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European Community

Volume 15: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1981

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Political Co-Operation

39.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what proposals he has to develop initiatives for closer political co-operation within the European Economic Community.

41.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he is satisfied with the machinery that exists for political co-operation between European Economic Community Foreign Ministers.

A year ago my right hon. and noble Friend took the initiative in proposing that the Foreign Ministers of the Ten should re-examine the operation of political co-operation. The results of that work are contained in the London "Report on European Political Co-operation", which was agreed by Foreign Ministers of the Ten on 13 October and has been published as Cmnd. 8424.

We shall continue to look at ways of further improving political co-operation. Meanwhile, the most important contribution that we can make is to ensure that the machinery that exists is well used. That is what we have tried to achieve during the United Kingdom Presidency.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that comprehensive answer and wish him well in the development of the work. Can he say further, specifically on recent developments that mean that we must have a united position in the Middle East, whether, as President of the Council of Ministers, the Foreign Secretary has been able to sort out the rather unusual utterance of the French Foreign Minister? Can he confirm that that does not reflect the Presidential opinion and is another spontaneous outburst?

I referred earlier, in answer to another question, to yesterday's declaration by the Ten of our continued adherence to the Venice declaration and our support for the four countries of the Ten contributing to the Sinai force. That is a good example of political co-operation and arose from the fact that the Foreign Ministers of the Ten were meeting in London yesterday and the day before.

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the EEC Foreign Ministers are united on an approach to the Polish crisis and whether he has any information about future food supplies to Poland?

Yes, Sir. Again, there was an agreed communiqué given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the Ten's views on Poland. The position about future food supplies has been agreed among the Ten and is straightforward. Existing undertakings and arrangements will continue, so far as they can. With the Polish border closed there are certain difficulties in moving anything into or out of Poland. However, no new agreements or undertakings will be made until the situation becomes a little clearer. That is the position of the Ten.

In view of Israel's continuing expansionism, will the right hon. Gentleman institute a review within the EEC of its financial and trading agreements with Israel with a view to having them abrogated?

There will be no problem about studying our future attitude towards Israel. The events of the past 24 hours are newly on us and I take note of what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I am sure that that will happen, because all our policies towards Middle East matters are, to use a Civil Service phrase, "under constant review". That means what it says and it is happening as of today, because there is a meeting of the political directors now going on.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has never been more important that we should act in concert with our EEC allies and act with resolution? Reverting to the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), may I ask my right hon. Friend to discuss with other EEC Foreign Ministers the summoning of the Soviet ambassadors in every EEC capital to make it plain how gravely we view the Polish situation?

Of course I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. He need not be under any misapprehension. The Soviet Government are perfectly aware of the views, not only of Britain and the Ten, but of the United States and all other free countries.

British Presidency

40.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what progress has been made in resolving differences within the European Community during the British Presidency.

The main preoccupation of our Presidency has been the 30 May mandate, on which we have made a determined effort to resolve differences. In this context, as requested by the European Council, an informal meeting of Community Foreign Ministers, under the chairmanship of my noble Friend, was held at Lancaster House on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The purpose of the meeting was to consider the four outstanding issues on the 30 May mandate—milk policy, Mediterranean agriculture, a financial guideline for CAP expenditure and the problem of unacceptable budgetary situations. The Foreign Ministers had a useful discussion, though they were not able to reach final agreement. They decided that the next step was to invite the President of the Commission to make revised proposals for guidelines on the four points in the light of their discussion. They agreed to hold a further special meeting to consider these proposals as early as possible in January and, at any rate, before 18 January. It will now be for the Belgian Presidency to carry forward the work on the mandate. We for our part will give the fullest possible support to its efforts to reach an early solution.

During our Presidency we have taken forward discussions on many other difficult matters, not without success, for example in developing political co-operation, and the negotiations on enlargement.

Has the Government's experience of the Presidency resulted in their developing any sort of attitude towards the brevity of the six-month period, or a consideration of, for example, the idea of having an overlapping Presidency covering a period of 18 months and therefore being better able to sustain initiatives? The right hon. Gentleman said that enlargement had been carried forward. Can he say in what way that has been done, because it seems to me that there has not been any notable progress in connection with Spain's accession?

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the six-month period. It is short, particularly if, during any country's six-months Presidency, there are first the summer holidays and then Christmas. That cuts down the period much further. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a case for considering whether the period should be extended. However, it has not been and we give up our Presidency, as the hon. Gentleman knows, on 31 December.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about enlargement, because during the period of our Presidency many more dossiers were delivered to the Spanish and Portuguese, their replies obtained and the matter is being carried forward. I fully understand the impatience of Spain and Portugal to move these matters forward more quickly. We have sought to push them forward as fast as we can. They recognise that during our Presidency we have made as much progress as could be expected.

While recognising the Government's efforts during their Presidency, may I ask my right hon. Friend to say why we always appear to come off worst in the differences that occur between ourselves and other European countries? I particularly refer to the renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement, in which one of the basic issues in the mandate is the level of quotas for the next MFA, which will be established on a base level of 1982. That will undoubtedly lead to substantial additional unemployment, with the loss of a further 30,000 jobs in Britain. Will my right hon. Friend consider the real interests of Britain, which are often different from those of European mainland countries?

My hon. Friend pays great attention to these matters and he knows better than to say that. He knows that the Geneva negotiations about the MFA are being conducted on a mandate about which Britain had a considerable say. He also knows that we have produced, devised and had accepted by our European partners a mechanism to ensure that the sort of difficulties that he foresees—his figure of an extra 30,000 unemployed next year is nonsense—will not come about. This is because we have insisted in the mandate that the Commission has from the Community that a mechanism be devised and incorporated in any new arrangements to ensure that any low-cost imports cannot increase at a rate that would damage our industry to the extent suggested by my hon. Friend.

Apart from "a useful discussion", was any progress made in London this week on the reform of the CAP or the EEC budget?

Yes, Sir. Four matters were discussed in London this week. There was general understanding on two of them about the way in which we should move forward. On the other two, there was definite progress towards what we want. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, these negotiations are not easy. Everyone has to take account of every one else's interests. Each time these discussions take place we move closer to a solution, but we have not reached that solution yet. It would have been agreeable to us, for the sake of our Presidency, to have settled these matters before the end of the year. Indeed, that would have discharged the mandate given to the Foreign Ministers by the European Council earlier this year. However, we have not done so. Nevertheless, we have moved another stage nearer to the kind of conclusions that we want, and I hope that we shall get there before long.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it emerges clearly from his reply that by far the best hope of securing progress and resolving contentious issues within the EEC lies in allowing the Commission to assume the role that it was originally assigned in the Treaty, that is, as the initiator of a constructive compromise that is likely to be far more effective than that reached by horse trading between individual Governments?

Yes, Sir. That is what has happened. The Commission has been invited to go away and re-write the proposals for solving these problems. It has listened to the discussions, and it has been consulted by all parties. In my view, the Commission will be in a position to produce proposals which will bring us a stage nearer to the agreement that we all seek.

42.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will list the principal achievements of the British Presidency of the European Economic Community to date.

Good progress has been made in a wide variety of areas. I propose shortly to place in the Library of the House a list of the issues on which decisions have been reached or significant progress achieved during the United Kingdom Presidency.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that one important achievement has been the way in which the British Presidency has sought to maintain a constructive and continuous dialogue between the Council and the European Parliament on budgetary matters? Does he accept that that is very important, bearing in mind that they are the joint budgetary authority of the Community?

Yes, Sir. This has been a useful step forward, and it is one that we initiated during our Presidency. It seeks to keep the Council of Ministers in closer contact with the European Parliament. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is now in Strasbourg addressing the European Parliament.

Will the Lord Privy Seal confirm that the list of the Government's achievements during their Presidency will be contained on the back of a very small postage stamp? Is he not genuinely concerned—if not, he should be—that no progress has been made on reforming budgetary arrangements, the common agricultural policy or the fisheries policy or dealing with non-life assurance, or the reduction in European air fares? Is he not further concerned that the major political initiative on the Middle East, which many of us on both sides of the House welcomed, has stalled, and its requiem read in Israel by the French Foreign Minister the other day?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong, and not for the first time. I have the draft of the document that I propose to lay in the Library of the House at the end of our presidency. It is already 15 pages of single-space typing, and it covers the whole range of our activities and those of our European colleagues. I do not know what size postage stamps the right hon. Gentleman uses, or whether he does not pay attention to what happens in the Council of Ministers, but this document will cover agriculture, fisheries, energy, environment, trade, aid, and many other matters. I invite him to read it as a new year resolution.

I am prepared to have a look at it, but is it not true that the document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a superb example of the work of the circumlocution office in the Foreign Office?

During our Presidency, obviously one of the objectives has been to move towards a resolution of the budget problem and a resolution of the problems of the CAP. My right hon. Friend said recently that we were moving towards what we want. Could he tell the British people, loudly and clearly, precisely what we do want?

I shall do so in two sentences. On the common agricultural policy, we want to ensure that expenditure on the CAP grows at a slower rate than the Community's resources—in other words, that there is a transfer of the weight of expenditure from agriculture to the social and regional policies and other funds of that nature. On the budget, our intention is that no country should be put in the unacceptable situation in which we found ourselves in 1980—in which the Germans now find themselves—and that the budgetary contributions of any country should bear some relation to its ability to pay.

Mandate (Negotiations)

43.

asked the Lord Privy Seal when next he intends to meet the President of the European Commission in order to discuss the progress of negotiations over the mandate.

I have no such plans at present. I described the latest progress on the mandate in my reply a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston).

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Commission does not introduce workable proposals for restructuring the finances of the EEC and reforming the common agricultural policy, it will give ammunition to the misguided people who want us to withdraw from the EEC?

Yes, Sir. I know that the Commission is well seized of the difficulties and problems, and we hope and believe that it will introduce proposals that will form the basis of an agreement between all 10 members.

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that, no matter what the Commission proposes, what happens in the Council of Ministers is of primary importance? Will he therefore tell the House how far up on the list of principal achievements of the British Presidency he rates the fact that we have approaching 1,000 unemployed fishermen in Hull, 5,000 unemployed in ancillary trades, and people who cannot get employment because of the foolishness of a Conservative Government 10 years ago in entering the EEC without a common fisheries policy?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, in the Community we are seeking to find a scheme that can be agreed by the Council of Ministers, because it will take the decisions. All countries in Europe are faced with problems of one kind or another. The hon. Gentleman outlined a number of them that we are not alone in facing. No one is more sorry than the Government that we could not proceed with a discussion of fishery matters on Monday of this week, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that was due to circumstances that were wholly outside the control of nine out of 10 of the EEC Governments.

Europe-Japan Relations

45.

asked the Lord Privy Seal what was the result of the discussions in the European Council on European-Japanese relations.

There was no discussion of Europe-Japan relations at the European Council, but the Foreign Affairs Council on 8 December agreed a list of requests for specific action in the economic sphere to be put by the Commission to the Japanese Government. The Council will assess the Japanese response at its meeting on 22 February next year.

Will my right hon. Friend take care to maintain the position in the Council of Foreign Ministers, which is that, although we sympathise greatly with Japan in being an island with no resources and therefore dependent, as we are, on the import of raw materials and the export of manufacturers, such exports cannot for long be allowed to be confined to so few and destructive items, as opposed to a more general spread of export activity?

That is one of the matters that the Community has been pointing out to Japan for some time. This month we have moved on from saying that early and effective action in general terms is needed to proposing the precise forms that we believe such action should take. We have spelt out the areas in which, in our view, they should take action, and we await their response, which we shall consider at our meeting on 22 February.

Will the right hon. Gentleman beware of making Japan the scapegoat for his Government's economic failings? Does he realise that the threat to many of our industries, including the car industry, comes not from the Japanese but from the EEC? Will he do something about that?

We are concerned about the penetration not only of our markets but the markets of our Community partners by the Japanese in certain specified areas. That is a worry to us, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. It is also a worry to our Community partners. That is why we have produced a long list of areas where we believe that the Japanese must take urgent and effective action. I hope that they will come forward with proposals, which we shall consider on 22 February.