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Matrix Thursday, 15 October, 1998, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Europe
Council of Ministers
Presenter Vivian White discovers the European Council of Ministers - one of the secrets of the New British Constitution
When the UK joined the European Community it signed up to a Treaty which looked forward to the 'ever closer union' of Europe.

The British Constitution would never be the same: Westminster would share power with Brussels and the three Brussels powerhouses - the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament - would become more and more significant in the government of Britain.

Eurosceptics insist that the degree to which the British Constitution would be changed was never clearly advertised or admitted. Europhiles say it was, and that British politicians and commentators should have taken more notice of, and more interest in, Europe.

In the last programme in the Matrix of Power series, both Eurosceptics and Europhiles, from their different perspectives, debate how to reform and redesign the Brussels institutions themselves and the way they "fit" with the "old" Westminster constitution.

Oliver Letwin
Euro -Scrutiny by an 'invisible' Committee: Oliver Letwin
Eurosceptic Conservative MP and party spokesman on Constitutional Affairs, Oliver Letwin, presents a bleak picture of the effectiveness of Westminster's scrutiny of the mass of Brussels legislation - the directives and regulations, made in the regular meetings of the Council of Ministers - with British ministers present.

Mr Letwin is a member of one of the two Commons Standing Committees on European legislation which work in harness with a Select Committee.

The time his Committee gets to do its job of scrutiny is "pitifully slight," he says, the committee's work is "almost invisible" so what British ministers do in Brussels around the Council of Ministers is hardly affected..

The Modernisation Committee of the Commons - set up by the present government - has already said it thinks it would be a good idea to set up an office for the Select Committee in Brussels, staffed by Commons Clerks - an outpost of the Palace of Westminster.

'Cook's Chamber'

Robin Cook
The foreign secretary- dreaming of Cook's Chamber?
In the programme, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook goes much further He talks about MPs themselves going to Brussels to take part along with members of all the national parliaments of the EU in a new Brussels institution.

It could be a Committee of National Parliaments, or a fully fledged second chamber of the existing supranational European Parliament. Mr Cook won't say.

The point is, he says: "What we need to is break down the idea that over here we have a British Parliament and over there there's something called 'Europe.' The British parliament is part of Europe and should be playing a part in Europe."

And the existing European Parliament isn't the complete answer. Call it 'Cook's Chamber', if you like.

ken Clarke
Clarke backs Cook over new Euro chamber
Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory Chancellor, backs the foreign secretary. He says that though he's always been against the idea in the past, now he's coming round to it. "If Westminster cannot improve its own participation in the process, then I ... would agree with Robin Cook."

'The motor of Europe'

At the end of this October in the small Austrian town of Poertschach, Euro-institutions will be discussed at an informal EU summit.

And Mr Cook has another idea as well - he wants to reform the relationship between the Council of National Ministers and the supranational European Commission.

At present the Council formally legislates, and passes laws, but the 20 members of the Commission always "initiate" proposals - a right they jealously guard.

Leon Brittan
Brittain backs the Commission
Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan says the Commission is the "motor" of Europe, which will of course be driven in a manner pleasing to national governments in the Council.

Mr Letwin is not so easily pleased. He says that given a free choice he would abolish the Commission altogether. But of course he doesn't have that choice. The Commission can't so easily be disinvented.

What Mr Cook proposes as his solution is to keep the Commission effectively more subordinate to the regular six-monthly Council of Heads of Governments.

"What they do require is perhaps a greater strategic direction from the Council of Ministers," says Mr Cook. "Actually I think the Commission would probably welcome that."

Perhaps. Listen carefully for the champagne corks popping in the Commission's Breydel building, after the programme has been broadcast.

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