rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, The Commission’s Annual Policy Strategy for 2008 (23rd Report, Session 2006-07, HL Paper 123).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, each spring the European Commission publishes its annual policy strategy—for brevity’s sake, I shall henceforth refer to it as the APS—which summarises the main priorities and orientations that the Commission is looking to include in its annual legislative and work programme, which is published each autumn. Thus, two weeks ago, the Commission adopted its proposed APS for 2009—which we are not examining today—which will now go the European Parliament for analysis and debate. Your Lordships’ Select Committee will be looking at it and is likely to discuss it with the Commission officials who drew it up.
Why do we attach so much importance to the scrutiny of the Commission’s APS and to the subsequent annual legislative and work programme? For national parliaments to scrutinize effectively the development of EU policy, it is essential to engage as early as possible with the Commission’s two principal planning documents. This afternoon, we are looking at the report on the 2008 APS published by the Select Committee on 4 July last year, the first time we have conducted a full inquiry into this planning document. I wish that this could have been debated earlier, but we all know that claims on debating time in this busy Chamber cannot always be met in a timely fashion.
The APS serves as a basis for consultation with the European institutions, and beyond, and its scrutiny therefore presents a key opportunity for influencing the Commission’s thinking on cross-cutting and strategic policy matters. As far as cross-cutting priorities are concerned, the 2008 APS highlights four key challenges: tackling climate change; ensuring the availability of sustainable, secure and competitive energy; implementing the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth, and managing migration flows to the EU. Interestingly, those four priorities reappear in the just-proposed 2009 APS, which demonstrates the EU’s continuing commitment to action in those important areas.
The other key actions set out by the Commission for 2008 within the framework of the five-year strategic objectives of the Barroso Commission relate to prosperity, solidarity, security and freedom, and Europe as a world partner. It also describes its priorities regarding better regulation and improving the EU’s communication to the world at large, and outlines the Commission’s general framework for human and financial resources for 2008.
In April 2007, our Select Committee issued a call for evidence and subsequently held evidence sessions with the Commission vice-president for institutional relations and communications strategy; with the chef de cabinet of the President of the European Parliament; with the leaders of the British Labour and Conservative delegations to the European Parliament; and with the UK Minister for Europe. In addition, each of the seven policy-based sub-committees examined the APS on the basis of their areas of expertise. At this point, I want to thank the Members of the Select Committee and sub-committees, and their clerks, legal advisers, committee specialists and committee assistants for their excellent work in putting together this report.
While Chapter 3 of this report presents specific points regarding particular proposals, our focus was principally on the nature of the document itself. What are we up against as a national Parliament when we seek to analyse this document? Our report asks some probing questions: what does the APS set out to do? How useful is it as a strategic tool? How well does it serve as a White Paper to the subsequent annual legislative and work programme? Most importantly, what is its relationship to the budgetary process? I want to focus on those questions this afternoon, because, as our report points out, the nature of the document has a considerable bearing on the seriousness with which the content is taken.
The APS currently tries to perform a number of roles at once—as the provider of an update on the current situation of EU policy, as the setter of priorities among previously agreed EU policy areas, and as the proposer of key new initiatives for the coming year. There is therefore some confusion as to its central purpose. Is the Commission putting forward its ambitions for the coming year, or presenting a more factual assessment of the state of play? It is not clear, which makes the holding of a constructive debate on its priorities—and what should later feature in the legislative work programme—that much more difficult. We therefore concluded that future APSs need to be clearer about the purpose of the document and the specific status of each priority or proposal listed. There should be more background provided about those proposals so that the reader can more easily understand whether, in including a particular point, the Commission is prioritising, reaffirming or updating a long-standing objective, or tabling an entirely new initiative.
In its present unclarified form, it is difficult to see the document as a genuine strategy. If it focused on a few key strategic goals, their clear priority would lead to more effective debate and delivery. Moreover, those goals could be more easily communicated and the EU consequently better understood. The APS must, in our view, provide the clear, overarching strategy for the Commission’s coming year, indicating in each area what are to be the key policy intentions to be prioritised for implementation of that strategy.
Details of the legislative work programme should be left to the later document, but the APS, none the less, needs to link the strategy to pragmatic proposals with an explanation of the strategic context in which they are set. We would also like to know why some policy areas have moved up the agenda and why some have moved down.
In our view, this lack of focus in the APS is the inevitable result of the way the Commission constructs it, which is from the bottom up. The Commissioners and their services are asked to present to the Commission President their initiatives and main policy priorities which are then analysed and prioritised by the Secretariat-General, which then prepares the APS for inter-service consultation. This is the period when each directorate lobbies for its own area and point of view. That means that almost nothing is excluded from the final strategy—the old Christmas tree syndrome. Surely, the construction of the APS should be led from the top, with the College of Commissioners deciding on the vision behind the strategy on the basis of a discussion in which the Commissioners select both their strategic priorities and the policy areas which must be demoted to make room for them. The detail could then be provided by the Commission services.
Of course, there has to be some flexibility to allow late-emerging priorities to be taken into account, but a rigorous top-down approach will ensure a more focused, strategic, better structured and more coherent APS. The APS's utility depends crucially on a constructive debate on the EU's priorities for the coming year among the EU institutions. This structured dialogue, as it exists today, tends to focus only on details, looked at from a technical point of view in subject committees. What emerge are nothing more than shopping lists. An APS which is both constructed and deconstructed predominantly by subject committees is unlikely to be strong on the strategic content necessary to provoke the bigger-picture debate which the Commission says it wants. So the committees need to co-ordinate their scrutiny and focus on broad priorities. This calls for a strong political lead generating a more political response to the document.
The present process is further complicated by the fact that the Council—not unreasonably—has its own agenda and priorities, set by the six-month presidencies and based on member states' concerns and the collaborative 18-month programmes. This does not exactly guarantee coherence. There is no tripartite effort among the Council, the Commission and the Parliament to reach an inter-institutional agreement on the priorities following publication of the APS, and the Council's comments on the APS are neither made public nor even shared with the Parliament. That must, in our view, be corrected, and we said so very strongly. The APS should be a presentation of the Commission's strategic thinking to the other institutions, provoking a political debate and providing the Council with options to discuss.
Earlier this week, during the visit of the President of the European Parliament to London, I learnt from his chef de cabinet, who had given evidence to our inquiry, that our advice on this had not been lost on that institution and that it was working with the Commission and the Council towards structuring a tripartite inter-institutional process more along the lines which we were advocating.
Your Lordships' committee has also called on the Commission to provide a clear justification for its key proposals, explaining why the EU should act in these areas and setting out the limitations on such action. We want to know what is the added value envisaged in these key proposals; how they fit into its general strategy and financial framework; and, crucially, how it will ensure delivery of them. That is missing, and it should not be.
The Commission must also explain clearly in the APS the financial constraints around it, and the ways in which the Commission can or cannot change its spending priorities within the financial framework. Political priorities must be matched in budgetary terms, and to do that it needs to declare which areas of action are receiving less funding in order to allow it to prioritise others.
Throughout discussions about what the EU can do, there is always insufficient attention paid to where the money is going to come from and how they are going to get there. The Council is particularly guilty of this. We feel strongly that the Commission, the Council and the Parliament need to forge a closer link between the budgetary and legislative processes.
We do not want the APS to become dominated by a financial bidding process, but the relationship of the APS to the budgetary process must be made clear in the context of the current financial perspective. We recognise that the Commission is caught between the Council and the member states which set out the financial perspective on the one hand, and on the other the Parliament which in most areas now—and in almost all areas if the Lisbon treaty is ratified— is and will be the budgetary authority. Ultimate responsibility lies in the Council, so it is crucial that it assists any effort to increase the correlation between political priorities and financial resources.
We are pleased that, in the 2008 APS, the Commission has included a list of communication priorities for the current year. It seems obvious to us that one important conduit for communicating the Commission's priorities and better engaging the public in a debate on what the EU’s priorities should be is the APS itself. But it needs to be a clearer, more focused document if it is to serve that purpose. We hope that our recommendations regarding the structure of, and explanations behind, the APS will help improve its accessibility.
Finally, the APS 2008 includes a section entitled “Better Regulation—at the Heart of the Commission's Daily Work”. Of course, we welcome this. There is a logic to putting forward its simplification proposals at the same time as its policy priorities, in order that both may be properly discussed before they are integrated into the annual and legislative work programme. But to maintain the strategic nature of the APS, it would do well to publish a separate annual better regulation report alongside the APS.
The Commission has studied our report and Commissioner Wallström has responded encouragingly in most cases, point by point, stating that our recommendations are being taken seriously. She had earlier made it clear that she wanted the national Parliaments to make an input into the process of policy formulation which is based on the annual policy strategy and the annual and legislative work programme. She said:
“It is important that the Commission pay close attention to what you have to say".
Well, we have had our say, and we shall now be looking carefully at the 2009 APS to see to what extent our recommendations have been taken on board. However, in response to our report, she suggested that the extra information we required, particularly on finance and the justification for these proposals, might tend to diminish the strategic impact of the APS because it would become too long a document. I seriously believe that it was wrong there. The length of the document is not the problem: the problem is what is in it. There must be those justifications, and the linking of the budgetary procedure to the building up of the strategy if it is going to be a meaningful and accessible document.
I close by saying that we very much welcome the Government’s helpful response from the Minister for Europe, Jim Murphy, and call on the Government to help ensure that those practical proposals which they can and should support will indeed be implemented by the Commission. I look forward to the Minister's reply. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on, The Commission’s Annual Policy Strategy for 2008 (23rd Report, Session 2006-07, HL Paper 123).—(Lord Grenfell.)
My Lords, listening with interest and admiration to the words of my noble friend Lord Grenfell, I had the strong feeling that his questions and criticisms—or rather those of the Select Committee over which he presides—are a good deal more significant than the details of the European Union’s annual policy strategy itself. He rightly expressed concern about the purposes of the annual policy strategy and criticised its lack of clarity. His criticism of a lack of coherence and focus seems very well justified. For noble Lords generally, whatever particular interest in European Union affairs we may have, it is really quite difficult to tell what priority the EU attaches to that interest.
Last May, nine months ago, this House debated a report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the subject of enlargement of the European Union. I took the view—which was not generally accepted around the House—that for the time being at any rate, we should be cautious about further enlargement. There should be a pause. On that occasion, however, the European Union Select Committee, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and Her Majesty's Government, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, favoured the European Union continuing to further the aspirations of the Balkan states and Turkey to join the European Union, albeit accepting that it would take some years, particularly in the case of Turkey. The report before us today into the strategy of the European Union makes no mention that I can see of any strategy on the size or extent of the European Union or on further enlargement, except for a quotation from the leader of the Conservative MEPs, Mr Timothy Kirkhope, welcoming the EU’s continuing,
“commitment to pursue accession negotiations with the Western Balkans”.
I would like to think that enlargement is being put on the back burner. But I doubt that it is, partly because in the minds of the Government here and in the minds of many Governments in the continent of Europe, enlargement seems to have a momentum, inevitability and desirability of its own that will withstand the more cautious approach of people such as myself. However, since our debate nine months ago, various events known to us all have reinforced the need for caution.
The declaration of independence by Kosovo, supported by the majority of EU countries, has been strongly opposed by a number of EU countries, so that the EU is divided. The countries that oppose independence are Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania—all of which are states with separatist problems of their own and which quite reasonably complain that the European Union seems to have no strategy or policy on where the line should be drawn when claims of self-determination emerge in the EU or in the vicinity of the EU among states that might wish to accede to it.
Following the Kosovan declaration of independence, the Serbian Government—a keen aspirant, as I understand it, for membership of the EU in the near future—have behaved disgracefully in providing no police support against the violence of crowds of people in Belgrade attacking the embassies of the United Kingdom and of other countries that have expressed support for Kosovan independence. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the continuing failure of the Serbian Government to hand over General Ratko Mladic, who has been wanted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for some years. Is that the best that Serbia can do to uphold the rule of law?
Then there is Turkey. Last week it invaded northern Iraq with tanks and planes in what the Financial Times called a “ferocious attack” in pursuit of Kurdish insurgents, no doubt highly provoked over a long period but without the support of fellow NATO members, whether the United States or the European members. The Turkish Parliament’s relaxation of the rules against women wearing headscarves in universities is a significant step away from the secularist state that has helped to modernise and democratise Turkey since Kemal Ataturk took power in 1923. Dozens of women continue to be killed in Turkey every year for crimes of so-called honour.
The Lisbon treaty will soon come before this House. There are some fine words in the Lisbon treaty about values, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Some of the most recent additions to EU membership—I am thinking of Romania and Bulgaria—were treated very generously by the EU when they were admitted, when assessing their record on the rule of law and human rights. I hope for more robust testing of all future applicants for membership.
Within Britain, the Government have rightly been insisting—this is topical today—on everyone seeking to reside in Britain having to pass certain tests and to demonstrate adherence to the same sort of values that I have just listed, which appear in the Lisbon treaty. To my mind, it is essential that throughout the EU, all members, new, old and aspirant, should adhere to those values. That should be a key part of EU strategy.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, in expressing admiration for the comprehensive nature of the report, as well as the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, opened our debate today.
I shall confine my brief remarks to paragraphs 45 to 53 of the report. The paragraphs relate to better regulation and the APS. I shall pose a few questions to the Minister; of course I shall fully understand if he cannot provide answers today, but perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me later.
I stress from the outset that I applaud the president of the Commission's goal to curb regulatory costs to business in both substantive and administrative terms by 25 per cent by 2012. That aim needs to be set in the context of the Prime Minister adding his name to the assertion that half of all new regulations affecting UK business originate in the EU; although some studies, notably in Holland, put the figure higher.
I also draw the Minister's attention to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, when he was director-general of the CBI. He warned that India and China would soon “eat Europe for breakfast” unless drastic action was taken to curb regulatory costs in the EU. Not that the EU has to look just to the competitive edge of the Far East. Other studies point to the compliance costs of regulation at 5 per cent of GDP in Europe, as against 2.5 per cent in the USA.
No one can doubt the imperative to achieve the president of the Commission’s 2012 objective. Alas, several barriers stand on the way of progress. A disjunction still exists between parts of the Commission responsible for enterprise and parts responsible for social affairs. The signs indicate that the gap is as wide as ever. I wonder whether that is the Minister's impression, and what pressures the Government are exerting on Brussels to close that divide.
Of course the Commission, like all bureaucracies, retains a culture of its own. In this case, Commission officials often seem to continue to take as much delight in gaining acceptance for their pet regulations and directives as scientists get from the publication of papers in serious journals. Are the Government confident that the president’s remit on the 2012 target runs among his officials? Although it appears on the surface that the Commission’s regulatory impact assessments are now more intensive, I wonder whether they are extensive. Does the Minister know what percentage of EU legislation is subjected to the full process of assessment, notwithstanding the Commission’s stated desire to weigh the costs and benefits of new draft laws?
I was struck by some of the evidence given to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, by the chef de cabinet to the president of the European Parliament. He claimed that it was the Council that was “the weak link” in impact assessments and legislative planning. He went on to criticise the Council’s approach to co-ordination with the European Parliament on legislative planning. Is this view of the Council’s apparent shortcomings shared by the Government, and if so, what have they done to rectify the position, given Commissioner Mandelson’s warning that the cost of red tape is roughly double the economic benefits of the single market?
The Commission president and the Government have outlined their good intentions and their targets in the EU’s regulatory fields, but more tangible evidence is required of their specific achievements to date. I would be extremely grateful to the Minister for setting them out, if not today then later in greater detail by letter.
My Lords, the question, “What is the annual policy strategy for?”, has already been asked in the debate. Perhaps there is a prior question: “What is this debate for?”. It is only reasonable to draw attention, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, did, to the fact that it might be regarded as untimely, since we have had within the past two weeks the publication of the successor document to the one that we have before us today. Although I recognise the pressures on government and this House to find time for debate, if we are to play a fully effective role in helping, as a national Parliament, to shape the priorities and policies of the Union, we should have come to this discussion rather earlier.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, also asked about the scope of the debate. I do not object in the least to his using every opportunity to make his points, which were clearly fascinating, but he discussed enlargement and the structure of the Union post the reform treaty. These matters were not considered by the annual policy strategy, and deliberately so. The explanation is quite clear; it was considered inappropriate for the Commission to put forward its views on structure when the matter was going to be decided subsequently intergovernmentally, and has been. I am bound to say that that was not so much a self-denying ordinance as recognition of the propriety of the Commission’s role in considering the future shape of government decisions. Enlargement also seems to be primarily a matter for the Council and for Parliament to debate, and for the Commission to pick up the consequences and to advise in a technical fashion on these things. None the less, I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord had to say about them.
The content of this document, its appositeness to the issues and the clarity with which it makes its point exercised the Select Committee to which I have the honour to belong. Indeed, the question was put to the then Minister for Europe, Mr Geoffrey Hoon. His response was that it is not so much a Queen’s Speech as a manifesto. The reply given by the Commission, accompanying the letter of Commissioner Wallström to the committee, welcomes our report and our emphasis on making it more strategic and more focused. It also describes the APS as being as far as possible focused on strategic priorities and on providing a vision for the coming year. A vision, by any test, if that is the right focus, is not a series of detailed policy pronunciamentos. It sketches out the perceived priorities for the executive arms of the European Union to focus on.
The document we are addressing seeks to do more than sketch a vision. To some extent, it is trying to flesh it out by indicating some of the priorities of action within the wider scope of the four headings that are being, by common consent, recognised as strategic priorities. Two of them seemed to be of massive importance at this time; namely, climate change and energy security.
The difficulty for the Commission in proceeding in these ways is that it does not work in an abstract way, separate from the changing situation. It is very interesting to cast one’s eye to the new APS published on 13 February and to notice that at the very beginning of the section dealing with these economic issues, it states:
“The impact of the global financial turbulence on the real economy and the hike in raw material prices will require the EU to deepen its structural reforms at both EU and national level”.
That perhaps is not a reordering of priorities, but a deepening of commitment, which may have its effect on the timing of other measures.
It seems that what we have before us is part of an iterative process. It is not a conclusion. It starts the debate annually within the Union. The financial and budgetary context of this is clearly explained by the Commission: it is the multi-annual framework. It goes on to look at the budgetary consequences subsequently. The budgetary decisions of the annual policy statement are sometimes almost negligible, as the Commission points out. Sometimes they result in a gradual process of adjustment. It would be no more appropriate for this document to go into detailed budgetary dispositions than it would be for manifestos, but if questions are asked about the affordability of particular policies, they will have to be addressed.
This is iterative and it is highly desirable that it should be pulled together at the end of the process. It is not a long process. The European Parliament and the Council have had their input, as have national Parliaments such as ours. Interestingly, the Netherlands had a considerable input into the comment on this document. If that is to work effectively, it is surely right that the institutions of government, the Council, should be transparent about its precise reactions to this document, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said. That is entirely conformable with the view expressed in the reform treaty, which requires the Council also to bring its legislative process into the public to inform debate and to ensure inter-institutional coherence. Considerable progress has been made even since last year in the preparation of this document.
One step that has been notably taken and which goes some way to recognising the concerns of our committee is set out in the annex to the 2009 document. The areas of priority are set out under five headings which go much further in indicating specifically the measures that are anticipated as desirable and the key actions envisaged for the next year. I shall give just to take one example:
“Second Strategic Energy Review with an Energy Action Plan for 2010-14 [and] Extension of the Energy Observatory”.
On climate change there are five bullet points, all set out quite clearly, communicably and helpfully. I think that the words of this committee have fallen not on deaf ears but where it counts, and we should take some satisfaction from that.
My Lords, let me first pay tribute to the committee for this interesting report on The Commission’s Annual Policy Strategy for 2008. I must confess that I had not realised that we have reached the 2009 report. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, with my usual respect, as one who has had the privilege of serving on his committees in the past; I must also say how much I support what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, said about the delay in discussing such a vital issue.
As usual, wise and penetrating questions were asked, and I wish to comment on two issues. The first is that, as the report recommends that the,
“Commission, Council and the EU Parliament should forge a closer link between the budgetary and legislative processes”—
the relationship of the APS to the budgetary procedure should, it says, be made clear within the current financial perspective. The committee urges the Government to work to ensure that the Council assists any effort to increase the co-relation between political priorities and financial resources. Recognising that, it states that,
“the Commission are caught between the Council and member states who set out the financial perspective, and the Parliament which in most of these areas is the budgetary authority”.
It is hardly reassuring that members of the budget committee in one area of the work of the Commission may only see the accounts in a dedicated room, and may not take notes or quote, and that there are strong indications of incompetence and/or corruption in an institution which has not passed the scrutiny of an auditor for 13 years. The committee says that the Commission should explain financial constraints around the APS and that political priorities must be matched in budgetary terms. The report quotes the wise words of one MEP who testified:
“Throughout discussion about what the EU can do, and the Council are particularly guilty of this, there is always insufficient attention to where the money is going to come from to do it and how you are going to get there”.
Finally, the committee urges HMG to work to ensure that the Council assists in any effort to increase the co-relation between political priorities and financial resources. I think that we have a national interestin that. I should like in particular to have a clear statement on record setting out how the UK contribution first to defence and secondly to foreign affairs is decided, and where. Needless to say, I do not expect that answer on the Floor of the House tonight, but I look forward to hearing something.
Does the MoD have to see some of its hard-won resources diverted to pay for yet another unnecessary and sometimes ridiculous EU venture into defence, for instance? An EU committee report of 2004, HL Paper 76, recorded that the UK paid €2.5 million to the setting up of, for instance, the European Defence Agency. It reported then that from 2006 onwards the UK was expected to contribute €1.5 million per annum and that the money would be paid from the MoD budget. That was just for the EDA. When the famous peace facilities were conceived, DfID, our development agency, made a significant contribution to financing African peace-supporting military operations, “recognising” it said,
“the importance of restoring peace and security in Africa as a prerequisite for development”.
Take, for instance, Galileo, that largely unnecessary satellite set up in response to French pressure and based in France. That agency was originally supposed to cost possibly €2 billion, but the costs have expanded hugely and have had to be met, according to press reports—and this I would indeed like to have checked—from, of all places, the common agriculture and fisheries budget. I never thought I should say in the House, “Where is our own dear Treasury? And does it have any grip on the profligacy of the EU’s institutions and its financial procedures and accountability?” It is utterly wrong that our forces in Afghanistan should go short of equipment and our service families live in disgraceful conditions while we tolerate irresponsible EU spending on defence.
Yesterday’s report on the decision of the budget control committee not to publish its report on the £107 billion EU accounts, failed by the Court of Auditors for the 13th year in succession, is far from reassuring. I find it deeply disturbing that we seem to have no control over EU spending. The EU defence budget was €160 billion in 2003-04—I quote from House of Lords Paper 76—and we were then and are now, with the French, the prime contributors. This cannot but mean that there is less money for our own urgent national needs. What is the position?
Illness and absence have prevented me so far from reading, I am ashamed to say, the strategy itself, but I presume it must have dealt at some length with the EU’s projected Foreign Service, with all its implications for our own international standing. The committee on this occasion evidently concentrated, rightly, on the vital question of whether plans were in any way related to resources and on the need to institute some effective control. I, however, wish to pursue the question of our future representation abroad and the impact on the foreign service of the EU’s strategy. If this has been done by the committee in another report of which I am unaware, I apologise. If not, I hope there are early plans to conduct such an appraisal.
My concerns are as follows. In the common diplomatic service projected—to which we may ultimately find it difficult to contribute effective members if HMG persist in their new proposed policy to abolish oral exams in languages for fear of stressing the candidates—there will presumably be in a typical EU mission a mixed staff of, say, a Bulgarian, a Belgian, a German and a Czech. Will they have authority to issue visas for the UK, use our biometric procedures and our security checks and issue British passports?
We are told the EU mission will take the responsibility for the evacuation of British subjects and, presumably, of all other EU nationals. I have been, as consul, responsible for just such an evacuation. It only works if you have excellent local contacts in both the Government and the rebel side in a chaotic situation. I would not wish to have to rely on an EU mission which would have, necessarily, to do the same for all EU citizens in the country.
Again, how will the costs of the British element of the work in the mission be handled and accounted for, and by whom? What about a crisis which calls for an immediate early defence capacity? What about trade? If there are important contracts coming up in, say, Brazil, do we really expect a mission that may not contain a British representative to negotiate that contact for the UK, or even to support a visiting British trade mission, especially if one of the EU countries in the mission also has an interest?
What about the British Council? We are told that there will be countries where we shall also retain our own mission. Where we do not there will, incidentally, be grave offence. But, in Argentina for instance, there could be a future EU common position requiring us to negotiate over the Falklands. The Argentines would deal with the EU mission on that issue.
It is already provided that the EU should represent member states at the UN in matters where there is a common position. It is surely logical that this will very soon extend to relations between countries and that, for instance, China will effortlessly play the EU card in any negotiations affecting our mutual interest by dealing for preference with the EU mission, whether or not we have our own mission in China.
There are also plans for a new EU foreign policy fund which, under the new treaty, can be approved by QMV—yet another expense outside our control. Not least, what about our overseas intelligence and security operations, particularly in the field of terrorism? There is no way such issues could be delegated to an EU mission.
I feel the greatest anxiety about the future of our country when the treaty comes into effect, and I believe that HMG have utterly failed to foresee the consequences of abandoning control of our future defence and our vital political, commercial and security interests to the EU. I do not think that even the Treasury’s joy at being able to sell some embassy buildings by closing our missions will compensate for our loss of ability to advance our national interests, to maintain our friendships and to retain a respected and well informed voice in world affairs.
My Lords, as a member of the European Union Select Committee at the time of the preparation of this report, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, not only for introducing the report so comprehensively but for his chairmanship during this inquiry. At first sight, this may not appear to be the most exciting topic to which the committee could have turned its attention, but it is undoubtedly an important document and stage in the whole process of European initiatives and legislation. It is extremely welcome that the committee has pledged to bring a report to your Lordships in each year following the publication of the annual policy strategy. It is a welcome addition to the report on the annual work programme that follows in the autumn.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has already pointed out the shortcomings of the Commission paper. The Commission itself seeks to improve the presentation and enhance its clarity, and has, I suggest, responded positively to many of the suggestions made in the report. I will not repeat the shortcomings but merely emphasise how acute they are in the case of the published figures, which are extremely difficult to follow and the presentation of which needs urgent attention. The sub-committees of the Select Committee have made their comments and I hope that the Government will be able to take these forward and keep the Select Committee and its sub-committees informed about progress in the areas that have been commented on.
The Commission is moving on a very wide front. While in any package of proposals there are bound to be some about which one is more enthusiastic, it appears unlikely that everything will find its way through to the annual work programme, but, if it does, whether it will be achieved must be questionable, either because of time constraints or because all these ambitions have to be kept within the limits of the current budget. As so often, there is a need to prioritise. However, we should not lose sight of the entirely creditable attempt by the Commission to publicise its intentions in advance of the work programme. I submit that the challenge is for national parliaments and Governments to seize the opportunities that this presents. It has long been the case that the earlier in the Brussels process one enters and engages with a dialogue, the greater the chance of exerting some influence on events.
It is important that Parliament should know the Government’s views on the strategy and its contents. The Explanatory Memorandum recommended by the committee, going much further than the one submitted with this paper, should help. Are the Government prepared to give a commitment to do that?
This brief debate shows that European affairs can raise interest in a number of different areas. I submit that the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, is correct. It is tempting to go into detail on some of the issues that have been raised. Suffice it to say that I cannot resist the temptation in two instances. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie—and I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Romania—that in future we should be looking in the Commission programme to ensure that the Commission is adequately continuing its monitoring of Romania and Bulgaria, as it has been doing following accession. We should acknowledge the considerable efforts made by those countries to meet their obligations, and we should perhaps be willing to embrace them as partners in the European Union as willingly as we embrace them as partners in NATO and some of its military exercises.
Regarding the European Defence Agency, my noble friend Lady Park is a great expert in defence matters but, with great respect, I refer her to the report of the European Union Committee on the EDA in which the committee found that it was by and large a good thing and could lead to a better use of our own resources.
I have already said that it is important that Parliament knows the Government’s views on the strategy. A debate in government time, not at 4.30 on a Thursday afternoon, following consideration of the strategy by the European Union Committee and its sub-committees, would bring matters before a wider parliamentary audience. While I understand that the Minister is unlikely to give me a positive answer today, I ask him to consider it, so that we do not in future debate the APS for one year just after the publication of the APS for the next. Will the Government press the Council to publish its response to the strategy before the annual work programme is produced?
If we are prepared to use what we are offered, we can go a long way towards dispelling some of the myths about the way in which decisions are made in Brussels and ensure that we obtain the maximum influence both as a parliament and as a member state.
My Lords, this has been a thoughtful debate on a subject which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said, is hardly the most exciting theme for us to consider, but which is extremely important. If only the timing of the scrutiny exercise could be arranged for a moment in the year when it attracted the public’s attention more, one would begin the process of making it more political. We could link policy and programme issues with national input and output of ideas on the same subject. Trying to engage the public’s interest in European matters in each member state is a continuing problem, particularly in Britain, which has unusual problems in its domestic political scene in that field, and on the wider European front.
We are once again deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the members of his Select Committee. Although I have the great honour to be a member of that Select Committee now, I was not at the time of the report. Good work has been done, for which we thank the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.
As other Members have rightly said today, it is wrong that scrutiny is a year after the strategy was originally promulgated; it has to be sooner than that. There are problems for the UK’s scrutiny of these matters which need to be ironed out in the Commission’s response to our references to the inadequacy of the information that one receives and the modalities of the production of its various programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said that the APS does not look like a genuine strategy yet. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, was right that improvements have been made in recent times, but that we are still far from a satisfactory situation. There is the inevitable conflict between the February timing of the APS and the September timing of the ALWP. Although they are very different, there are inevitable linkages. I was struck by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, to the conflict between the six-month period of the presidencies, the 18-month intervals between meetings of the troika and the seasonality of these two important reports. When one mixes that up with all the budget attribution responsibilities and complications, it gets even worse.
I did not accept many of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, although I was interested in his reference to caution on EU enlargement. Yes, people inevitably were cautious when there was a sudden splurge of additional countries joining—not just the two Mediterranean islands—and when Bulgaria and Romania jointed latterly. Those who have observed these processes in the member states, from the original expansion of the EU from six to nine member states, then beyond that to 12 and 15, and then from 15 to 25 and 27, have seen the justification in each case and just how those individual countries change. From the initial period of entry to the transitional period, when they do not have to accept the full acquis, it is interesting to see just how they begin to change and accept the onerous responsibilities that EU membership imposes on them—both from the acquis communautaire itself and with all those things that in the case of Bulgaria and Romania were deemed essential in creating a civilised civil society after past experiences. Those things include judicial matters, transparency over government figures, the full democratisation of political election processes, judicial matters and police supervision matters and so on. Spain and Portugal, too, are dramatic examples of countries where there were rapid changes when membership began, changes that accelerated subsequently. That is the great blessing of enlargement, because it washes over to the existing older and bigger member states in a remarkable way. We see the extraordinary acceleration and mobility of populations and diasporas in EU member states, putting an end to the American mythology that they were very mobile and Europe was not.
I agreed with what my noble friend Lord Maclennan and other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said about the timetable being all wrong. Might there not be a compromise in future so that we avoid scrutiny excess and exhaustion? There is too much to cover in an exercise that—with the House of Lords as the upper House of the British Parliament, apart from the Danish Parliament and the special arrangement in Holland—is probably the most profound exercise in scrutiny, of which we can be justifiably proud. We might consider the possible merger of the seasons, whereby we take February to September for the APS and ALWP clusters and, shortly after that, have a major debate. One day for it might be too long, but we need a major debate in government time, perhaps coinciding with the new Session of Parliament. It could be part of the Queen’s Speech content, along with foreign affairs, common foreign and security policy and European affairs. Those things could be combined so that there is a proper appraisal and scrutiny of those segments. But things have improved, it is fair to say, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, rightly said, the Commission has made creditable attempts to get its act together in a very complicated field.
I conclude my remarks with a couple of quick references to some sections of this excellent report, which caught the attention of other noble Lords in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said with regard to paragraph 18, policy strategy needs to be led from the top, not flowing upwards from all the lower sections of the Commission’s administrative body. The report says that,
“the College of Commissioners should decide on the vision behind the Annual Policy Strategy”.
Paragraph 19 continues that theme, saying:
“It is crucial to the utility of the Annual Policy Strategy that it should provoke a constructive debate within and between the European institutions and parliaments about the European Union's priorities for the coming year”.
There is a link-up with the budgetary developments as well. That is right, although it should not necessarily be taken in terms of some MEPs’ appraisal, as that might mean the insertion of ideological aspects of their own party-political views, both of their national homeland and in the European context. It is more important for this to reflect the promulgation of the balanced series of policies by the Commission, which covers all policy areas and must be dealt with by the European Parliament on a very balanced basis.
Paragraph 25 says:
“One possibility would be for the European Parliament to complement the work it does on the APS in committee by holding a plenary debate and adopting a resolution on the APS in September”.
Has the Minister had a chance to discuss those matters with representatives from the European Parliament? Could he report back to us today on whether any progress has been made in that regard? Forging the links between all that and the budgetary process is quite difficult and remains an open seam as regards proper solutions.
We must also remember that, in contrast to national budgets, which are not virtuous in terms normally of having substantial deficits and therefore requiring both taxation and bond fundraising on an extensive scale, the EU budget, although large now in comparison with the past, remains virtuous in the sense that its payments are equal to its outgoings—and they have to be under the procedures.
Among the evidence given to the committee, that from the City of London Corporation, at the end, was very interesting. I refer to page 49. It said that the United Kingdom would suffer if it was not present at some of the decisions on eurozone subjects because we are not members of the currency and the Central Bank eurozone system. In the bottom two lines, the City of London Corporation says:
“One of the issues arising from the UK’s non-participation in the Eurozone referred to in the research is the fact that although developments within the Eurozone are of direct concern to the financial services industry in London, the industry is not represented in discussions about them”.
At paragraph 17 on page 50, it says:
“The fact remains, however, that combining the UK’s non-participation in the Eurozone with the apparent desire of the Bank of England to confine its role quite narrowly to monetary policy is producing a clear and forceful perception in the City that its interests are in serious danger of being under-represented in discussions within the Eurozone”.
I speak of course against the background of the euro having reached its highest ever level against the United States dollar at over 1.50, and of course it is only four or five percentage points below the highest ever levels reached with the yen and the Swiss franc. So again it is a moment to reflect on how sad it is that the Government have not long since joined the euro, which has now inevitably become the most successful currency in the world. But that is a different subject; I will leave that out. However, I ask the Minister to comment on those matters as well if he has time, because that is a worrying assertion in the City of London’s evidence.
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for yet another very interesting report from his committee. This has been a thoughtful and useful debate, even though the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, rather penetratingly asked why we were having it at all.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is anxious that we should concentrate, and that the intention of his committee’s report was to concentrate, on the procedures by which the annual policy strategy is put together rather than on the detailed contents and the issues contained in the strategy, which of course we will be debating at considerable length over the coming months when we deal with the renamed constitution treaty, Lisbon treaty, reform treaty or whatever it is be called. Then we will go over these things until we are all blue, red or possibly green in the face as we deal with them in colossal detail.
Nevertheless, while trying to concentrate on the logistics of this kind of report, it is of course true that the way it is put together explains to some degree the tone of the report and the relative incoherence—that is what your Lordships’ report is really saying—of the APS and its rather other worldly priorities. For instance in the original document, the Commission’s report itself, I noted its statement that 2008 would be,
“a year of consolidation and continued implementation of existing acquis”.
That is way off the frame; it is not going to be that kind of year at all. The reply from the Commission is also interesting; that is the reply that has just been issued to your Lordships’ report. The Commission agrees with the report, rather hastily, that it would like it to present a more unified vision and greater simplicity.
The Commission is rather half-hearted on the budget issue and has slight reservations about the extent to which it should link its observations to the unfolding budget because it says that there is a time problem, that its ideas are way ahead, that the budget is next year and that they do not really match. In its response to the correct plea of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and others that there should be more simplicity and clarity, the Commission comes up with the proposition that its simplification work is programmed within—wait for it—the “multi-annual rolling simplification programme”. I am afraid that does not make my heart leap at all and I should not think it makes anyone else’s heart leap either. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Grenfell—if I may call him that—sometimes wonders whether all this work is really worth it when that kind of result comes up.
As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked, what is this report for? Frankly, I should think that one in 10,000 people in the United Kingdom has ever heard of the APS, let alone read the document. Having followed European Union, European Community or Common Market matters in great detail for well over 40 years, I have to confess that the whole concept of the APS is pretty new to me as well. So I do not think this will be a bestseller in the bookshops. It clearly is a document aimed very much at internal procedural assistance and help. The question is posed in our report—is it an aspiration or is it an assessment? Is it meant to be a vision or snapshot of what is going on? Or, as the report of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, puts it a shade crudely, is the Commission’s job to juggle balls or to pitch them? These are very good questions and they are all raised by the relative inadequacy of this APS report.
As I promised, I shall not say much on the issues within it except to note that the four key issues that the Commission identifies for 2008 are all areas which are, to put it kindly, very seriously in need of repair. The report speaks of climate change. We all know that the EU’s impulsive strategy on biofuels had to be sharply checked because it turned out to be promoting environmental degeneration and adding to carbon emissions rather than the opposite. We all know that the Commission’s commitments for increasing the energy costs of European industry are running into a political brick wall at this moment. Certainly, they are leading to the absurd outcome, which we should all deplore as should the Commission, that some interests are now saying that taxes should be raised on imports from developing countries—by which their economic growth will be achieved—to prevent unfair competition with the European industries which have all had their costs increased by 15 per cent for carbon emissions reasons. These are “absurdity” areas where we need far greater clarity and there certainly needs to be some concentration on repairing them.
We all pay lip service to competition and a more competitive energy policy, particularly the Whitehall Government here in London. But, of course, others are not playing that game. The monopoly champions of energy in many of our neighbouring EU member states are moving around with more confidence than ever and indeed taking over our own industries. Iberdrola is moving into Scotland and e.on and EDF are moving into England and Wales. This is what is actually going on even while we are talking about competitive energy policy, so that needs a bit of repair.
The Commission says that it will relaunch the Lisbon strategy. I refer to the Lisbon strategy as opposed to the Lisbon treaty. This is the third time that it has been relaunched. Of course, it will be relaunched again and again because it is a fundamentally flawed idea born of top-down thinking on industrial policy, which never produces results. Hope has to come from bottom-up innovation and enterprise. My noble friend Lord Grenfell reminded us that his report talks about the need to formulate the annual policy strategy from the top down. That jars a bit with me. I am not quite sure what top he wants to form it at. If he means drawing on the wisdom of the member states at the top of their Governments, that is fine, but if he means something rather different such as more abstruse ideas from the top of the European Commission, I am not so happy about that. As for the fourth key area in the APS, which is managing migration, the less said about that the better. Clearly, it is not being managed at the moment and there are very serious deficiencies.
One is left feeling that we are dealing with EU institutions and a Commission which are worried about their own legitimacy and reputation, and rightly so. They are not really focusing, as they would if they followed the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, on the myriad ideas for co-operation and practical work together in Europe that could carry forward so many of the things that we want to do in the European region without necessarily getting in the way of our wider aspirations in the more important parts of the world such as Asia.
The Annual Policy Strategy, which I confess I read only very recently—I was hardly aware of its existence before—gives me no confidence at all that the realities of the new international scene are really understood by the Brussels officials who penned these words. They certainly give me no confidence that we should entrust our vital national interest to the authors of these documents. I very much warm to the words of my noble friend Lady Park, who said something very much to that effect. The suggestion in our report that there should be proposals for an explanatory memorandum when we look at these things—that is a memorandum from our Government commenting on the Commission’s ideas—is a very important idea indeed, and I hope that it will be adopted next time. I hope, too, that there will be much better communication of the European Commission’s intentions as my noble friend Lord Ryder rightly referred to, because there too there clearly is a big deficiency.
We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, that there is a later document for the coming year—2008-09 presumably—and that it shows some improvements. All I can say, having looked at this very carefully, and having listened to the wisdom of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, is that there is plenty of room for improvement.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, for his work and its culmination in today’s debate, which has given us the opportunity to touch on a wide range of issues, some of which were rather wider than the annual policy strategy that we are discussing. That the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has been able to bring so much attention and detail to the review of the document reflects a man whose career has been spent in international organisations. He enjoys a dangerous passion, which I understand too well, and almost an unnatural—some might call it a ghoulish—fascination with the inner workings of international organisations. He has found his nemesis in this document and this organisation. By doing so, he shares a lot of wisdom and detail with us.
I have some sympathy for those noble Lords who have implied that this document is more of a carthorse than a racehorse. Let me at least start on the high road, by reiterating that the Government support both the broad aims of this document, the focus on key priorities and the need to produce a cohesive strategy, which were all points made in the report. As Commissioner Wallström commented in her evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee:
“It is important that the Commission pays close attention to what you have to say”.
But it is clear to me that it is equally important that this House offers input into the debate on what the Commission is trying to achieve. Here, I turn to the point about being more carthorse than racehorse. Documents of this kind are enormously difficult to get right. It is a long process, even without the delays in debating it. We are talking about a document that was prepared a long time ago, because of the inevitable internal processes inside the Commission and the consultations involved in preparing the document. We are left with a situation whereby its communications goals for this year bear little relation to the real discussion of this year. It was as though the Commission had not foreseen the dominant discussion of the treaty in the debate about Europe, not just in this House, but in this country and across much of Europe. The document assumed that the Doha development round would have been finished and that we would be busy discussing its implementation.
So this document is, if you like, dated, not just because of the delay in holding this debate, which I acknowledge, but more generally because it is what it is—a document produced through an extended process of consultation with different stakeholders inside and outside the Commission and it suffers from the inevitable slightly ponderous lowest common denominator of that. But I would argue that that means that while we treat it for the carthorse that it is, we need racehorses as well, and we need sharper, more crystallising ways of setting the objectives of Europe as a whole, which this Commission document is a contributor to, but does not itself provide that answer.
I was struck by the fact that in the previous year, the President of the Commission, President Barroso, who was new to office at that time, set his own objectives and this document did not occur for a year because he had set them. In a sense, they had the power and clarity of being the head of the institution’s priorities for action, but they were weak in not having the same buy-in that a process like the APS allows. So we will continue to struggle with how you get something that represents broad consultation and broad agreement, but does not lose its strategic clarity and has a timeliness which makes it relevant. In that sense, we should seek ways of doing anything that we on the government side can do to advance the time when we debate the APS. Equally, we should consider the suggestion that the Government respond to the document to allow that response to become part of that debate, because the interaction that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, referred to between European institutions and our Parliament in improving the accountability and democratic transparency of what goes on in Europe is something that all of us, friends and critics of Europe alike, can agree is a valuable and worthwhile objective.
This Commission report, even if it plods a bit, highlights four key challenges that we could all agree are priorities for the institution in Brussels—tackling climate change, ensuring the availability of sustainable, secure and competitive energy, implementing the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs, and managing migration flows to the EU. These are issues that go to the heart of how to face up to the vision of an outward-looking global Europe and the challenges and opportunities that that brings. The UK fully supports that vision and we are ready to work with the EU to ensure a stronger, more focused approach to our future work. This report on the annual policy strategy is a welcome document that will help our engagement in this annual process—I hope in a more timely way in the future.
The Commission report, as the annual update of policy direction, requires proper parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that its direction continues to dovetail with the UK’s own priorities. We applaud and agree with the priorities set in this report and it is good news to hear that they carry over to the report for next year. It is essential that the EU focuses on delivering recognisable benefits and tangible policies that really matter to its citizens. Obviously, we particularly welcome climate change now being well up the Commission’s agenda. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I hope that Europe’s performance on climate change is more that of an innovator and leader, and not quite as disappointing as he suggests. Along with the Lisbon agenda and better regulation, these are important things to focus upon.
I certainly take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, that the best kind of regulation is, usually, deregulation—the cutting of red tape. I will come back to him in more detail, but there is an agreement across most of us in this House that in looking to the future, the European policies of Her Majesty’s Government should put greater emphasis on encouraging growth and making sure that there are more inclusive labour markets across the EU under light regulation. This year will be important for the future of most of those priorities—both for the Lisbon process, and thanks to the EU budget for 2008-09 offering an important opportunity to progress toward a reformed EU, better able to deliver those benefits.
A number of noble Lords raised issues that were, I think, trailing their coats for the debates to come in months ahead; they will, therefore, forgive me if I do not touch upon all of those issues. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that while the City of London may regret the lack of UK involvement in some of the financial decision-making in Europe, we nevertheless do extremely well, as the noble Lord knows. For the last year for which we have figures, of the £130 billion of direct foreign investment in the UK, £115 billion of it came from Europe. If we can see further financial market liberalisation in Europe, the gains to London will be even greater—with an inflow estimated in tens of billions of dollars, euros or even pounds.
To my noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, I say that in order to do justice to the scope of this debate I do not think that I can answer all of the questions raised, although I will, with great pleasure, brief the Leader of the House on what lies ahead for her as she carries the treaty debate through this House. I had hoped that there would be a better punch-line to the example from the noble Baroness, Lady Park, of a Bulgarian issuing a British visa. While I will not provide that punch-line, I want to reassure her that we very much understand our sovereign responsibilities as the British Government, whether on visa issues or consular protection. There will be the opportunity, in the treaty debate, of debating Article 20, which says that in third countries where states have no diplomatic and consular representation, they are entitled to consular assistance from the authorities of another,
“Member State on the same conditions as the nationals of that State”.
We welcome that, seeing it as extending consular assistance to countries where we have no consular presence, without handing over power over consular matters to others. As I say, there will be an opportunity to return to that at greater length in forthcoming debates on the treaty.
Like all who have spoken today, I recognise that the APS is a good start. It sounds as though it is a work in progress, with perhaps a modest improvement prize for the next issuance, although “Headmaster Howell”, has not yet agreed to grant it that prize. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and all the members of his committee on providing us with the interpretation and an elegance of report which avoids the terms that have been pointed to during the debate. At least his report is in plain English, which contributes to our understanding of the importance of European strategy. It is important that we debate it in this Chamber, in a timely, transparent way to contribute to the democratisation of Brussels.
My Lords, I have a couple of comments. This has been a very useful and interesting debate. I return the compliment and refer to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is my noble friend. That has no political connotation; we have been friends for a very long time. It is always a pleasure to exchange ideas with him across the Floor of this Chamber. He asked what we mean by top down. The Commission has the right of initiative. It is correct that the College of Commissioners should be at the start of the process, leading to tripartite discussions with the Council and the European Parliament. I think that is the right way to go.
As some participants in this debate have suggested, I hope that later this year we will have a chance to debate the 2009 annual policy strategy and to look at its contents. I make no apology for steering my committee into focusing our inquiry on the procedures. This was the first time that we had looked at an annual policy strategy. It seemed to me that if we could get a grip on the procedures we might be able to influence a little, as I think, in the event, we modestly have. Future examinations of the APS can then concentrate on the content.
I thank all who have taken part in the debate. In the course of my remarks, I was complaining that the Commission was guilty of succumbing to the Christmas tree syndrome. Some of that has been reflected in the debate today. We have covered the euro, the Balkans, consular services, and even the Lisbon treaty. I do not resent that at all; it has all been very interesting and has added something to the debate. What has been said about the procedures here is very helpful to us. I am glad that there seems to be quite a consensus that the Commission has to look seriously at how the APS is constructed in future.
I thank all participants and I warmly thank the Minister for his eloquent and helpful response. He has considerable experience of international institutions. His curiosity about how they work may not extend to being as ghoulish as mine, as he suggested; none the less, he understands the intricacies of dealing with international institutions and the problems that national parliaments face in dealing with them.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House adjourned at 5.52 pm.