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EU: Intergovernmental Conference

Volume 694: debated on Wednesday 25 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the exclusive mandate given by the European Council on 23 June to the intergovernmental conference that opened on 23 July on the European Union is legally binding.

My Lords, the mandate for the IGC was agreed by heads of state and government at the June European Council. The mandate is a political commitment by the Governments of member states. The IGC was formally launched on 23 July at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels and will carry out its work in accordance with that mandate.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, but I do not think that he has really answered my Question. The mandate given by the European Council is invalid, I believe. Perhaps he would like to rephrase his Answer. Under Article 48 of the treaty on European Union, the European Council has the power only to ask for an intergovernmental conference, not to set the agenda for it. That is up to the member states. It is clear that the mandate and the Council conclusions are trying to set the agenda. Could the Minister make clear whether the Government agree that the mandate is legal or whether it is up to member states to set the agenda for this intergovernmental conference?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to say that it is a political mandate, not a legal mandate. It is an agreement by Governments to commission work to develop the treaty, which will then be subject to approval by both Houses as in other national legislatures.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that this is an extremely good political mandate? As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister pointed out at Question Time in another place, it preserves every single reservation that the British Government expressed in advance of the IGC at the Heads of Government meeting?

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his question. I can concur with every fine point he has made. The Prime Minister was able to achieve his four red lines and, therefore, hand on to this House and the other House a process in which we can all have confidence.

My Lords, everyone surely agrees that this is definitely a political mandate. As the European Community already has its own legal personality, as do all 27 sovereign member states, can the Minister, who is a new Member of this House, explain why there is such extraordinary and neurotic fuss from the tiny minority of Europhobes—they are over there, mostly—in this House? Would it not be better if we all praised and supported the Government for standing up to the Murdoch myths now that Mr Blair has gone?

My Lords, this is a very new Member of this very distinguished House. Like in any new club, I would hesitate before offering an explanation about the behaviour of my elders and betters.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is in Britain’s interest that the agenda for the intergovernmental conference should be extremely tightly drawn, as it has been by the European Council, which is to be welcomed? Does he not find it rather bizarre that the noble Lord who asked the Question belongs to a party which wishes Britain to withdraw from the European Union but is not welcoming the drafting of a treaty which for the first time provides for a member state to leave?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for putting it that way. Obviously there are very strong differences of opinion in this House. This is a well drawn document, which will be subject to extensive debate here and in another place. Knowing the fine forensic legal skills on display in this Chamber, I am sure that it will be subject to a process of review and perhaps even refinement.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that it will be translated into English as quickly as possible. I am sure that the intention is to ensure that the English translation is as good as that very fine French original.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with my suggestion, after 30 years in this House, that we have a long way to go on these issues; that, with luck, we shall only see where we are before December; and that it does not help debate to advance amateur psychological attacks on people with whom you disagree, calling them phobics and crackpots? We want rational debate on these matters, and I am sure that my noble friend will make a distinguished contribution to that.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. As he knows, I have taken care not to use any such language. I am extremely respectful of the differences of opinion in this House and, as a newcomer, a little in awe of the wisdom that has contributed to the debate. I shall respect every point of view that I hear in this Chamber and try to address every question with equal attention.

My Lords, in an attempt to encourage such rational debate, will my noble friend emphasise that the proposal provides new opportunities for this House and the rest of the Palace of Westminster to comment on proposals from the European Commission? It is an enhancement of our democratic rights that will be developed, is it not?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that point. It is indeed intended as just such an enhancement of that right. I might, though, head off anyone who raises the fact that the extra power for national parliaments is poorly drafted in the existing document. Our colleagues in Brussels will work to try to improve the language so that there is no suggestion that any house of parliament anywhere is somehow beholden to the European Union. The relationship is obviously the reverse of that.

My Lords, I return to my original question on the treaty. The Irish Government said that it contained 90 per cent of the original constitutional proposals, which were rejected by France and the Netherlands; the Spanish Government have said that it contained 98 per cent of the original provisions; and the Luxembourg Government have said it contained 99 per cent. Which of those options do the Government consider right?

My Lords, I think that the Prime Minister has answered that question in another place, but let me just add that the human body is something like 96 per cent water; I don’t know about the noble Lord, but I am very attentive to the other 4 per cent.