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EU: Future of Europe

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2006

My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe (Geoff Hoon) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

According to the conclusions of the June 2006 European Council, the German presidency will present a report at the June 2007 European Council based on extensive consultations with member states about the future of Europe. The purpose of this Statement is to inform the House about the principles that will underpin the Government's approach to these discussions.

Europeans need to be equipped to maximise the opportunities, and minimise the risks, that globalisation presents. By retaining our focus on the delivery of practical benefits to citizens, the EU can demonstrate the tangible contribution it makes to enhancing prosperity and security in a global age. Enlargement has delivered an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity within the EU’s borders. The prospect of EU membership is extending these benefits to our neighbours. In the forthcoming discussions, the Government's overall aim will be to maintain the EU’s focus on the delivery of policy and, in discussion on the future of Europe, they will be guided by the following principles.

Pursuing British interests: our starting point is that we must safeguard our prosperity and security. Britain is a strong, confident and influential European power that can help to lead reform and modernisation, shape debates, build alliances and win the arguments. By engaging with our European partners and friends, we get the right results for Britain and for Europe as a whole. The EU's focus on delivery of policy is an example of where we have helped to steer the EU towards a path that provides practical benefits for all Europe's citizens.

Modernisation and effectiveness: the EU is crucial for delivering what we want in a whole range of areas, such as climate and energy security, promotion of trade liberalisation, and migration. We recognise that the EU must continue to adapt and modernise if it is to implement effectively the policies that we want and support. We will therefore favour proposals that modernise the workings of the EU so that it is better equipped to meet both today’s and future challenges.

Consensus: the European Union is now a much broader organisation and there is a wide range of views to be taken into account. Fifteen member states have substantially completed their domestic ratification procedures. Ten member states have not ratified, of which two, France and the Netherlands, have held referenda which resulted in “no votes”. Decisions on next steps will have to be agreed by all the member states and take account of all relevant interests.

Subsidiarity (working at the right level): we will continue to ensure that action is taken at the right level. In areas where the EU can add value, it should do so. But where there are issues that can most effectively be tackled at the national level, the onus remains on member states to take action. We continue to be in favour of measures which enhance subsidiarity and the role of national parliaments.

Use of existing treaties: as agreed at the June 2006 European Council, we need to make best use of the possibilities offered by the existing treaties, in order to deliver practical results that citizens expect. For example, the European arrest warrant, which was agreed on the basis of the current treaties, allows us to speed up and simplify arrangements for cross-border investigations and prosecutions, thereby making a significant contribution to the fight against cross-border crime.

Openness: the EU must keep pace with global change. We want an EU which is outward-looking and open to new developments, trade and investment and developing partnerships with third countries.