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Ec Intergovernmental Conference

Volume 178: debated on Wednesday 24 October 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he is making in preparation for the intergovernmental conference in December, with particular reference to the issue of political union.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 October, which discussed preparations for the intergovernmental conference on political union. The Italian presidency will report on progress to the special European Council—the summit—on 27 and 28 October. Our aim continues to be a more efficient, effective and democratically accountable Community.

Has the Secretary of State read reports of the rather bad-tempered presentation at the European Parliament yesterday of the Commission's document on political union, which will ultimately go before the intergovernmental conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the document confirms that, as the Community was established by international treaties agreed by sovereign states, it is perfectly possible to deepen and widen its integration and to create greater cohesion without crucially altering its legal basis? Does not the Commission's document point to the model for the future being not federalist but confederalist?

I have not read the Commission document, but Mr. Delors outlined it at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday. Having heard that outline, and subject to my studying the document, I do not believe that it offers a way forward that my Government would want to follow. In all the discussions in the intergovernmental conferences beginning in December on economic and monetary union and political union, we shall be arguing—for example, in the GATT round—about many of the issues confronting the Community. We shall argue not from an un-European or anti-European stance, but for a Europe that is liberal and open. There will be considerable discussion of those points.

What specific gains does my right hon. Friend think will emerge from the intergovernmental discussions? Would not it be helpful to Britain if they could be clearly explained ahead of the meeting, rather than merely expressing a generalised commitment to a better Community?

I tried to offer such an explanation when the House debated that subject in the summer. The gains can be easily summarised. We want to improve co-ordination between the Twelve on foreign policy and the role of national parliaments—including that of working together in controlling and monitoring the Council's activities. We want to improve also the work of the European Parliament, not by extending its legislative powers but by encouraging it to be more effective in monitoring and invigilating the Commission's work and expenditure. We should like to find a sensible definition of subsidiarity which would establish clearly where Community action is necessary, and what action should best be left to national Governments—particularly as it is national Governments who decide among themselves what the role of the Community should be, and not the Community which decides the role of national Governments.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear at the intergovernmental conference that it is no part of the Government's policy to countenance a two-speed Europe, with Britain on the outside track, which would be a disaster for our country?

It would be a disaster not only for this country but for Greece, where I discussed the matter last week, for Portugal, for Spain, and for many other countries. I hope very much that those in charge of the discussions on economic and monetary union in particular will bear that point in mind. It is most important that we travel at a speed and in a direction which commands consensus.

Can my right hon. Friend say yet what the Government's attitude will be if the 11 other members of the Community accept the Delors proposals?

The Delors proposals deal with economic and monetary union, which is beyond the scope of the question. As to the intergovernmental conference on political union, there can be no change to the treaty unless all 12 member states agree.