Given that the Minister is unable to give any indication of a time scale for any potential intergovernmental conference on EU treaty change, what does he say to businesses in my constituency that have raised their concerns that uncertainty over the relationship with the EU could harm trade with the continent and threaten their viability?
I would say to businesses in the hon. Lady’s constituency that I hope that they will warmly welcome the efforts the Government are making to strengthen the single market in Europe, to promote free trade with the rest of the world and to cut the cost of European regulation on businesses of all sizes.
Will the Minister embrace collaboration rather than confrontation in Europe and welcome last week’s call for smarter regulation, more cost-efficiency, more free trade agreements and many other European reforms that are possible with or without a treaty issued by the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberals in government in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Romania and the UK?
There was indeed a great deal in that statement with which I, coming from a different political family, would find myself in disagreement—[Interruption.] I mean in complete agreement—although perhaps I disagreed with a few points. It is striking that when I talk to my European counterparts, from whatever political family they come, there is a common sense of the urgency of Europe’s collectively getting to grips with the challenges of global competition and taking the steps on deregulation and the promotion of free markets and free trade that will bring more jobs and prosperity to everyone in this continent.
Treaty change requires the agreement of all member states. However, the European Council President said last week in London that there was
“not much appetite . . . around the leaders table”
for opening the treaties. The Dutch Foreign Minister said:
“We will do everything to avoid treaty change”.
The French are not keen. The Germans are not keen. Which allies has the Minister found for treaty change?
I am sorry if the hon. Lady feels that the treaty of Lisbon is so perfect that it needs no reform at all. In respect of the President of the European Council’s comment, he has said before that he does not think that any treaty change is likely for the next couple of years, and I do not disagree with that opinion, but if the hon. Lady looks again at the report of the four Presidents, if she looks again at President Barroso’s blueprint for European reform, she will find there a proposal for substantial changes to the way the EU operates that would not be possible without changes to the treaties.
We are seeing some positive results and progress in areas such as the EU budget, fisheries and the extension of the working time directive. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ongoing process of negotiation and alliance building is a vital part of realising the reforms needed in the EU and Britain’s relationship with its European partners?
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend says. The achievement of the first-ever reduction in a European financial framework, coupled with the agreement on the ban on the obscene practice of discarding fish—something for which this country has fought for many years—is clear evidence not only that this Government are committed to working with our partners in Europe to achieve common objectives, but that we are succeeding in delivering outcomes that should be welcomed right across the House and by everybody in this country.