Bruges Group exclusive
Dr Lee Rotherham
LR Thank you for agreeing to tell the Bruges Group something of what is happening on the ground in the Convention. Up to now there has been thunderous silence mixed with brief periods of frenetic press coverage as various plans emerge. Let’s start if I may with a question from Harry and Jean Randall, of Cerne Abbas, to put the whole issue into context. Can you explain what the Convention is for, how it fits into the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), and how it can be blocked or vetoed?
DHA Well, the Convention is supposed to design “a more democratic, transparent and efficient European Union”, as mandated by the Laeken Declaration of December 2001. The results will go to an IGC due in late 2003 or early 2004. I believe the outcome should be put to referendums in as many member states as possible, including Britain. Under existing treaty law, a failure to ratify by one member state would block the whole deal, but the Commission is looking for a way round that eventuality.
LR John Mair of Wesham asks, “What are your main objectives for the Convention, and how much can you realistically hope to achieve?”
DHA I want a democratic Europe, founded on national parliaments. I have a few allies and we meet under the banner of the Democracy Forum. We reject the proposed draft European Constitution and are likely to present an alternative plan for the future of Europe, which I believe the public would prefer, if given a free choice.
LR A question now from Talinn, capital of one of the applicant states. Argo Loo asks, “After the EU is granted legal personality, will member states still be legally recognised states in international law?” This is an intriguing point, here. The Convention has had a working group on “Legal Personality”, but what does it all cook up?
DHA Well, under the draft EU Constitution, the Union will acquire its own legal personality and the EU will cease to be an association of member states. This separate body, the Union, will take over from member states the right to negotiate and sign international agreements in most areas. Member states will still retain their own legal identities, but will not be allowed to assert them as these powers will have been absorbed into the Union.
LR Sir George Earle asks a technical point. You have said you will be submitting a proposal to the Convention. But will it be a purely personal view, or on behalf of your Party? If, to be cynical for one moment, it’s rejected or at least ignored by the Convention, can we expect that it will be used as the basis for opposition to the Constitution by the Conservative Party?
DHA I was elected by Conservative MPs, but my contributions are personal. The Party is drawing up its own proposals and many of my ideas are contained in the draft document. My likely submission to the Convention at the end is a joint effort with others in the Convention and therefore will not be a purely Conservative document.
LR Another question from an applicant country. Stefan Bogdan from Romania asks, “How will the European Convention solve the biggest problem of the European Union – the democratic deficit – and how will it make the common people feel they are really represented at the European level?”
…this is just politicians giving themselves more titles.
DHA The Convention is not taking the ‘democratic deficit’ sufficiently seriously. It can best be solved by returning various powers to MPs and putting national parliaments in charge, because that is where people feel democratically represented. Instead, the Convention is trying to democratise the existing EU institutions by giving them more power and indirectly electing their presidents. To the ordinary voter this is just politicians giving themselves more titles.
LR This time, from Poland. Tomasz Pompowski in Wroclaw comes at the EU from a different angle. How can Europe remain a multi-state continent in the modern world, especially over foreign policy with the emergence of terror and the rise of the Far East? Should the present state institutions be replaced by something more effective?
…there is no evidence that the creation of supranational institutions is effective or efficient – look at the CAP or fisheries policy
DHA Europe is a multi-state continent and will remain so. It can work together effectively to overcome common problems, but there is no evidence that the creation of supranational institutions is effective or efficient – look at the CAP or fisheries policy. Also the creation of remote institutions and policies leads to alienation and loss of democratic involvement.
…the creation of remote institutions and policies leads to alienation and loss of democratic involvement.
LR Epping is less exotic, but it’s where Andrew Smith asks his next question from. Is there a line in the sand for the Conservatives in the Convention, a point which you would find totally unacceptable?
DHA The present draft EU Constitution with its further transfer of power to the centre is unacceptable. Rather than simply reject it, I am working with others on a democratic alternative.
LR Should there be a referendum at the end of the process, and will the Conservatives call for one? Val Cowell at Poulton le Fylde wonders if you do not get one, will the Conservatives make a manifesto commitment to repeal the Constitution?
DHA A referendum? Yes, and it is now official Conservative policy to have one. As the threat of euro entry perhaps recedes, the Constitution replaces it as a similar ‘challenge’ to British self-government and must also be decided by referendum. As for any repeal, I cannot yet predict how we will respond that far down the line.
LR Our good friend John Ashworth from the fisheries campaign asks about the repatriation of powers. Do you think any competences will ever be returned to the Nation States?
DHA There is a big majority in the Convention against any repatriation of powers. My alternative would provide for this. Let the people decide!
LR Ronald Forrest, who is in fact one of your constituents, asks about that key word - Withdrawal. Do you feel that the outcome of the Convention, and the IGC, could lead to a Conservative policy of withdrawal from the EU?
DHA Rejection of the EU Constitution will automatically lead to renegotiation. This is the last chance for Britain to secure the right relationship with the other countries of Europe.
LR But that’s an uphill struggle, isn’t it? Chris Cooke reminds us of the overwhelming force of the EU propaganda machine. So how can EU critics best use our own very limited resources to ensure ordinary people learn the truth about the EU?
DHA The EU propaganda machine will be deployed in pursuit of a centralised European state. But they cannot persuade us to give up hundreds of years of parliamentary democracy and self-government. But we will need a broad coalition of democratic forces to win a referendum, and plans are afoot to create one.
LR One last question, from our old friend and associate Martin Ball. What experience have you gained in Brussels of the EPP (European People’s Party)?
DHA The EPP is a centrist alliance of federal-minded EU parties. Its views do not accord with those of the Conservative Party, and I therefore left the EPP group on the Convention.
LR Mr Heathcoat-Amory, merci beaucoup!
DHA Pas du tout!