EVIDENCE ON DEMOCRACY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
SINCE 1945: THE LEGAL AND INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE UNION
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
Thank you for inviting me to be a witness on the
crucial issue of “who governs and how?”
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.
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
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,
“a holocaust of
local authorities…the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.”
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.
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,
“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?
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
Rt. Hon. Lord Waddington:
Thank you very much.
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?
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:
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
That does not
sound too threatening. It can be combined with one of the other
elements of the preamble, such as the words:
lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the people of
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.
You mentioned that the
accession states have had to adopt matters.
Have the EU’s desirable
qualities of a region been defined?
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
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.
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
As for where it
all comes from, I have seen lots of references to Commission
Howe QC: So,
they are Commission decisions and not Council of Ministers’
I believe so, but I will have to check. We will
come back to that.
Howe QC: Do
you know what the treaty base for them is?
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
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.
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.
Obviously, a lot of detail cannot be explored in this session.
There is huge detail.
Howe QC: I
would be very interested to see the detail.
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.
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.
That is right.
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
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.
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.
I have. Yes.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.