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European Union

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2007

8. If she will make a statement on her response to the German presidency’s work on the future development of the EU. (121322)

10. What the prospects are for the implementation of the proposals for the EU set out in Command Paper 7024; and if she will make a statement. (121324)

The German presidency will take forward work on a wide range of issues, including climate change, energy security, economic reform and the future of the European Union. The Government’s approach is set out in the Command Paper “Prospects for the European Union in 2007”, which was placed in the Library of the House on 31 January.

Given that the German presidency appears to be determined to revive the European constitution, at least in a revised form, would the Government support proposals for a new EU Foreign Minister, a new EU diplomatic service and a new post of EU President?

As I have made clear to the House on several occasions, discussions are continuing about the extent to which the treaty could be revived in either its existing form, or any revised form. There is no consensus among member states at this stage. As soon as there is any such consensus, I will obviously report the matter to the House.

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s reply with great interest, but I am afraid that I am none the wiser. Does he agree with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that the EU constitution is a dead parrot, or does he support the constitution?

I am sorry that I am not able to add to the hon. Gentleman’s intellectual understanding. I would be trying the patience of the House if I were to repeat my answer. However, I refer him to what I said a few moments ago—he will find that I have already set out the answer to his question quite clearly.

On the subject of climate change, the Command Paper calls for

“a practical, ambitious Action Plan incorporating emission reduction targets.”

Given that many more Britons and Europeans are forecast to fly across Europe, how are the Government pressing the EU to improve the affordability and availability of train travel as an alternative?

There is a substantial EU commitment to improving high-speed rail links throughout the European Union. A significant amount of European taxpayers’ money goes into such projects. Those routes are important alternatives for travellers throughout the European Union, as anyone who, like me, regularly catches the Eurostar between London and Brussels and Paris will find.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the Prime Minister’s recent discussions with the German Chancellor on climate change? Is it not the case that the EU emissions trading scheme should be widened and deepened and that we need to move quickly to a post-Kyoto settlement?

That is certainly one of the United Kingdom’s ambitions as we discuss the way forward on climate change with Germany, which holds the EU presidency for the moment, and with other member states. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has led Europe on this issue and he continues to be determined to secure an agreement. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. An important aspect of the British Government’s negotiating strategy during the German presidency is that we should achieve improvements, especially on the trading scheme.

Do not the crises and conflicts in various parts of the world that we have been discussing for the past 45 minutes underline the need for greater effectiveness of the EU in international and foreign affairs? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that he talks to the German Chancellor to try to bring forward proposals that would strengthen the European Union’s ability to intervene on international issues?

Certainly, I see no reason why we should not build on the considerable success that Javier Solana has made of his post. There was a good deal of criticism of his appointment, especially from Conservative Members, but he has demonstrated that it is important for the European Union to have a single figure with whom the United States and other countries throughout the world can communicate, especially on matters as vital as the middle east peace process and relations with Iran and Russia. He has been an outstanding success and I pay tribute to the work that he has done.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the British Government’s priorities in negotiations about institutional changes to the European Union is still to bring the rotating presidency to an end and to appoint a permanent President of the Council?

That was certainly agreed by all member states in the constitutional treaty. However, as I have indicated to the House before—not only today, but previously—negotiations and discussions are going on. It is important that we find the right way forward, but obviously that depends on a consensus among all 27 member states.

It has never been the British Government’s view that criminal law is a central feature of the European Union’s case law. However, there are relevant examples, especially in relation to environmental protection. There is a strong argument that organisations and countries that breach important principles of environmental protection could well face criminal law sanctions, although that is not something that the United Kingdom Government have necessarily yet supported.

Will the Minister indicate what progress has been made on a joint statement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome?

Work is already under way in Berlin on a draft statement. We have made it clear on behalf of the United Kingdom that it is important that the draft statement reflect not only the achievements of the European Union over the past 50 years but set out its values and provide a vision for the future. I assure the House that as soon as a text is available it will be laid before the House for further discussion.