Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Task Force Report on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and Doing Less More Efficiently: Discussion
As we have a quorum we will commence in public session. Apologies have been received from Deputies Mattie McGrath and David Cullinane and Senator Gerard Craughwell. I remind members to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off. This is important as it causes interference with the broadcasting service.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
The purpose of the meeting is to consider the final report of the European Union task force on subsidiarity, proportionality and "doing less more efficiently". I am delighted we have two of the best scholars on European affairs working in Ireland before the committee. I welcome Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan from University College Cork, UCC, and Professor Gavin Barrett from University College Dublin, UCD, and thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend.
The committee has considered the issue of how and where decisions are made a number of times. We also follow with interest the ongoing work of the task force led by the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Frans Timmermans. The final report of the task force was published during the summer. It is helpful that our two guests are present to share their thoughts on the report and to consider issues related to the future of Europe. I will ask Dr. Schön-Quinlivan and Professor Barrett to make their initial opening statements, after which members will make comments and ask questions.
Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan:
I thank the committee for the invitation to share my analysis and views on the European Commission's report by the task force on subsidiarity, proportionality and "doing less more efficiently". It is a great honour to be asked to do so and I hope I can contribute insightfully to the discussion.
I will first explain how I will structure my talk today. I will start by briefly recalling the history of the principle of subsidiarity and its mutations since its official enshrining in the Maastricht treaty of 1992. Such contextualisation is useful in understanding the task force's approach in 2018. I will then analyse the key points and recommendations made by the task force as well as its shortcomings.
Finally, I would like to set this report in the broader context of the future of Europe, specifically the future of European democracy.
Despite having its roots in European political philosophy, the principle of subsidiarity was not used in the context of the European Community until 1986. It was first mentioned in the Single European Act and only with regard to environmental policy. It coincided with the increase in the use of majority voting, as opposed to unanimity, and the concern of member states that the European Community was encroaching on their sovereign power. Therefore, support for the idea of subsidiarity as a tool to assign limits to the growth of the Community's powers grew substantially until it was enshrined in Article 3(b) of the Maastricht treaty. This article provides that "in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community." The Treaty of Lisbon set up the early warning mechanism elevating national parliaments to the position of subsidiarity watchdogs. However, in nine years, only three of what are known as yellow card procedures were started and no orange procedure has commenced. This shows the limitations of the process.
Looking back helps us to understand the context for this task force report. The Maastricht treaty marked the shift from a "permissive consensus to a constraining dissensus", a description coined by Hooghe and Marks, when it comes to European Union affairs and policies. The subsidiarity principle was introduced at a time of public contestation over the legitimacy of the European integration project. Twenty-five years on, the landscape has not changed much except for the fact that this contestation has taken shape in populist political parties whose support is increasing across a significant number of member states.
What are the key points of the report? It is worth mentioning that the task force was set up in a context of reflection about the future of Europe and the questions of democratic and legitimacy deficits that the European Commission and the European Union as a whole have not yet resolved. The President of the European Commission set three objectives for the task force, namely, how to better apply the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality with regard to preparation and implementation of legislation; how to better involve the regional and local levels in policymaking; and to identify policies that could be re-delegated to the national level. Overall, the recommendations are not radical but offer welcome clarification. In particular, the report acknowledges the shortcomings of the early warning mechanism, EWM, put in place by the Lisbon treaty, which cannot be remedied without a treaty change. Therefore, it recommends that the Commission interpret flexibly the eight-week deadline for national parliaments to submit their reasoned opinions. The same flexibility should also apply if a significant number of reasoned opinions that are below the threshold for a yellow card are submitted. It also recommends a lowering of the yellow card threshold, which would force the Commission to justify more thoroughly its legislative proposals. The overall tone is for the Commission and the European co-legislators to be more attuned to the national, regional and local levels; to give more visibility to how they use the inputs from regional and national parliaments; and to promote increased co-ordination and information sharing between national and regional parliaments.
As is often the case with the European Commission, it considers that the problem lies in communicating better regarding the effective operation of the principle of subsidiarity. Beyond a flexible implementation of the principle, the European Commission also recommends a more consistent approach. The task force's main contribution involves a model assessment grid to be used on subsidiarity and proportionality issues by all European institutions, not only at the start of the legislative process but also during it as well as ex post. This is what the task force brands "active subsidiarity", which is grounded in the concept of European added value. On this aspect, it is interesting to note that the expert the task force called upon, Professor Dougan from the University of Liverpool, specifically cautioned against this idea of "added value". He highlighted that the added value to having EU action in cross-border situations would always be positive and render the test pointless, while frustrating national and subnational levels of governance. However, the idea of translating the subsidiarity principle into European added value is pervasive throughout the entire report as a concept better understood by citizens.
This brings us back to the idea of using subsidiarity as a communication tool to boost the legitimacy of the European Union's actions in the eyes of the citizens. Dehousse analysed in 1993 that "subsidiarity's direct utility as a legal instrument [was] limited." He argued that "its introduction into the treaty should be understood as a strong political message: the Member States are not prepared to accept an unlimited extension of Community competences." He nonetheless concluded that regardless of whether subsidiarity was workable legally or an effective tool of allocation of competence, this political message trumped all. He concluded his article by stating "we are therefore likely to hear more of subsidiarity." Here we are, 25 years later, and the search for the European Union's legitimacy and effectiveness in action in the eyes of the citizens remains elusive.
The major shortcoming with the task force report is that it confuses subsidiarity with policy substance. When the task force claims on page 12 that "national Parliaments have a pivotal role in ensuring conformity with the subsidiarity principle, and they also have a positive contribution to make on the substance of new legislation" it seems to equate both. However, the entire report is about subsidiarity as a tool of competence allocation, that is, who should act and not in what way they should act. The report acknowledges that national and regional parliaments' contributions "frequently go beyond subsidiarity issues in their reasoned opinions", which creates frustration on both sides. Reasoned opinions on the basis of subsidiarity are the only ones that can create legal consequences. If the reasoned opinion is not made on that basis, the Commission is legally entitled to ignore the sub-European parliaments.
In 2005, the Commission introduced the Barroso initiative, which can be defined as "a broad political dialogue between the Commission and the national parliaments of the Member States on all aspects of the former's political agenda". The major difference with the EWM is that the Barroso initiative opinions can assess any political aspect of a Commission proposal, well beyond subsidiarity issues. This allows the national or regional parliament to engage in policy preferences and substance, which politicises EU policies and develops their level of ownership at sub-European levels. This initiative exists at the discretion of the Commission though and could be withdrawn at any time. It is a shame to see that the Barroso initiative is not investigated in more depth by the task force with a view of enshrining it into the treaties.
Similarly, the idea of a "green card", which gives parliaments a right to suggest to the Commission that it take action, is pushed aside. The only small light of hope for significant policy shaping by national and regional parliaments came on page 14 with a suggestion that they and the Commission should exchange more intensely on shaping the Commission's work programme. If the concept of subsidiarity is to demonstrate European added value in its action while closing the gap with the citizens by decentralising decision-making to the level the closest to the citizen, moving away from a technocratic conception of policy proposal to a more political one would make sense. However, since it would further challenge the Commission's right of initiative, the task force fell back on a classic, namely, reinforced co-operation and co-ordination among national parliaments.
At the end of the day, this report was commissioned in the context of a reflection on the future of Europe. The task force clearly rejects scenario four on "doing less more efficiently" regarding re-delegating certain policies to the national level. However, it recommends that existing legislation be reviewed with regard to subsidiarity, proportionality and regulatory density in order to improve effectiveness of implementation of the existing body of law. As Jani points out, "the report missed an opportunity to highlight the political nature of parliamentary contributions to EU integration."
Davor Jani suggests "a periodic balance of competences review... organised across the Union with national and regional parliaments" every four to five years. I do not consider this a meaningful democratic reform that would engage the public. However, it is time to change the message and broaden the scope of contribution of regional and national parliaments to European policymaking.
We need to politicise EU policies so that citizens and sub-European parliaments can develop ownership of those policies. This involves infringing further on the right of initiative of the European Commission. However, the time has come to realise that European democracy is not working and it goes beyond simply increasing the powers of the European Parliament. This has been systematic with every treaty change and inversely proportional to the EU average level of turnout in European elections. It is time for supranational institutions to engage with and carve out space for sub-European parliaments’ political views on EU policies and EU policy-shaping. Many significant democratic reforms should be envisaged beyond the very fragile spitzenkandidat implemented in 2014, which I believe was a step in the right direction.
The lack of a visionary approach to the future of Europe is disappointing given the increasing rise of populist parties across the European Union and the risks it poses to the European project. In his latest State of the Union address, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker mentioned subsidiarity only once, referring to "being big on the big things and small on the small things", a cheap turn of phrase. His big example of the use of subsidiarity was clock-changing. At a time, whether winter or summer, European citizens and their regional and national parliaments are contesting the legitimacy and effectiveness of European action, it seems odd and even condescending to send them back to do some clock work.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I thank the committee for the invitation to contribute on this interesting topic. There will be some overlap with what Professor Schön-Quinlivan had to say but a slightly different focus. I would like to do a little contextualisation, perhaps in a shorter framework as the professor has done so much to outline the overall context of subsidiarity and what it means.
The task force report is an important step along the road to completing the process begun with the March 2017 Commission White Paper on the Future of Europe. Other steps have been a series of Commission reflection papers on the social dimension of Europe, harnessing globalisation, deepening economic and monetary union, EMU, the future of European defence and the future of EU finances. The process of reaction to the Commission White Paper is still ongoing. It did not end with these reflection papers. It includes the future of Europe debates going on across Europe and this task force report. The process is intended to end with the European Council in Sibiu, Romania in May 2019 and the European Parliament elections one month later. It is a time-limited and rapid process.
If the task force report is a response, what is it a response to? This has been answered to some extent. In asking what the questions which triggered it are, let us remind ourselves that the Commission put forward five five courses for the future of the Union, namely, carrying on; retreating to doing nothing but the Single Market; letting those who want to do more to do more; doing less more efficiently; and doing more together. President Juncker put forward a purported sixth option in his State of the Union speech in 2007 but that was just a variant of carrying on, with a lot of emphasis on freedom, equality and the rule of law.
The task force report relates to the fourth option, doing less more efficiently. I have a habit of reading the end of books before I read the text so I will read a couple of conclusions on the report and then touch on the various recommendations. First, the group that produced this report was limited. It was entirely male, and comprised quite senior males. I am one of those myself so perhaps I should not object too strongly. The regions were perhaps overrepresented. There were three members of the committee of the regions on this group and one former member, which gave the committee a majority in producing this report. That is very much reflected in the report and its emphasis on regional concerns. Only Troika states were represented. There was no French or German representative, much less any Irish representative. It was compiled in a short period. The task force met only seven times between January and July. I realise there are other aspects to it, such as a COSAC working group which met Professor Dougan and so on. There was a certain degree of consultation although that process was largely limited to regional authorities. It has to be read in that light and it has limitations on that basis.
Interestingly, the task force rejects the idea of doing less more efficiently in the report's conclusion. Its first conclusion is to recognise the need for more EU action to address emerging challenges where the EU has added value in areas such as security, defence and migration, and intensified EU action on other areas like climate change and innovation. It is rather like the parish priest standing up and declaring himself an atheist, or an atheist standing up and declaring he has found God. It is an unusual start for a report on doing less. There is a great deal of focus on the interests of regions and local authorities. I do not want to detract from its recommendations in that regard. They are useful recommendations, but they are a little overdone.
There is also food for thought for national parliaments. The idea is "active subsidiarity". I will come back to what that means. The idea of using a common assessment grid for assessing subsidiarity is positive and useful. The third task force recommendation is especially interesting. There is a good discussion of national parliaments and subsidiarity, but a slightly facile analysis of the number of yellow cards. Some members of the task force wanted to increase this number by cutting the threshold needed to issue a yellow card, that is, the number of national parliamentary votes. The number of yellow cards is not necessarily a representation of the success or otherwise of the early warning mechanism.
The task force also calls on the Commission to ensure to always give timely, comprehensive and public responses to reasoned opinions. We cannot dispute that. It has not always been done. Some task force members wanted to hand parliaments a red card veto. Others feared the consequences of doing this, particularly in the absence of a uniform understanding of what subsidiarity is. Some members wanted a green card facility that provided for members to propose legislation at European level. The task force as a whole pulled back from that and just wants national parliaments to co-ordinate themselves a little more.
Some members wanted an extension of the time period for early warnings from eight to 12 weeks. The committee recommends that change when the opportunity arises, giving it a slightly lukewarm endorsement. There is a call for more flexibility regarding the eight weeks and the use of a so-called "common grid". It is true that there has been a variety of approaches to what subsidiarity means, with different parliaments taking different approaches. The idea of a common grid approach, modelled on a grid used by the committee of the regions and included in the annex to the report, is probably not a bad idea. The Commission has shown a little discretion on the eight-week period. For instance, it does not count August as part of the eight weeks, but it does count Christmas holidays and periods when parliaments are in recess for election purposes. There is room for flexibility. Perhaps that could also be endorsed. Some wanted proportionality and issues of competence to be covered by reasoned opinions as well, because parliaments raise these issues and it can be frustrating for them when they do not get any feedback. However, that did not meet with the overall endorsement of the group. There is a call for better co-ordination and information-sharing between national parliaments and regional parliaments; a lot of stuff that people can agree on and proposals for reform.
The fourth task force recommendation is also interesting. It advocates greater involvement in the Commission's annual work programme and the European semester. There are ideas that could be used to allow national parliaments and committees such as this to play a bigger role in such procedures.
In September every year, the Commission President delivers his State of the Union address, complements it with a letter of intent which is sent to the presidents of the various institutions and the national parliaments and the Commission work programme follows in October. The task force wanted more active engagement between the Commission, national parliaments and local and regional authorities between the publication of the letter of intent and the adoption of the Commission work programme. National parliamentary committees could invite in bodies like those and ask them to voice their concerns or views about the programme.
The economic policies of member states are now co-ordinated at European level in the European semester process. Some people from the budget office were handing out literature about that in the lobby upstairs as I was coming in. The Commission has encouraged greater participation in, and ownership of, the so-called country specific recommendations and the task force strongly backed that up. It wanted the inclusion not only of national administrations but also regional authorities, social partners and civil society generally. That might be a facility or an opportunity for committees like this, or perhaps other committees within the Oireachtas, to get involved in that process and play a useful role.
Before it made its recommendations, the task force offered five broad conclusions and, in both its recommendations and conclusions, there were a reasonable number that would be of interest to national parliaments.
Looking at the conclusions first, it recognised the need for more EU action, not less - an unusual way to begin a report about doing less, more efficiently. It recognised the need for more action in some areas and intensified EU action in others. Second, the task force pronounced it essential to remedy weaknesses in current policy making processes, meaning more involvement of national, regional and local authorities, a better shared understanding of subsidiarity and proportionality and improved participation of national parliaments and regional authorities. I will come back to what is meant by more active subsidiarity, but there is not a lot to disagree with there. There were some good ideas. It proclaimed the need for a better shared understanding of subsidiarity and it noted, with some puzzlement, which I share, that the Amsterdam treaty definition of "subsidiarity" was wiped out of the Lisbon treaty. I do not know why that happened and it should go straight back in there. The task force recommendations were based, to a certain extent, on the Amsterdam understanding of subsidiarity.
A fourth conclusion was that EU legislation in some areas is too dense and complex but the conclusions here were nuanced. The report realised trade-offs are necessary and recommended a Commission process building on the refit simplification process that would take into account subsidiarity and proportionality and other issues. That would involve going back through all the legislation that has ever been adopted by the Union and checking it for all these issues. That is a big exercise. I do not know how useful it would be, but that is what was recommended. Its fifth and final conclusion was that its findings should not be the end of a process but the beginning of a more active engagement with subsidiarity and proportionality. There is not much to disagree with there.
It had eight recommendations about active subsidiarity. I will not go into all of them. I will mention four of them which concern national parliaments. It recommended promoting opportunities for national parliaments and local authorities to participate at an early stage to shape new initiatives and signal concerns. It recommended more effective control by national parliaments, meaning more time for national parliaments in the change from eight weeks to 12 weeks. Better co-ordination and more information sharing between national parliaments was also recommended. There are Monday morning meetings in Brussels but the task force wants more than that. It also wants co-legislators to better reflect national parliament and local authority concerns about subsidiarity and proportionality and more active engagement between national parliaments and other parties to shape the Commission's work programme. This would mean an enhanced role for national parliaments in shaping the agenda.
The task force had nine recommendations in all and I will touch on them briefly. The first was that there be a common assessment grid used by EU institutions, national parliaments and everyone involved to assess subsidiarity, proportionality and legal basis issues. There is not a lot to disagree with there. One of the problems with subsidiarity has been that different parliaments have taken different views of what subsidiarity actually involves. The absence of a clear approach to subsidiarity is something we can live without and, if a common grid approach would help, it would be a happy development.
Task force recommendations Nos. 2 and 3 were concerned with more effective subsidiarity control. The task force recommended certain non-treaty changes that the Commission should apply flexibility regarding the eight-week deadline. I checked this in Philipp Kiiver's book about subsidiarity because, as far as I could recall, the Commission had shown flexibility but it is true that it does not take Christmas breaks and recesses for elections into account so there is room for more flexibility there. That must be balanced with efficiency at European level. I am not sure if there can be as much flexibility shown as they want, but perhaps, for example, taking into account Christmas breaks would be welcome.
The report also recommended a change to the treaty by extending the eight-week period for reasoned opinions to 12 weeks. One must think about the efficiency of the legislative system at European level, but the feeling among the task force was that eight weeks is too short. I do not know if the committee has a view in relation to that but it is something worth thinking about.
Recommendation No. 4 addressed better involvement of national, regional and local authorities in policy making, so this is included the annual work programme and European semester recommendations, which I have mentioned.
Recommendation No. 5 was about the Commission's impact assessments. Impact assessments generally accompany legislative proposals by the Commission and the task force recommended that it ensure they systematically consider their impact on local and regional authorities. There is significant emphasis on local and regional authorities in the report.
Recommendations Nos. 6 and 7 referenced the legislative procedure at EU level and wanted the European Parliament and the Council to use this subsidiarity and grid proposal. The report suggested hearings of local and regional authorities. That made me wonder why there would not be hearings of national parliaments as well. That is biased in favour of regional authorities. The idea of taking more seriously and upgrading the level of involvement of national parliaments, particularly in view of the kinds of democratic concerns that we have heard from Professor Schön-Quinlivan, is certainly worth thinking about.
I looked at the penultimate task force recommendation, No. 8, which is that the Commission should develop a mechanism to identify and re-evaluate existing legalisation in light of subsidiarity, proportionality and simplification concerns, and the role of local authorities. All the existing body of legislation, the entire European Union acquis communautaire, should be reviewed. It sounds like a big exercise. I doubt if it is worth it, but the existing refit programme has been useful, so perhaps this might also be useful.
The final task force recommendation, No. 9, is limited. The next Commission should reflect on rebalancing its work in some policy areas towards delivering more effective implementation, rather than initiating new legislation, and it might do this in areas where the existing body of legislation is mature or has recently been substantially revised. That is certainly not going to set the place on fire with controversy.
The task force noted concerns of national parliaments that delegated Acts and implementing Acts fall outside the early warning mechanism. At national level, legislation is adopted via the Oireachtas but statutory instruments also do a huge amount. At European level, there is not just normal European legislation, there are delegated Acts and implementing Acts. They fall entirely outside the early warning mechanism. The task force noted the concerns expressed to them by national parliaments. I presume this happened at COSAC. The task force did not respond to those concerns but noted that there is a four-week feedback period via the Commission website on the use of such legislation and it encouraged the Commission to be more sparing in its use of delegated legislation.
We have had similar issues at domestic level, as regards how does one control the use of "sub-legislation", if I can call it that, and how does one reconcile the practical need for such legislation with democratic controls. We have issues like that here in Ireland. We have issues like that at European level as well.
I do not really have any conclusions because I already gave the committee the conclusions at the beginning. That is it from me.
I welcome our guests and thank them for their address to the committee.
I have some concern about the degree to which the consultation was evenly spread across the institutions throughout Europe. There is obviously an emphasis on regional structures, which do not exist here to the same extent, and for a long time I have thought that maybe there was an intention on somebody's part somewhere to reduce the national structures to regional level and thereby enhance the central structure. That remains a danger. Some countries across Europe have a long history of regional institutions, that were powerful and conflicted, and to some extent still are, and we need to keep that in mind.
When we look at what is required, I believe for my sins that the European unelected institutions have a difficult job to do. They should be able to interpret the concerns and the wishes, some of which are in conflict as well, of the national institutions and be able to bring them together in a way that is acceptable to all. It does not always happen that way. For example, if one does not have a national attitude in a particular country that in some way encompasses the European general attitude to a particular issue at any one time, everybody will go off on their own particular trail doing their own thing to the detriment of the European institution and, eventually, there will be fragmentation. There are some signs across Europe of individuality, re-nationalisation and, potentially, destructive fragmentation beginning to show. I note the importance of the national parliaments. The further one goes down the food chain, the more likely one will get conflicting issues and conflicting opinions, and more controversial opinions, and I would strongly urge that we be careful about doing something like that.
The report does not address the issue of re-nationalisation. It does not really say anything about it at all. There is merely a passing reference made to the 1930s. The point at issue now is the future of Europe, how we run it and how national parliaments recognise that we can either be together or be apart. There are indications in some quarters, particularly in one area, as one country is leaving. That is not a good sign. Sadly, there may be fault on both sides. That being the case, the institutions must examine that and its importance and they need to respond to it in some way, shape or form. Otherwise, we will end up in a very difficult situation. The exit of Britain might not be the last. If that happens, then the whole European Union concept of being together, of supporting each other and of shared sovereignty, will go down the river and be gone and then we will have the emergence of a different Europe.
I do not want to go on because other speakers want to participate as well but right across the globe at present, there is the emergence of nationalism. It is not a good development. We should have learned the lessons of history. It is a dangerous development. Neither is it good to overreact to it. The European and national institutions right across Europe need to be aware of its existence, to be able to plan in such a way as to show a clear advantage in following the cohesive approach favoured by the founding fathers of modern Europe and to stay on that path because moving away from it involves nothing but serious problems for the people of Europe, the individual member states and the European project in particular.
I enjoyed both presentations. I never thought I would say that when it comes to an issue such as subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is a term that has plagued my fascination with the European institutions for the past 13 years. I have been to so many events where someone would get up and start talking about it and one would see the room collectively go to sleep. I accept it is a key tenet of what the European Union is about but it is something that is so poorly explained and means different things to so many different people. I would be quite happily to put both our guests on the road to go around and talk about it, if people are still willing to listen to the term.
There are a couple of issues they both brought up and I will merge them together rather than ask individual questions or make points. First, as a former member of the Committee of the Regions, I will defend it heartily. However, I fully take the point. Indeed, when I saw the picture of who was there, at least two of them lead my group in the Committee of the Regions and therefore I cannot be too mean, as I might need their votes in the congress in Helsinki soon. What I wanted to point out is it kind of sums up - I suppose it goes to the first presentation - the difficulty in defining European democracy. I mentioned outside to Professor Barrett that when I sat on the Committee of the Regions, I was there as a part-time county councillor from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown who flew over on Ryanair, to my right was the president of the Lombardy region with approximately 15 staff and to my left was the mayor of Salzburg. It shows the difference in what democracy means in each member state. We talk about the federal system in Germany and the importance of local and regional government. It is so much more important. Much of that plays into the history of the member states in question but also their electoral system. We are starting on the adventure of directly elected mayors - regrettably, not in Dublin just yet. How will that feed in?
It comes back, I suppose, to the electoral systems and how to explain the single transferable vote, PR-STV, system to every other member state bar Malta. It is different. Then we get into the political system as a whole. There is the presidential system in France as compared with the parliamentary system here. There is the question of how the Chancellor of Germany is actually elected and, of course, and crucially, as brought up by Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan, the fragility of the Spitzenkandidat system as a whole. I remember distinctly in the 2014 local elections Mr. Martin Schulz coming over here. There are no members from the Labour Party here at present but I give them credit for trying to drum up a bit of interest in it. Mr. Schulz managed to get two column inches. However, there is a certain special adviser to one of the Ministers who was on team Juncker, which was the campaign team, and he said going around Europe there was an absolute buy-in. As I mentioned Helsinki, we go to the EPP congress to choose the EPP Spitzenkandidat and yet there is already this background noise that it does not matter who is chosen and depending on where we are at, the European Council might just throw this away. Something that was raised in the second Lisbon referendum here was the importance of a directly elected European Commission president. Many on the Continent would argue that a Spitzenkandidat is a directly elected European Commission president. Try to say that to Irish people, who are currently going through the joys of a presidential election, and it is difficult to get that common idea of European democracy.
When one looks at the specifics of the recommendation, "Doing Less, More Efficiently" - indeed, there was mention of the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker's comment on it in the previous state of the Union address and one looks at the visionary versus practical - one must ask over the past 15 years how much of the work of the European Commission, and, indeed, the European project as a whole, has been visionary and how much of it has been reactionary. We go from the financial crisis into the migrant refugee crisis and the delights of Brexit. We are constantly reacting.
I must give credit to the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron. I did not necessarily agree with the vast majority of his speech, but it was heartening to see him speak about a vision for Europe for nearly two hours last year. That is something that has not happened, arguably since Delors. How do we take that argument over? It is important that my colleague mentioned the rise of populism and nascent nationalism across the continent. It is a question of how one counters that. Certain politicians are better at doing that than others. Then one has the guise of other politicians who ten years ago were the most enthusiastic of pro-Europeans and were talking about how European integration would solve all the ills of their country in the post-communist era, and now they are blatantly and flagrantly in breach of European law, in my opinion.
How do we start the development of the European project? In Rome last year there was a number of very interesting speeches and proposals about the next 60 years. We all remember what started it all, namely, the European Coal and Steel Community, but the vast majority of my friends and colleagues do not remember. Did the European Coal and Steel Community really envisage subsidiarity becoming the key issue? Did it think of a future Europe in which there were five options? I suppose it is always going to be reactionary and needs to be as the world changes, but there is a case for putting out a core development, and that must be pulled back from the specific policies that so many of the local and regional representatives fed into it. One could ask how far we can reach. The migrant crisis will end at some stage, or at least the refugee crisis in Syria will end at some stage, but it might not be today or tomorrow or even for a decade.
Professor Barrett focused on having more time and information for domestic European affairs committees. Again harking back to the Committee of the Regions, the scope for interparliamentary engagement on a European level is not what it should be. I do not think domestic parliamentarians take the level of interest in European affairs they merit, based on the significant opportunities the Commission has for initiating legislation, looking at the COREPER process and how elected representatives can feed into it and not just the permanent government. Something is lacking in the sense that we go to the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for European Affairs, COSAC, once every six months if we are lucky. Only three to five people go on a delegation. I have not been at the last two because they did not suit. There need to be opportunities not just to attend interesting seminars on key topics but one must also get used to meeting people. Meeting members of the European affairs committee in Poland or Estonia once every six months is not enough. In the austerity era people would baulk at the idea of anyone travelling. I challenge anyone to say how spending three nights in Brussels in the Radisson RED hotel is somehow a jolly. It is not. There is hard work to be done there and long hours are required. We need to be prepared to defend that.
One of the very interesting things about the ongoing malaise that is Brexit is that we are seeing the positive result of taking the show on the road. One cannot conduct inter-European relations from one's home capital. The fact that the Government has had more than 2,000 meetings with its peers in other member states and the European institutions is quite obvious. It is shown in the level of solidarity that we have got. If we are truly going to buy into 60 more years of the European project, we need to be prepared and not just to go to Brussels or Strasbourg. One of the most interesting things I found out was not at a plenary in Brussels but at a civics meeting in Brindisi. It was about Calais. We are talking about migration, which was the dominant issue because it was local authorities that were literally picking people up off the beaches or who were managing "The Jungle" camp in Calais. The situation is completely alien to us sitting on this very windy, wet rock. I wish the best of luck to anyone to tries to swim to Ireland or a take a boat from Libya. It is just not possible. This level of discourse needs to happen.
Possibly for us as politicians the difficulty is taking all the excellent contributions the witnesses have made and the report of the task force, which is a good one, and making it more relevant to the people. That is our job. We are the conduit between the population at large and the institutions of Government. It is not a very easy thing to do. One of the things mentioned by Dr. Schön-Quinlivan is that the Commission always talks about communication being key. I do not necessarily think the Commission needs to communicate more, I think it needs to be less balanced. I think it needs to sell Europe a bit more. The Commission spent 20 years paying Nigel Farage to tell everyone how bad it is, to blatantly lie about the role of the European Commission when it comes to straight or bendy bananas or air pillows in cereals when he was talking about something else. It was good to hear the comments by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, following the collapse of the bridge in Italy. The collapse of the bridge was horrible and I am very sympathetic to those affected but it is about time Europe stood up for itself, and it is about time domestic politicians and Heads of Government stood up for Europe as well. It is very easy to blame Brussels or other state actors and that is what gifts the rise of far-right populism on the Continent and far-left populism in this country because it gives them an opportunity.
On a completely separate note, I pay credit to Tony Dodd, who moved on from this committee. He is enjoying his first meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. He was an excellent help to me and all other members and I would just like to put it on the record. I again thank the witnesses for their contributions.
That was some vision outlined by Senator Richmond. It was a very interesting and constructive contribution. I thank both witnesses for their presentations. This committee is examining the future of Europe generally. We have had various witnesses before us in recent months. I thank the witnesses for the work they have done on the task force and for their constructive criticism. As a committee we must consider the report of the task force and make our views known in due course to the Commission. It is a debate well worth having.
Dr. Schön-Quinlivan referred to populist political parties being on the rise in the European Union. She also referred to the democratic and legitimacy deficits. They are the two big issues. She hit the nail on the head in that regard and we must consider those issues.
Previous speakers, perhaps predictably given that we are in the national Parliament and we are national parliamentarians, spoke about the role of national parliaments, but I wish to extend the discussion a little. I recall that after the defeat of some of the referendums here in Ireland on the various treaties, there was a big discussion about what the national Parliament could do to bring Europe closer to the citizens. One reform was that prior to a European Council meeting the Taoiseach must come into the Dáil and outline what he intends to do at the meeting and then he must report back to the Dáil in the following week on what took place. That has been a very good initiative and there have been other initiatives in terms of scrutinising legislation. I wish to ask a broad question and the witnesses should feel free to answer honestly. How are we doing as a national Parliament in terms of scrutinising European legislation and communicating Europe to citizens? Are there one or two more things they think we as a national Parliament could be doing to improve the democratic and legitimacy deficits? Do they have any suggestions to make to us and could we be doing more?
I thank the witnesses for their very interesting contributions. I will follow up on some of the comments made by Senator Richmond. Subsidiarity is at the heart of it. The problem the European Union faces is that in its original form, namely, the European Coal and Steel Community, one had effectively a group of nations with a very similar background and socioeconomic situation that wanted to come together and that had structures in place in terms of their own parliamentary democracies to enable that to happen. They fashioned a Europe that really fitted with where they stood. We then got to the point where the European Union expanded following the end of the Cold War, where there was a very sustained expansion of the Union to try to consolidate the view of what would become Europe. The problem then was the combination of an economic recession and the way in which politics works. Everybody sat back and took their foot off the accelerator and a situation was allowed to develop where we now have within the European Union a wide, disparate group of countries, some of which have almost no interconnectivity at all, apart from the fact that they have membership of the European Union. Some of them view subsidiarity as a way to address that.
It is quite interesting. This report highlights that subsidiarity is most popular among regional and local administrations which, ironically, want to disentangle themselves from the federal state they are in so they can be more closely aligned to a super-federal state. That says a lot about the way in which they view subsidiarity or the way in which, in a longer-term situation, subsidiarity will become an issue for them.
In terms of the reform process, Europe needs to do two things. First, it needs to more clearly try to define and lock in what it is as an institution. Connectivity with the people is important but I think we sometimes get a big hung up on this. I lived for a period in the United States and most people in Albany, New York, cared most what happened in Albany and did not give a monkey's about what was happening in Washington D.C. because that is what directly impacts on their life. We have to be realistic. As long as the EU is a confederation of member states, most citizens are going to be more interested in what their national governments are doing in terms of what directly impacts on their lives. What Europe has missed a trick on is that because it has a problem defining what it is, it then has a problem selling what it is to the people of Europe. One of the greatest ironies of the whole Brexit situation is that it is only when a country's citizenry was facing down the barrel of the gun of losing what it means to be European that we saw a discussion on European issues and values taking place, and more discussion probably took place in the UK than in any of the other 27 member states.
I am very much in agreement with much of what Dr. Schön-Quinlivan stated. The heart of it, I believe, is that subsidiarity goes more towards the member state than the region. However, it has to be hinged off with regard to the definition of what is the future of Europe. The latter is the key question. This must be in terms not just of a Europe with benefits but a Europe that looks at this and says, "If you do go off the rails and you do decide to disavow the common value, there is a consequence." So far, we have been too scared to go down that route. The process that was launched in recent days will take so many years to complete that half of us sitting in this room will not even be alive to see the end of it. That is not a process for dealing with a problem within the European Union.
I agree that Dr. Schön-Quinlivan made an excellent presentation and covered every aspect of the issue with which we are dealing. It is a matter of grave concern to ourselves, looking back and looking forward, especially in light of recent political events and the way things work between the European, national and local levels. There is the question of how decisions are to be made and how we are to be the policy makers of the future, whether that is at the European, national or local level. There are so many things to be taken into consideration and such work, including what the witnesses are doing, is very much to be appreciated.
I particularly appreciate the school visits programme with its question-and-answer sessions, which is very important. I have been going to schools since 1999, not just colleges and secondary schools but national schools also, and I place great significance on this. Young people take a great interest. If we give time to young people, they will give time to listening and asking questions. Sometimes the questions asked in a national school can be very thought provoking and are a reflection of what parents are saying at home. It is a very important function and I would encourage everybody to engage in this. The problem all of us have is time but, whether one is an elected representative or an official in a Department, it is my view that if one gives to young people, it will pay dividends in the future. The young are the really important during these schools visits because they are the policymakers, officials and politicians of the future. It is also they who will be creating jobs. Great significance should be attached to giving them information to consider.
Does Dr. Schön-Quinlivan agree with the task force that there are no policy areas which should be re-delegated, or are there are policy areas that she thinks should, could or would be re-delegated? I invite Dr. Schön-Quinlivan to respond. While I do not want to rush her, we would appreciate it if she could condense her responses a little.
Dr. Emmanuel Schön-Quinlivan:
I will go in reverse and try to cover as many of the questions as possible. On the Chairman's question on policy areas that could be re-delegated to the national level, this links up with a few of the points made regarding the purpose of the European Union or the question of what is the European Union. I will share my opinion. The EU proves its added value, which the task force report mentions quite a bit. I agree with the task force report that there is no area that should be re-delegated. I agree with what Emmanuel Macron mentioned last September, namely, national sovereignty is not effective any more and we should think of European sovereignty and this idea of shared sovereignty that was at the heart of the European Coal and Steel Community. I very much agree with those positions. This does not mean that the national parliaments and the sub-national levels do not have a role in policy shaping and policy-making, but it means we can be effective at the European level much more than at the national level.
This is also because of how the EU has developed. We discovered, as the economic recession hit us, that we needed to act together and that acting individually was not going to work. On this idea of re-delegating, I know Dr. Barrett thought it odd that the Commission would automatically put forward, almost at the start, this idea to the effect that it was not going to re-delegate, even though it was looking at doing less more efficiently. I do not think it is odd. It fits perfectly with the decade of reports put out by the Commission. It protects its turf and I would have been extremely surprised if it was the opposite way. Therefore, I was not surprised. They did not even pretend they were going to envisage re-delegation.
Dr. Emmanuel Schön-Quinlivan:
They did not pretend. They just said, "Potentially, on the implementation front, we might look at implementing a bit more subsidiarity, but that is it."
I will discuss the school programme at the end because it is something I am involved in. Deputy Brophy mentioned that the EU needs to lock in what it is within the context of the debate on the future of Europe and what the EU is aspiring to be. Again, I think this fits back to what Senator Richmond was pointing towards with reference to the speech given by Emmanuel Macron at the Sorbonne last September, which was extremely rich in terms of ideas and of visions for the future of the EU. However, he pronounced it three days before Angela Merkel discovered that she would not have a majority and, therefore, he did not get the backing of a strong German Government to try to implement the reforms he laid out. His idea focuses on European sovereignty and asks that we would build a Europe which breaks away from what we have at the moment through a series of concentric circles. In terms of the five scenarios laid out by Jean-Claude Juncker, Macron is looking at doing more, but only certain of us will do more at the start. In other words, the centre circle of the concentric circles will move towards further integration, and then the second circle and the third circle.
This is why he mentioned the UK, though not in the context of Brexit. He did not actually utter the word "Brexit". He mentioned the UK and I think his intention was to have the UK sitting in the third circle.
What is very important about Macron's option, which Dr. Schön-Quinlivan has encapsulated in the way she has answered, is that there is a perception among members states, including Ireland and the various smaller member states, that his vision for Europe is really a Franco-German vision. Fundamentally, that is one of the biggest worries for Europe. As someone who is pro-European and who believes in the concept of a developed European sovereignty in conjunction with the idea of member states, mine is not a Franco-German vision. Chancellor Merkel is now in a position whereby she is restrained in terms of what she can say. When we heard President Macron or Chancellor Merkel in the past, however, a large selection of colleagues did not hear a European vision being described. They heard a Franco-German position that was almost harking back to the old days and saying we must do it their way or take the high road. That is one of the huge risks facing Europe. They do not see the newer, broader EU, or maybe they just do not want to see it.
Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan:
But it is an alternative vision for the future of Europe. Macron is very much pitching the European campaign now along the lines of him together with Merkel pushing for a more integrated Europe on certain issues like defence and fiscal integration to develop the economic and monetary union, versus Orbán, Kasinsky, Babiš, Salvini and Conte in Italy and so on. I understand what the Deputy is saying. When I did my interviews at the European Commission in 2015, all I heard was that there was a strong feeling in member states that the European Commission is German, that it is a German Commission offering German solutions to the economic recession and no other country has a voice. We need them to have those visions offered by politicians.
Senator Richmond is not here. Will I still answer the question he posed?
Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan:
Senator Richmond and another member mentioned communication and he suggested that the European Commission needed to be less balanced and should fight more to defend the case of Europe and what it does. I would agree but at the same time, at national level, domestic politicians do not do that. I have heard it in Ireland and France many times. During the economic crisis, I heard plenty of extreme criticism of the European Commission which I think, quite honestly, went overboard. In France, it was exactly the same. The European semester involved France offering further structural reforms. They were required but the French finance Minister absolutely rejected them and stated that France is a sovereign country, when actually it is signed up to the European semester. We are meant to implement those rules yet we have one of the biggest countries, and a founding member state, contradicting them publicly through its finance Minister. That is not the right way.
In terms of the Commission being less balanced, I totally agree but I do think domestic politicians have a big role to play, not only in fighting for Europe but in educating the citizens as well. This brings me to the schools programme that the Chairman mentioned. I was financed by the European Commission to develop a schools programme at primary level. The blue star programme currently in place is not child friendly or teacher friendly, in my opinion. Teachers are interested in Brexit and can hear what is happening, but have no knowledge and do not know how to go about devising their lesson plans and so on. I have devised the programme with a primary school teacher and, as the Chairman mentioned, I have piloted it in three schools. My role is not to defend the European Union. My role, as an academic and a teacher, is to educate. I put out to them and we discussed the positives, the negatives, Brexit, Northern Ireland, and these kids are six, seven, 11 and 12 years old. It is amazing what questioning comes from them. I would say it is not from the parents because the parents know very little about the European Union in general. It is interesting to see their reasoning. Domestic politicians have a duty to educate citizens when it comes to understanding the role of the European Commission. In the Brexit debate, we heard claims that the European Commission imposes decisions on us. The European Commission does not do that; it makes proposals that are decided by the MEPs and the Council. That is a task which falls to domestic politicians.
To answer Deputy Haughey's point on how we are doing in terms of communicating Europe, and what this national Parliament can do, I was saying over lunch that I came to Dublin three or four years ago on Europe Day and I was shocked not to see the EU flag flying above the Dáil. Those are symbols that can trigger the European citizens' interest and make them wonder what is happening. Nobody knows about Europe Day or, by extension, about the different aspects of Ireland's engagement with the Union and so on. On that point, this national Parliament could do a lot better through symbolic actions but also through communication with the citizens.
There was a question about the 2004 enlargement. The Deputy was saying that up until the 2004 enlargement, there were quite similar members in the European Union and that the enlargement brought in a different group of countries. However, the economic crisis only hit older member states. Let us imagine the 2004 enlargement had not happened. The economic crisis would have hit Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy, exactly the same way, and the migration crisis would have just hit the borders closer to Italy, etc. I am not exactly sure why-----
I was really referring to the democratic institutions within certain member states and their ability to observe EU norms, particularly, say, Poland or Hungary. We had a headlong rush to bring in member states, to lock them into a European way of thinking and get them operating through institutions. Unfortunately, because that integration process was not really developed, when governments in those have states changed, they have shown a fairly healthy disregard for how member states should behave in terms of judicial independence, monetary policy and the separation between central banks, parliaments and the executives. I was really referring to that aspect of it. There is a risk that some of the older member states could also drift off with the election of populist parties. When the French finance Minister states that his country is not going to observe a rule, there is very little consequence. If a smaller member state says that, there is a feeling that there seem to be much greater consequences.
However, there are far greater consequences for a smaller member state which makes such a statement. The European Union did not work hard enough to bed in some of the democratic institutions in the newer member states such that they would be sufficiently strong to withstand what we are now seeing and trying to deal with.
Dr. Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan:
I agree that they were brought in too quickly. The rhetoric at the time was that we had a duty to bring them in. There was also a race towards NATO membership. The countries joined NATO before they joined the European Union, but the events were in close proximity and there was some rivalry between the two international organisations. The countries were brought in too quickly, having regard to the need for compliance with the Copenhagen criteria set out in 1993. It is clear that they were brought in as a political message. Thereafter, we tried to play catch-up and now find ourselves in the current position. I am not sure that is the reason for populism developing to such an extent in those countries, but they have not yet developed a strong attachment to European Union values. The Deputy mentioned that there should be consequences, but the consequences have not been sufficiently strong or timely.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I will try to be as quick as I can.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan expressed concerns about the evenness of the consultation process. I agree that a certain amount was due to the speed with which the task force had to report. Of course, the European Parliament refused to participate in the exercise because it was led by the Commission, which detracted from the membership. I have mentioned the deficiencies in gender balance, regional representation and so on which affected the report and led to an over-emphasis on regional questions. It reminds me a little of the Amsterdam treaty which was supposed to provide for the enlargement of the European Union but which ended up dealing with justice and home affairs questions which needed to be addressed. It did a great job in reforming these areas, but it did not do what it was supposed to do, namely, to prepare the institutions for enlargement, which is why the Nice treaty was needed. This report does a great job in telling us how we should involve regional and local authorities, but subsidiarity and other issues remain to be addressed.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan's point about fragmentation is well taken. The danger of fragmentation has never been greater. Curiously, Brexit is doing wonders for the avoidance of fragmentation as it has scared the living daylights out of all members of the European Union, apart from the United Kingdom. It is probably part of the reason the approval rate in Ireland for the European Union is 92%.
Solving the insoluble problem of democratic participation will be key. Obviously, as Dr. Schön-Quinlivan indicated, increasing the powers of the European Parliament only will not be enough. A range of reforms are needed. The Lisbon treaty was a good start in beginning to empower national parliaments, but many other things need to be done. Rather like curing cancer, there is not one answer but a series of answers.
Senator Neale Richmond referred to the European Committee of the Regions. Differences between its members have crippled the committee and explain why it has not been more empowered. With all due respect to county councils in Ireland, Irish councillors sit on the committee alongside the President of the Bavarian Government who thinks his role and area are more important than Ireland because Bavaria has a bigger population. It is very difficult to make such an institution or body work. It is almost impossible to cure the problem of democratic representation at a European level, but we must do so because there is no alternative.
I take the Senator's point about parliamentarians having to travel abroad in order to get their job done. One thing I hate about media coverage of parliamentarians is the league tables of how much money each spends on travel, as if those who spend the most money are the worst parliamentarians. Frequent travel is often necessary to enable them to do their jobs and those who travel the most are sometimes the best parliamentarians. We need a more mature attitude to the issue on the part of some in the media.
Senator Neale Richmond also raised the issue of how to make the report more relevant. It could be used as a fund of ideas. For instance, the proposal regarding national parliaments doing something about the Commission's work programme or the European semester could be taken up by the Houses of the Oireachtas or Oireachtas committees which could call witnesses and hold hearings on the European semester each year. The same could be done on the work programme, on which the views of groups worth hearing on the issue such as social groups, trade unions and so on could be canvassed. All such groups have a view on the Commission's work programme and, in particular, the European semester and budget. The proposal might be worth pursuing.
Deputy Seán Haughey asked for a review of how we were doing. Am I allowed to advertise? The Deputy should purchase my book which has just been published by Manchester University Press.
Professor Gavin Barrett:
I wish there was, but the publishers only gave me three or four copies. I will synopsise it.
On how we are doing, Ireland used to be categorised fairly as a slow adapter, but that has changed and we have improved during the years. That improvement has been aided by various measures such as the reforms introduced and legislation passed after the rejection of the Nice treaty. That treaty and its subsidiarity reforms led to much reform in Ireland and elsewhere through which parliaments received more powers. However, some restrictions apply to the Irish Parliament. Under the electoral system, members will not be rewarded electorally for the excellent work being done by this committee. Under the system of proportional representation with a single transferable vote, constituency work is always better rewarded than committee work. However, the work done by this committee and others is of vital importance.
On what could be done, there could be greater involvement on matters such as the Commission's work programme and the European semester. A greater effort could be put into trying to influence things at European level. Getting in early enough to do so is vital. Brexit is of great importance. There should be more discussion of how well prepared people are for a no-deal Brexit which we might be facing. Are we prepared for such an eventuality in terms of customs? How well prepared are the farming industry and employers? It would be very useful for representatives of such groups to be brought before an Oireachtas committee to communicate their concerns and views in that regard. I acknowledge that a certain amount of work has been done in that regard, but perhaps more could be done.
Like every other parliament, the Oireachtas must decide on what it wishes to concentrate. Dr. Schön-Quinlivan mentioned the political dialogue with the Commission. Does the Parliament wish to participate in it? It may think it is not worth its while. Some of the most active parliaments such as that in Denmark and the Eduskunta in Finland do not participate because they have decided to concentrate their energies elsewhere. Every parliament must decide for itself. Each has limited resources and must decide what it most wants to do. Some thought should be given to the areas on which the Oireachtas should concentrate.
I am somewhat concerned by the relative lack of control over Ministers in deciding things in the European Union. As members are aware, we do not have a scrutiny reserve system such as that in place in the United Kingdom or a mandate system such as that in place in Denmark and Finland. The general result is that Irish Ministers operate on a very long leash, with very little parliamentary scrutiny. The Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Helen McEntee, reports to the Oireachtas on some Council meetings, as has been the practice for a succession of Parliaments, but the Oireachtas has no control over decisions made at many other Council meetings. I do not know what the solution is to that problem because there is little pressure exerted by the Legislature or the Executive to introduce a scrutiny reserve system. Certain committees have recommended its introduction, but it has never been done. I understand the motivation behind it, but it results in one of the primary tasks of national parliaments - controlling the Executive, in particular on what happens at Council meetings - not being carried out. There is further detail on that issue in my book.
Deputy Colm Brophy raised concerns about central and eastern European countries. Unfortunately, there has been less leverage over them since they joined the European Union.
I am not sure it was possible to hold them out for longer than they were. They needed to be brought into NATO and the European Union quickly; therefore, there was a political imperative in that regard. It came with certain disadvantages and risks which we are seeing coming to fulfilment in the way described by the Deputy. We need to work out ways, of which perhaps funding is one, whereby we can get around the fact that the rule of law mechanisms in Article 7 of the treaty are manifestly inadequate, principally owing to the voting systems in place. There is no doubt that something must be done desperately. Perhaps funding is one of the ways whereby it might be done.
The Chairman asked about areas that could be redelegated. I was glad when Professor Schön-Quinlivan spoke first because it gave me a few minutes to think about it, but I have not succeeded in coming up with any area that should be redelegated. However, there are certain areas where the density of regulation must be reconsidered, for example, banking regulation. There was too little regulation of banking matters at European level before the crisis, but we probably have too much now. There is overlapping regulation, with a series of requirements that at this stage would frighten someone, if he or she was the legal adviser to a bank. There are certain areas where less density is badly needed. We must also examine how legislation is implemented. A relative of mine who is a farmer received a letter on one occasion telling him how much nitrogen his cattle were allowed to produce. It was set out in detail. It implemented a directive at European level, but that is not how one implements such a directive; therefore, that issue must be examined. Another matter that must be examined is implementation by statutory instruments. Vast quantities of European regulations are implemented here via statutory instrument and we are still not controlling it properly. We have to think of a mechanism for doing so. I do not have much advice to offer on redelegation, but there are certainly many other things we could consider.
I cannot let this matter go without making an important point. In retrospect, we say the European Union enlarged too soon. Let us consider, however, the situation 20 years ago or so and the reunification of Germany. What were the options? Should it have been left hanging loose, floating alone in that region? Should the other countries adjacent to the western Balkans have been left to swing around by themselves, floating in what were very volatile circumstances? Where would they have gone? I am strongly of the view that there were no other options. However, the vision has changed and it is no longer what it was. The emphasis was on togetherness. We were all in this together, sharing with each other and a positive contribution to make, but that is gone. Each member state now seems to be more introverted. The European Union is becoming introverted. That should not be the case. Unless each member state reflects the vision of the European Union, there is no sense in having it because it will not work. We should list this item for debate on another day and invite our guests to attend. I foresee a massive disaster if things go wrong. There is no other option.
To clarify, I did not say or advocate that the European Union enlarged too soon. I said I supported the view that the European Union should have enlarged quickly, but the issue is what happened next. The foot was taken off the accelerator in embedding the process after the countries in question were brought into the European Union. Much of the work that was done in bringing them in was not followed through and we allowed them to hang there. Twenty years later we saw the implications.
I thank Professor Barrett and Professor Schön-Quinlivan for giving of their time. It has been a very useful meeting. There was no disrespect on the part of those members who were unable to attend or stay for the entire meeting. It was due to the constraints of other business in the Dáil and the Seanad. However, the proceedings have been recorded and will be available to them. It is an important tool in the work we do. We appreciate Professor Barrett and Professor Schön-Quinlivan giving of their time.