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Council of Ministers

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2011

7. What recent discussions he has had with his Hungarian counterpart on priorities for the Hungarian presidency of the Council of Ministers of the EU. (46099)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary held a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 7 December in London. I speak regularly to the Hungarian Europe Minister, Eniko Gyori, at meetings of both the General Affairs Council and the Foreign Affairs Council, and most recently by telephone on 20 January, when we discussed energy policy and innovation priorities.

In February, the UK announced more job losses than any other country in the EU. In that context, what conversations has the Minister had with other EU Ministers to assist the UK Government in developing a plan for jobs and growth to replace their current strategies, which undermine both?

We have taken the lead at many meetings of EU Ministers in arguing that Europe should indeed give the highest priority to growth and global competitiveness, which means more work to complete the single market, to increase free trade with other parts of the world, and to cut the cost and complexity of the regulations that Europe imposes on European businesses.

Just as the Czech spring presaged the rebirth of democracy and liberty in what were known as the eastern European countries, can we hope that the European Union, particularly the Hungarian presidency, can shine a light on those undergoing similar revolutions now in the middle east and adjoining countries?

We very much hope so. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been playing a leading part in those discussions at European level. We think it is time for the EU to carry out an urgent and comprehensive overhaul of its partnership policies with regard to the southern Mediterranean counties. We need to link those much more closely to economic and political reform in that region.

One of the priorities of the presidency must surely be the securing of the EU border. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Hungarian Foreign Minister about the deployment by Frontex of a rapid border intervention team—RABIT —on the border between Greece and Turkey? He will know that 90% of illegal immigration comes through that border, and we need to ensure that the RABIT force is protected and extended, in order to give Greece as much support as possible.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There are real problems on the Greco-Turkish border that affect migration into the whole of the EU. This is a matter to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration are giving a high priority in their conversations with their European counterparts.