Speech to the European Convention
Mr President, fellow Convention members: There are many points which one could raise about institutional reform, but I would like to draw on my experience as both a Member of a national Parliament and a Member of the European Parliament to suggest one item of importance, namely, that MPs and MEPs should work more closely together to ensure the correct transposition of legislation.
First, I must stress the importance of the European Parliament in the European institutional framework. According to the most recent Eurobarometer opinion poll carried out shortly before Christmas, the European Parliament is both the most recognised (92% recognition rating) and the most trusted (59% trust) institution in Europe. Because of this, I believe that the Parliament must benefit from any reorganisation of powers between the institutions. (Unfortunately, awareness of this Convention is still at only 16% in the UK, but I am sure this figure will improve when The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph begin to discuss the final recommendations!)
I have spoken before about the importance of eradicating 'gold plating' as legislation moves into national law and I now return briefly to this theme. In the UK, gold plating is particularly harmful. Harmful to our agriculture for instance. The abattoirs directive left the Commission as a 12-page document, was reduced by the French to a manageable 7-pages and expanded by the British to an unreadable and unacceptable 95-pages! Similarly, farmers in Britain wishing to apply for one EU subsidy have to wade through 22 pages when the equivalent document in Ireland is just 2 pages.
Sadly, there are many other examples of 'gold plating' in the fields of business and industry. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, for example, the European Union's part-time work directive was gold plated by the present Labour Government when they insisted that certain rights should be extended to part time workers that were not required by the directive.
So, Mr President, why does gold plating affect the UK more than any other member state? One important reason is because the UK, unlike many other member states, simply does not involve its MEPs in the transposition process.
Here in Belgium, the Chamber of Representatives has an Advisory Committee on European Affairs which is made up of 10 MPs and 10 MEPs who enjoy equal status on the Committee. Belgian MEPs are also allowed to speak in Standing Committee meetings and to table written questions to the Government.
The German Bundestag also has a Committee where MEPs are entitled to propose subjects for discussion and to give opinions on the proposals discussed. And the Greek Parliament has a similar arrangement.
As an MEP who has been a UK MP, I now realise how little I and my colleagues knew about the regulations coming from Europe. Because we concentrated on national policy matters, we were often unable to spend very much time with the European legislation under consideration. As a result, Government Departments were able to 'gold plate' the legislation without MPs knowledge or involvement. This problem has got much worse under the present British Socialist Government as they reduce the powers of our House of Commons and the time available for any scrutiny.
The way forward, I believe, is for this Convention to propose in all cases joint committees of Members of national Parliament and MEPs to oversee the transposition of legislation into national law and I recommend that this is included in the final draft.