19. The draft provides for approval by the member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The wording of this Article will depend on the decision as to the form of the agreement.

20. Agreement remains to be reached on the wording of the derogations to take account of the statements made by the British and Danish Prime Ministers during the European Council in Rome in December 1975. These are likely to be embodied in protocals or annexes. The Prime Minister stated that the British Government required a further period for internal consultations before adopting a final position regarding the date for the first direct elections. The Danish Prime Minister stipulated certain conditions for the holding of direct elections in Denmark. The European Council agreed that any country which was unable to hold direct elections at a date to be agreed in May or June 1978 should be allowed to continue to appoint its representatives from amongst the members of its national Parliament.