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Community Institutions

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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22.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he intends to raise the question of the relationship between the different Community institutions at the Council of Ministers.

The Government do not intend to propose changes in the present balance of powers between the institutions of the Community. However, the European Parliament's rejection of the 1980 draft budget is likely to lead to further discussion in the Council of its relations with the Parliament.

After his recent tour, is my right hon. Friend more optimistic that both the longer-term reform of the budget and the elimination of our excess contribution—the short-term problem—can be achieved in a spirit of genuine compromise? That is the only way in which the Community can move forward. Does my right hon. Friend see a positive role for the European Parliament in the formulation of sensible ideas for reforming the budget structure?

Plainly, the European Parliament has an important role to play. The direction in which it is seeking to alter the budget is a direction which will appeal to many hon. Members, if not to all. It also strikes a chord with public opinion. Exactly how the negotiations between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament will proceed, I cannot yet say. Presumably, the Commission will produce a paper some time next month.

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the present position is that the EEC can pay up only one-twelfth of last year's budget? Will he also confirm that, if the Council so wishes, it can authorise payments in excess of that amount under the Treaty of Rome? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether that matter was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council that was held on Monday and yesterday? If so, what was the conclusion of such discussion?

I confirm the position about the payment of one twelfth—it is as the hon. Gentleman says. There was no discussion on this matter on Monday and yesterday and, therefore, the position about the one-twelfth payment remains the same.

Is not the position that, if the European Parliament asks for a larger budget sum, differently divided, the Government will go along with that as part of their compromise?

I cannot possibly speculate as to what will happen. I cannot say what will be our reaction to the European Parliament's proposals on the budget until we know what those proposals are. I stress to the hon. Lady that the first step is for the Commission to resubmit the budget. It is not, in the first instance, for the Parliament to produce its proposals.

Will my right hon. Friend go further than he did in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and say what changes he believes may be necessary in the relationships between Community institutions in view of the European Parliament's rejection of the Community budget? Should not such changes ensure that, in future years, the European Parliament does not have to take such a drastic step in order to have its views heeded?

That is an extremely important and difficult matter. I am not convinced that any changes in the institutions are necessary. Plainly, some change in the working of the institutions may be necessary, but I trust that, in the future, there will be better relations between the Council and the Parliament. No doubt, more attention will be paid to the Parliament in future. As a result of that, similar constitutional crises will not arise in the future.