Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Tony Cunningham.]
This month, the European Council will be held on 14 and15 December, and the formal agenda will, as usual, cover a wide range of topics. On Africa, we expect that the conclusions of the Council will inject some momentum into the EU Africa strategy by highlighting key priorities for action. On climate change, we will push to maintain the momentum generated at Lahti by strongly reaffirming what was agreed, at that summit, on the linkages between energy security and climate security, on the strengthening of the EU’s emissions trading scheme, and on establishing a new process for Heads of Government to review progress and set a forward-looking agenda.
I shall get a little further with my speech before I give way, if I may. We expect that a significant proportion of the Council will be spent discussing the justice and home affairs agenda and, in particular, migration. Goods, money and people are moving around the world in greater volumes and more freely than ever before, and that makes the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration more complex and difficult.
I welcome debates on European business on the Floor of the House, but may I raise an issue that I have raised with the Minister for Europe, and in previous debates? It concerns timing. Today’s debate coincides with the start, in15 minutes’ time, of a meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee. How can Members on either side of the House who have a particular interest in European business possibly be in two places at the same time?
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because it is unfortunate when such situations occur, as they do, from time to time. He will know, however, that it is not a matter for me.
As I say, we expect that a substantial part of the agenda will be justice and home affairs. The Hague programme of 2004 set out a comprehensive framework for EU co-operation, and it was supplemented by the action plans on counter-terrorism, drugs and human trafficking, and by the global approach to migration that was agreed at the Hampton Court summit during the UK presidency last year. The Council will examine how we can use the 2006 review of the Hague programme to put an even tighter focus on the practical implementation of those measures, and on how we can make sure that those clear priorities are given the appropriate resources.
Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity of the Council to reassert what was admitted at the time—that the Dutch and French referendums, which resulted in a no vote in 2005, effectively meant that the European constitution was well and truly dead? What does she intend to do to thwart the declared intention of the German Chancellor to use the German presidency to breathe new life into it?
To be honest, I very much doubt that the subject of the constitutional treaty will be raised, because as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the German presidency, which begins in January, is committed to undertaking a thorough review to try to establish what the position is and whether there is consensus, and if so, what it is. I doubt that the outgoing Finnish presidency will want its last Council to be dominated by a subject that it cannot possibly draw to a conclusion.
Will the subject of the two European Parliaments be on the agenda? Many Opposition Members think that a lot of money is wasted by having a Brussels Parliament and a Strasbourg Parliament. Phenomenal amounts of money are wasted every year. Will she put forward the idea that there should be only one Parliament, and so save the taxpayer huge sums of money?
Let us be quite clear, in case anyone should misunderstand: of course, there is one Parliament, but it uses two buildings. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point entirely, and indeed we have long expressed sympathy with it. This is not a pejorative point, because a decision on the subject would have to be unanimous, but the decision to keep using two buildings was taken under the last Conservative Government, and not under this Government. However, I know that the Conservative Government tried hard to change that decision—and so do we, when any opportunity arises.
No. Next week’s agenda will be a full one, but one topic is likely to dominate the discussion: enlargement. We hope that the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting, which takes place on Monday and Tuesday, will settle questions that relate specifically to Turkish accession, but there is a possibility that they will need to be on the European Council’s agenda for Thursday and Friday. The Council will, in any case, consider issues relating to enlargement more generally.
On enlargement, the Government’s position remains one of firm support for Turkey’s entry to the EU. What does the Foreign Secretary perceive to be the main stumbling block to its entry? Obviously, in recent months, there has been a problem with regard to Cyprus. Does she feel that those problems are surmountable, and that we can get on track, to try to enable Turkey to open some more chapters?
I am sure that those problems are surmountable, but I will not disguise from my right hon. Friend or from the House the fact that there are a range of difficulties, or that the problems are complex. However, I believe that they can be addressed and, indeed, overcome in time.
Members on both sides of the House have been admirably clear and consistent in their support for enlargement. That stems from a recognition that it is in the best interests of this country and, indeed of Europe as a whole, for the process to continue. The European Council offers a chance for EU leaders to send a strong signal that our strategic commitment to enlargement remains. The EU has been asked, not least by Dutch and French voters, but by others, too, to show that it has brought concrete, tangible benefit to its citizens. Enlargement is the single process that has done most to improve the lives of the people of Europe as a whole. In making that claim, I am referring in part to the startling transformation that EU membership has wrought in the lives of people in new member states. When I accompanied Her Majesty the Queen on her state visit to the Baltic states earlier this year, we saw countries that were unrecognisable from only a decade ago.
It is not just those coming into the club who have benefited. We have all done so. Across southern Europe, we are no longer bordered by unpredictable dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but by stable democracies. To the east, our neighbours are not stagnant communist states, but dynamic, vibrant and free nations. Each successive wave of enlargement has provided new jobs, new markets and new opportunities for investment. The 2004 enlargement added 74 million consumers, making the EU the world’s largest single market, and the economies and workers of the new member states have boosted growth across Europe.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the new eastern European states that have joined the EU. She will be aware that Poland is experiencing terrible difficulties exporting meat and agricultural products to Russia because of Russian boycotts. Does she agree that we must help Poland and other countries if their trade is unfairly blocked by the Russians?
The Foreign Secretary referred to the free nations. She will be aware that further integration has undemocratic consequences, as it has an impact on qualified majority voting and states’ ability to decide the policies they want in general elections and subsequently. In the light of what she seems to want, why does she not espouse the proposal that some of us have introduced—of an association of nation states in Europe instead of the European constitution and its fellow travellers?
I am afraid that I reject the notion that the countries that have joined have become less democratic as a result and, more to the point, so would their citizens.
The same process of improvement has taken place in Romania and Bulgaria. Both countries have made dramatic progress since the EU invited them to join in 1999. They have free media, they hold free and fair elections, and they benefit from thriving civic societies. Economic growth has recently averaged 5 per cent. a year, unemployment has fallen, inflation is low, and standards of living have improved dramatically. That, too, is good for all of us. UK exports to Romania have trebled in a decade. Our exports to Bulgaria increased by 41 per cent. last year. Better governance and a stronger judiciary make our investments in both countries less risky, more transparent and more competitive.
Will the Foreign Secretary predict how many people will come from Romania and Bulgaria following their accession in January next year? As she will be aware, the Government predicted that 15,000 economic migrants would come to the UK from the last group of accession states, but in fact the figure was about 500,000. May we have a prediction, as well as a little more detail about the transitional derogation that the Government have mentioned?
First, the Government did not make a prediction. [Interruption.] No, the Government did not make a prediction. Someone at, I think, the London School of Economics or an independent group or organisation made a prediction, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government themselves made no such prediction. Secondly, most people who have come to this country have come to work, and they are in employment. They have not all stayed, and they will not necessarily stay in the long term. That pattern has emerged not just in this country but elsewhere as a result of enlargement. As for Romania and Bulgaria, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have put in place processes to try to control the flow of people into the work force.
That is not to suggest that enlargement is automatically an easy process. Romania and Bulgaria still have some way to go in strengthening the rule of law and in tackling corruption and organised crime. Indeed, the process of enlarging the EU to include those two countries, as well as the 10 new member states that joined in 2004, has led to a refinement and tightening-up of procedures. The requirements to join the EU are more rigorous and more carefully monitored than ever before, and they apply to Turkey and Croatia. Effective conditionality is one thing, but fresh conditions are something altogether different. Having agreed membership requirements and invited people down that path, it would be quite wrong to put up new hurdles or to deliberately construct barriers designed to halt this or any further enlargement. The strategic case for enlarging the EU to include the candidate countries and to keep the door open for other European neighbours remains as powerful as ever.
As someone who has always supported the principle of enlargement, may I seek clarification of the recent paper produced by Howell James, the Whitehall co-ordinator of propaganda on those matters, who asked whether we should link the question of Europe to the Eurovision song contest and UEFA football tournaments? Given that Israel and Russia take part in the Eurovision song contest, and that Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are members of UEFA, is it the Government’s policy to expand the European Union to include those countries?
Not in the very near future. It is legitimate for my hon. Friend to poke fun at that publication, but all that was discussed was how we communicate the good news about Europe as well as the bad news, which is zealously communicated by everyone who can do so.
The strategically important countries that we are discussing will be our neighbours, and they will play a pivotal role in our future, whatever decisions Europe makes. The choice facing us is what that role will be. It is in all our interests that they should become closer, stronger, richer and more reliable allies. That being the case, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to turnour back on what has proved to be one of the best ways of ensuring that outcome. The prospect of EU enlargement is probably the most powerful example of so-called soft power available to any country or international organisation.
In all too recent history, for example, the Balkans have been a crucible of violence and instability in the heart of Europe. Indeed, there are still significant EU and NATO forces in the region. We therefore have a direct interest in tackling Balkan insecurity and encouraging those states further down the path of political and economic reform. Croatia is showing the way for others in the region by making the necessary reforms. It has low inflation, a stable currency, and rapid economic growth. It has bright, hard-working young people and strong scientific credentials. It has taken on international responsibilities by, for example, sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan and working with British police, among, others, to fight drug smuggling and money laundering. To see how far Croatia has come, it is worth noting that although it is little more than a decade since a massive war, every year more than 250,000 British tourists choose to go there on holiday. Of course there are more conditions that Croatia must meet, particularly in reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, but it is on the right path, and it is on that path because of the prospect of enlargement.
It is worth being frank with each other at this point. There are some in Europe who have no problem with Croatia joining the EU but who do have a very real problem with Turkey joining, yet the strategic case for Turkish membership is at least as compelling as it is for any other country—in fact, probably much more so. Just like any other country, Turkey must fulfil its obligations to the EU. In the case of the Ankara protocol, Turkey has not yet done so and it is right that the EU should give a clear response. But that response should be proportionate and should be designed to get Turkey to fulfil its obligations and maintain the momentum of reform. It should not be a pretext for derailing negotiations. We need to agree and set out clearly what we expect Turkey to do. It is then up to Turkey to decide how quickly to reform and progress towards accession.
We, the UK Government, judge that the current measures tabled by the European Commission are too harsh and risk being counterproductive. That would be a very poor result for the people of Turkey. It would also be a very poor result for Europe. Look at some of the strategic challenges that we are facing: increasing global competition from Asia; insecurity in our energy supplies; seemingly intractable problems in the middle east; rising extremism trying to drive Muslims and non-Muslims apart; an ageing population and a looming pensions crisis; the desire for Europe to play a more active role beyond its borders; and both at those borders and within them, the need to tackle drugs, organised crime and illegal migration.
Turkey could play an immensely positive role in tackling all these challenges. It has a dynamic economy that is on track to attract $20 billion in inward investment this year. It is already a major transit country for oil and gas and is set to be a crucial energy corridor into Europe. It has a network of relationships with countries in the middle east, including Syria and Iran, which no current EU member state can match. It has a young and increasingly educated work force, and larger armed forces than any other European country. It has shown that it can deliver real successes, working with us, on tackling terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration and trafficking. Perhaps most of all, at a time when some people are peddling the idea of an inevitable clash of civilisations, it is an immensely powerful symbol that European values can be Muslim values and vice versa.
My right hon. Friend is right that we must find a way of bringing the former states of Yugoslavia into the Union, and that for strategic reasons we must find a way of bringing Turkey in, but that will require some rethinking about the disproportionate powers thatwere given to smaller countries in the European Union, such as a minimum of four MEPs and their own Commissioner. Is some thought being given to how a European Union of 30-plus member states, including Turkey, would look in terms of power balance?
I am sure a great deal of thinking is going on in many member states. The difficulty is that it does not necessarily seem to be coming to the same conclusion in every case. It is a task which, I am happy to say, will be before other presidencies, not ours.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. She mentioned illegal immigration. Many Maltese MPs have told me that their country is being swamped by illegal immigrants from north Africa, particularly from Libya, and cannot cope. What plans does the right hon. Lady have to help our strategic ally in the Mediterranean to cope with the vast numbers coming over?
Although the hon. Gentleman is right to identify some of the problems that Malta is facing, those problems are faced by countries across the whole of southern Europe. The only way to tackle such problems is to stimulate and support the kind of co-operation that all those countries seek, and to look at those problems in the round. They are all affected by similar problems, although the details may not be quite the same.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. Some people believe that the outcome of the situation in Iraq will be the federation or even the break-up of Iraq. That would involve a Kurd problem, which would give Turkey very considerable problems indeed and make its accession to the EU even more difficult. Can I take it, therefore, that the British Government will oppose any break-up of Iraq?
The Government have always opposed the notion that the break-up of Iraq would be in the interests of Iraq or of other states in the region. Indeed, we believe it could cause substantial problems, and there are many people in Iraq who share that view.
There is an argument that says that since we are already working so well with many of the countries that still want to join the EU, we do not need to follow through on our promises of enlargement or the prospect of enlargement. That seems to me to be both a dangerous and an incredibly short-sighted argument. We should not kid ourselves. The foundation of the extraordinary soft power of the EU to which I referred earlier, and the reason why, more than any other international organisation, it has transformed the world around it, has been the prospect of full membership. In the case of Turkey or Croatia, offering them anything else at this stage would be to go back on our word. For other countries, if we want to encourage them down the right road which is in their interests and ours, we cannot rule out that ultimate destination.
The main story at the European Council next week will almost certainly be enlargement. European leaders can choose to keep the door open to their neighbours, fulfilling our promises, helping those countries to continue political and economic reforms, and stressing the need for them to meet strict conditions and obligations. Over a period of time we could draw these strategically vital countries ever closer until they were in a position to become members of the European Union, or we could push them away. The Government are clear which is the direction in which Europe must go. That is the message that we will be taking, with, I think and hope, the full support of the House to Brussels next week.
We join the Foreign Secretary in her comments about the importance of enlargement and in hoping for new impetus to achieve the necessary improvements in the emissions trading scheme and for developmentin Africa. We also strongly support the broad thrustof her comments about the positive results that enlargement has brought to so many member states joining the European Union.
This EU affairs debate comes at a critical time in the development of the European Union and the position of the member states within it. A year and a half after the French and the Dutch rejected the proposed constitution, we are approaching what was supposed to be the crescendo of a massive national debate about the future of the EU—a debate that the Government promised to lead. Instead, in the words of the European Scrutiny Committee
“the Government's general position appears to be to shelter behind the obvious absence of any consensus on the future of Europe and to say that it will inform the House of its views once there is one”.
Meanwhile, the German Government are preparing to try to salvage as much of the constitution as possible during their forthcoming EU presidency. French politicians are talking about a mini-treaty that would similarly increase the powers of the EU, with an EU Foreign Minister, a permanent President and the surrender of national vetoes, but in the hope that approval could be slipped through in parliamentary votes without the need for further referendums.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the emissions trading scheme in the EU has been grossly abused by some member states by over-issuing permits? That means that in Britain, which is short of permits, companies have to pay out good money over the exchanges to continental countries that are making a fortune out of undermining the whole purpose of the scheme.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is a good illustration of how the European Union does not necessarily always get things right and why it should focus on ensuring that it achieves what it can using current powers and existing treaties—doing so properly and correctly instead of making ambitious proposals for new treaties and constitutions.
When the Foreign Secretary was recently away in India, the press reported that the Minister for Europe, in what was described as a private speech, suggested that the Government would row in behind the kind of mini-treaty favoured by the French, signalling that further vetoes would be given up.
The Minister shakes his head. However, given that the Foreign Secretary has confirmed to me in a written answer that the right hon. Gentleman reports both to her and directly to the Prime Minister, we have to take such signals seriously. I hope that he will clarify the point when he winds up.
We have had to wait with bated breath for any official indication of the Government’s position on the future powers and shape of the European Union. Yesterday, the Minister finally issued a written statement setting out in very vague terms what he called
“the principles that will underpin”
the British contribution to the German presidency’s consultations on the future of Europe. The statement tells us:
“We will…favour proposals that modernise the workings of the EU so that it is better equipped to meet both today’s and future challenges”.
However, it does not tell us whether that means that the Government are preparing to support the “constitution lite”, or the slimmed-down mini-treaty, proposed by Mr. Sarkozy or Angela Merkel, with further extensions to qualified majority voting and an EU foreign minister. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could tell us now, or the Minister could tell us when he winds up, exactly where the Government stand.
May I urge the hon. Gentleman not to read too much into statements made by the Minister for Europe when the Foreign Secretary is in India? After all, when the cat is away, other things get said.
Does it remain the Opposition’s position that they will call for a referendum on any mini-constitution that is proposed by the Commission?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am confident that the Minister for Europe is a man, not a mouse, even though he does not necessarily find such confidence on the Benches behind him. I am happy to give the assurance that it is our position that, were the Government to seek approval for a treaty that transferred further powers to the EU, we would indeed seek a referendum. I hope that the Government accept that it would be necessary to have the explicit support and approval of the British people.
Crucially, if the Government are preparing to back a revised constitution, the Foreign Secretary should give an unequivocal assurance—the same assurance that I was just happy to give on behalf of the Opposition—that it remains the Government’s policy to hold a referendum to allow the British people to decide.
Does my hon. Friend recall that Mr. Sarkozy, in his speech in September, advocated not only the creation of the post of an EU minister of foreign affairs—which would take us into extremely dangerous territory with regard to nuclear deterrence, among other things—but enhanced co-operation and a legal personality for the Union, thereby effectively endorsing the proposals that came out of the Convention? Does he agree that that would be wholly unacceptable?
I do. Were that to be advocated by the Government, it should be allowed only with the support of the British people in a referendum, which, as my hon. Friend will agree, would not be forthcoming. We would both campaign against its being approved in such a referendum, as would, I hope, all Conservative Members and many Labour Members.
My hon. Friend is a great negotiator and someone who can bring peace to troubled relationships. For the benefit of our foreign negotiations, I propose that he should lead a delegation to the Minister of Europe and the Secretary of State to ensure that they become more closely acquainted, and perhaps even sit together instead of a yard apart in future debates.
My hon. Friend makes his point. I think that they are getting on a little better today—almost as well as Michael Portillo and the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) when they sit on the sofa together, but not quite.
The Foreign Secretary says that the constitutional and institutional future of Europe will not feature on the agenda of the Council that is approaching. Would it not be wise, however, for the Government to set out our position clearly prior to the start of the German presidency, so that we can try to influence the shape that those discussions will take when the presidency begins?
The unresolved institutional debate is the backdrop to a Council agenda that includes some vital questions for the EU to address. On these Benches, as the Foreign Secretary was good enough to acknowledge, we have always been stalwart supporters of EU enlargement. We believe that the support and nurturing of new democracies, whether in southern or in central and eastern Europe, has perhaps been the most positive contribution that the EU has made. The Foreign Secretary spoke about the important strides forward that have already been taken by Bulgaria and Romania, while indicating that further progress is needed. The Council will rightly welcome the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, but it will do so at a time when the future enlargement of the EU is more controversial than it has ever been.
In this country, both the major parties have recognised the importance of encouraging Turkey to look to the west and the role that the process of EU accession could play in achieving that. Indeed, the opening of Turkish accession talks was perhaps the only significant achievement of the last British presidency of the EU, and we gave the Government full credit for that. We share the Foreign Secretary’s view that the decision to suspend so many chapters of the accession negotiations is regrettable and is a major setback. It is essential that more progress should be made towards achieving normal relations between Turkey and Cyprus, but it is surely the case that the prospect and process of EU accession is an important lever to help to achieve that end—as it would be for further improvements in democracy and freedom in Turkey.
We also hope to see continuing progress in relation to Croatia and the western Balkans, and real efforts to improve co-operation with and support for neighbours of the EU in Ukraine, Belarus and beyond.
I am most grateful to the shadow Minister for Europe.
The hon. Gentleman re-emphasises that the Conservatives are in favour of enlargement. Will he take this opportunity to distance his party from the tasteless articles in the tabloid press criticising citizens from EU countries who seek to exercise their legitimate right to come here to work, with constant monitoring of how many Polish babies are being born? Surely, if we believe in enlargement those citizens should come here, exercising their rights under the appropriate treaties.
My central heating boiler has just broken down, so I will happily join the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming an influx of plumbers into the country—they are much needed.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary’s general comments about the importance of enlargement, but there are those who are trying to tie future enlargement of the EU to acceptance of a constitution that has already been rejected by the electorate of two major EU nations, and which the Home Secretary described on Monday as “deceased, a dead parrot”. It was therefore heartening to hear the Foreign Secretary making clear on “The Westminster Hour” this week her view that institutional reform is not essential. She said: “Some of this”—decision-making—
“could become more difficult but it would be too much to say that we’re not coping at the moment.”
She went on to say that things “are not too bad”. When the Minister winds up, will he put the Government’s view on the record and confirm that they do not regard institutional reform as essential and that they will continue to support the further enlargement that the Foreign Secretary and I agree is desirable, regardless of institutional change? That is contrary to the view that he expressed in his speech at the Institute for European Affairs in Dublin on 20 November 2006, when he said:
“The current rules are unsustainable in a European Union of 25 states—let alone 27 or more.”
As the Foreign Secretary said, the Council will also tackle the controversial issue of EU involvement in decisions relating to justice, home affairs and immigration, and consider
“progress achieved in implementing The Hague Programme”.
We believe that those matters are fundamental to national sovereignty. We agree with the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, who said so clearly in the Financial Times on 23 September:
“The whole criminal justice area is an area of national sovereignty in which there are huge sensitivities.”
He set out a more practical, alternative approach, which Ministers here would do well to follow. He said:
“My vision for Europe is that instead of constantly seeking to enlarge the competence of the union, that the justice and home affairs ministers should concentrate on practical measures of co-operation between states to enhance security and combat terrorism”.
As recently as last Thursday, when the House debated an EU Scrutiny Committee report, the British Government appeared incapable of setting out even their own position, insisting on leaving open the possibility of using the so-called passerelle. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), said that the Government’s position was clear and that there was a “debate to be had”. The Government’s preferred outcome for that debate was unclear. However, after the meeting of the Home Affairs Council, the Home Secretary pronounced:
“There’s a clear and probably overwhelming majority against”
giving up the veto. He continued:
“That’s our view … We should not by using weasel words attempt to revisit this at a higher level when there’s such a clear majority”.
Will the Minister for Europe confirm for the first time that the Government now regard the matter as closed and that they do not want proposals for surrendering the veto over justice and home affairs to be
“revisited at a higher level”
at next week’s summit?
The Foreign Secretary said that discussions would focus on immigration. Obviously, the Commission’s forthcoming report will be on the agenda. Will the Minister for Europe give a little more insight into the Government’s thinking? Will he state categorically, following the difficulties of recent years, that the Government’s priority now is to reassert control over our borders and that, as far as the UK is concerned, border control will not become a shared competence?
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the UK will oppose Commissioner Frattini’s proposals for a “comprehensive migration policy” for the EU? Will the Government confirm that the proposed EU-wide criminal offence of employing irregular migrants is one of the first attempts by the EU to create criminal law using qualified majority voting, following the controversial ruling of the European Court of Justice last September?
Absolutely. That is why I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman’s support for our proposition that we should maintain control over our borders.
As winter sets in across the continent, the Council will examine ways in which we can work together to guarantee security of energy supply. That is naturally a matter of the highest concern for countries that are wholly dependent on gas from a single source, but, last winter, the UK also suffered unprecedented problems. In our case, they were a clear demonstration of how far short we continue to be of a proper and efficiently working single market in energy. The Commission has a massive programme of work to ensure that all EU customers, including British customers, are treated equally, that all EU companies, including British ones, can compete equally and that EU member states do not use fears of energy insecurity as an excuse to distort markets by creating so-called national champions. That is a big agenda for the European Commission. Attempts to add new competences instead of making proper use of existing ones are an absurd diversion. For example, the proposal for a single European energy market regulator should be rejected.
We must also retain flexibility on third-party agreements. It is desirable for EU countries to work out a common position on specific energy suppliers, but there are other energy suppliers—for example, Norway—outside the EU, on which a common position is unnecessary. Overall, we need a pragmatic, market-oriented approach, the main goal of which is the results that customers and businesses want, not the aggrandisement of EU institutions.
My hon. Friend intimates that there should be closer co-operation in the EU on energy. Countries in eastern Europe, such as Poland, are frustrated by Germany building an underwater pipeline in the Baltic sea from Russia to Germany. It is a disgrace and contradicts the spirit of a common EU policy on energy.
I am aware of the concern caused in the Baltic states, including Poland, by that decision. It shows how all member states could reflect more on co-operating freely to achieve the desired outcomes. Perhaps it is unusual to criticise the Germans for not being as communautaire as they might, but the decision that my hon. Friend cites is, perhaps, an example of it.
Energy, enlargement and the future institutional arrangements of the EU are all important, but the gaping hole in the Council agenda is an assessment of the Lisbon agenda and the massive competitive challenges that face the EU. We are 60 per cent of the way through the period that was meant to witness the EU emerge phoenix-like as the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy. Not only has no progress been made, but we are moving backwards.
Britain’s opt-out from the working time directive is under threat, and on 23 November the Financial Times reported:
“Business fears new wave of EU labour regulation”
in the wake of a new EU Green Paper on “Flexibility and Security” in the workplace. Meanwhile, the City of London—one of this country’s most successful business sectors, which has welcomed the prospect of a genuine single market for financial services—is increasingly worried that the implementation of new rules will damage its international competitiveness.
With estimates that the financial services action plan might cost the UK more than £23 billion in the years to 2010, Michael Spencer of ICAP said:
“It would be a tragedy if over-regulation from the EU blows it for London, just at the point when the City has a shot at overtaking New York. Far too much of the FSAP has ended up being about protecting inefficient players elsewhere in Europe, rather than really opening up markets.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by the head of investment at Schroder Investment Management, who said:
“Several other member states seemed to be more concerned about protecting themselves from competition within Europe rather than focusing on the increasing competition we are experiencing from the rest of the world.”
The paradox is that the scale of the competitive threat to European economies is almost universally accepted—by the Commission, member states, businesses and the public. When The Economist produced its excellent analysis of the economic problems that France faces, with the cover showing Lady Thatcher against the background of the French flag and the banner headline, “What France Needs”, the editor John Micklethwait tells me that 24,000 copies sold on news stands in France—more than four times the normal number. Yet month after month, year after year, we continue to slide in the wrong direction while other world economies surge ahead.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. He is right to raise the Lisbon agenda, even though it does not feature toany great extent in the schedule for the discussions on 14-15 December. However, does he accept that Britain is a good performer on the Lisbon benchmarks? We are the fourth best performer in Europe. The problem is convincing our colleagues and partners in Europe that the benchmarks must be adhered to, otherwise we will never fulfil the good vision that was behind fashioning the agenda.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that that is one problem that we face. However, the other is the danger that additional regulation will damage Britain’s competitive position and stop our good performance. We must guard against that as well as trying to ensure that the Lisbon agenda is achieved throughout the rest of the EU. On that, as on so much, the United Kingdom could and should offer a lead to Europe, but does not.
While the British Government have wobbled and equivocated, other member states have been busy either ratifying the EU constitution, as Finland did yesterday, or pressing on with other ways of increasing the EU’s powers. At a time of uncertainty and turmoil for the EU, the British Government have wasted an historic opportunity to lead the process of reform that is needed if the EU is to compete and prosper in future. The member states that are looking to Britain for leadership towards a more flexible, less regulated, more free-trading EU have seen instead a Government who are paralysed by their lack of vision and afraid to listen to the views of their own people.
No, I will not. I am coming to the end of my speech.
Next week’s summit is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to rediscover the reforming zeal that he displayed when he addressed the European Parliament at the beginning of the British presidency of the EU last year. The longer the EU is forced to wait for the leadership that it needs, the harder it will be to achieve the necessary change. We hope that the Prime Minister will have something of substance to report to the House when he makes his statement on 18 December, but the indications so far do not augur well.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether I can count that as an intervention on my speech. That would prolong the 15 minutes, although I do not intend to speak for that long.
It is always a pleasure to follow the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), but I noticed that he would not give way in order to hear what the Minister for Europe had to say, so we shall have to wait until 6.30 pm to hear my right hon. Friend’s riposte. It is always good to participate in these debates and to hear what the Foreign Secretary has to say about the forthcoming agenda of the European Council. I do not think that we received an explanation of where the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is this afternoon. It is customary, when the Foreign Secretary speaks from the Dispatch Box, for the lead Opposition spokesman also to be here, although we are very grateful that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West is in his place.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put on record that my right hon. Friend is in Pakistan at the moment, undertaking an important engagement which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, a former Minister for Europe, will accept ought to continue.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have a great time there.
I find it fascinating, as I always do when I attend these “usual suspects” debates, that Opposition spokespersons—whether it be the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks or the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West—spend at least half their speech talking about the European constitution. That is not a subject for consideration at the forthcoming meeting. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West will have heard the Foreign Secretary say that the paramount story that is likely to come out of the meeting in Brussels is the process of enlargement. Although we have heard a recommitment by the Conservatives to supporting enlargement, it is not long since they sought a referendum on the Nice treaty in order to block the enlargement that led to the entry of the A8 countries. That would have been the effect of such a referendum.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be serious. Given that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that she does not believe that we need institutional reform to accommodate 27 or more EU member states, the right hon. Gentleman cannot seriously believe that a referendum on the Nice treaty would have prevented further enlargement at that time.
Of course it would have. If such a referendum had gone against the admission of those countries, they would not have been allowed to come in. That is why the Nice treaty was raised in that way.
There are three issues that I want to discuss this afternoon. The first is enlargement. I am glad that Britain remains a champion of enlargement, and I am full of praise for the work of the Foreign Secretary and of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe in pushing forward the enlargement agenda. They are right to recommit themselves to the entry of Turkey as soon as possible, although there are many obstacles to be overcome. The Cyprus question has to be sorted out, and there are other issues that Turkey needs to address. However, the support of the United Kingdom and the constant reference by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe to Britain’s wanting Turkey to join the EU helps to make the case for Turkey. I hope that we will be at the forefront of that debate during next week’s discussions. I also hope that, as a country with historic investment in and historic ties to Cyprus, we will do our best to help to deal with any problems that need to be solved. Without Britain’s support, Turkey would never have become a candidate country. We therefore need to ensure that we push that agenda forward.
We also need to remind the public and the tabloid press how important enlargement has been. When I mentioned the accession of the A8 countries, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West talked about the need to get his plumbing system sorted out. I know that he was joking—although I am sorry if his plumbing system really is not working—but the fact remains that the entry of the A8 was extremely important for Europe, for all the historic reasons that we have rehearsed many times in these debates. It was important because it united Europe again and created the largest single market in the world.
I am glad that we did not impose restrictions on the citizens of the A8 countries to come and work here. The figures show that more eastern European migrants have gone to Germany than have come to the United Kingdom, even though they faced quite severe restrictions there. The entry of the A8 countries—and their citizens coming to work in our country, whether on a long-term or short-term basis—has been good for their economies, good for Europe and extremely good for Britain. The sum of £300 million has been added to the Treasury’s coffers thanks to the arrival of the A8 citizens, and we are very grateful to them for being able to contribute in that way. It means that we do not have a grey economy. We have a straight economy in which people who earn salaries when they come to this country pay their taxes and national insurance.
That is why I am at odds with the Government’s policy on Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens will have the right from 1 January to come here, but not to work unless they meet certain criteria. That will place employers in an impossible position and put a huge burden on the operation of the immigration and nationality directorate. I am afraid that the policy will have to be reviewed. We read in the newspapers that my right hon. Friends the Minister for Europe and the Foreign Secretary were on the other side in this argument. I believe that they were right, and that the policy will have to be reviewed.
May I put forward another argument concerning Romania and Bulgaria? By definition, the people who leave their own country are often the best, the brightest and those with the most get up and go. Cannot those countries ill afford to lose those people to the bright lights of other countries, and might not our policy in fact be doing them a favour?
I have great respect for my hon. Friend’s knowledge of these subjects, and for all the work that she did on the European constitutional convention committee, but I think that she is wrong on this matter. It should not be for us to decide what is in the best interests of another nation. It is for us to be fair, and if we are fair to Poland and Hungary, we should be fair to Romania and Bulgaria. I have lost that argument, but in a year’s time, the Government will have to review their policy, because it is totally unworkable. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, “Carry on doing what you are doing on enlargement. Keep ensuring that we are able to have these discussions, and let us not give up our position as the champion of enlargement.”
Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), with which I totally agree, is it not a fact that the Polish Government have expressed concern about the loss of the brightest and best from their society? They need those talents, but they are losing them to the richer, more developed areas of western Europe. Would not that problem be even more acute in poorer countries such as Romania and Bulgaria?
I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, but I do not agree with him. Some people will remain in their own country, some will want to stay in the United Kingdom and some will want to go back, but it is for them to make that decision. It is not for British parliamentarians to decide where people from Poland should live, how long they should stay in this country or what effect they are having on their own country. It is legitimate for people to raise these issues, but it is not for us to make those decisions.
No, I will not, as I have given way a lot on that point.
My second point is on institutional reform. The constitution will not be the major feature of the European Council meeting, but the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was right to raise the issue—although not at such great length. The fact remains that we need to address such matters. The Government’s position is absolutely right: there is no need to resurrect the constitution as, clearly, this country has no appetite for a referendum, and I do not think that that would be successful. The French electorate have put paid to the European constitution for a long while. It is now a matter of negotiation and discussions between Heads of Government in the normal way.
On institutional reform, however, we need to keep the British flag flying, as we should also lead the reform agenda. It is right to remind the House of the Prime Minister’s many speeches about Europe being more acceptable to the British people if it reforms itself. Clearly, it will not reform itself, so we must lead that reform. When Bulgaria and Romania become members, the EU will have 27 countries. I have attended European Council meetings, as have other right hon. and hon. Members present. It will be impossible to get decisions made at such meetings with 27 Foreign Ministers,27 Prime Ministers and 27 Europe Ministers—along with all the Commissioners—sitting round the table putting their countries’ positions.
I therefore say to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe that if we need to move ahead in areas in which co-operation is possible, when that is in the national interest, we should do so, as long as it does not result in the need for treaty changes—if it does, obviously, it is a great constitutional issue. If the practicalities of the way in which Europe is governed are at issue, we must go ahead. We cannot leave the European Union in a position in which decisions cannot be made and the organisation is paralysed.
That leads me to the issue of the Tampere agenda, which was agreed in 1999 and has now become The Hague formula—named after the city, not the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, who is in Pakistan—which is the agenda for justice and home affairs. Of what are we afraid? Surely we are in favour of controlling illegal migration, dealing with the drugs barons and controlling the trafficking of people. Of course we need to move forward on that agenda with our European partners. It would be astonishing if our security forces, the police and other agencies would not work in concert with the police, Interpol and the security services of other countries to deal with those three issues. What have people got against co-operation on that line?
I have no problem with giving up the veto on those issues. In majority voting, we are always on the winning side. The Conservative Government gave up the veto and allowed us qualified majority voting more than any other Government in the history of this country. Under them, the veto disappeared out of the window on whole areas of policy. I have no problem with QMV in justice and home affairs. In this day and age and in this climate, it is vital that we are able to co-operate with our European partners. I will take the judgment of Ministers on that, however, as they are in possession of the information, and they know whether it is right to do so. There is the argument—if the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West looks at the figures on the number of times that we are on the winning side on QMV, he will be amazed at the statistics.
My final point is on the Lisbon agenda, which was correctly raised by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, but, sadly, is not a matter that will occupy those in Brussels on 14 and 15 December. To my mind, it is the crucial agenda that Europe should follow. On the day of the pre-Budget report, it is important that we pause briefly to emphasise the importance of the Lisbon European Council, which was different from any other such meeting, as for the first time it set out strict and legitimate benchmarks against which countries are to be judged. The hon. Gentleman has an engaging smile, and when I asked him about our performance, he smiled. In fact, our performance is the best of the big countries in the European Union, thanks to the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the Lisbon agenda, we are the fourth best performer in Europe, Germany is 10th and France is eighth. On practically every one of the targets, especially the employment targets, we are well ahead of our European competitors. It was the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who ensured, while he was in Tokyo, that the derogation was agreed with Brussels so that we remain the financial capital of the world and keep New York at a far distance.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that the Labour party in opposition was completely in favour of monetary union, in principle and otherwise, and of the exchange rate mechanism. It is precisely because we are out of both of those that our economy is having relative success. That is a question with which the current Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to contend when he becomes Prime Minister.
We are in such a strong position, as we have heard from the Chancellor today, because of the polices of this Government and the stewardship of the Chancellor. Let us not get into a long debate about how economic policies compare.
Please will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe ensure that he pushes the Lisbon agenda forward in discussions? We waited for and received the mid-term report—the Kok report—which was published in 2005, and which made sorry reading. Europe’s economy will not be the most dynamic in the world unless it can meet the Lisbon benchmarks, and we cannot wait for five years to find out about that. I know that the issue was pushed forward in a meeting of Finance Ministers on4 December to discuss innovation. We need to push the Lisbon agenda forward at all times, as it is the only way in which we will make a difference to Europe’s economy.
I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe well in pursuing the agendas set out so well by the Foreign Secretary today. In doing so, he has my support and, I think, the support of the vast majority of Members of the House.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests.
This debate has certain traditions, one of which for me is to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). It is a pleasure to do so, as he has spoken a lot of good sense about the issues facing Europe. The debate also always has a slightly surreal quality, which has been honoured by the references to plumbing and the idea that the Eurovision song contest is setting the agenda for enlargement. Thankfully, a lot of serious points have also been made, which the subject of Europe surely merits.
Two weeks ago, two important speeches were made on the same day about the future of Europe. Each, however, said different things. One was made by the Foreign Secretary, who was addressing European Union ambassadors to the United Kingdom at the Finnish embassy in London. The other was made by the Minister for Europe, who was addressing the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin. Of course, the differences in the speeches might be viewed as the latest twist in the soap opera of King Charles street, which has been entertaining some and depressing the rest of us in recent months. On that occasion, however, the differences were not about splits—at least not on the surface.
The Foreign Secretary’s speech dwelt on the challenges of climate change and energy security, the increasing complexity of Europe’s external relations and the importance of common responses to the threats posed by international terrorism, and touched on the desperate need to make progress on the Doha trade round and to tackle the desperate situation in Darfur. The Minister for Europe’s speech focused on the historic recent enlargement of the Union, the opportunities offered by the growth of the single market, and the need to reform Europe’s institutions if we are to make the most of Europe’s potential.
Whatever the differences on the Treasury Bench, one does not need to be too charitable to acknowledge that the two different speeches underline the sheer breadth of issues confronting the United Kingdom and our European partners, and the importance of ensuring that, as a country, we are committed players in a growing European Union.
The recent mood has been downbeat, and it is proving hard to shrug it off. We have had a somewhat muted and low-key 12 months since the rejection of the constitution by France and the Netherlands. Finland acceded to the presidency with high hopes of re-energising the Union, bringing the passive period of reflection on the constitutional treaty to a close, and starting active discussions on the future of the treaty; but, with recent inconclusive elections in the Netherlands and French presidential elections in 2007, it is not surprising that the issue has barely been discussed by European leaders, openly at least.
We believe that recent and planned enlargement will place further pressure on Europe, which will force further reform of the institutions. Only yesterday, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Altrinchamand Sale, West (Mr. Brady), Finland became the16th country to ratify the draft constitution. Perhaps that was a belated attempt to restart negotiations on the treaty; but whatever the reasons for the ratification and whatever Finland hopes to achieve by it, it is clear that the review of the constitutional process as it stands is virtually moribund and in need of a fresh start.
That was an unfortunate and cynical calculation. Perhaps similar thoughts have crossed politicians’ minds in this country in recent years.
It is important for us not to concentrate on examining our constitutional navels. Europe must not lose sight of the need to address the delivery deficit which directly affects all the people of Europe. That means refocusing on the economic weaknesses that the Lisbon and Hampton Court agendas have sought to address, and, in the wake of the stark warnings in the Stern report, on tackling the urgent issue of climate change. Whatever the disappointments of the past six months, we should not blame the Finnish presidency, which for the most part has been left to deal with more immediate, although none the less important, issues. In particular, the issue of Turkish membership of the European Union has continued to be a key challenge for Europe, and controversy continues to be inextricably linked to the issue.
The twin issues of relations with Cyprus and fundamental internal reforms continue to provide barriers to a smooth accession process, but those barriers must not come to be regarded as insurmountable. Turkey will have to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and further moves towards settling the Cyprus dispute are clearly a prerequisite for Turkish accession, as are measures to tackle the shocking human rights issues in the country. However, it is important that we reinforce our commitment to Turkish accession to the European Union. There ought to be no ideological or—despite what some may try to assert—religious barriers to Turkish membership of the Union. The issue of Turkish accession may prove to be the most difficult of the enlargements that Europe has undergone, but in the end a reformed, democratic Turkey will be stronger, and at the same time will strengthen the European Union. It must be worth the effort.
Of course, the issue of Turkish membership is not the only matter of enlargement with which we are concerned. The enlargement process must continue in the Balkans, and we must reject any idea that the Union’s absorption capacity precludes any further members from south-east Europe. The Balkans are a hugely important part of our continent and we are all affected by what happens there, as was demonstrated so disastrously in the 1990s. The legacy of those conflicts is still with us in Kosovo and Serbia, where the fragile state of affairs is testimony to the difficulties of overcoming conflict.
The coming year will be important for Kosovo and Serbia, and we must hope that the Council will address these matters. There will be elections in Serbia in January, and the results of Kosovo’s final-status process are expected shortly thereafter. It is important for Britain to speak strongly on the issue. Serbia’s recent reassertion of its territorial claim to Kosovo means that there are tough times ahead for the region, but some form of internationally guaranteed independence for Kosovo is inevitable and vital. Serbia and its neighbours must recognise that. Moreover, all the aspirant countries in the region must recognise their continuing obligations to satisfy international demands relating to the war crimes committed during the bloody conflict of a decade ago.
A strong approach is essential, but it is also crucial that the Union continues to offer the carrot of membership to the region as the countries continue to undergo the difficult process of recovery and reconciliation. Accession and its economic and political benefits remain an important prospective reward for the difficult choices and the work involved. For the Union, it will represent the chance finally to unite all the different corners of Europe in a peaceful and prosperous continent, and the hope of burying the terrible legacy of Europe’s 20th-century conflicts in the process.
Despite its aspirations, the European Union’s external relations have at times been fragmented and haphazard in recent years, not least owing to the divisions caused by the Iraq war. Increasingly, however, it is becoming apparent in both Europe and Washington that European involvement is a crucial component of international affairs. We therefore need to develop Europe’s capability in its external relations policy. That requires difficult choices on the part of member state Governments, not least the British Government. We need to rebalance our British foreign policy, away from dependence on taking Washington’s lead and towards greater influence within Europe. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the middle east, where the United Kingdom appears to have been completely bypassed by the recent Spanish, French and Italian peace initiative. Current international policy towards Israel-Palestine is in danger of irreversible failure, and we need a serious rethinking of that policy if we are to see a solution.
Europe has an important role in the region, and in resolving that conflict. The EU is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians. In 2005 it gave €500 million, and the figure for 2006 is expected to be even higher. In Lebanon, too, Europe is a key donor, pledging€100 million following the disastrous conflict earlier this year. The Union also has an important economic relationship with Israel through the association agreement. We are Israel’s largest trading partner, representing 35 per cent. of its trade—a full 10 per cent. more than its trade with the United States.
Europe therefore has the motive, which is the crisis in our neighbourhood, and the means, which is our economic influence in the region, to play a greater role. For too long we have been the banker for a failed international approach to the conflict, providing hundreds of millions of pounds to rebuild what has just been destroyed in the most recent confrontation. That money, rather than genuinely developing Palestine and Israel by reversing their descent into poverty, is in essence paying the cost of each failed military action.
The Franco-Spanish initiative was welcome and served to remind us how far removed we are from the road map, but it did not set out a new strategy, and without support from countries across the Union—including Britain—it is likely to become just another failed initiative. What we need is a new common European position on Israel-Palestine, and such an approach must continue to be based on the Quartet’s principles to create a secure and stable state for both Israel and Palestine. Europe must use its economic and geographic influence, backed up by a willingness to be part of the necessary security measures, to ensure that we get a proper and sustainable peace in the region. Unilateral UK efforts or trilateral European efforts are unlikely to succeed. The European Union is the formal member of the Quartet; it must act in accordance with that fact, and not simply continue to bankroll an increasingly failed policy over which it has limited influence.
There must also be a new strategy on Russia. The current approach is clearly insufficient. We in Britain are currently rightly concerned about the events surrounding the death of Mr. Litvinenko. We welcome the statements of the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary that diplomatic protocols will not be a bar to a full and thorough investigation, but there must be some concern following Russian statements that there will be no extradition of any suspects to the United Kingdom and severe limitations on the work carried out by Scotland Yard detectives in Russia. We must of course be careful not to point the finger of blame at Russia itself, but the Russian authorities must also recognise Britain’s legitimate need to investigate Mr. Litvinenko’s death without hindrance.
It sounds a bit like the hon. Gentleman is adopting a moral position on this issue. There is no extradition rule between Britain and Russia, and Britain has refused a large number of requests for extradition of people who do not wish to return to Russia. Therefore, the Russians are just adopting the current protocol.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that I was seeking to make neither a moral nor an institutional observation. However, an apparently friendly Government ought to be willing to go the extra mile in a set of circumstances where there are legitimate concerns here in Britain to find out what has gone on in relation to that death.
There are valid concerns about many of the policies that Russia is following. Sadly, in recent times, criticism has been at best muted and at times—the worst case—non-existent. Such an approach allows the Russian authorities to divide and conquer in negotiations with Europe. That is clearly disadvantaging us, and it is particularly unacceptable as Europe ought to be in a strong position.
Recently, there has been much focus on the energy relationship. Europe does indeed need Russian oil and gas supplies, but Russia is also very dependent on a European market that is willing to pay what remain high prices for those supplies. It is dependent on Europe in many other ways too—not that that is always obvious from the way that the EU reacts.
The EU is undertaking negotiations with Russia on a successor agreement to the partnership and co-operation agreement. The original statement included strong references to the need to respect political and economic freedoms. Any successor agreement must also include strong commitments to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, but, more than that, Europe must be willing to hold Russia to those commitments. It must also be made clear that its actions in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova—to name but a few places—are totally unacceptable. Moreover, if Russia wants European support for its aim of accession to the World Trade Organisation it should be made explicit that that support depends on its abiding by the international rule of law. The future of Russia is in the balance, and the people of Russia and those in European Union will be ill-served by Europe remaining divided in its handling of Russia’s affairs at home and abroad.
There are many different visions of, and for, Europe, and when the Heads of State and Government gather next week they will no doubt reflect that Europe remains in a state of flux. They represent a Europe that is still coming to terms with the dramatic enlargement of two and a half years ago, that is still to equip itself with the tools to do its job efficiently and effectively, and that has still to undertake essential, and possibly painful, reforms.
For all the difficulties facing them, the leaders will be meeting at a significant moment. As the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome approaches, the EU has never been more important to the lives of people in the UK. The challenges might have changed, but the founding principles remain as relevant as ever.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore). In some ways, listening to, and taking part in, this debate is a bit like being at a meeting of the European Council: many issues are placed on the agenda, and rightly so, and everybody wants to have their say about all the various issues that are on the agenda, but only a limited number of issues ever come off the agenda with any decision having been made. It is another axiom of Council meetings that if someone wants something to be on the agenda in 24 months, they must raise it now or there will be no chance of it ever becoming an issue that is treated as a priority. It is therefore right that Members of this House are raising many issues that affect our future in Europe.
In debates such as ours, it is often said that the usual suspects take part—often by making the usual suspects’ speeches. Our debate today is not particularly different from those of other occasions, although I notice and welcome that a number of newer Conservative Members are quickly learning the tricks of usual suspicion. We look forward to their contributions.
Inevitably, and as the Foreign Secretary said in her introductory speech, the main issue on the agenda, which will be taken off it following the decisions that will hopefully be taken next week, will be how we proceed with enlargement. Matters relating to Bulgaria and Romania, and to some of the other countries that have been mentioned today, will be discussed. It is very important to ensure that we get the Turkey situation right, and that we continue to argue a positive case. The very complicated position in the Balkans also needs to be sorted out over time.
I would normally dwell on enlargement, as I have before in such debates, but today I want to be different. I want to put on the agenda an issue that, although it will not be top of the bill next week, will probably rise up the order of priorities come the June Council meeting and will become increasingly important in subsequent meetings: climate change. The European Union is often criticised on all sorts of grounds. Some of that criticism is friendly, and some of it not so. Whatever one thinks of the EU, I cannot imagine that any other body will hold together international talks on climate change. The United Nations will try and, in a sense, it will set the tone of what might be achievable, but to judge by history, it will not achieve it. Such aims will be achieved through negotiations between different interest blocs, who will sit down in a multilateral decision-making forum, whatever form that forum might take.
That is exactly what happened at the Kyoto talks some years ago. The UN was unable to resolve the situation on its own, so there were talks among the different blocs and different commitments were made. It is not just a question of outlining a particular position; it is about being able to deliver on it. If the EU was not taking a very active role in climate change, how on earth would we deliver what we want to deliver in a European context? It would be extremely difficult, and I doubt whether we could. As the emissions trading scheme shows, even with the EU’s involvement, it is not all plain sailing; there are many difficulties that we have to face up to. Without the EU’s involvement, the situation would be almost impossible.
Emissions trading is playing a key role in tackling the carbon reduction aims that are increasingly being pursued throughout the world. This is not an original EU idea—it evolved following inter-state agreements within the United States—but the EU has driven it forward in a positive way. Some 18 months into the scheme, we are already seeing the progress that is being made. It is not perfect, however. As the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—he is no longer in his place—pointed out in an intervention, there have been many somewhat dubious definitions of permits under the existing permit scheme. Such aspects of the scheme have to be tightened up, but essentially, it is sound. It sets carbon emission levels for different European nations and within different industries, and it provides a forum for examining what is happening and what needs to be done not only by nation states, but by the industrial and commercial sector. I cannot envisage a better forum for achieving that aim, which is why we must focus on it and build on what has already been achieved.
A measure of marketisation is also the right approach. It is better if people have an incentive to do something sensible, rather than their being forced to do something that others believe to be sensible. That is why the incentive scheme is a good one. It encourages those who can make bigger gains than they are required to make to do so, and to trade them on. It also encourages those who find it extremely difficult in the shorter term to make such gains to buy the permit cover that they need to meet the European guidelines, if the other parts of their business allow them to do so. I think that the scheme is a good one, but the rules need to be examined and there must be a monitoring system, with the EU looking closely at what is happening in member states. If we start to wander from our commitment and targets, so will everyone else, and the scheme will fall to bits.
However, the main challenge has to do with the future. The current emissions deals take us through to 2012. There is a European commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 8 per cent in that period, but whether we achieve those targets remains to be seen. How do we take things forward? How does the EU play its post-Kyoto role, looking forward to 2020 and beyond?
Those key questions cover much of the territory covered by the recent Stern report. I know that the December Council meeting will not resolve them, but the Germans in particular are interested and there will be a lot of pressure to make real progress next May and in the Council meetings that follow.
Another matter that needs to be reviewed on a regular basis is the scope of the emissions trading scheme. Which greenhouse gases should it cover? That question needs to be discussed in depth. Any EU agreement must be consistent with Kyoto, but nitrous oxide, for instance, is not included at the moment, even though it accounts for a significant amount of emissions. In addition, should gases emitted from coal, such as methane, be covered by a new emissions trading scheme? Other greenhouse gases are emitted from aluminium production plants. Their names are so complicated that I will not try to pronounce them, but should they be included in future?
Those are big questions, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister winding up the debate has to say in response. I also have various other questions that I want to ask.
The UK has adopted a very radical approach to aviation. Our population accrues more air miles per person than just about any other in Europe, so any agreement is likely to hurt us a little. However, there would be a big gap in the new emissions trading scheme if it did not include aviation. I had thought that total emissions from aviation amounted to 2 or 3 per cent. of the European total, but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his statement earlier that the proportion is now calculated at 6 per cent.
A sector that accounts for so much in the way of emissions cannot be ignored, and that raises serious questions about how the EU will introduce controls on aviation. The matter could be dealt with relatively easily at a European level through fiscal measures, although I know that some Opposition Members might find that difficult. However, what is the positive alternative to air travel? How do we invest in a Europe-wide rail system whose emissions levels per passenger mile would be about one seventh of what is produced by aviation?
I asked that question in my contribution to the Queen’s Speech debate, but other questions are also important. For instance: how do we link up rail systems so that people can travel cheaply from any part of the EU to any other on fast trains? That would contribute to improving the environment but it would be a big, costly and challenging decision. Do Ministers accept that tackling the problems of aviation or vehicle travel in general raises questions to do with how we transfer the emphasis onto public transport in the European context? That is a difficult problem that cannot be resolved by single states acting alone.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the need to build a Europe-wide rail network. That is happening already, for freight in particular but for passengers as well, as a result of the initiative taken by our noble Friend Lord Kinnock when he was Transport Commissioner. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of investment in this country’s rail network, especially for freight, has always been a problem? As a result of it, the channel tunnel is almost bankrupt because so little traffic is going through.
I may not agree with everything that my hon. Friend says about European issues, but I agree with him on that point. He is right: we have not spent enough on rail investment and we need to spend more. Our system should connect with European networks and there should be a minimum investment figure for all EU countries.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously thought about aviation sector emissions. Does he agree that if we are not careful and the EU imposes a duty on aviation fuel, there could be a huge distorting effect? We could suddenly find that Ryanair uses Moscow or Istanbul as its major refuelling depot. How could that result be overcome? Is it the best way to deal with the problem or would levying a further passenger duty be a better solution?
I fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. Transport experts need to look into the problem. A diplomatic issue would be involved, too. If there was a bilateral agreement between Russia and the EU that any tax that applied in the EU would apply in Russia if an EU plane refuelled there, it would resolve the problem, although I realise that is a lot easier said than done. On the other hand, Ryanair might not find it viable to fuel up in Moscow to fly from Newcastle to Dublin. However, the problem needs to be tackled, as does competitiveness with the United States and north America. Should flights from that area be dealt with differently from flights within the EU? Those issues are all part of a package and they have to be resolved.
I want to make two more points. First, the proposal to hold auctions for carbon limits is interesting and should be examined. I am not convinced that auctions would necessarily be better than the permit system, but it would be worth hearing the Government’s view about whether they would be more effective, although if things were left completely to the market it would be harder for countries to define permits differently. I would not instinctively travel in that direction, but I shall be interested in the Government’s view. Perhaps there could be a reference to that in the wind-up.
Secondly, under the current system of emissions control permits, if an EU-based business invests in a carbon-saving scheme outside the EU—for example, in a developing country or in China—their contribution counts in calculations under the EU rules. Although that provision is mildly imperialist, it has a lot of merit, because it reduces emissions worldwide. If, rather than emissions targets being reached only in a European context, they are reached both in Europe and beyond, there is an overall gain, and that is desirable.
Earlier today, the Chancellor said that Britain had signed a partnership agreement on the development of biofuels with Brazil, Mozambique and South Africa, and that we are working on the preservation of rain forests with Latin America and Asian countries, on clean coal with China and India and on carbon storage with Norway. If EU businesses, particularly British businesses, currently invest in such projects, would that count against any limits set in the post-2012 agreements? The rules would obviously have to be EU rules, so can the EU make a forward agreement and would the British Government support it? If so, it would provide an incentive to go further towards meeting existing limits than is absolutely necessary from a statutory point of view. It could also be good business for many British companies that could make a contribution in that regard.
I am sure that the meetings to be held next week will be similar to others that have taken place over many years. I understand that enlargement will be at the top of the agenda, and I welcome and support that, but I hope that the Government will feel able to push the climate change agenda. In the wind-up, it would be interesting if we could hear to what extent the Government accept the Commission’s new proposals on emissions trading. Do the proposals go as far as the Government want, given that we were instrumental in pushing many of the issues?
I wish our representatives—be they the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, European Ministers or an array of civil servants—the very best in the talks next week.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome, I would like to take the opportunity of adopting a landscape view, sketching out some of the implications to reflect the situation as we now find it. First, I am bound to say that disarray among member states is apparent not just in respect of Iraq a few years ago when the situation became terminal for foreign policy and defence, but in respect of institutional changes as promulgated by proposals for a European constitution. We have had the referendums in France and the Netherlands, which went against the constitution, and a series of other rejected referendums in Denmark and Ireland, for example, that have been reorganised—with a lot of threats and blackmail—in order to get the right result. Of course, one cannot do that with a country like France. I am certain that it would not happen in this country either, as it would be so alien to the British tradition that serious problems would be caused.
Just from sketching out those indicative problems, it is quite clear that the European Union is not working. I am interested in which way the future Prime Minister—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—is likely to go on this subject. Above all else, he is a pragmatist. It is possible to make inferences from the people intimately around him, from his first statement on the Bank of England, from the economic tests, from the direction in which he has pitched his economic policies towards a more transatlantic approach and from the views of commentators such as Robert Peston and Tom Bower. They all provide some indication that under the presidency—[Interruption.] That was a Freudian slip, as I meant the prime ministership of the current Chancellor. As I have made clear on several occasions, Conservative Members need to be aware that the Chancellor might do a mini-Peter Shore. My old friend, now Lord Shore, was a strong opponent of further integration. It would not be quite the same thing, but I believe that the direction is likely to be sceptical.
I remember challenging the current Chancellor when he was the shadow Chancellor, accusing him of being in favour in principle of economic and monetary union. He said, “Yes, I am”, but then he said, “and I happen to agree with your Chancellor of the Exchequer”—namely, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Well, I think things have changed considerably since then and we need to be conscious of that change. I mention that because, fundamentally, any responsible Government have to look at the situation as it really is—and it is not working: Europe is not working.
We also need to reflect on what Europe affects. Despite the desire of many people to shove some of this under the carpet, the reality is that, the EU affects a vast amount of what goes on for our constituents. I challenge anyone to try to tell me anything that it does not affect. That is all driven by a harmonised legal system and majority voting.
As I said in an intervention, the European Court of Justice carries with it a contradiction: in most cases people do not get what they would voluntarily want if they exercised their freedom of choice in the ballot box, by virtue of which they choose representatives in this Parliament, which legislates on their behalf. Yet we know perfectly well that, if hon. Members vote against a directive or a regulation in the European Standing Committee, which has happened on occasion, the decision is automatically overturned on the Floor of the House. The scrutiny process is wanting in many respects, and it is better than in most other member states.
As I said in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary, the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. There are ways to remedy that, and I need not rehearse my arguments on the supremacy of Parliament provisions that I proposed to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. I am very glad to say that Conservative Front Benchers and Whips agreed to support those provisions and went so far as to provide Tellers for what was a Back-Bench amendment, even though50 hon. Members had signed up to it on the amendment paper.
My amendment was pursued as an anchor in that Bill, which ranges widely across a raft of measures and many Departments, and it was followed up in the House of Lords by a whipped vote, when the Chief Whip and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords went through the Lobby with many of our noble Friends. Although we did not win the vote in either House, the anchor that those provisions representin sustaining the democratic principles on which Parliament is based is a matter for congratulation and applause for not only the Whips Office but the current leadership—provided, of course, that that anchor remains firmly fixed where it was in June. I should not like to see it dragged in any direction, and I would strongly advise the leadership to include it in the manifesto, when it comes.
I have taken this overall position both on the landscape and on the principle of parliamentary supremacy, which is an essential issue not only for the House but for Europe as a whole. In fact, I would go further and extend the landscape across the whole globe. Given that many people have an aspiration for the EU to operate on the scale of 450 million peoplein sophisticated, industrialised countries, with new countries coming in because of enlargement, it is clearly a matter of vast importance that the system is truly democratic and truly accountable, and it is not.
I need not rehearse all the arguments or mention the European Court of Auditors reports, the failures of the European Commission periodically and the real problems that lie at the heart of the system, which needs to be reformed into an association of nation states. The system must be fully democratic, with co-operation where necessary, on the principle of subsidiarity—whatever that word means; it depends on whom one speaks to—and it must operate in a way that genuinely allows freedom of speech and the freedom of markets to be determined by freedom of choice. That must lie at the heart of the democratic system. Accountability ultimately depends on that freedom of choice.
I very strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s emphasis on democracy. In reality, is not one of the reasons why the EU is not democratic the fact that the elites that run it are fearful that their citizens do not support what they are doing and might vote against them?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be difficult to say that this is not a party political matter, but it is also right for me to say that this is a matter of such importance that it is essential that we have an understanding on both sides of the House about the importance of the principles that I have enunciated. I have demonstrated the lack of democracy and I could enlarge on that. There are so many instances of proof. It is a matter of overriding national interest that we get this right.
I asked myself, “Where are the problems and difficulties that arise?” In the context of the system that now exists, they reside in most of the other member states. In Germany, for example, there has recently been a challenge to the European constitution through the German constitutional court, which has decided to put the matter to one side for the time being, because there are political questions that have yet to be resolved. However, the court did not suggest that it thought that the European constitution was consistent with the German constitution. In fact, I get the impression that it does not think that it is consistent, but it wants to put that on one side until the political questions are resolved during the course of the German presidency.
What is the German presidency after? In my opinion—I know that this is controversial, but I have said it before—the German nation, in its own vital national interests, believes in a concentric circles plan. Michael Mertes, who devised the plan, had a clear idea of it. I discussed it with him at great length on a number of occasions. The indications are that, whether by design or otherwise, Germany would end up by having a disproportionate amount of dominance in a Europe dominated by the system of qualified majority voting. Those countries that are economically or politically dependent on Germany, which includes most of the new entrants, would be in a difficult position. How would they be able to vote against a country to which they were so deeply committed economically? I am not trying to evoke dark impressions of the past. I am saying that there is a realistic problem, which some people want to push under the carpet, but which has to be considered responsibly in this Parliament, which represents a system of democracy and accountability.
We know that Chancellor Merkel intends to start the revival process in January. We understand that she wants a road map, leaving it to the subsequent presidency to take things forward. Apparently she is not optimistic about the German presidency solving the constitutional issue, but the fact is that she wants to kick-start the process. She is also against cherry-picking, or, in other words, taking bits and pieces, like Nicolas Sarkozy. She is against him on that. However, the reality is that underneath, there is a continuing commitment in Germany, in the Chancellery, to the idea of a European constitution and all the problems that will flow from it.
There are two contenders for the presidency of France. One is Ségolène Royal. I happen to be a strong and fervent admirer of France. My father is buried there. He was killed in 1944, in the war, fighting for liberty. Ségolène Royal says that she does not want a two-speed Europe. However, in effect, she wants a hard-core Europe, relaunched with Germany, Italy and Spain—so we are told. She has expressed considerable concern about the American influence. She says that it is possible to have treaties within the treaty among four nations. I say that she said that, but actually it was said on her behalf. However, I do not think that we can have any doubt about the interpretation of that. Mr. Savary, who is her spokesman, also said that goals should include convergence of tax and social security and that there would be talks on a European army, which would not replace national armies.
So, we have a mixed picture—in France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere in the Nordic countries. It is not just a mixed picture, but a picture of confusion and uncertainty that makes the disintegration of the eurozone more likely. That will be driven by an implosion, with problems due to high unemployment of the kind that we have seen in Paris, Lyons, Hungary and elsewhere. The system will not work.
This country has been denied a referendum. Apparently, the Prime Minister is in favour of the European treaty, but he will not bring forward another European Union Bill. He says that treaties cannot be implemented in part, but what kind of treaty will there be? People can look to the future against the background of the considerable differences that exist, such as Mr. Sarkozy suggesting that we would want a legal personality for the Union, that we should have more majority voting and that there should be a Foreign Minister. As I put it to the Prime Minister—I think that he saw a googly coming and decided just to play it straight back, if he could—as Germany is prohibited from having a nuclear weapon by the NATO treaty, but we are committed by article 5 of that treaty to a joint alliance in the defence of our interests, if NATO and Germany are going further abroad and there is talk of the European Union supplementing or subordinating our position on the United Nations Security Council with a European Foreign Minister, a European foreign policy and a European security and defence policy could not work because of such conflicting internal collisions.
The whole problem with Europe is that it does not work—it needs to be remedied. It is undemocratic and it needs to be reformed. If people are not prepared to listen, yet we put our case in a measured and proper manner, there will be no option but to withdraw. However, I set that against the landscape that I have described. It is not an objective in itself—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 15 minutes.
This is one of those many occasions on which I follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I did not want to interrupt his speech, but he simply never addresses one point when he talks about parliamentary democracy. By its very nature, Parliament rarely has the means of finding an opinion that is contrary to the Government’s because the party with the most seats forms the Government. It is not undemocratic that the Government win votes, because that is the way in which the process works.
I want to ask two questions that are specific to the Council meeting in the hope that the Minister for Europe will be able to address them. In the context of enlargement, will there be any consideration of the problems that giving Kosovo an independent status could cause with Russia? It would be the first state that was not a former nation state to be given independent status, so that could be seen as a green light for some of the rebellious groups on Russia’s borders.
Secondly, what progress is being made on the security of energy supply? I find it extraordinary that that is not at the top of the agenda, especially, as we heard earlier, given the quite extraordinary way in which Germany is conducting itself in its dealings with Russia. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will have to say about that when he winds up the debate.
I absolutely agree that that is the danger.
One of the features of these debates is that they are very much like groundhog day. We never get to grips with the way in which the European Union really works because we are dealing with such a long-term process. It was mentioned earlier that if one wants to get something on the agenda, one has to flag it up about two years in advance.
It is easy to overlook the way in which the process by which the European Union forms its institutions actually works. There is no single voice with any cohesion within the Union, other than the one calling for deeper European integration, and it is foolish to think otherwise. There are two ways of achieving that deeper integration. The first is to use crises, and the other is to create new institutions. Rather than anyone saying, “On this occasion, we will deal with the problem in hand,” crises, whether it be a terrorist attack or bird flu, are used as a pretext for setting up structures that lead to deeper integration. New institutions always start with a particular function but end up doing something quite different. My objection to that is the absence of honesty; what is proposed may be fine, but we should be up front about it.
It is interesting to follow the path of the European Defence Agency, an institution that is just emerging as something quite different from what it was meant to be. I hope that the Government will keep a close eye on it to ensure that it delivers what it was originally meant to deliver. It is a bit like a mixture of Cardinal Newman and Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams”. The European Union believes the saying, “Build it and they will come”. Cardinal Newman believed that it did not matter how small the step was, as long as it was a step forward, and that applies to attitudes to deeper integration, too—one must never turn back, because to do so is to be regarded a heretic.
The European Defence Agency started life just before the European Convention process started in 2003. Defence has largely been outside the treaty obligations. Any real, big progress in defence co-operation has always occurred when the UK and France decided to do something, and things would move on from there. It was during work on the Convention in 2003 that it was first rumoured that a new agency was to be set up. I thought that it was an extremely good idea, because it was to be called the European military capability agency, and it was supposed to identify and monitor military capacity. When it was first set up, the UK Government were most concerned that it was the Commission’s way of making defence procurement a Commission responsibility through the back door, but that was never mentioned, and the agency was set up. It was a key part of the constitutional treaty, and although the treaty was rejected, we went ahead with the agency because the truth was that we did not need the treaty provisions to set it up. The UK was comforted by the thought that it was run by a Brit.
If one looks into the way in which the agency operates, there is still a hell of a lot of duplication going on. It seems to be leading to greater protectionism, too. It has a budget of €22 million for 2007, which, in defence terms, is chickenfeed. The United States of America spends $18 million a month supporting Pakistan in its counter-terrorism activities, so €22 million for the whole of Europe is not very much. However, what the agency does with that small sum is bicker and argue. Four or five years after its original, very helpful, purpose was decided on, it is enlightening to look at the agency’s report on what it thinks that it has achieved.
The agency thought that its major achievement was
“a Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement”,
which shows that it concerns itself with procurement, rather than with conducting a real audit of the capabilities and shortcomings across Europe, or with setting out who needs to do what. The agency claims that its website is a big achievement, and that its
“Electronic Bulletin Board now carries details of over 60 contracting opportunities”.
“supports the consensus on the need for less duplication, more specialisation and more interdependence in the European Defence Technological and Industrial base”,
but it goes on to say that it supports
“less dependence on non-European sources for key technologies.”
That was not the original idea; the original idea was to make the money spent far more effective by making sure that, when a country purchases something, it fits in with what is needed across Europe. That does not mean that there should be only European purchasing, or that we should become protectionist. The agency regards it as one of its main achievements to have made things much more protectionist. Towards the end of the document, under the heading, “Some negatives”, the agency casually mentions that
“There have also been disappointments to set against these encouraging developments. Principally, we still lack evidence of real readiness on the part of ”
“to take significant steps towards repairing the now familiar capability gaps in any early time-frame.”
Many Europeans regard the institutions as a huge achievement, but all that we have done is set up a bureaucracy that bickers about how much money it spends. The UK is comfortable with the agency, because it was headed by a Brit but, in its own words, it has failed to address the problem that the EU must confront if it wants to be a serious player in defence. It must start spending more on defence—despite all the protestations, defence spending continues to go down—and rather than fighting NATO, it must start to work with it.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has just returned from Afghanistan. The operation there is not a proper NATO operation but a balkanisation of NATO troops. Command is provided by the international security assistance force, but the national units protect their own turf, and in some cases they are sitting on their hands. In Riga, we did not secure the advances that we wanted, but the good Europeans are comfortable in the knowledge that they have created an institution. That happens repeatedly, so I urge Ministers to demonstrate at the Council the healthy pragmatism for which the Brits are renowned. What is the purpose of the institutions that we have set up, and are they delivering it? For most partners, the setting up of institutions and initiatives is a mechanism to achieve deeper integration. I will admit that I am wrong the minute that a French or German politician says that there are some EU functions that are better performed by the nation states. But no one says so, as there is a continuous push for deeper integration.
I care about the issue—and this is where I have a deep disagreement with the hon. Member for Stone —because I do not want to return to an association of trading states. The EU should have political and trade functions, and it should work effectively. It appears, however, that with every step, we are moving further away from the people who have given us their consent. Their disillusion with the EU has deepened, because it is not delivering. The EU therefore risks falling apart, which would be a matter of deep regret.
I wish the Minister fair speed at the European Council, and I look forward to his response, particularly on Kosovo and energy.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who made a telling point about the damaging growth of spurious bureaucracy in the EU. Her key point, however, was that people do not have a sense of ownership of EU institutions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, almost every aspect of our national life is subject to the influence of the EU, but people have no sense of control. As a result, there is a disconnection from the process.
I agree with the Foreign Secretary that there should be an open door to new entrants. I accept, too, that for some countries on the borders of the EU, the possibility of membership is helpful in achieving reforms. I wish to explore that, but before I do so, it was Willy Brandt who said that the trouble with politicians was that they went into politics to resolve a given set of problems. Once they had done so, however, they failed to move on. The EU is a classic example, as the challenge that it faces is not one of constitutional centralisation, which is quite irrelevant to its needs, but one of demography and lack of competitiveness. Astonishingly, UK corporation tax, which used to be lower than the EU average, is now higher. As a percentage of world trade, the European single market is diminishing as a result of globalisation and other challenges. We have become more insular and obsessed with policies and directives that do not address those challenges for the long-term benefit of the people of this country and of other Europeans.
I echo the hon. Lady’s point. Notwithstanding all the ambitions for a common foreign and defence policy, what we have seen in Afghanistan is truly shocking. Although that is nominally a NATO exercise, our European partners have been unwilling to play their part in dealing with the terrible situation in Afghanistan, which is universally regarded as a huge challenge for all of us. There seems to be an inverse relationship, with those who plead more for political integration and centralisation being unwilling to face their domestic electorates and argue for the defence spending to make that credible and viable, and those who are conceited enough to believe that the European Union should be a force in the world being unwilling to argue with their domestic electorates for adequate defence spending. That makes a mockery of the EU’s demand to be listened to.
Like other hon. Members, I shall speak about the issue of Turkey. We sometimes forget that the accession process has been going on for a long time. Turkey became an associate member of the EEC in 1963. The formal application to join the European Community was made in 1987. Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate for membership in December 1999 at the Helsinki summit of the European Council. The negotiations for Turkey’s entry started only in October 2005. With the current problems, the issue will take at least a decade to resolve.
We should recognise the extraordinarily brave part that that country played during the cold war, right on the border of the old Soviet Union. We should respect the fact that Turkey played a significant part in our defence and our freedoms. Its geographic location enables it to play a hugely important part not only culturally, but militarily, between Europe and the middle east.
I am pleased to note that after some alarming messages from the German Chancellor about her view of the current crisis in Turkey’s negotiations, she has accepted that a dialogue with Turkey must continue, however difficult that is. She has accepted the view of the European Commission, which is probably far too tough. At least she is not going further, as she previously seemed to be indicating. The attitude in Germany and France is not driven by an important geopolitical consideration of the future of Turkey and its relationship with the EU. It is driven by domestic attitudes and politics, which in my view is wrong.
The EU Commission has frozen eight out of the35 chapters for negotiation. Those are the free movement of services, the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, agriculture and rural development, financial services, fisheries, transport, customs union and external relations. There are huge demands on Turkey and all derive from the difficulty of creating an adequate customs protocol.
As several hon. Members have noted, one of the barriers to negotiations is the key Turkish demand that the isolation of Turkish north Cyprus be lifted. On a strict legal interpretation, Turkey is in the wrong and should admit Greek Cypriot ships to its ports. However, there are powerful domestic reasons why that is not happening and the issue remains a flashpoint.
I am proud of the fact that in the House there is almost universal recognition of the importance of Turkey’s membership of the EU ultimately. I agree with the Prime Minister, who said in Latvia recently that it would be a “serious mistake” to send a negative signal to Turkey over its EU membership. There are presidential elections in Turkey at the beginning of next year and parliamentary elections at the end of the year. In 2008 there are European elections in a number of countries, notably Germany. So there is a window, but not a large one, for us to consider Turkey’s future.
Because of all the to-ing and fro-ing over the future of Turkey’s accession, there is waning support for it in Turkey itself. Some polls suggest that a majority would wish to break off accession talks altogether, and there is certainly a considerable decline in the number of those who favour joining the EU at all.
At this critical juncture, when there are so many huge problems in the middle east which wash up on to these shores, Turkey has a unique role to play. It has excellent relationships with Israel and with Arab countries. It has committed its troops to Lebanon. There is a Jordanian-Turkish initiative known as the neighbourhood forum which could at least be the basis for countries in the region coming together to consider the terrible problems that are besetting it.
I hope that a clear message goes out from this House and from this Government that for all Turkey’s difficulties we need to support its accession and to encourage it to overcome those difficulties in a proper, constructive dialogue with the European Commission.
My hon. Friend mentioned next year’s elections in Turkey. Does he think that it would be deeply regrettable if Turkey were to move from being a secular state towards becoming an Islamic state because it felt snubbed in its membership negotiations with the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Turkey is a secular nation. For all its human rights and religious minority difficulties, it is moving in the right direction. A snub at this point may well have that effect, with awful consequences not only in Turkey but in the surrounding Islamic countries, which would draw a clear message from it.
I should like to refer to another country on the borders of the European Union—Ukraine. Many of the states of central Europe were offered the prospect of membership of the EU and NATO as an ultimate reward for their diligent pursuit of democratic and market reforms, but Ukraine received no such serious offer after it had declared independence. That has rendered its transition that much harder and given political ammunition to those in Ukraine with a deep mistrust of the west. Western scepticism may thus have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The orange revolution constituted a critical point of departure in the EU’s new relationship with Ukraine. Over the past year, there has been a concerted effort to upgrade the EU-Ukrainian relationship, despite persistent political instability in Ukraine. That includes pressure on it in terms of creating a market economy, making progress on anti-dumping legislation, efforts to simplify visa rules, and a feasibility study on an eventual free trade agreement. The idea that this should, in stockbroking language, be “all or none” is irrelevant. In relation to a country such as Ukraine, which is of huge geopolitical significance given all the pressures, particularly from Russia in the north, we should have flexible arrangements that enable it to participate in aspects of life within the EU in order to encourage it to make progress on democratic practices, human rights and opening its markets without ultimately requiring full EU membership. Such flexible arrangements would work much more satisfactorily in the globalised world that we inhabit.
The EU considers Ukraine a priority partner country and calls for an increasingly close relationship. Indeed, an EU-Ukraine summit took place in the autumn of this year. It is very important that the country be stable and successful. For example, a large amount of the energy supplies that come westwards from Russia comes through Ukraine. Regardless of the outstanding problems, we should extend the hand of friendship to Ukraine at this time and try to develop these relationships. Ukrainians look to this country to lead on the matter. Many have contributed to the economic life of this country and listed some of their companies on the London stock exchange. They feel comfortable in this country and look to us to take a more pragmatic view than some of our European partners of the European Union and its future.
Let me consider two other countries that have been especially problematic. Other hon. Members have commented on Croatia and the western Balkans. However, I should like to consider the problem of Moldova, which is a close neighbour of existing EU countries. In February 2005, the EU and Moldova adopted a bilateral action plan. It is a political document that sets out strategic objectives to be fulfilled over a time frame of three years. It covers strengthening administrative and judicial capacity, respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Furthermore, there are issues linked to border management and the fight against trafficking and organised crime. Of course, it is a poor country with a low standard of living, yet we need to encourage it to undergo reforms.
Moldovans are in a difficult position because they are so dependent on the Russians. We should assist them through opening up our markets and encouraging investment and other reforms so that their dependence on Russia lessens and they become more integrated with the more sophisticated economies to their west.
The same applies to Belarus. That country is in a difficult position through an unsatisfactory political process. Again, the assistance that the EU pledged through social and economic development needs tobe provided in a future European neighbourhood partnership agreement. We have learned in the past few years that we cannot escape the problems of our neighbours. If there are problems in those countries, we get migratory flows and all the attendant difficulties.
Trying to find a way forward in the western Balkans, trying to find a way of securing Turkey’s accession to the EU and stretching out the hand of friendship to Ukraine to involve it more in the western side of Europe and our conduct of our national lives is in our interests. From a strategic, security and economic point of view, those countries will be increasingly dependent on us. We should encourage them to undertake the reforms that will enable them eventually to have a much improved standard of living, give their people hope, and, in doing that, underpin democratic standards in their countries. The people of these countries would welcome that.
I apologise for being unable to be here for some of the early part of the debate.
It is a great pleasure to participate in such debates, which always constitute a learning experience for me, and possibly for others, because we always hear something new. However, we inevitably have to say some things more than once, and I regret to say that I wish to repeat some points that I have made previously because they bear restating.
I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on her concern about the lack of sceptical voices at European Commission level and in the European institutions. It is as though the structures are organised in such a way that no dissenting voice is heard. My party introduced proportional representation on a regional basis for elections to the European Parliament. One of the effects was to eliminate all the Eurosceptic voices from our delegation. I do not know whether our leaders intended that, but that was the result. We now have universal Euro support among the Labour Members of the European Parliament, and that is worrying.
Many millions—sometimes majorities—of people in European Union nations are sceptical about the European Union’s actions, what their leaders do on their behalf and, especially, what the Commission does. They should have a voice. If the current position continues, deep disillusion could set in with the idea of co-operating in Europe. That would be damaging even for those who, like me, oppose the European Union as such. I have always believed that we should have a looser association of member states, co-operating voluntarily but retaining our national democracies, so that we can retain our distinctive choices about how we govern ourselves and how we are governed while working in a brotherly—I would personally say comradely—way with people in other member states. I have contact with representatives of political parties of the left in Scandinavia, Germany and elsewhere. We have some very productive discussions, but we are sceptical about the European Union.
With the election of Angela Merkel as the new German Chancellor, we have seen another federalist obsessive taking significant power and driving towards a future for the European Union about which I have profound doubts. She seems determined to bury the independence of member states and the democratic rights of their citizens in a much more bureaucratic, authoritarian state of Europe. She also wants to revive the European constitution. Some months ago, a parliamentary colleague clapped his hand on my shoulder and said, “Now that we are not joining the euro and the European constitution is dead, nothing divides us.” He said that with a smile on his face. I replied that I hoped that that was the case, but unfortunately it does not seem to be because there are people—Angela Merkel is one of them—who are determined to revive the constitution and to drive everyone to join the eurozone, which would be absolutely disastrous.
The system of different countries having the European presidency for six months gives each country its moment of glory and influence, and that is fine. However, in relation to our discussing how strong borders should be, or whether they should be porous or almost non-existent, Finland has the presidency at the moment, and it does not worry about borders. Finns have told me that people do not want to go to Finland because it is a very cold country with an extremely difficult language—that is what Finnish politicians say. However, people do want to go to other countries in the European Union. The countries that are affected by changes in the strength of borders need to have more influence in the debate; they should have a bigger say in what goes on than those who are either unaffected or keen to have less policing on their borders because they want to move away from the poorer countries towards the richer countries. It is understandable for the people of those countries to take that view.
The next country to hold the presidency will be Germany, which seems determined to revive the apparently dead parrot—this one might still have some life in it—of the European constitution. I urge my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, who will be negotiating on our behalf, to uphold the traditional British position of saying no to a federal state and yes to an association of independent member states, and to ensure that that is what the future of Europe is all about.
Much as I admire the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that what he is saying is not exactly accurate. Labour Members went straight through the Lobby voting in favour of the European Union and its treaty a few months ago, on Second Reading of the European Union Bill.
There are sceptical voices across the Chamber, and some of us are seeking reassurance. There have been occasions on which I have not supported my party in some votes on European matters. One of the reasons why I speak in so many of these debates is that there are many others in the party and in the broader Labour movement who take a similarly sceptical view of the European Union—not on a narrow, nationalistic basis, but on a socialist basis. They want to see a democratic, socialist and egalitarian Europe, not a free market Europe that drives inequality rather than equality. That is a legitimate position, and it is certainly one that I hold.
Apparently, Germany is determined to press ahead and to try to revive the European constitution. I want to make sure that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench tell those in Germany that the constitution is dead. I hope that the French, Dutch and other European nations, which have either not made the decision or were due to have a referendum, will say the same. I also hope that the constitution will not be slipped in by the back door and effectively implemented without a formal decision.
Some Commissioners take an even stronger line. Margo Wallström, for instance, said that we should not depart too much from the constitutional treaty, even without ratification. Actually, she wants to go further by taking out some of the provisions for unanimity that remain in the draft treaty, so that everything is decided by qualified majority voting and the European Union is much more centralist. We must say to her and others that Britain does not support that view, and that we want to retain unanimity on crucial matters, which must be decided at national level. I am sure that other nations feel the same.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) was almost praising the Chancellor for his management of the economy, as we have benefited from being outside the eurozone—
I note the hon. Gentleman’s comment from a sedentary position. Nevertheless, the economy has done well in recent years, and we must give credit to the Chancellor for presiding over that success. His greatest success, however, is that he and the Treasury kept us out of the eurozone—a splendid decision that I fully support. In doing so, he has saved the British economy an enormous amount of difficulty—[Interruption.] Well, it is at least possible that he may soon be the Prime Minister, and I hope that he can continue with his splendid views on such matters in that new office.
Those who want to join the euro do not appreciate the importance in managing an economy of having control of the value of one’s currency relative to other currencies, and of having control over interest rates. If macro-economic policy cannot be controlled at member state level, inevitably, states will be tied to a policy that is not necessarily in their own interests. We have seen that inside the eurozone already. Some countries joined the euro at a parity that was too high for their economy, and some joined at a low parity, which has been advantageous. Ireland and Spain have benefited tremendously from that as they were forced to reduce their interest rates.
According to studies of the appropriate interest rates in countries given the state of their economies, the Spanish and Irish interest rates should be higher and the German interest rates much lower. It is no surprise that demand is constantly depressed in the German economy, as Germany cannot reduce its interest rates to stimulate demand. It does not do too badly in terms of trade but, internally, it is constantly in near recession as it cannot reduce interest rates and therefore raise domestic demand.
Fortunately, we have careful control of our interest rates, which we adjust monthly when necessary. We might argue about whether they should go up or down, but at least we can adjust them according to our own economy and our own needs. If we chose to do so, we could also take steps to adjust our exchange rate in relation to the currencies of our trading partners, such as the dollar or the euro. Every major economy ought to be able to do that, and if they cannot they will get into deep trouble at some time or other.
The best example of that is Argentina. It tied the peso to the dollar and made it completely exchangeable, and the middle class sold all their pesos and bought dollars, which almost destroyed its internal economy. After 10 years of a nightmare, it broke away from the dollar, devalued and started to rebuild its economy. Fortunately, it produces splendid wine, of which it now sells a lot, which is helping its economy grow again. For 10 years, however, the madness of tying a weak currency to a strong one almost destroyed what used to be the strongest economy in south America. We do not want to go down that route. Any country that chooses to bury its currency in that way would make a big mistake.
I would draw a distinction between a stable exchange rate system like the one that we had after the war and a single currency. With a stable exchange rate system, in extremis a country can change the value of its currency relative to others. We have done that a couple of times in our history, and it has had a tremendously beneficial effect on our economy. At present, of course, the euro is suffering greatly from the fact that the dollar is being devalued, and I expect it to have yet more problems because of the inability of individual member states to adjust their own currencies relative to the dollar. It is too rigid, too inflexible.
The problem with the eurozone is not just its inability to set its own interest rates, but the fact that if it is to be effective as a single currency, much deeper political integration will be required, along with much greater transfers of funds collected centrally to parts of the zone. We will have to face up to that problem sooner or later.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. McDougal’s report about 30 years ago pointed out that without the capacity for major fiscal transfers between member states, it would be impossible to run a single currency without a single tax and benefits system allowing standard benefit and tax rates throughout. The system would not, in the end, work, and there are those who think that, in the end, the eurozone will fail for that reason.
A few weeks ago, the danger arose that citizens of our country would be able to buy alcoholic drinks on the internet without paying the duties and taxes that are due here. No doubt that would have been tremendously attractive to heavy drinkers, but it would have caused mayhem. It would have destroyed the alcohol licence and retail trades in Britain—and at a time when we are grappling with the problem of excessive drinking among young people and the binge-drink culture, an ocean of rock-bottom-cheap alcohol would have suddenly flooded the country. It would have been a nightmare.
Interestingly, however, the European Union backed off. It did not press its case. There must have been some pretty heavy lobbying behind the scenes by the Treasury, and rightly so. I assume that the Treasury said, “If you do that, the European Union will be in serious trouble with us”, and as a result the EU backed off from the mad idea of allowing people to buy cheap drinks in Latvia. I believe that Latvia was the country that would have benefited: it was to be the warehouse providing cheap drinks for the British—indeed, for the whole of Europe.
It is significant that when a point is reached at which the European Union might be seriously damaged—might start to fall apart because it has done something utterly and totally daft—it backs off. It has backed off over this issue, and I hope that it will continue to do so when the daftest ideas arise. I certainly hope it will do so when it comes to pressing the case for the European constitution and forcing countries to join the eurozone, because that would cause serious difficulty for Britain and many other countries.
I support my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and her Minister for Europe in their negotiations. I hope that they will adopt the position they have adopted in the past and will represent Britain and our view effectively in Europe next week.
I welcomed much of what was said by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins).
It is a great privilege to serve as a Member of this House. It strikes me that its primary function in a democracy is to create, amend, modify and repeal the laws of the nation, hopefully in the interests of British citizens. I think that people elect their Governments to serve the national interest. Sometimes, of course, it is necessary to sign international treaties on trade or aid, provided that that is in the interests of British citizens. However, such agreements should not include the wholesale handing over of control of our defence, our economy, or powers to make or modify our laws.
It is worth reflecting for a few moments on what might have been if citizens and campaign groups had not alerted the Government to some of the dangers posed by adventures that the Government had hoped to undertake in recent years. Having played a role in Business for Sterling and the “No to the euro” campaign since 1998, I am very much aware that in 1997-98 about 70 per cent. of the public was of the view that it was inevitable that we would join the euro, and about 90 per cent. of members of the Government of that time were in favour of joining the euro. It was almost as though we were in bunkers and outgunned on all sides, but gradually—and under duress—over a period of years a rational view prevailed. It was eventually recognised, including by the Chancellor, that maintaining our control of British interest rates, and thereby being able to control our economy via them, was the best way to generate a more competitive economy.
It is also interesting that not too long ago there was an ardent Government campaign for us to sign the European Union constitution. I remember commentating on Sky as the Prime Minister actually signed the EU constitution—we should not forget that he put his signature to the constitution. There was also a massive campaign in favour of it—so thank goodness not only for our own citizens’ views, but for the French and the Danish for rescuing us from what could have been a catastrophic position. I will not go through all the arguments on this topic, but if we had signed the EU constitution we would not be a freely trading independent state; we would be a subservient state of a European superstate. In hindsight, both now and in years to come, we are, and we will be, glad that we did not sign it.
Members have spoken eloquently on sovereignty, the supremacy of Parliament, defence and controlling our borders as part of what makes being an independent state, so I shall focus on business and competitiveness before going on to share some of my hopes for the future of the EU—because I am in some ways fairly, although also cautiously, optimistic about its future in a new form.
We must never forget that business is the engine of our economy and that freely operating British businesses that do not have too many burdens of bureaucracy on them generate all the jobs, all the income and all the taxation that pays for the good things that we want in society, such as health, education and pensions. I did mean to say that all the jobs come from business, because the taxation raised from business is what pays for Government jobs, quango jobs and our doctors and nurses. Any unnecessary burden or regulation on business is unwelcome and should be questioned.
It is a striking fact that about 70 per cent. of business regulation and legislation originates in the EU. We could claim that many of the regulations and laws—or the aspirations of many of them—are in our national interest. Plenty of arguments could be put forward on that topic. However, what is clear is that the EU has in many ways moved on from prescriptive legislation in the past year or two. It has begun to look at principles-based legislation—a simple principle is brought into effect and then it is left to businesses to determine how best to put it into practice and to make their own decisions without being overwhelmed with reams of paperwork. Sadly, the Government have not yet cottoned on to that, or to the fact that it means that they no longer need to gold-plate legislation coming from the EU. One can simply reflect a few lines or pages, rather than tens of thousands of words and hundreds of pages of regulation, on British businesses.
The British Chambers of Commerce estimates that the new burden of business regulation is about £50 billion, about 70 per cent. of which comes from the EU. I recall several years ago looking at the working time directive guidance. There were over 100 pages. I sat scan-reading it for about five or six hours, when at that time I should really have just been getting on with running my business. Even to this day, I cannot quite fathom the calculation for working out whether employees have been working an average of 48 hours a week over a 17-week period; it is mayhem. I can pretty much guarantee to the House that many small and medium-sized businesses will not be adhering to the working time directive by keeping such records. If they implemented all the detail in much of that guidance, they would simply be unable to run their businesses.
On European regulation, there are two main challenges. First, although not all the stock of existing regulation needs to be undone, that needs to happen to a certain degree. Secondly, we must consider the flow of new regulations. Fortunately, that flow has slowed somewhat, but a lot remains to be done in stemming it further. That is largely a job for this House, as it examines the regulations coming through via statutory instruments and their implementation.
I want to finish by painting a slightly more hopeful picture of the future of the European Union. We are all very aware of the existing EU’s failings and the challenges that we face, but I am hopeful and reasonably optimistic about the medium to long-term future. With enlargement come opportunities; with enlargement, the mood and culture of the EU change. Since Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland joined a few years ago, the culture of the EU has become more entrepreneurial. Those countries recognise the benefit of commerce and free trade, not only within the EU but in a global context. To a certain degree, that adds to the EU.
We also have the opportunity to adopt more inthe way of principles-based legislation, instead of prescriptive regulation, and to reform European institutions. Members have mentioned the changes that they would like to see, many of which are very sensible. In the light of enlargement, perhaps it is time to consider having a single European language. I am not sure which language we might nominate, but that would certainly save a lot of translation. What do we think?
Perhaps English would be the sensible choice as the language of the EU.
Perhaps it is also time seriously to consider ending the policy of switching between buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg, which costs millions of pounds each year. This is a good time to deal with such issues.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. My Latin is a little rusty, but I do recall the Roman empire.
I studied agricultural economics 20 years ago, and on looking at the common agricultural policy I decided then that it would probably take 10, 20 or even 30 years before we saw fundamental reform of it. Well, 20 years later, we are still in exactly the same position. We have a fresh opportunity to look at the CAP and, indeed, at the common fisheries policy. Why do we not embrace this opportunity now? I urge the Government to do so—let us open up the dialogue.
I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman’s comments very carefully, but I was not necessarily proposing that at this precise moment.
There is also a great opportunity for democracy. Many Members have spoken about the democratic deficit and the fact that European citizens feel disfranchised—that they feel no connection with the European Parliament and the other European institutions. There is an opportunity to establish a flexible, outward-looking grouping of independent nations, and enlargement brings that prospect slightly closer.
In essence, might we dare hope for a newly evolved European Union in years to come—a grouping of democratic and independent nations co-operating in various ways on trade and aid, and in many other fields? Why should we limit our ambitions? Why do we not hope for a massive expansion of the EU? Why not add 10, 20 or even 100 new independent states? If we add 100, we will have outgrown Europe, so perhaps we would have to rename the EU. Perhaps we could call it “a global economy”.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who made a typically thoughtful and intelligent speech. I want to concentrate on one of the most fundamental issues facing Britain and Europe. Despite its importance, it is subject to little if any debate in this House.
Opinion polls consistently show that between 40 and 50 per cent. of the UK population favour Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, and that less than half the remainder are convinced that we should remain in that organisation. That means that a clear majority of the British public are either convinced that we should withdraw or are sceptical about our continued membership. Indeed, in opinion polls more people express their support for EU withdrawal than say that they would vote either Labour or Conservative in a general election.
The question of EU withdrawal is yet another matter on which the British public are way ahead of politicians. Back in 2004, the EU was included in the US Central Intelligence Agency’s “World Factbook”, an open-source publication that tracks the key characteristics of every nation around the globe. That was the first time that a supranational body had ever been included in a publication dedicated to tracking developments in nation states. The CIA said that it had included the EU because it had
“many of the attributes associated with independent states: its own flag, anthem, founding date, and currency, as well as an incipient common foreign and security policy in its dealings with other nations. In the future, many of these nation-like characteristics are likely to be expanded.”
So much for the intelligence-gathering abilities of the CIA, as I could have told it that a long time ago. I might also have mentioned that the EU has its own president, Parliament, Court and embassies.
It is hard to argue against many of the indictments against the EU. As my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor said, about 70 per cent. of our laws now emanate from the EU rather than from here. The rulings of unelected Commissioners take precedence over the wishes of democratically elected national Parliaments. Most people understand that the EU is inefficient and wasteful, and that it suffers from systemic corruption.
More often than not, EU supporters do not attempt to defend the organisation against those charges. From time to time, warm words are offered about reform, but little debate is ever allowed on the fundamental question of our relationship with a body that is failing and undemocratic. Instead, those who support the EU engage in skilful if sometimes frustrating shadow boxing.
For example, I recently tabled some questions about the number of our jobs that are dependent on our membership of the EU. I was told that about 3 million jobs depend on our trade with EU countries. There is no doubt that those jobs and that commerce are among the benefits of free trade, but they are not benefits of EU membership, as I shall try to explain later.
However, responses of that sort are not unusual. People who support the EU project bring the debate back to the UK economy and jobs, and in my opinion they are right to do so, as few people give much thought to the EU and its role in our democracy. Instead—and of course—they think about their jobs, pensions and the money in their pocket, but EU supporters are wrong to suggest that arguments based on jobs and the economy make the case for the UK’s continued membership.
For most people, the distant and impersonal EU is less tangible than questions about schools, hospitals, police on our streets and the money in our pockets. Few spend much time thinking about the EU constitution, but mortgages, bills and pensions occupy most people’s thoughts every day. Equally, people in business are likely to be far more concerned about making money and growing their businesses than about questions to do with the structure of the EU.
It is on the economy that the argument as to whether Britain remains in the EU will be lost or won, as those who support our staying in the EU realised a long time ago. By presenting EU membership in economic terms, successive Governments have been able to sell what is essentially a political and unpopular project to the British people. However, we should look at the figures and examine the economics. When we consider the EU’s effect on trade, jobs and growth we find that the case for Britain leaving the EU is more compelling than ever.
We are told that, if we were ever to withdraw from the EU, Britain’s economy and our trade with our European neighbours would suffer, and that jobs and prosperity would be lost. We are told that more than60 per cent. of our trade is with the EU, and that withdrawal would mean the loss of our markets there. We are told that the single market has been good for our economy and that we would suffer financial consequences from withdrawal. We are told that if we left 3 million jobs would be lost.
If I were the managing director of a small company or if I were employed in manufacturing, I would find those arguments compelling.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I shall deal with that point in a few moments.
When we examine the issues in any detail we find that the EU is bad for trade and bad for jobs, that Britain is worse off by being in the EU, and that withdrawal would actually give Britain a more global outlook to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
We are told that 55 per cent. of our trade is with the EU and that if we came out we could say goodbye to that, as well as to about 60 per cent. of our economy and 3 million jobs. I could quibble about the statistical sleight of hand that led to those figures, but I shall not, because to do so would give credence to the argument that that trade would be lost if we left the EU which, as I shall explain, is patently ridiculous, as the point made by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) illustrated.
Trade will not be lost, because it is a two-way street. Our European neighbours make money from us, too; in fact, they make more money from us than we make from them. Britain’s balance of trade with the EU has been running at a deficit since we joined in 1973. According to figures from the Library, between 1973 and 2005 the cumulative trade deficit between the UK and the EU amounted to an astonishing £230 billion. Our partners have made £230 billion more from us than we have from them.
Given the importance of the UK to EU countries, ask yourself this, Madam Deputy Speaker: how many European businesses would seriously say, “All right, that’s it, Britain’s left the EU. I don’t care what it does to my profit margins, but I’m no longer trading with them on principle”? How likely is that? In fact, Switzerland, a non-EU country, enjoys a healthier balance of trade with the EU than us and has a higher proportion of its trade with the EU than us. So much for the benefits of EU membership.
The deficit continues to rise while the UK enjoys a trade surplus with the rest of the world. Our surplus with the USA continues to rise every year. We were trading with Europe long before we were members of the EU and I bet we shall still be trading with countries in Europe long after we have left.
Let us consider the so-called fact that 3 million jobs depend on our EU membership. They do not; they depend on our trade with the EU. Trade with Europe is not dependent on our EU membership; nor are the jobs that it supports. The only jobs dependent on our membership of the EU are those of EU bureaucrats and civil servants from this country—I admit they might have to find alternative careers. I know that the EU is a bloated bureaucracy, but it hardly accounts for 3 million British jobs.
Proponents of the case for the EU try to claim that it is responsible for 55 or 60 per cent. of our trade, but it is not. Exports, of which those to the EU account for about half, are responsible for 21 per cent. of the UK’s gross domestic product, so trade with EU countries accounts for only about 10 per cent. of our GDP. I do not believe that trade would be lost if we left the EU, because so many sectors of our economy have few or no dealings with the continent yet they must all bear the burden of EU red tape and regulation.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with great interest. What is his view on the transitional arrangements in the Conservative party with regard to its membership of the European People’s party? Is he an enthusiast for retaining membership for the foreseeable future?
Of course, I support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his quest to take us out of the EPP, but UK membership of the EU is far more important than my party’s membership of the EPP.
If I had a large multinational business I might be able to shoulder some of the regulatory burden, but the effects on a small business in Shipley can be crippling. If anyone wants the truth about the EU and the much hailed single market, they should not ask me and they should not ask a British politician. They should go straight to the horse’s mouth and ask the European Commission. For our friends in the Commission, the EU is unashamedly a political project. For them, unlike our Government, its economic failings do not take away from the validity of the project.
If the Minister will be patient, I will explain the problem of EU regulation. Indeed, I come to the very point now. Earlier this year, the Enterprise and Industry Commissioner, Gunther Verheugen, said that EU regulations were costing the European economy €600 billion a year. That amounts to about 5.5 per cent. of Europe’s total gross domestic product. That is staggering enough: on the Commission’s own figures, European businesses are losing the equivalent of the entire GDP of Holland every single year.
If we consider that against what the EU considers to be the financial benefits of the single market, the case against the EU becomes a bit more open and shut. The most recent Commission estimates are for 2002, when the single market benefits were put at €165 billion—quite substantially less than the costs. Even taking account of inflation, the costs of EU membership to business are about three times the benefits. So much for the economic benefits of the EU. Far from being good for business, the bureaucratic EU is actually profoundly harmful to business—and that according to the European Commission itself. I wonder how much of those costs are falling on the shoulders of British businesses and I wonder what a business man might feel about withdrawal when faced with that particular fact.
ICM recently conducted a poll that found that 54 per cent. of businesses think that the cost of implementing EU regulations now outweighs the benefit of the single market. That poll also showed that 52 per cent. of chief executives think that the EU is failing and that 60 per cent. want what I advocate—withdrawal from the EU and a free trade agreement with EU countries. Crucially, only 24 per cent. of those business people thought that the EU would increase in economic importance in the future, whereas 35 per cent. thought that it would decline. Our future prosperity, Madam Deputy Speaker, depends on trading with countries such as China, India and South America and with the Commonwealth; it does not depend on being part of an inward-looking, backward-looking protection racket, which is what the EU has become.
Since 1970, the United States has enjoyed net growth of about 25 per cent., yet the EU—this much heralded economic powerhouse—has enjoyed net growth of around zero. When it comes to such stark figures, we have to ask whether the EU has contributed towards that sluggish growth. If we compare the EU’s stifling levels of regulation and high taxes with the USA’s business-friendly, low-tax economy, we are forced to conclude that the EU’s social democratic model has contributed to the problem. If the Chancellor is to be believed, the UK has enjoyed the longest period of sustained growth, but what could it have been without the drag of the European Union?
If we are to compete with the vastly cheaper labour forces of India and China, our economy will need to be agile and competitive with a light regulatory touch—not the EU model of crippling regulation, restrictive employment laws and high taxes. Surely the EU and the British Government must see the economic threat to our economy from India and China. In years to come, Madam Deputy Speaker, historians will look back and say that the biggest winner of the EU project was China.
Britain puts more into the pot than it gets out. We have been a net contributor to the EU ever since it started. We have contributed almost £200 billion in membership fees alone, and we will add another£14 billion to our bill for continued membership next year. The annual cost of the EU for every man, woman and child works out at £873. Can we imagine what a hard-working family of four on a tight budget could do with that kind of money—about £3,500? Every minute of 2007, the EU will cost the UK £100,000. Let us just think of the nurses, operations, hospitals, policemen, prisons or even cuts that such a figure could pay for. When you consider how wasteful the EU is, how many people do you think, Madam Deputy Speaker, would think that it was the best way to spend all that money?
I am sure you would agree with me if you did join in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Member states are unlikely to do anything to expose corruption in the EU. Those that are net receivers are unlikely to raise objections about an inefficient and wasteful system. They know that the EU does not work, but it works for them. For net contributors such as the UK, the cost of the EU—inefficient or otherwise—is a debate that the Government do not want to happen. They do not want the EU to have to wash its dirty linen in public or for the British public to see how many doctors, nurses and police officers could be paid for with the money wasted in Brussels.
I am sure that, when I sit down, Government Members will say that my speech shows that the Conservative party is anti-European and that it has not changed. I do not claim to be speaking on behalf of the party; I am speaking on behalf of what I believe in. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that he has allowed Back Benchers freely to express our views on withdrawing from the EU and the debate not to be shut down, as the Government would like.
I have tried to argue my case for EU withdrawal as a positive step for the future, not as something that is backward looking, by referring not to historic arguments about constitutions, but to the competitiveness of our economy. If we are to attract investment and win business in the future, we must start freeing ourselves from this stifling political Union. The 21st century, with the emerging economies of Asia, is not a time for uncompetitive protection rackets. Business is global, and if we are to compete, we must be too. Governments must reflect that with a light regulatory touch, and the main impediment to that is the EU. When considering the case for Britain being better off out of the EU, I am reminded of the words from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election campaign headquarters: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
I must say how much I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). The Times newspaper recently highlighted the five best MPs and the five worst MPs, and one of the reasons given for choosing who was one of the best MPs was the integrity and courage displayed.
I beg hon. Members’ pardon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is a great man who shows great courage and is prepared to put his strong beliefs about the EU before his own consideration for promotion. I applaud that greatly. My hon. Friend, myself and other Conservative Members—all very young people—are going to take the EU in a different direction. I was born on the day that Edward Heath signed the documents to take us into the Common Market—24 January 1972. Of course, when we had the referendum on whether we should stay in the Common Market, I was only three years of age, so I could not vote. Many hon. Members were too young to participate in that referendum, but there will come a time—I am convinced of this more than I am of anything else—when my generation of Conservative Members of Parliament will start to address some of the fundamental flaws in our membership of the EU and will make it more appropriate to our generation.
One of the problems and frustrations that we face is that we in Great Britain play by the Queensberry rules, we do what the EU tells us to do and we are compliant, unlike our partners in the EU who repeatedly break agreements and cheat. An example of that is the Irish. The Irish have recently given their dairy farmers£300 million in illegal subsidies. I thought that we were in something called a common market, whereby industries were meant to be treated in the same way acrossthe whole EU. How is it feasible for the Irish to give £300 million to their dairy farmers? How on earth can Shropshire farmers compete against that and imports of cheese and other milk products, when the Irish are flagrantly going against the spirit of subsidies?
I recently went to Romania. We are going to give£8 billion of taxpayers’ money to help the Romanians and Bulgarians with their agriculture, so that their systems become comparable with ours. That money is being sent to foreign countries. Our own dairy farmers in Shrewsbury —I hasten to say that I am chairman of the all-party dairy farmers group, of which there are now nearly 100 members—are going out of business day after day, while we prop up the Irish, the Romanians and the Bulgarians.
Yes, it is an absolute disgrace.
We need a more effective energy policy across the European Union. Sweden will be an oil-free society by 2012. I remember visiting Sweden in the mid-80s, when it was already pioneering endothermic energy and various renewable fuels. How marvellous that the Swedes, with a population of 9 million to 10 million people, can be an oil-free society by 2012. We can learn from one another and we should start to co-operate in the energy field.
Some countries, however, are behaving in complete defiance of what a common EU policy should be. I have already mentioned this to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). Germany is the main culprit. It is building a pipeline from Russia across the Baltic sea so that it can have a stable supply directly to its coastline on the Baltic. That will cause huge environmental damage in the Baltic sea, but worse, it is a deliberate attempt to bypass other EU nations. Germany wants deliberately to bypass the Baltic states and Poland and have its own secure supply from Russia. That, in my humble estimation, is a massive breach of what a common energy policy should be. The Government should use their influence to make the Germans think again.
We forget about the growing importance of Russia in the European debate, although Russia has been mentioned. I applaud the Finnish presidency for focusing on trade relations with Russia. However, we need to work together as EU nations to help when one EU nation is unfairly treated by Russia. As I have already mentioned, the Russians are trying to block all imports of meat products from Poland and are threatening the Poles. As members of the European Union, we should be doing everything to support Poland in its dispute with Russia to ensure that its products have proper access to Russia.
The Russians are also blocking a lot of Georgian agricultural products. That is the way in which the Russians operate. If one tweaks their nose, they want to retaliate very aggressively. Because of the recent espionage problems between Russia and Georgia, the Georgians are having terrible problems exporting basic foodstuffs and agricultural products. I hope that the Government will use their power of influence to express in the strongest terms that if Russia is to be taken seriously in the future and, even more importantly, if Russia wishes to be a member of the World Trade Organisation, as it aspires to be, it has to act in a more balanced and business-oriented way.
I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. Having recently visited Georgia, for example, I know the difficulties that are being faced there. However, does he believe that our influence and the influence of other European countries would be stronger or weaker if Britain withdrew from the European Union, as he appears to advocate?
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend’s last comments. May I press him on the point about gas and the connection with Russia? Does he agree that the big EU bus was parked outside No. 10 Downing street? When we had the presidency of the EU, there was a great opportunity to sort out a European gas policy and market. The fact that we failed to do so means that every time something happens in Russia, the effect ripples right across. That is why our gas prices go up and down so tremendously. That is likely to happen again when the winter comes.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Britain will be a major gas importer in future years, so the Government should be doing more to lead the way on securing a major contract with Russia.
While I am on the subject of Russia, I feel very strongly about the disturbing reaction to the death of Mr. Litvinenko. Of course we should be concerned about alleged poisonings, but we cannot be prosecutor, judge and jury. I was absolutely appalled when the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as part of his great wish to become the next deputy leader of the Labour party and to appear on television, accused President Putin on British broadcasting of being involved in the poisonings. That was an absolute outrage. It is not for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to accuse the democratically elected President of Russia of poisoning. Yes, we have concerns, but we believe, even with regard to Mr. Putin, that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall do so immediately.
The European Union’s priority should be helping small, vulnerable countries with illegal immigration. My friends who are Members of Parliament in Malta tell me that the country is being swamped by illegal immigrants from Libya. Many western Africans are coming to the ports close to the border with Tunisia, near Tripoli, and going across to Malta in a clandestine way. To my knowledge, we have not sent any immigration enforcement help to assist Malta in its struggle. We need to send patrol boats and assistance in sending people back. Malta needs us to put pressure on Tripoli to police its ports better. The Prime Minister has tried to improve our relations with Colonel Gaddafi and we should be using our position of influence. If the Prime Minister could manage to stop Colonel Gaddafi from going ahead with weapons of mass destruction, surely he can convince him to tighten up his ports to prevent illegal immigration into the European Union.
Another problem is the Canary islands.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from Malta, does he agree that Britain has a particular role to play in Malta and Cyprus, the other two Commonwealth countries that are members of the European Union? Before he moves on to the Canary islands, where other member states might have a role to play, does he agree that it would be nice to see Britain playing an especially strong role in countries with which we have an historical Commonwealth connection?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Maltese MPs made the point that they were somewhat disappointed that we, as a fellow Commonwealth country and that country’s principal ally, had not taken a lead in the European Union to assist in that grave matter.
Tens of thousands of west Africans are coming from Mauritania and Senegal to the Canary islands, which cannot cope. Many of those illegal immigrants will make their way to France or the United Kingdom, so there is no good saying, “Well, of course this is not our problem,” because it is. In a recent television documentary on illegal immigrants, many of them said that they were going to the Canary islands only as a way of getting to the United Kingdom, so we should be doing far more.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) made an interesting point when he said that controlling our borders was one of the critical ingredients of sovereignty. I estimate that illegal immigration is the biggest threat to our sovereignty. If a country cannot police its borders, it does not have sovereignty. Some of my colleagues say that the EU is the biggest threat to our sovereignty, but that is not the case. The biggest threat is not being able to police our own borders properly.
Finally, I want to discuss a European country that has not been mentioned so far: Belarus.
The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken about Belarus on many occasions. The west played a huge part in freeing the formerly communist countries of eastern Europe from tyranny. The BBC played a role by broadcasting to those countries in their own languages, showing them that there was a world outside communism in which people had freedom, managed to enjoy democracy and were not fearful of the secret police. That gave tremendous succour to the people of eastern Europe. They really appreciated it, and were extremely grateful to Great Britain and the BBC for standing up to communism and showing them an alternative. We need to do the same for Belarus. We need to broadcast to its people to show them that the tyranny of President Lukashenko is not inevitable, and to show them that they should aspire to democracy, and to joining the free countries of Europe. We should invite Opposition leaders from Belarus to London, and we should give university scholarships to Belarusians. Most importantly, political parties need to build bridges with Opposition parties and to help them financially in any way that they can.
I come to the last part of my speech in which I will say something nice about the Labour party. Many Labour Members played a tremendous role in safeguarding democracy in Portugal in 1975. Some hon. Members may remember that, in 1975, Mario Soares was trying to install a new democracy after the military dictatorship in Portugal, and members of the international socialist movement ensured that that happened, by making repeated visits to Portugal, and by inviting Opposition leaders here. Callaghan, Wilson and many other others stayed close to Mario Soares, and they helped to nurture democracy in Portugal. The Labour party and other socialist parties across Europe played a fundamental role in helping Mario Soares to retain democracy in Portugal. My generation has a responsibility to do the same for the poor people of Belarus.
Thank you for calling me to speak so early on in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That was said in jest. I shall give a fairly non-intellectual exposition of my concerns about the European Union. It is the natural position of a Conservative to be sceptical about large and grandiose projects, and I make no apology for being sceptical about the European experiment. I believe that we should have a Europe full of self-confident, strong nation states that are free to act in their own national interest, but also to work together when it suits them.
Often, hon. Members who raise concerns about the European Union are shouted down for being little Englanders. I am not a little Englander, but a rather big Englander. This country has a heritage of thinking big, because we have always looked overseas for our future. However, we have never looked towards Europe, and while its countries were squabbling, we were off exploring new worlds, creating new opportunities for the country. We are a great trading nation that does not like the artificial confines of the European Union, and we have truly wide horizons.
The EU experiment is increasingly seen as an exercise for the political classes that is far removed from the concerns of ordinary men and women asthey go about their daily business. There is a growing lack of accountability in Europe, and we Members of Parliament have some responsibility for that, as well as the responsibility to address those concerns. At each stage of the European experiment, when people raised their concerns, we just said, rather patronisingly, “No, no; you are just seeing ghosts. It will never happen,” but what was originally conceived of as a trading bloc is now moving into involvement in social and workplace legislation, and that is a far remove from what was originally conceived by the so-called founding fathers.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston(Ms Stuart) showed that she really knew her stuff when she accused EU institutions of mission creep, because when grand institutions come into being, the first thing that they want is to grab even more power. The EU is its own worst enemy, because it constantly meddles and interferes. A classic example is its failing labour market model. European labour markets are not competitive, as they do not create jobs. We heard about the big ideas at the Lisbon summit of 2000. Delegates at the summit said that Europe should create 20 million new jobs by 2010—they thought that just by talking about it, it would happen. However, not one new job has been created. Structural unemployment in France and Germany has not budged in the past two decades. While some countries, including the UK, have enjoyed economic growth of varying levels, Europe has remained stagnant. Far from wanting to adopt the UK model, Europe continues to look inward, persisting with failed labour market solutions. It has tried to foist its problems, including the working time directive, on us. What business is it of Government to tell people how long they should work?
I have done some research on the subject. In 1980, EU nations produced 26 per cent. of global output, but by 2003, that had fallen to 22 per cent. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that it will be 17 per cent. in 2015, and perhaps as low as10 per cent. by the middle of century. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that that continent-wide malaise should be a priority for all EU members?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, as it is about time that Europe stopped looking inward. It should stop talking about itself, and start looking outward. It is time that it realised that it faces huge global challenges—I shall come on to that in a minute.
We negotiated an opt-out from the working time directive which allows people to work more than48 hours a week, but the EU wants to take that away from us, lumbering us with a 35-hour working week. They want to impose more employment and social costs on employers, but there is a danger that that will drive yet more jobs to China and India. I sincerely believe that every time our equivalents in China and India troop into their Parliament they look at a picture of Brussels on the wall and say, “Keep up the good work, guys. Thanks very much—we’ll have more of your jobs. Keep piling on the legislation.”
The UK should be far more aggressive in pursuing its own national interests. The time for tummy tickling is at an end. Too often, we go to Europe and make grand statements about how we will take on the gnomes of Europe, or whatever they are called. However, we roll over, they tickle our tummy, and we wag our tail. Once again, we get absolutely stuffed. While we are having our tummy tickled they steal our Pedigree Chum from under our noses. We are one of the largest contributors to the EU, so there is no harm in going to Europe and telling them that we do not like that, and that we are not going to do it. They will huff and puff, flap their arms and get into a frightful lather, but they cannot turn their back on one of their largest contributors.
I do not wish to be churlish, as the UK has been successful in the past 20 years. The previous Prime Minister, John Major, and the present Prime Minister have done an excellent job of keeping us out of the dreadful single currency. Having stayed out of the euro, we are on the verge of becoming the pre-eminent global financial centre. Frankfurt and Paris have fizzled out—they do not pose a challenge to us, as they do not offer London any competition, provided that we stay out of the single currency. We have even begun to surpass New York. In fact, 30 per cent. of Europe’s largest companies have their headquarters in the UK. That is a good start, but we need to do even more.
Instead of ceding even more power to Brussels, we should start to take power back. It will be a great upset for the Government, but sooner or later the UK will elect a right-of-centre Government by voting Conservative. However, we could be constrained in our delivery of right-of-centre policies by European workplace and social legislation which, unless we are careful, will trigger a constitutional crisis in this country and a loss of confidence.
As I said, the European Union spends far too much time talking about itself and to itself. In my constituency we recently had a delegation of professors visiting one of our secondary schools to see how we manage education in this country. They were not from Spain or from France. They were from China. Fantastic! My secondary school, John Warner school, is to offer Mandarin from next year. If my secondary school can recognise the opportunities that reside in China, so must we and, more importantly, so must our European Union partners, or they will be left behind.
I shall give an example of the unintended—perhaps they were intended—consequences of European regulations. I recently met the chief executive of one of my local hospitals. I asked why the hospital’s performance had not improved. I said, “You’ve had huge amounts of additional money. Where is it all going?” She replied, “Well, we have to pay our doctors 30 per cent. more and, because of the working time regulations, they are working 30 per cent. fewer hours. How can I increase productivity on that basis?”
That is what Europe does not understand. People can be paid more and work more, they can be paid less and work less, but they cannot be paid more and work less. That just does not add up. We have been getting away with it for the past 40 or 50 years, but the hard-working people in China, India and other emerging economies will not let us get away with it in the future. Clearly, I am causing great distress to the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, who has left her place, but the situation that I am describing is the reality, which the hon. Lady’s Chancellor recognises, as in his pre-Budget report he spoke a lot about China and India and not a lot about the European Union. Perhaps the message is getting through to him as well.
In conclusion, I have greatly enjoyed contributing to the debate. We have an opportunity to forge a new relationship both with our European partners and with the emerging economies of India and China. It would be to our detriment and loss if we did not take advantage of that opportunity, because it comes once in a generation. If we miss it, it is gone.
I was a little premature in my winding up. I conclude with one of the greatest scandals—the common agricultural policy. France is an extremely nice place. I love going to France, I love French people, I love their wine and their culture. I love the fact that they are extremely difficult, and I like that. France is a nice place because the European Union, through the common agricultural policy, is supporting a totally inefficient agricultural sector. We are funding France’s lifestyle.
That may bring a smile to some people’s faces, but it does not bring a smile to farmers in developing third world countries, whose products are priced out of European markets while we dump our subsidised products on their markets. It is unbelievable that we could all hop on a plane to Nigeria tomorrow and find tinned European tomatoes there. Nigeria does not produce any, because it is not financially viable to do so. That is a scandal.
Great concern has been expressed about enlargement and the problems of Polish immigration to the UK, but I congratulate our new European partners on being expansive in their outlook. They have escaped the yoke of communism. They do not want to go back to regressive top-down regulatory pressures. They want to take advantage of the commercial opportunities out there. We should follow their lead. It is a sadness that at a time when our new European partners are looking outwards, the Government—this is just a mild criticism—are tending to favour the more regulatory approach followed by some of our old European partners. We want a successful economy. We want high levels of employment. We want substantial wealth creation. As currently structured, the EU is a barrier to that, not a promoter of that aspiration.
Having taken part in several European debates since I was elected to this House, I think that this has been the best to date. I congratulate Members on both sides of the House and hope that I keep up with them in my remarks.
I should like to comment on Bulgaria and Romania. I have been to Bulgaria, which is a fine country, but not yet to Romania. The accession of those countries represents an important time for the European Union and, indeed, for the United Kingdom. Last week, I met the Romanian Immigration Minister and raised concerns expressed by many of my constituents about the number of economic migrants who might come to Shropshire and to this country as a whole. The Minister tried to comfort me by saying that she thought that most people leaving Romania would go to countries with warmer, sunnier climates, such as Italy and Spain. That may be so. Nevertheless, when the most recent accession countries acceded to the EU, the Government predicted, despite the Foreign Secretary’s earlier denials, that 15,000 economic migrants would come to the UK. We now know that the figure is 500,000 and growing. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is not here today, but she has rightly observed that more than 10,000 Polish people have entered Aberdeen over the past year or so. In Shropshire, there are many hundreds of Polish people; no poll has been undertaken to ascertain precisely how many.
Many of those people are contributing legitimately to our economy and have brought skills that we need. However, this needs to be seen in the contextof unemployment, which is at a seven-year high. Unemployment is going up and we have an inflow of economic migrants, so more people are chasing fewer jobs. We also see wage deflation in some areas of the economy, certainly in the agricultural sector in Shropshire, Herefordshire and other parts of the west midlands. If we are not careful, the very good community relations that this country has enjoyed over generations, for hundreds of years, could inadvertently be undermined. That would not be good for our nation, and I know that the Government do not intend that it should happen.
Let me give the example of somebody who, two years ago, went for a factory job as a press operator—a comparatively dirty job—but then said, “No, I’d rather not take it: I’ll go and find a cleaner one down the road.” Two years later, that job ceases, but they still have to pay their mortgage, with increasing mortgage rates, and to put bread on the table to feed their families, with rising costs of living. They go back to the factory where they turned the job down, where the manager says, “I’m sorry, the job’s taken.” They look over his shoulder and see people from other EU nations doing the job that they need to pay their mortgage and put bread on the table. It is not an ethnic issue or a skin colour issue—there could be a white European in that job. One might say that that is the price we are paying for being members of the EU.
The basic flaw in the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that there are more people in employment in this country than ever before—about 29 million, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his pre-Budget report. The hon. Gentleman may be warning of some doom-laden future, possibly related to the prospect of a Conservative Government, but he is not dealing with the present situation.
I thank the Minister for trying to realign my comments, but I do not accept that. The population has clearly increased from the turn of the century and, by definition, an increase in population means more people in work. Let me be helpful: unemployment has clearly decreased under the Labour Administration. However, today it is at a seven-year high. Let me give the Minister a specific example—I know that he is keen on them. In Shropshire in the past 12 months, unemployment has risen by 36 per cent. Jobs are being lost not only in manufacturing but in the service sector.
In the Chancellor’s pre-Budget report statement, he rightly identified the problem and the challenge—we need to upskill our labour force and educate our young people so that they are qualified and skilled for the modern workplace. The trouble with the statement was that it did not give a solution. Apart from rising unemployment and wage deflation, there is the problem of people from other countries coming in who have more skills, including language skills, are more versatile and are potentially more flexible about what they are prepared to do. That is the challenge for our indigenous population and for the Government’s economic policy in the context of our discussion on European affairs.
I would like some reassurance from the Minister about what the transitional derogation means in detail. As I understand it, for the Bulgarians and Romanians who enter the United Kingdom next year, any transitional derogation will last for only two years. After that, it will go to the European Commission, and the Commission, not the Government will have a say. That worries me and I would be interested to hear the detail.
I have been to Turkey, which is a fine, ancient nation that is rightly proud of its history and heritage. However, I do not share the Government’s position or, indeed, that of my Front Bench on Turkey acceding to the European Union—for the time being. That is my get-out clause. It is not that I am unprepared to be principled and put my head above the parapet, but I believe that Turkey will not be able to do the things that it needs to do in the short, medium or long term. My position is therefore pragmatic as well as—I hope—principled.
I am worried about Turkey because it has a poor record on human rights and it has not made enough progress on religious freedom. It also needs to make more progress on Cyprus, including the embargo on Cypriot ships, the green line, property such as Famagusta in the north of Cyprus and the wider issue of property ownership in the north of the island. It would be an opportune moment for Turkey to recognise the Armenian genocide. Its continuing reluctance to state clearly that the genocide took place and that it was exceedingly wrong is disappointing. Turkey could also reinstate diplomatic relations and normalise relations with Armenia. Again, it has not done that to date.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, as ever, and I entirely agree with him. It is not just the Kurds; there is a whole range of ethnic minorities within the Turkish nation with which the Government of Turkey need to deal in a far better way than they do today.
A further point on Turkey relates to safeguarding our national culture. Our Government sometimes describe Turkey as a secular nation; at other times they describe it as a Muslim nation. We should try to encourage democracy in Turkey and to buttress, support and strengthen it. We should encourage the moderate voices in that nation. However, the British Government’s view of Turkey, as expressed in their foreign policy, should not be driven by American foreign policy. Yes, I understand America’s strategic geopolitical and defence position of wanting Turkey to be westward facing rather than eastward facing, but Turkey is already a member of the customs union, and it benefits greatly from its trading relationship with the European Union. Even if the EU decided not to allow it to become a full member, I do not think that it would suddenly pull up the drawbridge and stop trading with other European nations. It would not cut off its nose to spite its face. Nor do I believe that it would turn eastwards towards the central Asian republics, because those republics are also looking westwards. Therefore, I believe that that is a false argument.
We have heard today—even from the Liberal Democrats—about supporting an independent British foreign policy. The issue of Turkey represents an opportunity to assert British independence in foreign policy outside of American strategic geopolitical interests. Some elements of the Austrian position on Turkey are right, and many of the points that Germany has made are correct. Even the French have been right about some of their concerns over Turkish accession.
Another key issue is the free movement of people, should Turkey become a full member. With 15,000 people having come from the Baltic states and Poland in the most recent accessions, how many would we see coming here from Turkey? Would it be 15,000, or half a million, or more? How would that change our nation? Would it change our culture or our identity? Thisis not a criticism of or a slight on the Turkish people. I have Turkish people in my constituency—they are wonderful people who are fully integrated into the Shropshire community in which I live. However, this is a matter of making our own national culture and identity—and, arguably, in extreme circumstances, our national security—paramount, and placing them above the interests even of those in the State Department in the United States.
I also want to touch on the position of the Vatican, the Holy See, in relation to Turkey. His Holiness the Pope visited Turkey recently and it was claimed by some elements of the Turkish media—and, indeed, the British media—that he had changed his view about Turkey. It was declared that while he had previously not been keen on the idea of Turkey’s accession, as a result of his visit he had endorsed proposals for its full membership. I understand, however, that that is not the position. I have checked this over the past 48 hours, and the position is that the Vatican is neutral on the matter. It is neither in support of nor against Turkey becoming a full member. It is important to put that on the record because some of the British media followed the Turkish media in getting that wrong. There is no endorsement from the Catholic Church—I speak asa non-Catholic—for Turkey joining the European Union.
We have heard some excellent contributions today on the European constitutional treaty. I would be interested to hear what the Government’s position is on this matter because I am still confused, especially after the Home Secretary’s reference this week to the constitutional treaty as a “diseased dead parrot”. I am not sure whether that was a misquote. Perhaps it should have read “a deceased dead parrot”, if it was a reference to the “Monty Python” sketch. While the treaty might be dead—I say “might”—is it buried? As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, there is talk of a mini treaty. However mini and compressed a new treaty might be, if issues of competency and sovereignty are involved the Government should allow this nation a referendum. It is time that we took powers back from Europe, rather than giving new powers to Europe.
A couple of weeks ago in the House, I mentioned the charter of fundamental rights. Despite the treaty not having been ratified by all the nation states, some European Courts have referred to the charter of fundamental rights in cases over the past few weeks. Why is that happening? Is not that ultra vires? Is not it beyond their legal powers to make reference to a charter that has not been ratified?
Why are offices apparently being purchased and personnel recruited for the external action service, the European Union’s so-called diplomatic service? That was part of the treaty, and has not been agreed. What legal powers have been given for that to go ahead? Who is paying for the budget for that? We should retain our own diplomatic service and not have a common diplomatic corps. With the greatest respect to France, I do not think that a French ambassador representing European Union interests would necessarily always have the same foreign policy or even commercial dimension in mind when representing British interests or a British company in another nation. It is disappointing that we are closing diplomatic missions around the world, such as in Tonga and Paraguay.
Britain needs to have an independent foreign policy, working closely with the Americans when it is right to do so, and working with our European partners when it is right to do so, but, first and foremost, putting national interests above all else.
In the words of the French Institute for International Affairs, the EU faces,
“a slow movement onto history’s exit ramp”.
According to the think-tank Open Europe, all long-term forecasts suggest that the EU is set to experience rapid relative decline. The European Union’s own forecasts suggest that by 2050 its share of world GDP will nearly have halved. A report by Goldman Sachs shows that the EU’s competitiveness will have been diminished by higher taxes and regulations. Ageing work forces and demographic downturns will mean deteriorating public finances across member states. Data from Standard and Poor’s show an unmanageable burden on public finances for member states, with the exception of Britain.
Why, then, is the default setting of the British foreign policy establishment stuck on closer integration with Europe? Why does the Foreign Office, which really decides our foreign policy, continue to push for more Europe? While China, India, the US and others benefit from increased competitiveness, the continent that industrialised first turns its back on the economic revolution that is happening beyond. Between the end of world war two and the 1970s, Europe, with relatively low regulation and tariffs, caught up with the United States. Since then, the EU has regulated and taxed itself to the point of stagnation.
Europe’s slow growth and stagnation are a consequence of dirigiste top-down integration, a pan-European system of regulation, government by remote bureaucracy and restriction of economic activity by unaccountable officialdom. Inward-looking fortress Europe creates high tariff barriers. The EU’s overall tariff rate is high and harms the UK economy. It harms UK consumers and households, particularly poorer households. That is not just harmful to us; fortress Europe hurts Africa and the developing world as well. Goods from Japan, for example, face average tariffs of 1.6 per cent., but on average Malawi pays 12 per cent., Namibia 20 per cent. and Bolivia 26 per cent.
Absolutely. I think that the European Union is one of the biggest obstacles not just to free trade but to fair trade, and one of the biggest obstacles to the negotiation of lower tariff barriers. If politicians in this House want to help Africa, instead of making speeches that emote about it and posing for photographs, they might like to axe the tariffs. They might like to tackle the Foreign Office’s obsession with European integration.
Outside the European Union, with an independent trade policy made not by Mr. Mandelson’s remote officials in the interests of protectionism but by Ministers accountable to the House, Britain could liberalise trade. We could open our markets up to Africa and the developing world. That might upset the career diplomats at the Foreign Office, but as a report by the think-tank Open Europe shows, it would be good for the British economy. It would be in our national economic interest.
European integration has dictated our foreign policy agenda for too long. The Foreign Office establishment has gone unquestioned for too long. The challenges faced by the western world—the rise of China and India, terrorism, the mass movement of people—require some degree of international co-operation by national Governments, but they do not require supranationalism. Being in the EU means that instead of taking action to deal with real problems, successive Governments have sought to Europeanise responsibility. They have passed the buck to Brussels. That does not solve or address problems; it merely pushes responsibility on to remote and unaccountable technocrats.
My hon. Friend may be about to deal with this point, but does he agree that one of the essential ingredients—and one of the most malevolent aspects—of the system is the existence of harmonised legal arrangements imposing requirements and obligations on individual countries, irrespective of the wishes of their electorates? That contributes to the problems that he has identified, for example in relation to Africa, which is why it is so appalling. The European Court of Justice, capping the whole arrangement, is a driving force behind those problems.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. An important fiat for closer integration is the judicialfiat of the European institutions—the fiat of judicial activism.
When those unaccountable technocrats take responsibility, politicians are able to create the illusion that they are responding without, in fact, taking action. I believe that the United Kingdom must withdraw from the European Union, because it is increasingly evident that it is in our national interest to quit.
I do not consider reform of the EU to be a realistic option. The objective of every Government since we acceded to the treaty of Rome has been to reform the common agricultural policy. Despite three notable attempts, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that reform has cut subsidy by just 1.5 per cent. Far from liberalising and achieving the Lisbon objectives, it has meant that EU rules and regulations have grown ever more prescriptive.
The notion that we might reform the EU into something that it is in our national interest to remain part of is a fantasy. It is, I believe, the greatest Euro-myth of all. The EU cannot reform, because its institutions lack the democratic accountability and scrutiny that would drive them to reform. We often debate European affairs in the House, and there is much talk of reform. There is much talk of enlargement, the Lisbon agenda and qualified majority voting. It is so much hot air. It is time for the House to recognise what many in the country now recognise: the EU will not reform in the way that it should, regardless of enlargement. The Lisbon agenda will not be met. QMV will continue to make the continent sclerotic. When we debate European affairs we must debate the real issue: should we be in or out? I say we should be out.
I had not planned to participate in the debate, but I have been encouraged to do so by the excellent contributions from Members of various parties. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell), who speaks with passion and knowledge about tariffs and other issues that affect the European Union. I hope that he understands that I do not necessarily share all his views, but it is nevertheless good to hear them.
Much of our debate has rightly focused on the upcoming European Council agenda, although I recall the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) asking why Conservative Front Benchers were focusing on the constitution: as that is not on the agenda so we should not need to discuss it. The point is that the constitution and issues around it are unresolved business; if we looked at the minutes of previous meetings, we would see that it is outstanding business. It should be brought forward. However, we seem still to be in a period of reflection. We have heard time and again in the Chamber about the growing economic competitiveness of India, China, Brazil and other countries, and yet we still seem to be in a state of reflection. The constitution issue is fundamental to how we will go forward. What is the purpose of the European Union? What is it actually for? Such questions are still outstanding and they need to be resolved.
Like many other Conservative Members, I am concerned about the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. The referendums in Holland and France showed that there is growing grass-roots concern elsewhere that there is an unaccountability in Brussels that is unacceptable and that powers should be returned from that central unit to the sovereign states. When it was devised, the whole purpose of the EU was as a trading platform not a political programme, but that is what it has turned into, and it has done so without any checks or balances. We are not addressing such accountability issues despite the fact that we now have the opportunity to do so, as there is an absence of anything concrete coming forward because the constitution has been hit into the long grass.
I intervened on the Foreign Secretary to point out that there is a concern about value for money. A lot of UK Eurosceptics could at least feel a little warmer about the concept of the EU if the waste of money aspect were addressed, and that would be simple to do. There is still the ridiculous situation of our having two Parliament buildings. We have a tentative idea that the Government are looking into that, but for how long do they need to do so? There are two Parliament buildings, and every time that all the MEPs—along with the whole caboodle—get on the gravy train and move from one side of Europe to another there is a complete waste of money. Let us get rid of Strasbourg; let us do that today. That would give the people of Britain a strong message that we would like to save money.
I hate to give the hon. Gentleman a couple of history lessons, but I am forced to do so. First, he might recall that the origins of the EU are in the European Coal and Steel Community, an avowedly political project to prevent conflict between France and Germany at the end of the second world war. Secondly, the problem faced by all Governments who wish to address the issue of the buildings of the European Parliament was caused by the previous Conservative Government, who agreed that Strasbourg be a legally required site of the European Parliament. As to change that would require unanimity, I am less interested in the hon. Gentleman’s rather casual observations than in how he proposes to persuade 24 other countries to end that situation—including France, which happens to be one of those countries and where Strasbourg is located.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first comment, he makes my point for me: the organisation was a trading platform and we should endeavour to go back to that—that is what I am suggesting that we do. Instead, it has taken on a political dimension; it has morphed into something quite different from what it started out as. On the second point, he is absolutely right that France is holding that up, but I do not see the British Government jumping up and down and pushing France and asking other countries to join us in saying, “What a waste of money that is.”
Let me move on to what the EU could do. [Interruption.] I should be grateful if the Minister for Europe listened. I thank him for doing so. The EU could play a very positive role in the reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan. He will be aware of the lack of co-ordination between the United Nations, the EU, the Department for International Development, the USA and the myriad non-governmental organisations in that country. There is no single overall co-ordinator with the authorisation to knock heads together and to move the reconstruction efforts forward. That is one area in which the EU could actually play a very positive role. I was saddened to discover during three visits that I paid to Afghanistan in the past year the mess that is being created because international agencies are unable to co-operate and work together. Huge sums are being wasted. Yes, there are some successful small projects, but given the scale of operation required to move Afghanistan forward, the EU could play a leading role, bearing in mind its power and organisation.
I turn finally to the balance between the EU as a security element and NATO. NATO has served us well in the past 50 years, providing the umbrella of security that Europe so needed. Unfortunately, there are elements within the EU that would like it to create its own security force, which would be absolutely wrong. I want the Government to confirm that they will commit themselves to NATO’s long-term future and not allow an EU-style security force to grow in conjunction with it. The Minister for Europe might say that the two forces could work side by side, but I put it to him that that cannot happen. The EU security forces that are already in existence are double-hatting with NATO operations and overlapping them, thereby causing confusion within the military structures. That needs to change, and we need to recommit ourselves to what NATO is actually for.
Britain has a proud history of standing up where other countries have remained quiet—of taking the initiative politically, diplomatically or indeed militarily, when other countries have stood on the sidelines. The EU is going down a river and nobody is willing to grab the rudder. Britain has a prime opportunity to take advantage of that—to show some initiative and provide a new direction for the EU that is worthy of all sovereign states, not just Britain.
If the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), ever forms a Government, I hope that he will remember that I was alongside him when it really mattered, bearing it in mind that attendance on the Government Benches—apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz)—is somewhat lean. I have a serious point to put to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been attending a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, and a meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee was also taking place. When the party managers choreograph our Parliament, they should hold discussions with the Chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee to see whether such clashes can be avoided. Some Members want legitimately to be in both places; however, even the Almighty found it difficult to be in two places at once.
There is a particular reason why I want to speak in this debate. When I made my maiden speech here nearly 15 years ago, I spoke about the prospect of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joining the European Union. I could tell from Members’ body language that they thought that I was completely off my trolley. However, it is amazing how people rewrite history. Not many will own up to having said that my notion was fanciful and unrealistic—indeed, some said that it was undesirable—but that was the reaction across the political spectrum at that time.
We should rejoice at the fact that Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries have been brought into the European Union. I say that because it is proven that the EU is one of the greatest vehicles for conflict resolution and minimisation. I proudly proclaim in this place and outside it, to any audience, that I am pro-European for that reason. I believe that the project was important politically, commercially and economically, but it also had a moral dimension. Of course, the fact that countries such as Poland—to which others have also referred today—are in the EU is a political act. Joining was extremely important to them, as a ratchet against the totalitarianism that they had endured for so long. This Labour Government can take some pride in that, whatever else might be on their record. [Interruption.] This Government can and should be proud of their role in EU enlargement, for which they argued in the Council of Ministers and elsewhere.
Opposition Members say grudging things about the many entrepreneurial and enthusiastic young men and women who are attracted here from central Europe, but they may speak otherwise at election times. Those people are entitled to be on the electoral register at the next general election, and I intend to ensure that they are able to vote for the party that allowed them to come here and contribute to our economy from day one. Moreover, they will be able to vote against those people who say different things to different audiences and who have been so grudging about their arrival in this country, even though they brought with them both enterprise and much needed skills and labour.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he express the same passion to the Minister in respect of ensuring that the votes of members of Her Majesty’s armed forces are counted at the next election, as well as those of new EU members coming to this country?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would not have given way to the hon. Member for The Wrekin if I had known that he would abuse my generosity. I think that there is a moral dimension to the expansion of Europe, and I am proud of Britain’s role in that.
I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way.He has spoken with passion on this issue for the past15 years, but does he agree that it was unfair of the Government to impose restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria? The accession eight countries have proved that registration and the operation of the market mean that those who want to work will get jobs, and that those who are unable to find a job will return home. Should we not review the policy in respect of Romania and Bulgaria to ensure that countries joining the EU do so on an equal basis?
I would not put the matter in quite those terms, but I broadly agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not believe that we have anything to worry about with Romania and Bulgaria, who will join the EU just after Christmas.
Earlier, I heard an Opposition Member go on about Polish workers. His remarks aggravated me, and I decided that I should repeat and place on the record something that a number of employers have told me. It seems that Polish workers have some peculiar characteristics—they turn up on time, and are enthusiastic for the work ethic. Those attributes are much needed in this country.
I believe that we have lost sight of the fate of the former Yugoslavia. I have not heard any mention of the region in the time that I have listened to the debatethis afternoon, but I hope that my right hon. Friendthe Minister for Europe will talk about the final negotiations on the status of Kosovo in his winding-up speech.
I believe that the Kosovo talks should pursue what is usually called a “Hong Kong plus” solution, which would mean that Kosovo’s final status would not be resolved this year. The enduring fiction is that Serbia and Kosovo are one country, when in fact it is clear that they are covered by two different jurisdictions. I do not want to get bogged down in a discussion about Serbia’s de jure geographical position or Kosovo’s independence but, under the formula that I propose, it might be possible to bring both territories into the EU.
I am aware that there would have to be some collaboration with the war crimes tribunal, but EU membership for Serbia and Kosovo would be in our interests, if it could be achieved. There would also be ramifications for any refugees who might be created if there were to be a return to conflict in the area.
We should take the initiative on Montenegro, a small country with a population twice that of the London borough of Wandsworth, and bring it into the EU. Some of the traducing of Montenegro is similar to what we used to hear about Slovakia and Malta not so long ago, but which we do not hear now. I do not accept all that business about it being a dodgy area with organised crime. If we brought Montenegro into the EU, it would be a signal to Serbia and other countries in the region that we also want to attract them to the Union.
The EU is a great vehicle for conflict resolution and conflict minimisation, so we should be proactive in discussing EU enlargement with those states. I am conscious of the legitimate argument that the EU needs time to digest its rapid expansion over recent years, but we should go the extra mile for states that were part of former Yugoslavia and bring them in as expeditiously as possible.
I depart from the Government on another point and would counsel them to listen to me for once, because during my years in this place I have noticed that things I have said that were dismissed from the Dispatch Box have come to pass on more than one occasion, although I will not list them now. The Government should reflect on the teasing of Turkey. There is no such word as “never” in politics, but Turkey will not be able to join the EU in the proposed time scale. It is wrong to tease Turkey; candour would be much friendlier and better for international politics in the long term. It would be much better if we said Turkey could not come in.
My reasons for saying that are not those that have been canvassed elsewhere. I do not care which religious faith is practised in a country. I do not lie awake at night worrying about the geographical composition of Europe; after all, Hawaii is not part of the American land mass. Those things are not important. We need to consider two things with regard to Turkish membership of the EU.
First, does Turkey meet the Copenhagen criteria? It is nowhere near them, so we should not be advancing its candidacy for that reason alone. Candidates should demonstrably meet the criteria: a robust parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, due regard for minorities in their constitution and practices and so on. Those criteria do not prevail in Turkey, so its candidate status should not be advanced.
In fairness, Turkey can do nothing about the second objection to its membership, but when people join a club, they have to be accepted in their totality. Turkey is a large land mass, which has common borders with Armenia, Iraq, Iran and other friendly countries.
Indeed. If Turkey joined the EU, its borders with those friendly states would be our borders, too. It is impossible for Turkey to police those borders robustly, with controls of the standard we require from Poland and will require from Romania and Bulgaria—our new neighbours. That situation is unfortunate, but we must be realistic about the fact that Turkey is a large country and has borders with the states to which I referred. I find it incredible that we should advance the candidacy of a country that actually occupies part of EU territory. That is a matter of legal fact, as northern Cyprus is the territory of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but also territory of the EU, so I find it inconceivable that we should be negotiating membership of a country whose occupation of another country still endures.
Finally, I want to pick up on a point about Malta, which was raised by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) a little while ago. Malta is currently enduring great problems as a result of mass migration from north Africa, with immigrants coming in particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. It is unfair that Malta has to cope with this growing and disproportionate influx of illegal immigration, and it is demonstrably a European problem that the Council of Ministers needs to deal with urgently. I hope that the Minister will announce a revisiting of the Dublin convention, as there needs to be a comprehensive discussion among European member states of how to share the burden of the illegal immigration that is unfairly hitting Malta. The need for dispersal should be recognised and there should be a common policy for dealing with the problem.
One of the reasons why those immigrants are going to Malta is that the country is in the EU, so it is a stepping stone. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is part of the problem. The fact that Malta is part of the EU makes it a stepping stone to other parts of the EU. As I say, that is part of the problem. I have just been there.
Actually, I know where Malta is as I sometimes look at maps. What the hon. Gentleman says is demonstrably so. Malta is part of the EU and the EU should recognise it as a problem to be shared. For that reason, I invite the Minister to confirm that the Dublin treaty, which relates to the problem, will be revisited expeditiously.
Ithas been an excellent debate, in which we have heard13 speeches. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) was the unlucky 13th, but he delivered an excellent, witty, off-the-cuff speech. The House was privileged to hear it; it was well worth waiting for. I should apologise for the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is not in his place. He is currently visiting Pakistan, as the Minister knows, so he is unable to be here this evening.
I am delighted to see the Minister for Europe in his place. A month ago at Foreign Office questions, we were all slightly worried that he had taken the vows of a Trappist monk, not being allowed to speak on Europe. So worried did I get that I took up the matter further with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time. On 1 November, the Prime Minister said:
“What my right hon. Friend is doing on behalf of this country in Europe is absolutely excellent.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2006; Vol. 451, c. 295.]
Obviously, relations have been repaired, as he went off to Riga and is in his place tonight answering this debate. We are delighted to see him and even more delighted than usual as I gather it is his birthday—[Interruption.] No, I am not going to say how old he is; he would not want me to do so.
The Foreign Secretary correctly summed up current European challenges when he defined them at the Finnish embassy lunch on 28 November as
“counter-terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation, jobs and growth in a globalised world, organised crime, drugs, securing the energy we need to power our economies”.
I doubt whether anyone could have summed them up better than that, but we have had 13 excellent speeches today so I shall try to mention some of them.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) spoke at length about the carbon emissions trading scheme. I totally agree that we want to make that scheme work. We want to ensure that it works fairly towards British companies and that other companies, as my right hon. Friend the Memberfor Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) said in a timely intervention, do not issue too many permits, thereby forcing our companies to purchase them at an excess price. I also wholly agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North about the need for a forward-looking EU policy on biofuels and clean-coal technology, which will be vital in future if we are to reduce our carbon emissions.
We then heard from my old friend the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I agree with him that the EU affects a vast amount of our constituents’ lives—it certainly does—and that EU policy on co-operation is being tested in a number of areas of the world, not least in Iraq, the middle east and Sudan, and we need to co-operate more closely with them on that. His amendment to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill—which, as he said, was supported by Conservative Front Benchers—was an innovative solution to which, I am sure, we will wish to return.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston(Ms Stuart), who, sadly, is not in her seat—[Hon. Members: “She is.”] Oh, she is. I am very sorry. She has moved seats, and I apologise to her. Of course, she did an excellent job on the convention last year. She mentioned the very important problems of Kosovo, which the hon. Member for Thurrock has just mentioned, and the possible implications for Russia of the independence movements in the Caucasus states. We all need to concentrate carefully on that very important issue.
The hon. Lady mentioned the European Defence Agency, as did a number of other hon. Members, and I want to say something about it this evening. I do not agree with her. When NATO secured the peace all through the cold war; when NATO played a major part in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans to secure the peace; when we have been invited into Afghanistan, under a United Nations resolution, to try to secure peace, infrastructure building and democracy; and when some European countries are not prepared to play their full part—even if they do play their fullpart, they do not do so with the flexibility of troops needed by the commanders on the ground—I do not understand in those circumstances why we need a separate European Defence Agency. As has been mentioned, when most European countries spend less than, or about, 1 per cent. of the gross domestic product on defence, the problem is that they need to spend more on defence, so that we can share the burden of defence more equally than we do at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) made one of the most telling speeches in the debate. Of course, like other hon. Members, he was very supportive of EU enlargement. The Conservative party is particularly keen on enlargement, and many Members have spoken either in favour of or against Turkish membership. I want to say one or two things about Turkish membership. Turkey is, of course, a very large country, with a population of about 80 million, which is set to grow towards 100 million in the near future, and we all recognise the immigration problems that that could create. We all recognise the problems that Turkey has with different religious and political minorities.
We recognise the problem of the green line in Cyprus. I visited Cyprus earlier this year. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said, we recognise the difficulty of property rights in northern Cyprus. Of course we wish to see Turkey making progress on entry into the ports and airports in the north of Cyprus. All those things are difficulties; but as I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, if having encouraged Turkey to open negotiations, the EU were to turn its back on Turkey and as a result it became an Islamic state, the whole EU would rue that day. We must be very careful about that.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins)—I regret that I was not here when he made his speech—said that regional PR led to risky euro-enthusiastic MEPs. That may well be the case, and it may well be that we do not like the PR system and the open list system for elections to the European Parliament and we wish that the European Parliament had better scrutiny of the Commission’s affairs, but the European Parliament is nevertheless some form of democratically elected body.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie): we want the EU to be an open, trading non-bureaucratic body. We want it to succeed in world trade. As the Chancellor said today in his pre-Budget statement, we must look outwards to the rest of the world. We must look at what is going on in China and India and in the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations. I attended the ASEAN gala dinner on Monday, and it is delightful to know that Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation is getting together in Vietnam—Vietnam of all countries, one of the most suppressed countries in the world emerging on to the world stage. Those are the challenges that the EU must face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made his traditional call for withdrawal from the EU. I have to say to him, in the gentlest and nicest terms—he is a good chap—that that is not official Opposition policy. We want to work within the EU. We want to see a reformed EU; but we do not wish to leave the EU. Let me tell him why. The EU has been amazing in embracing some of the most oppressed countries in the world—some of the former Commonwealth of Independent States countries. The whole EU, including this country, has benefited from the enlargement of the membership of the EU. NATO has benefited from the increased membership of the Baltic states, Ukraine and others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) was also sceptical about the European experiment. We all have reservations about the European experiment. He talked about mission creep, and meddling and interfering. I have that fear about the new human rights body in Vienna. Human rights should be a matter that each individual state is proud to uphold and to have an excellent record on. We do not need an overarching body to tell us what to do in that respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin graphically described some of the problems of Turkish membership. I have mentioned that. He also looked forward and considered what might have been in relation to the European constitution. With the advent of the French and the Dutch referendums, let us hope that the constitution is well and truly buried. I hope that, when the Minister for Europe sums up, he will tell us something about that. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: we do not wish to see an external diplomatic service. We want to see the Government keeping British embassies open throughout the world and having the highest standards of ethics, morals and effectiveness. The British diplomatic service has been renowned for that in this and the last century.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell), in the sort of robust speech that he is renowned for, pointed to the fact that there are much higher tariff barriers for some African countries. That is a real worry. It is a real concern in terms of the failure of the WTO Doha round of trade talks. We all want to see progress on the Doha round. The Government could do more to press their friend the Trade Commissioner to make sure that we are not continually protecting agricultural subsidies and farmers who are not competing in the real world. I say that as a farmer myself—I have declared that in the Register of Members’ Interests.
It is shameful that the APEC countries that met in Vietnam last week said that they were prepared to break the deadlock on the WTO round provided that others did the same. The European Union could have done more. A successful Doha round, as my hon. Friend said, would be of enormous benefit to some of the poorest countries in the world. We should not shut them out from our markets. That is what is happening in far too many cases—by means not just of tariff barriers, but of non-tariff barriers and a whole range of other bureaucratic mechanisms for keeping them out of our market.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) made a typically robust speech. He, too, mentioned the problems of NATO and a separate European defence agency. I thoroughly agree with him.
It has been a great privilege to sum up in this debate. The EU has expanded from the original six members when we joined it in 1973, to nine as it was then, to27 now—looking forward to 30 with the advent of Croatia, Montenegro and Turkey. It is a very different Union from the one that existed in the original days of the European Economic Community. We need to look for continual reform. We look for inspired leadership. When the Prime Minister came to office, he said that he would give us that inspired leadership as far as Europe is concerned. We are still waiting. We very much hope that, at next week’s summit, he will show some of that inspired leadership and make sure that the European Union is pointed in the direction that we want to see it go in—a full, open, non-bureaucratic, trading organisation that creates employment and wealth for its citizens.
May I begin by expressing my appreciation to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) for his good wishes? I clearly could not think of a better,more satisfying way of spending the first day of my 54th year. The debate was obviously specially arranged for me by the Whips Office. It reminds me a little of those childhood treats, such as going to the cinema or the zoo—actually, I should not dwell on going to the zoo.
We have had a valuable debate. The focus, quite rightly, has been overwhelmingly on how all member states can get the most from their contribution to the European Union, how we in the United Kingdom can ensure that the EU is working for the people of Britain, and how we can play our part, with others, in steering the EU in the right direction. Above all, that flows from a recognition that the European Union is central to much of what we in this country want to achieve on a wide range of policies, including environmental protection, climate change, energy security and development. The Government are playing a leading role in the European Union to ensure that we can respond effectively to the political challenges of the 21st century.
Cross-border problems cannot be solved by little Englanders pretending to be able to act in isolation from the rest of Europe, as too many Conservative Members would have us believe. The Leader of the Opposition’s rhetoric on the importance of tackling climate change is hopelessly inconsistent with his approach to Europe. Indeed, I am curious to know whether the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) could at any time enlighten us about his actual policy on Europe, or even tell us whether his party has a policy on Europe. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman is not an English batsman because he is able to talk at great length without giving anything away. At no point during the course of his rather long speech did he reveal any aspect of what is positively his policy. Again, as far as I could detect, his policy appears to be something of splendid isolation. Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that one of his colleagues described him as a good negotiator, although there was no evidence that he wanted to discuss anything. As far as I could detect from his speech, Conservative party policy on Europe is “just say no”.
I can reveal to the House, perhaps exclusively,that the Leader of the Opposition, after more than12 months in that position, has decided to make his very first visit to Brussels. The right hon. Gentleman might need some assistance as he wanders the corridors of the European Parliament. It would be a shame if he got lost and found himself in a meeting with his natural political ally, the United Kingdom Independence party. It would be interesting to know whether he plans to meet his actual political allies from the European People’s party, whose mission is to work for the
“realisation of the United States of Europe”.
The right hon. Gentleman’s programme includes a meeting with the European Commission President, Mr. Barroso. During a recent trip to this country, Mr. Barroso praised the Government for their achievements during the UK presidency last year and stated:
“Britain is a lead player in Europe”.
He also said:
“Does the UK want to continue to drive from the centre; or return to sulking from the periphery”,
and it seems to me that he was unconsciously referring to the Conservatives’ approach to Europe.
Let me deal with several of the points that were raised in the debate. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on his speech. He spoke with his usual skill and eloquence about enlargement and decision making in the European Union and the Lisbon agenda. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) started his speech by reviewing current issues and recent speeches. I was delighted to discover that he reads the speeches made by both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and me with such obvious interest and enthusiasm. With the Christmas recess coming up, I am sure that we can offer him some entertainment as he wiles away the hours between debates on Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) asked several detailed questions about climate change. If he will allow me, I will write to him with detailed responses. However, as I made clear in my observations about the Leader of the Opposition, if the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) genuinely believes in tackling environmental problems, he must genuinely believe in engagement with the European Union, because it is only through the European Union that it will be possible for this country, working in partnership with other European countries, to develop energy policies that are in line with climate change objectives. His position simply does not make sense. No one would believe a political party that pretended that it was somehow possible to tackle such problems in splendid isolation.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister on his birthday, and I hope that he enjoys the rest of the evening more than he enjoyed this afternoon. We have been very clear: we have no difficulty engaging with our EU partners to tackle climate change, and I referred to that in our opening speech. We are also clear aboutthe fact that we do not need additional EU competences to do that. He agreed with me on that point on 26 October when I challenged him on the subject, and the Foreign Secretary agreed with me on the subject yesterday in Foreign Office questions.
The point that the hon. Gentleman misses about his approach is that in any international organisation such as the European Union it is simply not possible to pick and choose, although he pretends that it is. It is necessary to be engaged, to debate and discuss, and to argue one’s cause. That does not mean always saying no on a range of issues, but that is the impression that he gives. I have listened to him on a number of occasions, and he speaks well, effectively and at length, but he does not say anything about the Conservative party’s policy; I would be delighted to hear what it is.
Several other Conservative Members contributed to the debate. I apologise to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) because I was not in the Chamber during his speech, but I suspect that I have heard it many times before. I am sure that he spoke with his customary style and enthusiasm on the issue of Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston(Ms Stuart) asked when Kosovo would join the European Union. She is right to emphasise that there is a clear European perspective on the Balkan region, including both Kosovo and Serbia. Their European position will be a key factor in ensuring their economic development and, indeed, their shorter-term stability. Obviously, it is important to wait for the conclusion of the UN-led process to determine Kosovo’s final status, and we cannot speculate at this stage on its prospects for membership of the European Union, but the western Balkans are a vital part of Europe and it is important that that ambition remains open to countries in the region.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) spoke at length on a number of issues. He emphasised the importance of the relationship with the European Union, mentioning countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. I hope that he accepts that one of the EU’s singular achievements during the period of enlargement has been to offer a focus, goal and ambition for countries that were formerly part of the Warsaw pact—and, in some cases, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Without that focus and ambition, they could easily have drifted away from democracy, the rule of law and free markets. I am sure that we will all celebrate that singular achievement of the EU next March.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) said, if I understood correctly, that Eurosceptic voices needed to be heard because there must be a better balanced and more informed debate. Having sat through most of this debate, I cannot agree that more Eurosceptic voices are needed. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) probably put things a little better, as there was rather less support for the pro-European view than the phrase “a balanced debate” would suggest.
After those speeches, a number of Conservative Members spoke, taking various approaches. If they will forgive me, I shall not go through each of their speeches in detail, although I listened to each and every one of them. It is an interesting characteristic that, with the singular exception of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), they avoided saying what they believed. They criticised the European Union without saying what they would put in its place, or indicating which other countries in the European Union might share their view. At least the hon. Member for Shipley had the courage of his intellectual convictions and said that he believed that the United Kingdom should withdraw from the European Union.
For the sake of clarity, I should point out that the Minister misunderstood me. If anything comes forward from the European Union that this country does not like, we should say, “No, we’re not implementing it because it is not in our national interest.” Is that clear enough for him?
I was speaking more about references to Britain needing a different relationship with the European Union. I made notes, and I think that that point was made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), in his comic-book description of the situation, talked of the need for a new relationship. I do not argue that our relationship with the European Union will remain fixed and consistent, but it is important that Opposition Members can articulate what they would like, by way of a new structure and situation. That is what the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West consistently fails to do.
I have battled with the Minister on the subject since 1990 or earlier, but it is quite amazing to hear him say so, as he and the Government do not have the faintest idea of what kind of Europe they want. The Prime Minister has said that we cannot implement only part of the treaty, and the Government are not even prepared to put the treaty to a vote in the House of Commons this year, as such a proposal was not included in the Queen’s Speech.
The difference between our respective positions is that I have consistently supported the European Union. To change the EU, we must argue constructively and positively. I have never been entirely sure what the hon. Member for—I have forgotten his wretched constituency—[Interruption.]—Stone believes. He referred to the time that he opposed his Front-Bench team, but in recent years the one thing on which I have congratulated him is the fact that he has steered them in the direction in which he believes.
The Government have a very clear policy on the European constitution and I have set out ina written ministerial statement, agreed by the Government, the basic principles that will guide renegotiation. Again, that demonstrates the difference between us. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, the Conservative idea of negotiation is to say no. That is the only policy that we have heard from them. In any negotiation—I have negotiated throughout my career, both as a lawyer and as a politician—it is necessary to accept certain parts of the subject on which one is negotiating. If one does not do so, one is not negotiating—one is simply sitting in a corner, isolated, with no one taking any notice. That is pretty much what the previous Government did, and that is why they failed to deliver for Britain—something with which the hon. Member for Stone used to agree.
On one’s birthday one can reflect on such things, and the hon. Member for Stone has consistently taken that view. My hon. Friend has consistently subjected me to friendly fire for many years, but I do not accept his description of our position on the EU. It is vital, in trying to negotiate in the UK’s best interests, that we accept certain aspects of the EU. I hope that he agrees that since those days in the early 1990s, to which the hon. Member for Stone referred, the Conservative party has undergone an incredible transformation. If today’s debate is anything to go by, and if the Conservative Back Benchers who spoke represent their party’s views, I sympathise with the Front-Bench team because they are in splendid isolation. They received very little support for their policy, as speaker after speaker stood up to say how concerned they were about their views. [Interruption.] No one stood up on this side of the House, which is a sign that Government Members strongly support the policy that we are carrying out.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made a thoughtful speech. One of the difficulties from which Opposition Members suffer is their characteristic view that Europe is separate from the United Kingdom. It is vital when engaging in a negotiation to define terms properly. We have a huge role to play in Europe through the Council of Ministers, our Commissioner and our Members of the European Parliament. Only if we engage through those institutions of the European Union will we be able properly to protect the interests of the United Kingdom. That is the key issue—to make sure that the British Government stand up for the interests of the United Kingdom. That cannot be done—
It being Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.