Cook says Europe needs second parliament to curb bureaucrats

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A SECOND chamber for Europe made up of MPs is being considered as part of a fundamental review of policy on Europe ordered by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Cook has ordered two key officials to carry out a "brainstorming" exercise on ways of limiting the power of Brussels over the national member states, to be put forkward at the Vienna summit later this year.

He believes that a new forum for members of the national parliaments could act as a second check, alongside the European Parliament, on the power of the unelected Brussels bureaucrats.

"We need to look at ways in which the national parliaments meet together regularly," he said.

"The European Parliament does a very useful job, but the missing link is tying in the national parliaments with the work of Europe."

Tory Euro-sceptics scoffed at the idea of a second chamber for Europe. John Redwood said last night it would revive an unelected European chamber that had been abolished, and insisted that the Westminster Parliament needed more checks on what ministers were doing in Europe. There will be suspicions among Euro-sceptics that it could create another talking shop in Europe, with big expenses but little action.

Mr Cook's review of European policy is being carried out within the Foreign Office, but he has carefully tried to avoid a clash with 10 Downing Street.

The Foreign Secretary has embraced the Prime Minister's phrase about the need for a "third way" on Europe. He has put in charge of the review Robert Cooper, the second-in-command at the Bonn embassy, and Richard Clarke, head of the Foreign Office policy unit.

Mr Cook said: "There is a democratic deficit in Europe - people don't feel that Europe is accountable to them. They feel that institutions are remote and don't pay any attention to their view.

"The only way you can meet that deficit is by tackling it via democratic institutions in which the public have confidence and with which they identify.

"This is first of all their parliaments, and secondly the regional governments of the various states. So the way that you reconnect Europe with popular, legitimate and democatic support is through these democratic forums which are vibrant."

Mr Cook belives that making Europe more accountable will help to erase the image of the EU being concerned with regulations on straight bananas and outlawing Women's Institute jam.

His remarks in the New Statesman will confirm the impression that Mr Cook is shifting decisively in favour of Britain's entry to the single currency by answering fears about the drift towards a federal Europe with plans for more democratic accountability.

The Foreign Secretary said the longer the euro was in place and a success, "the more the economic balance will tilt towards Britain joining rather than standing on the sidelines".

Whitehall sources said last night the idea of a second chamber for Europe was not official policy and was merely being floated as part of the review.

Another objective Mr Cook listed is to replace directives issued by the European Commission with European standards that allow nation states more flexibility.