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European Constitution

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2006

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave a few moments ago.

The UK presidency helped to set Europe’s future direction at the Hampton Court summit. We have made it clear that an effective EU means focusing on the issues that matter to Europe’s citizens, such as creating jobs, tackling terrorism and protecting our environment. I therefore welcome the conclusions of the recent European Council, which state that Europe should now focus on the delivery of practical results and the implementation of specific projects.

I listened to the answers given by the Foreign Secretary and by the Minister. Do the Government not realise how unwanted and how detested the European constitution is, not only among British people but throughout Europe? When will the Government do the right thing and concentrate on delivering an open, competitive and transparent Europe that is fully accountable to the nation states?

That, of course, is precisely part of the Government’s objective. To do that, it is also necessary to have effective contacts, discussions and relations with other Governments in other countries, not least those on the centre right. Of course, the hon. Gentleman’s party boycotts such contacts and refuses to participate in important meetings that take place, for example, with the leadership of centre right Governments in both France and Germany.

My right hon. Friend [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; I am out of practice. Is the best way to secure a good outcome for Britain out of the discussions on the constitution to engage positively with our partners in Europe? Will my right hon. Friend say what role political parties in the House could play to ensure that Britain’s voice is heard?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. She has made a serious point, and one that has been made to me repeatedly by Conservative Members of the European Parliament, namely, that Britain’s interests are diminished and that their party’s interests are diminished if the misguided view of the leader of the Conservative party that they should withdraw from the European People’s party is pursued.

Will the Minister for Europe within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agree that it is important that any Government should be honest, open and honourable? Will the Minister therefore indicate why the current constitution is not dead, bearing in mind that if one country rejects it in a referendum, the particular treaty relating to the constitution is dead and buried? Will he admit that the constitution, as it stands, is dead and buried and that there should be no reflection, just an answer yes or no?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already dealt with that question, but I am happy to repeat the point that she made. The reality is that this constitution cannot come into force without the unanimous ratification of all member states. With two founding members of the EU—France and the Netherlands—having rejected the situation by way of referendums, it is clearly important that we take account of the views that they have set out.

My right hon. Friend will know that the fact remains that next year, when Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union, it will be a Union of 27 members governed by rules for the Six. Is it not right that we should pursue the reform agenda to make some serious structural reforms to the way in which the EU operates, and that we should also pursue the economic reform agenda? At the same time, if there are issues on which we can move forward with our EU partners that are outside the scope of the constitution, should we not pursue them given that that would be in the best interests of Britain and Europe?

Of course, there are still some issues that must be resolved before Romania and Bulgaria can join the European Union but, like my right hon. Friend, I anticipate that they will be determined, allowing those two countries to join an enlarged European Union. It is often overlooked by Opposition Members, but there has been a series of changes to the way in which the European Union makes decisions—most of them enthusiastically supported by Conservative Governments and Members of Parliament. The reality is that there has been an evolution in decision making to reflect the welcome enlargement of the European Union, and I am confident that that process will continue.