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EU-US Relations

Volume 490: debated on Tuesday 31 March 2009

A strong and vibrant EU-US relationship is clearly in the UK’s interest. It provides an essential basis for meeting many of today’s most pressing challenges, from the global economic crisis and climate change to foreign policy priorities, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the middle east and Iran. I shall continue to work to strengthen that relationship with European and American colleagues, as will the Prime Minister when he represents the UK at the EU-US summit in Prague next Sunday.

I am grateful for that answer. One area where one might expect closer partnership working is the middle east. Given the appointment of Senator Mitchell, but the relative failure of the Quartet and the Annapolis process, what role does my right hon. Friend see for the EU, and Britain within the EU, in moving the peace process forward?

I thought that my hon. Friend was going to anticipate a later question by complimenting the Quartet representative on the outstanding work that he has done, side by side with Senator Mitchell, to take forward change on the ground in the west bank and Gaza. My hon. Friend might try to catch your eye to make that point later, Mr. Speaker. The appointment of Senator Mitchell has in fact brought respect and applause from across the middle east, because of his obvious knowledge of the region, given his work on the settlements issue in 2001-02, and his record in the Senate and elsewhere. From my conversations with Senator Mitchell on four occasions, he will make a distinctive contribution to a region that needs urgent engagement on a problem—that of Palestinian statelessness and Israeli insecurity—which, if not solved soon, will never be solved.

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity yet to look at the details of the US stimulus package? The majority of the $787 billion of new money is being spent at a state level. May I encourage him to employ that approach in the United Kingdom and throughout the European Union, rather than to pursue his Government’s plans of cutting public spending by £1 billion in Scotland, £500 million in Wales and nearly £200 million in Northern Ireland?

I understand why the hon. Gentleman was drawn to the American example; of course, President Obama has had to bail out a large number of states that have left their public finances in a baleful condition. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman has some experience of that as a result of the performance of the Scottish National party in Scotland. The measures being taken in this country, including some of those that he has criticised, have been of benefit not only to national Government and individuals, but to local government right across the country.

As we welcome President Obama to this country and to Europe, is it not time to congratulate NATO, reaffirm the transatlantic partnership between Europe and the United States and ensure that European Union countries and the US work together on security issues for the future?

My hon. Friend has made a very important point. The summit on Friday and Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the foundation of NATO, and it is an important chance to look forward. One of the foundations of NATO’s future, whatever the debates about how it should combine the defence of its members with operations beyond its borders, is that it must embody the transatlantic alliance that has served Europe and North America so well over the past 60 years. I hope that the meeting on Friday and Saturday can be more than a “celebration”. First, it needs to be a chance to chart the future in respect of Afghanistan, the biggest and most important NATO mission currently under way. It should also start the debate about how NATO can look forward, in the next 10 or 20 years, to working in a very different context from that in which it was created.

Given the Government’s failure to act urgently on carbon capture and storage, and the fact that the Prime Minister’s own adviser, Lord Stern, said last night that he thought that it was unacceptable for Kingsnorth to go ahead without carbon capture and storage, does the Foreign Secretary expect leadership on that technology, which is crucial to tackling climate change, to be ceded to the United States?

No, not least because on the Friday before last, the United Kingdom was successful in ensuring that a significant tranche of the €5 billion stimulus package agreed by the EU should be dedicated to countries that want to take on carbon capture and storage, and €180 million is coming to the UK precisely for that purpose.