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European Community

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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Political Co-Operation

45.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the development of political co-operation in the Council of Ministers and amongst the permanent representatives.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Members for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) on 22nd March.

Is the Minister aware that the United States Administration now seems rather chary about giving the sort of competent political leadership that the West so badly needs? Will the Government therefore take the opportunity of the prospect of enlargement of the EEC to work in every possible way for a stronger European voice in world affairs, whether through the strengthening of the permanent representatives or perhaps through the introduction of a special political secretariat and, most important of all, through a diminution of the rather arbitrary distinction between EEC meetings and so-called political co-operation meetings?

I do not agree with the hon. Member in his assessment of the United States Administration. I believe that that Administration are giving outstanding leadership in many crucial areas in world affairs. But in the Community, where we can constructively work together and bring our united voice to bear in the cause of world stability, peace and economic stability in international affairs, we are determined to do so. I can assure the hon. Member that the methods that are operating at the moment are proving completely satisfactory. In political co-operation, however, they are voluntary and, therefore, they are different from the other main activities of the EEC which are of a legal character.

Does my hon. Friend think that political co-operation can be extended to non-members of the Community or non-applicants, or does he feel that it would be better to have discussions with them within the framework of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe?

I am grateful for that question. Obviously, the practice of increasing the close communication and co-operation, where results can be achieved in a political sphere, is an important part of the life of the Community. But this must not be at the expense of effective collaboration with those outside the Community. Therefore, it is most important that we seek a means of continuing to make still more effective our relationship with other Western European countries which are not members of the Community. I think that the Council of Europe has an important contribution to make in that respect.

Do not recent events in Zaire confirm in dramatic fashion the imperative need for the Community to work out a concerted foreign policy towards the various problems of Africa?

One of the areas of policy in which political co-operation is working most successfully is that concerning the continent of Africa. There is a great deal of evaluation and discussion between us on that matter.

What steps are being taken by the Government to make sure that these discussions are held more openly so that the people of the United Kingdom may know what is being said and what commitments are being entered into in their name?

I can assure my hon. Friend that one of the things that preoccupies the Government about the life of the Community is the need for more open government about what the Community is undertaking. It is not for want of effort on our part that we have not made more progress in this respect. We have to get collective support for any changes. We do not yet have that kind of undertaking from other members of the Community, but we intend to persevere.

In view of the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), will the Government emulate the steps taken by our partners in Europe, particularly France and Germany, by sending British troops to protect the interests of British citizens, including schoolchildren, in Zambia? Is the Minister aware that almost the entire Zambian army is located on the Rhodesian frontier and that if the rebels passed through Zambia that could create havoc if British Army personnel were not present?

As the hon. Member will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with these matters at Question Time yesterday.

Will my hon. Friend reject not only the anti-Russian expressions from the Conservative Party but the anti-American sentiments that it has been expressing recently? Will he seek to ensure that political co-operation in Europe will be conveyed to the United Nations disarmament conference so that the Russians, the Americans and Europe can agree to reduce the massive waste in the arms race?

I agree that on the general posture in foreign policy the starting point for all that is relevant and realistic is the recognition of the strategic and economic interdependence of the world community, and the need not to indulge in xenophobic nationalism but to work effectively and positively on an international basis. A number of European countries are making a most important contribution to the Special Session on Disarmament. I am glad to say that we are adopting a high profile in that conference.

Does not the weakness lie in the very answer that the Minister of State gaveā€”that the Community is only a voice and that collaborative activity is to be seen and heard only in terms of exhortation? Is not the time coming when the European Community must match its enormous international economic impact with a much greater and more positive political position? Has not that become abundantly clear in the last week or 10 days, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said?

The right hon. Gentleman is correct in underlining that anything that we can do in this respect is on a basis of voluntary co-operation. The political role of the Community is not, as is the economic role, defined in the Treaty of Rome. But it is wrong to suggest that the Community's influence lies only in exhortation and that there is no effective action. For example, take the code of conduct which applies to South Africa. That is a practical policy that has been worked out. Take the Community's role in the CSCE. There is no doubt that by working together the Nine made an important contribution to the stand of the West as a whole.

Council Of Ministers

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what he proposes to put on the agenda of the next EEC Council of Foreign Ministers.

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the principal subjects he expects to discuss at the next meeting of Foreign Ministers of the European Community.

The usual written forecast of Council business was deposited on 23rd May and I except to make an oral statement tomorrow.

Will the Minister of State raise with his European colleagues the subject of the renegotiation of the common fisheries policy? Will he emphasise to them that on this occasion Britain is not being difficult but that the House and the nation are anxious to see the establishment of a viable and effective United Kingdom fishery industry? Will he explain to them that this means obtaining an exclusive 12-mile zone for coastal States and national control of the fishing effort up to 50 miles?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no one who participates in meetings of the Council of Ministers is unaware of the strength of feeling on this issue in all parts of the House. Ministers frequently represent this as graphically as possible to their colleagues. As I and my right hon. Friends have said more than once, we are determined that in any common fisheries policy that emerges the special needs of the British fishing industry shall be recognised. These needs cover items such as conservation, preference within a 50-mile zone, the need for recognition of our losses in distant waters and the fact that we contribute more than 60 per cent. of the fish stocks to what is known as the common fish pool.

When my hon. Friend meets the other Foreign Ministers, will he take up with them the way in which the Commission has reneged on the Multi-Fibre Arrangement and the way in which it proposes to allow additional low-cost imports from Portugal? Will he take up this point from the aspect that this matter is being carried through unconstitutionally and say that if these imports are not prevented the already shaky faith still held by a small minority of my constituents and other textile workers in the Common Market will disappear completely?

The Government are well aware of the human problems in many parts of the country associated with the textile industry. When the Council of Ministers works out the stand to be taken on multifibres or any other issue, we expect the Commission to fulfil the terms of its mandate and not to depart from it.

Will the Minister ensure that Africa is on the next agenda of the Council of Ministers so that African interests may be defended? We have just experienced a situation in which a so-called rebel force has driven Europeans out and succeeded in wrecking an African economy, at any rate temporarily. May it be clearly understood that Europe will clearly ensure that African interests are preserved by protecting European safety in Africa against anybody who attempts to attack it?

It is right to argue that the more effective we can become in working together with our friends and neighbours in protecting our legitimate interests and the well-being of our people, the better this will be. But I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with this matter fully at Question Time yesterday.

Is my hon. Friend aware that anybody who has been to Portugal recently will know that that fragile democracy is facing acute problems? Will he raise this matter with the Foreign Ministers and try to ensure that every possible assistance is given to that country, even if it means assisting its inhabitants on textiles?

I believe that in all parts of the House there is a deep commitment to preserving democracy and stability in Portugal. It is no good simply talking about the matter. If we are to achieve that aim, it is important to match our words with economic support. That in no way alters the fact that, after careful and detailed deliberation in the Council of Ministers, when a mandate is agreed for particular negotiations we expect the Commission to abide by its terms.

Do not recent events in several parts of the world, not only Africa, show that the Community now takes decisions on trade and finance which are of great political importance for Turkey, Portugal and Australasia but that it has not yet learnt how to use that economic strength to promote the broader interests of the West as a whole? Is not a concerted European policy in all areas of stress a matter not for the luxury of a leisurely debate but of urgent and absolute need?

If we can tackle political questions effectively in our mutual interests within the context of the political co-operation of the Nine, we must learn to do so, and we will want to do so. But we must not forget that the Treaty of Rome does not apply any disciplines or legal ramifications in this respect. Therefore, all that we can achieve has to be achieved on the basis of voluntary co-operation. The Government are determined to work at the problem.

Enlargement

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the latest state of the EEC negotiations on the admission of Greece, Spain and Portugal as full members.

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he remains satisfied with the progress being made towards the enlargement of the EEC.

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on enlargement of the Common Market.

Negotiations with Greece are continuing. The Community still hopes that these can be substantially completed by the end of this year. The Council is expected to have a first discussion of the Commission's opinion on Portugal in June. The opinion on Spain is expected at the end of this year or the beginning of next.

The Government's view continues to be that, as well as maintaining the momentum in the negotiations with Greece, the Community should make more rapid progress in its preparations for negotiations with Portugal and Spain.

In those negotiations will my hon. Friend press the case of the British textile and footwear workers in order to ensure that low-cost imports do not flood into the country by the admission of these members to the EEC?

We recognise the problems that exist for many people in this country, and we shall be looking to their interests in negotiations about enlargement or anything else.

What view has the Minister now formed about the necessary transitional period for Greece?

We have not yet reached the stage of reaching a transitional period. This will come at a later stage in the negotiations. But whether we are talking about Greece, Portugal or Spain, we do not feel bound by any particular pattern established in the past. We believe that it is important to find the solution that makes sense in the context of the country concerned.

Will the Government make the opening of the Gibraltar-Spanish frontier a precondition to the opening of negotiations with Spain? Is he aware that the people of Gibraltar have suffered long enough from this Spanish stupidity? If the Spaniards are to negotiate to come into the Community, they should show a bit of good will right now.

I have made plain to the House on previous occasions that we do not attach this as a precondition for our support of Spanish membership. What we find inconceivable is that once Spain became a member of the Community she would continue to behave towards Gibraltar in the way that she has behaved so far.

Does my hon. Friend accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the strong words of support that he has given to the enlargement of the Community by the addition of these three countries? Is he further aware that we regard this process as a strengthening of democracy in those countries and as an important contribution by the richer countries of Northern Europe in seeking to end what will otherwise become a North-South conflict between the poorer and the richer countries?

I am grateful for that question. The position of Her Majesty's Government, and, indeed, the position of every Government in the Community, is that we have a heavy responsibility to support the cause of democracy in the three applicant States and that enlargement will be an important way of achieving this end.

Does the Minister realise that the cause of democracy in Great Britain is not advanced by avoidable unemployment? Will he ensure that the other Ministers in the Council of Ministers are supplied with a copy of the report issued by the Trade and Industry Committee on the subject of fisheries? Will he see to it that we do not make any sacrifices of our interests in the textile industry when admitting further countries to the EEC? Lastly, does he believe that admitting Greece to the Community without Turkey will make the situation in Cyprus better rather than worse?

There are a number of points to answer in that supplementary question. Greece is an applicant for membership of the Community; Turkey is not. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is not reflecting the reality of the situation.

On the point related to the social implications for Britain and industries that find themselves in difficulty, I assure the hon. Gentleman that all Ministers with responsibility in these areas are determined to leave the Community partners in no doubt about what needs to be done.

As for the general importance of economic affairs, I emphasise that it is because of British insistence, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that in the next meeting of the European Council the need for the right economic policies for growth and for battling effectively against unemployment is at the top of the agenda.

Community Institutions

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many different European Community institutions he has visited since assuming his present office.

During the British Presidency in 1977 my right hon. Friend visited the European Assembly. He regularly takes part in meetings of the Council of Ministers and is in frequent contact with members of the Commission.

In view of the commercial contribution which this country is now making to the EEC, does the Minister feel that it is now time for the Government to press for at least one institution of the EEC to be based in London? If he agrees with that suggestion, which institution would he advocate?

I do not know about London, but we have secured JET for Culham. That is a significant development.

When my hon. Friend has the opportunity to meet members of the Commission, will he raise the question of the bad effects which hidden subsidies have on industry in Europe and unemployment in this country? Many people who have submitted contracts for shipbuilding and ship repairing are being undercut by European countries. Does this not mean that those European countries are receiving heavy subsidies from their Governments?

The sensible way for the Community to tackle these problems of industry under stress and associated unemployment matters is to work out rational solutions to maximise the opportunities in employment, not only in the short term but in the long term, in all member countries.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied, from his contacts with the Council of Ministers, that it is an effective instrument for safeguarding the interests of the EEC nations on a world scale? Is he satisfied that in Africa, in the Middle East and in defence matters the Council of Ministers of the EEC has genuinely done a job that required to be done to safeguard the security and the interests of our various nationals outside the EEC territories?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his particular knowledge of foreign affairs, will understand that there are different multilateral institutions with different priority tasks. For world security there is the United Nations, and for more immediate defence we are deeply committed to NATO. The purpose of the European Economic Community was originally economic and social collaboration, but on this has been built the aim of political co-operation. We argue that the development of voluntary political co-operation within the Community is of the highest priority for us, but we cannot change history. The Treaty of Rome places no obligations on our fellow members in this respect. We have to win them into voluntary co-operation.