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Speaking Out

EUROPEAN REFORM FORUM

Third Plenary Session

ORAL EVIDENCE ON DEMOCRACY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE EUROPEAN UNION SINCE 1945: THE LEGAL AND INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE UNION

“WHO GOVERNS AND HOW?”

Thursday 27 October 2005

            Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington GCVO DL QC (Chairman):  It is now 11 o’clock. Thank you very much for coming, Ms Jenkins.  You were kind enough to let us have a statement. We normally ask witnesses to make a statement and then answer questions.  So, we can either go with the statement you provided or you may amplify it as you wish.  Afterwards, we will take questions.

 

            Lindsay Jenkins (Author and Journalist):

Thank you for inviting me to be a witness on the crucial issue of “who governs and how?”

 

            A previous witness, Mr. Frederick Forsyth, characterised the European Union as an oligarchy.  I agree with that.  Unelected commissioners and civil servants owing their allegiance not to their own nations, but to the European Union and a Parliament with extremely limited powers, which is elected by proportional representation and controlled by European Union-wide parties, exemplify the EU’s aim.  That aim was updated in the preamble to the treaty of Nice as the process of ever-closer union, which ends with one country and one state.

 

            The how of EU government can be illustrated by the takeover of local government, both in this country and throughout the whole of the European Union.  When the UK acceded to the treaty of Rome in 1973, we agreed to adopt the EEC’s system of local government.  That is a little-known fact.  In our case it is a process. The recent members who joined the European Union last year had to change their local government systems before they acceded.  The process that we are going through is the erosion of all our sovereignty.

 

            While we were still negotiating to join the EEC in the 1960s, it fleshed out its regional policy which is skeletal only in the treaty of Rome in 1957.  Regions were further defined.  Regional economic assessments became mandatory and led to EEC grants, which are bribes in all but name.  In the UK, that was reflected in Royal Commissions, which, in the words of Lord Redcliffe-Maud, would cause

 

“a holocaust of local authorities…the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.”

 

Two dissenters to the Kilbrandon Commission on the constitution in 1973 listed ways in which our membership of the EEC might affect governance adversely.  They said that it would both strengthen the case for devolution and seriously constrain the form and extent of that devolution.  The dissenters have proved to be right.

 

            It is only in the past decade or so that the EU’s local government system has been successfully rolled out in this country. John Major’s Government created the all- important government offices in the new regions, and Tony Blair’s Government are finishing the job with the division of the UK into 12 parts, the creation of the EU’s sub-regions, which are the old counties and local authorities, and the sub-sub-regions—the parishes, which are now called neighbourhood councils.

 

            London is changing into a regional capital; it is no longer to be the focus of the nation and nationhood.  Just as in Brussels, local government is turning into oligarchies with power centralised in one person and a cabinet, many of whom are appointed rather than elected, aided by hundreds of quangos, stakeholders, partnerships, vested interests and lobby groups. The Labour Government admit in their White Paper “Your Region, Your Choice”:

 

            “Influence within the EU…operates through many more channels than the formal EU.”

 

            Inevitably, two of the more advanced regions, Scotland and Wales, are seeking to take more power from the UK, as the former MP Tam Dalyell predicted. Every national Government function, from defence to police, tax and justice is being regionalised.  Regions have offices in Brussels—that is compulsory—but they do not have offices in London; they have embassies and offices abroad. The north-east region has eight offices in the far east and the United States alone, and they are now encouraged, under the Madrid Convention, to develop their own foreign policies.

 

            Nationhood apart, what is missing in all this is democracy.  We have, as it is called in Brussels, a post-democratic society.  As the tide of stakeholders, quangos and centralised power has risen, so too electoral turnout has fallen.  Voters sense that they are becoming redundant.

 

            Lord Denning, the great, but late, upholder of English common law argued that

“we are coming under another sovereignty—that of Europe…the Treaty is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back.”

 

I wrote to him and questioned the phrase “cannot be held back.”  He replied that if you cannot stop the tide, you have to make the best of it.  I argue that with political will that tide can be reversed.

 

            Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington: Thank you very much indeed.  May I exercise my privilege as Chairman by starting the questioning?  This is not one of the questions of which you have been given notice, but this is all a part of things.  I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the European Parliament.  Most MEPs do not look upon themselves as guardians of the rights of member states or even the rights of their citizens.  They seem to look upon themselves as all parts of this great engine driving the project of ever-closer union. That is encouraged by having the pan-European parties.  Have you any suggestions as to how we can put that right?  That is all a part of bringing democracy into the European Union, is it not?

 

            Lindsay Jenkins: If the question is whether we can bring democracy into the European Union, I think the answer is no.  It is set up in such a way as to exclude democracy and make it the equivalent of wallpaper.  I do not think that there is any way in which we can do that; the whole of the treaty of Rome would have to be rewritten.  When reading for my previous book on local government and local authorities, I noted that nearly every clause in the 1957 treaty has something about regions in it.  It is very cleverly written.  The Spaack report of 1956, which was the draft treaty of Rome, had only two references to regions, which can be interpreted loosely and do not really mean anything.  If we are trying to disentangle things and restructure, we literally have to rewrite the whole thing.  We either have the Union as a democratic organisation, or we do not. I do not see how the situation can be just tweaked. 

            Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington: Thank you very much.

            Lord Blackwell: I was aware of the move from a Europe of nations to a Europe of regions.  However, until Ms Jenkins gave her very interesting address, I was not aware that it was spelt out in the treaty of Rome.  For me, and others who are not familiar with it, will she point us to the relevant clause in the treaty—perhaps afterwards?  What is the legal or constitutional status of what the EU set out as what regions should be? How does she see the interfaces between regions and Europe developing?  What mechanisms are used now?

 

            Lindsay Jenkins: To start at the beginning, it is a Europe of regions and cities, not of nation states.  That is fundamental, and is cited repeatedly across the board by all the agencies of the European Union.  The preamble to the treaty of Rome contains the clause:

 

“Anxious to strengthen the unity of their economies and to ensure their harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less favoured regions”

 

That does not sound too threatening.  It can be combined with one of the other elements of the preamble, such as the words:

 

“Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the people of Europe”.

 

We then begin to see that formation will be done through the regions.  I have talked to people who were young lecturers at the London School of Economics in the 1960s, and they said that that was the subject of great discussion.  There was an expression “normative regions”, which is one of the definitions of regions in Brussels.  What did that mean?  It was discussed, and lots of papers were written about it, but not much beyond that limited part of academia and a few interested MPs.  Undoubtedly, if we look through the whole treaty, they would interpret it as meaning that the whole European Union was going to be in regions.  Indeed, they went on to generate two decisions in the 1960s that fleshed that all out.   We could return to them, perhaps in a few days’ time.

 

            Lord Blackwell: You mentioned that the accession states have had to adopt matters.

 

            Lindsay Jenkins: Yes.

            Lord Blackwell: Have the EU’s desirable qualities of a region been defined?

            Lindsay Jenkins: A region now is defined by population. It is quite clear. Two years ago, a regulation set out the population size for regions, sub-regions and sub-sub-regions.  Within the next year or so, it will go down further, to ward level, and define that too.  It begins to get very interesting.  We look around the European Union and see countries that do not even register as sub-sub-regions, such as Monaco and Lichtenstein.  Across the board, they are not big enough.  What will be done with them?  It is a hanging question.  Cyprus might be included in that, and that would be interesting.

 

Martin Howe QC:  I have never investigated or analysed the legal basis of the legal obligations that the European Union places on member states regarding setting up regional structures.  I should be very interested to know what those obligations are, where they have come from and who in our Government has been agreeing to such matters at the Council of Ministers.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: In a discussion about regions in the House of Commons, Tony Blair said, “regions have to be”.  He never explained why. Nobody has ever done so.  When people in this country have become slightly worried about regional assemblies and said, “Surely that is something to do with the EU?” a story has goes round that, in fact, it is to do with the commissions that were set up for civil defence during the war, and which existed afterwards, and that it is all British.  The commissions are nothing our regions and they were exactly for civil defence.  They were originally set up in case we were invaded in 1940.  We had to have individual units that could be administratively self-sufficient.  If challenged, that is what is put out by the European Union office here in London.  It is bizarre.

 

As for where it all comes from, I have seen lots of references to Commission decisions.

 

Martin Howe QC: So, they are Commission decisions and not Council of Ministers’ decisions?

 

Lindsay Jenkins: I believe so, but I will have to check. We will come back to that.

 

Martin Howe QC: Do you know what the treaty base for them is?

Lindsay Jenkins: I have read out the treaty base: the preamble plus lots of other clauses on most of the things—agriculture, transport and so on.  It goes all the way through the treaty of Rome.

 

Martin Howe QC: Do you know what the treaty base is for those Commission decisions? It does not matter if you do not have the information here.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: Well, it cites those two clauses in the preamble, which I just cited. It then cites about a dozen other clauses, all of which define agriculture, transport and so on in terms of regions. It refers to regional economic government. As we have progressed over the years, we have gone beyond economic government toward political government.  So we are talking about a type of stealth through the back door.

 

Martin Howe QC: Obviously, a lot of detail cannot be explored in this session.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: There is huge detail.

Martin Howe QC: I would be very interested to see the detail.

Lindsay Jenkins: I was surprised, but I could not get the Commission decisions in this country. I sent off to Brussels for them and several hundred pages of French turned up. That goes a bit beyond the scope of this morning’s session.

 

Bill Cash MP: I had a big planning problem in my constituency to do with assisted area status.  The Minister responsible told me unequivocally that there was no point in talking to him about it because such decisions were being taken on a regional basis through the local West Midlands regional development authority.  The grants and the allocation of assisted area status were a matter for Brussels and not for him.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: That is right.

Bill Cash MP: The issue I am interested in is the relationship between the important analysis that you gave and how power is exercised—the “who governs?” at the centre question.  Perhaps I could leave it to you to explain how you see the interaction involving where the power lies.  You mentioned foreign policy.  What is your assessment of where the power will lie at upper and regional levels?

 

Lindsay Jenkins: I am a fly on the wall. It is very difficult.  It is equivalent to my being right down in the corner trying to look at something huge over there and not being inside it.

 

I hear from people in regional assemblies.  In the book “Disappearing Britain: The EU and the Death of Local Government”, I quote from one such person’s letter in which they say that they turn up Assembly meetings and they really do not know what is going on.  They are sent huge quantities of documents hours beforehand that they cannot possibly assimilate.  At the centre of the regional assemblies are, of course, the civil servants; they know what is going on and obviously have links with Government offices and the development agencies.  All three groups are interlinked. 

 

I was shown a letter from one person who was running part of a regional assembly.  She put all her titles from all those other organisations, and you could not really have disentangled them.  I was trying to do exactly what you are trying to do: work out who is pushing the buttons.  It looks as though all these things operate almost as a unit.  How they interrelate with Brussels I do not know, but I was told that the person running the South East regional assembly is not British.  I forget her nationality, but she has done a number of jobs in Brussels and has come over here and is effectively running that assembly. 

 

Then we have the interchange.  We have seen it over many years with civil servants and members of assemblies visiting people in other regions and other countries.  They are being encouraged to form links, all of which seems to be perfectly low-key and straightforward.  But exactly who is pushing the buttons over there, I do not know.  It is very frustrating.  It is like being down in the corner, trying to see exactly how it works, but it is a huge machine. 

 

Hon. Bernard Jenkin MP: I want to challenge you on that.  You are right to draw our attention to the early impetus in the European Union towards a Europe of regions.  In the late 1980s, or early 1990s perhaps, the European Union produced a map showing a Europe of the regions, which completely de-emphasised the nation states.  That was clearly a desire, but it was quickly discovered that that idea was not popular idea among ordinary people. 

 

I spent 18 months as shadow Secretary of State for the Regions, and I looked in vain—I even took legal advice—for the legal obligation in the treaties for a Government Office of the Regions.  There is none.  Where is the obligation to set up regional assemblies?  There is none.  There is certainly no legal obligation to have an elected regional assembly. 

 

To have based the campaign regarding the European issue in the north-east, which we won, in any shape or form would have been completely counter-productive, because we are dealing with a dysfunctional United Kingdom Government.  They might have some emotional affinity with a European regional ideal that wants to centralise—the regions are very centralising institutions in this country—but I challenge you to produce chapter and verse.  It would be useful if you produced a small supplementary paper showing where there is a legal obligation on member states to implement regional structures and regional government.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: I have.  Yes.

 

Hon. Bernard Jenkin MP: Even the assisted area status could have been done through the counties if the Government had wished to do so.  We could have made the counties our regions.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: It is probably connected with grants, but I am only guessing.  I do not know.  Much of what we are talking about is being brought in through the grants system.  I spend a whole chapter talking about different sorts of grants, even down to the market towns initiative, which gives people beacon status.  We can even have a golf club with beacon status.  If we give people grants and say, “You are a beacon”—whatever that is”, they would obviously buy that set of rules with the grant.  I suspect that that is where some of it comes from, but I cannot answer all your questions.

 

             Hon. Bernard Jenkin MP: Forgive me, but I think it is important that you answer our questions, or your arguments will be weaker than we would like. 

 

I come back to assisted area status.  We could receive assisted area status grants from the European Union without regional government, regional structures or regional development agencies.  The Government could make the whole of England a single region.  It is up to us.  The regions are an indication of this Labour Government, and of John Gummer, who set up the Government Office of the Regions.   It may prove their European leanings, but there is not a legal obligation.

 

Lindsay Jenkins: Well, there is a legal obligation to have regional economic government and to divide the country into regions.  I agree with you about the structure of assemblies. That is what has happened, and it has not happened only under this Government.  It started in a big way under John Major.  The proof of the pudding is that Mrs. Thatcher did not bring in such matters during three terms.  So we can stand up and say no. 

 

Hon. Bernard Jenkin MP: Are you saying that the constitutional atmosphere of supra-nationalism in Europe militates in favour of breaking down the national structures?  I would certainly accept that; that is why devolution was a safer option in the eyes of the Scots, with the advent of Europe and the idea of a Europe of the regions. 

 

Lindsay Jenkins: We tend to forget that our own people become involved in a huge number of organisations and quangos, such as the Committee of the Regions, and effectively become mouthpieces for the Brussels path forward.  That is a big issue. 

 

I did not respond to an earlier question about whether that it is happening only in the UK.  It is not; it is happening across the whole of the European Union.  The same sort of dislike that we have of regions has manifested itself in France.  There are enormous battles over there because France is the most centralised country.  If we go the other way and break it up into regions, it will destroy everything since the French Revolution.  There are enormous battles going on in France. 

 

Bill Cash MP: When we had the Gibraltar question on the right to vote—I shall not go all the way down that route—Gibraltar was assimilated with the south-west for electoral reasons, because it wanted to be a region.  There is no doubt that something is lurking in there, and I think that reading your book may help to illuminate it a good deal more.

 

Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington: We are very grateful, Ms Jenkins.  You have been very generous with your time, and you have given us a fascinating view on the subject.  Thank you very much for coming.

 

            Lindsay Jenkins: Thank you.

 

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