HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc305-6W
Sir Malcolm Thornton

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the meeting of the study group to prepare for the 1996 intergovernmental conference which took place in Luxembourg on 13 and 14 June. [30413]

Mr. David Davis

As the Foreign Secretary's representative, I attended the second meeting of the study group in Luxembourg on 13 and 14 June. The meeting concentrated on institutional arrangements in the European Community—the "first pillar". Members of the group agreed that there was no need to change the overall balance between the central EC institutions—the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament.

In my contribution I stressed the need to arrest centralising tendencies in Europe, and to banish the notion of a European Government in embryo. The European Parliament had acquired important new powers in recent years. The EP needed to demonstrate that it was using its existing powers responsibly, and to the full, for example to secure better value for money from Community programmes and to hold the Commission more closely to account.

I put the case for closer involvement of national Parliaments in the work of the EU, and suggested that we might examine, in particular, whether national Parliaments could play a more active role in the application of the principle of subsidiarity.

With respect to the Council, I repeated my opposition to any extension of majority voting, and I put the case for changes in the voting system to increase democratic legitimacy and to reduce the present bias against large member states.

I argued that with the accession of new member states including perhaps some very small ones there could be a case for re-examining the system of six-monthly rotating presidencies in the EC.

Turning to the Commission, I commended Mr. Santer's emphasis on the need to do "less but better". The Council should take a closer interest in the Commission's legislative programme to help to achieve this. I suggested that we might examine the possibility of requiring the Commission to withdraw proposals which had not been agreed within, say, three years—a "sunset clause".