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European Commission: President

Volume 754: debated on Monday 9 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to announce which candidate they will be supporting for President of the new European Commission.

My Lords, it is important to find the right candidate to run the European Commission to deliver change, someone who is prepared to respond to voters’ concerns and to a Europe that is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility. The European Council should fulfil its role, as laid down in treaties, of making its own nomination for President. That is the process set out in EU law. That is the democratic process.

Did my noble friend the Minister notice that it was the Liberal Democrat portion of the coalition that took the lead in putting forward the very strong, unarguable case for our continuing membership of the European Union on a basis of enthusiasm and not just reservation and panic? Indeed, panic about UKIP is far too exaggerated. Is it not now important for us to think positively about working together with the other countries on agreed policies, which actually strengthens the individual sovereignty of each member state rather than weakens it? In that context, therefore, is it not very important for HMG collectively to support whoever emerges as the consensus-based candidate from the European Council, reflecting the majority votes of the three or four sensible pro-European parties elected in the European Parliament?

My Lords, the view of the Government is that Europe needs reform. The next Commission and Commissioner must therefore focus on making Europe more competitive and democratically accountable so that it delivers the jobs and growth that matter to citizens. Of course, the European elections were a reflection of the fact that people do want reform in the European Union.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that equally important as who is appointed President of the Commission is who is nominated as the UK Commissioner? Will she give an assurance that whomever the Government propose to nominate, he or she will be subject to scrutiny by this Parliament?

It is important that these incredibly important jobs in Europe are filled by the right candidates, and it is important that those candidates reflect the views of Europe in terms of the reform agenda, which were obvious during the European elections. It is also important that there is gender and geographical diversity in those candidates.

My Lords, is there not one very useful reminder from this whole saga that, far from being isolated in its aims for European reform, Great Britain has a great many strong allies in moving towards a more decentralised and more modern Europe fit to meet the competitiveness of the 21st century, with leaders who recognise the enormous changes that have taken place and the need for this reform to go forward vigorously?

My noble friend makes an incredibly important point. That is why the Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that he wants the right person in the role of Commission President. It is very important that the British people have confidence that the next President will deliver change in the European Union.

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that the right order of priorities is for the European Council to focus on what it wants the next Commission to do as a first stage, and only then move on to deciding who might best carry that out? I congratulate the Government on picking up that point two weeks after having got the stick by the wrong end.

My Lords, Labour and Labour MEPs will not support Juncker as President of the European Commission. What portfolio will the Government push for the new UK Commissioner to hold?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making that clear. There were some elements of that in the press over the weekend and indeed this morning. It is important that the right person fills the role. In terms of portfolios, these matters are still up for discussion. It would be inappropriate for me to try to comment on that at this stage.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the position of Her Majesty’s Government is not in any way personally related to Mr Juncker but rather to our desire to bring forward the reform agenda? In that context, for example, is it not the case that Article 5 of the treaty—on subsidiarity, which was supposed to ensure that no decisions are taken by the Union that could be better or well done at a national level—has been more or less neutralised over the years? One of the points will be to make that article, which is already in the treaty, as effective as it is supposed to be.

I think the overwhelming message delivered by the electorate across the European Union in the last European Parliament election was about citizens in individual member states wanting to feel as though their voice was being heard and that the views of individual member states were rightly being heard. We saw that in the United Kingdom and across the European Union. My noble friend is absolutely right to raise that point.

Would the Minister agree that the Prime Minister has a great gift on Europe for influencing people without making friends? We saw that in the withdrawal from the European People’s Party, the natural family, and now the brutal way in which he is personalising this issue of the presidency.

I do not think that there was a question in there but the noble Lord made a point and I disagree with it.

I do not think that the noble Baroness answered the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, right at the beginning. We know whom the Prime Minister and Government do not wish to see as President of the European Commission. Whom do they wish to see, or what are the elements of that candidate?

I am not sure that the noble Lord would ever expect me to have that discussion at this Dispatch Box while discussions are ongoing at the European Union level. The noble Lord is aware of the process and it is important that that process is followed.