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European Union Constitutional Treaty

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2006

There is no current consensus on the way forward for the constitutional treaty. The June European Council agreed that the German presidency will present a report to the European Council in 2007, based on extensive consultations with the member states. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will make a statement shortly on the broad principles underpinning our approach.

The EU is often critical of other countries that act in an undemocratic way. Given that the constitutional treaty is dead in the water after being torpedoed by France and Holland, what is the justification for the Commission pressing on regardless with the external action service—the EU’s diplomatic service, which also has its own embassies—and the External Borders Agency? What is the legal basis for those budget lines?

I understand the desire among Conservative Members to see this issue dead and buried, but a number of member states have ratified the treaty. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that two member states have rejected it after referendums, and that is a difficulty. All member states are considering the way forward.

Yesterday, hon. Members across the Chamber welcomed the Stern report, one of whose conclusions was that action at European level was needed to tackle climate change. Does that not emphasise the need for the sort of reform and streamlining of European procedures and institutions that will allow us to meet that urgent task?

The two legitimate and equally good points that my hon. Friend makes are not necessarily related. Like him, I welcome yesterday’s report and discussions but the EU has played a leading role in matters to do with climate change without changing its structures or how it operates. I am confident that the EU, whatever its structures, will continue to play a positive role in a matter in which, as a group of member states, it has a deserved reputation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) has just said that the European constitution was dead in the water, so does the Foreign Secretary agree that any European court that refers to the charter of fundamental rights would be acting ultra vires—beyond its legal powers?

I am not a lawyer, so I am always cautious about a phrase like “refers to”. Although the hon. Gentleman is right that the charter does not have force, the question whether anyone would be allowed to refer to it is quite another matter.

I want to raise another technical point with my right hon. Friend. As I understand it, under the existing treaties, the present Commission has to be reduced to 15 after 2009. [Interruption.] The lights are going out in England. [Hon. Members: “Next!”] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I shall try and switch myself off. After 2009, in addition to losing the services of Mr. Peter Mandelson, which I know that the whole House will regret, we may find that we are not able to nominate a Commissioner from the UK. In other words, we will have no representation on the Commission. This is a technical, juridical point, so I realise that my right hon. Friend may not be able to answer today, but will she write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library? This is a very important matter, as we may need a new treaty.

I always prefer to write to hon. Members about technical and juridical matters, but I think that my right hon. Friend is leaping several steps ahead. Existing treaties do require us to take another look at the Commission’s size after Bulgaria and Romania join the EU, but I am sure that he will find that all member states will take a keen interest in how many Commissioners there will be after then, and what their responsibilities will be.

The Foreign Secretary says that there is no consensus about the future of the constitution, but two weeks ago she told EU Foreign Ministers that it was a grandiose project that had failed. If she was prepared to say that to them, why will she not repeat it in this House? Will she tell us what she believes, and make it clear whether the Government intend to proceed with ratifying the treaty?

There is no intention to proceed with that at the moment because, as I said, there is no consensus. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is drawing on press reports, but he is not entirely correct, as I made those remarks to the media and not to EU Foreign Ministers. [Interruption.] I am about to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. I was being asked whether the UK believed that the treaty was completely dead, and so on—the sort of questions that are raised continually in this House. I said that one of the EU’s perceived weaknesses, across a range of matters, was that people involved in it sometimes had grandiose projects, and that those projects fail when they become too elaborate. However, I was not speaking specifically about the constitutional treaty.