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European Council: 14-15 December 2006

Volume 687: debated on Monday 18 December 2006

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. As the House knows, it is customary for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to make this Statement. I have been asked to convey his apologies, as he is currently on an official visit to the Middle East.

“There were two main outcomes to this Council. The first, as expected, related to enlargement. The Council endorsed the agreement reached earlier in the week by Foreign Ministers on what action the European Union should take in response to Turkey’s failure to implement the Ankara agreement protocol. There was also a wider discussion on enlargement strategy.

“There had been widespread predictions that the discussion on Turkey at the General Affairs Council would be extremely divisive, would spill over into the European Council itself and might risk derailing the process of Turkish accession: the so-called train-wreck scenario, in other words. But this was avoided. The UK—along with others—made a strong strategic case for Turkish membership, and the train remains very much on the track. Negotiations can move forward on 27 of the 35 chapters of the acquis. And—for the first time in an EU of 25—there is positive language which will be adopted by the Council, in January, on resuming work ‘without delay’ on a direct trade regulation to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.

“No one is in any doubt that Turkey must meet all the requirements and obligations of membership before joining the European Union. But as this House has consistently agreed, a European Union with Turkey as a member will be stronger, richer and more secure.

“The conclusions of the European Council further stressed the strategic importance of enlargement more generally—inspiring reform, driving prosperity and competitiveness, and strengthening the EU’s weight in the world. Those conclusions reaffirmed that the European Union should keep its commitments towards all the countries that are in the enlargement process, moving forward on the basis of strict conditionality at all stages of the negotiations and judging each country on its own merits.

“The second focus of the Council was to make progress on the very practical issues that resonate with and matter to the people of Europe and where, through joint action, the European Union can make a positive difference on the ground.

“On climate change and energy, the Council built on progress made at the informal summit in Lahti. We agreed that the spring Council will discuss options for a global post-2012 agreement on climate change, consistent with the EU’s objective of a maximum global temperature increase of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. And we reiterated the need for a global carbon market and reaffirmed the crucial role and the long-term ambition of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

“The Council called for the priority measures in the Commission’s action plan on energy efficiency to be implemented rapidly and endorsed the setting up of a network of energy security correspondents early next year. The spring 2007 European Council is due to adopt a prioritised action plan as part of an integrated approach for a secure, environmentally friendly and competitive energy policy for Europe. And we agreed that European energy and climate change policy will be discussed by the European Council on a regular basis in the future, beginning with an integrated debate on these issues at the spring 2007 meeting.

“On Africa, we welcomed the progress report on the implementation of the EU strategy, The EU and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership, and called for the implementation of the priority actions for next year identified in that report. We also reaffirmed our commitment to working towards a joint EU-Africa strategy to be adapted at the second EU-Africa summit in the latter half of 2007.

“On the globalisation agenda, we asked the Commission to take a number of concrete steps to further promote innovation within Europe. This included presenting a comprehensive intellectual property rights strategy in the course of 2007; working up proposals for industry-led joint technology initiatives with a view to launching the most advanced ones next year; and, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, coming up with ways in which to improve the working methods and overall resources of the European standardisation bodies. We also agreed to do further work on the idea of a European institute of technology.

“On justice and home affairs, the Council agreed to consider options for strengthening the framework for decision-making in order to respond effectively to the current changes in the area of freedom, security and justice.

“On migration, we agreed that we need to strengthen our efforts on the global approach and make sure that we address migration in a comprehensive manner. The Council agreed on the next steps that the EU should take in 2007, including detailed action in three areas with regard to illegal migration: first, strengthening and deepening international co-operation with third countries of origin and transit—for example, doing more to integrate migration issues into aid policies and working more effectively with third countries to combat human trafficking; secondly, strengthening co-operation among member states—for example, intensifying measures against illegal employment and developing identification technology at borders; and, thirdly, improving the management of the European Union’s external border—for example, finding sustainable and effective ways to announce the capacity of FRONTEX. The Council also agreed to have a common European asylum system in place by the end of 2010, starting next year with a preliminary evaluation of its first phase.

“The Council issued separate declarations on Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran and African issues. On the Middle East peace process, the European Council set out how it would engage with a legitimate Palestinian Government that adopted a platform reflecting the quartet principles.

“The European Council quite rightly concentrated on those areas, not least enlargement, where the European Union can make a real difference to the lives of people in Europe. The progress that we made at the Council and, perhaps just as important, the dangers that we avoided demonstrate again the benefit of having a UK Government with not just a clear strategy on Europe, but a strong influence based on consistent and close engagement to see that strategy through. I commend the outcome to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome the Statement repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who thereby extends his already vast brief in other areas to the finer points of European politics. I am sure that he has picked up all these matters speedily, because it is not a big subject.

It was a curious event that took place at the end of last week, because it received amazingly little coverage in the press. One is tempted to think that that must have been because it was a non-event. But past experience teaches us that on just such occasions big decisions get slipped through and sensitive matters such as the loss of veto powers get agreed, or some other agreement gets bypassed, surrendered or slipped through. So we need to watch carefully the small print, as at all other meetings. Let me just comment on a few of the salient issues.

First, on Turkey and enlargement generally, of course we are glad to hear that the Turkish membership issue remains “on the track”. Does that mean that the full range of negotiations can be resumed? How is this going to be done? What steps will be taken to persuade the Greek Cypriot Government in Nicosia, who have so far proved themselves to be totally intransigent, blocking progress at every point, to lift their blocking policy on the inclusion of Turkish Cyprus in the EU? Many people thought that the EU member states had promised that that would happen when Cyprus was admitted to the European Union, but it has not. Are the Government aware of how rapidly Turkish opinion is turning away from the European Union altogether? Are they also aware of the very dangerous implications for all our futures if that is allowed to happen, and the strategic defeat that it would impose on the West? We are glad to hear that there is progress and that Turkey is back on track, as it were, but there are some very high hurdles to jump before we can be reassured.

Secondly, although I have said that I want to talk about salient points, there is one point that was not salient at all in that it was not even mentioned—the European constitution. This really was the missing guest at the party. It seems barely credible that this issue, which has been vigorously debated in several European capitals these last few weeks and much aired in the press, was apparently not discussed at Brussels at all. But there was no mention of it in the Statement. Has a new timetable been agreed for a new constitutional document, as has been widely reported? What will it include? Will it again propose a full-time President and a full-time Foreign Minister of the European Union, as well as a host of other proposals that were in the failed previous constitution? In fact, will it be another “constitution” at all, given that the word caused so many people a degree of indigestion? If it does have constitutional implications, and big ones, will Her Majesty's Government give this country a referendum on it, as they were prepared to do last time? We need some reassurance; it is very odd that the issue does not get a mention in the Statement.

Another central issue in everyone’s thinking is climate change and carbon emissions. Of course we are glad to hear that there is a post-2012 agreement in the making and we hope that this has a cutting edge to it. Was it noted at the meeting in Brussels that emissions growth in the United States, which is often criticised and did not even accept the Kyoto Protocol targets, has been notably less in percentage terms in the past five years than has been the case in the European Union? Is there something basically wrong with the EU approach, and can we be assured that a new emissions trading scheme will work a lot better than the current one, which has made very little contribution—indeed, some argue that it has made things very much worse? Incidentally, what exactly is a network of energy correspondents, as was mentioned in the Statement? What will they do? It would be interesting for me to hear—others may know the answer, but I do not.

On the issue that is on everyone’s mind—the quagmire of the Middle East—the Statement tells us what the EU would like to do if only there was a Palestinian Government who would reflect the quartet principles. If only—the problem is that there is no such united position. I wonder whether the Ministers assembled in Brussels had anything to say or any wisdom to add about the hideous internecine fighting in the Gaza area—and, I am afraid, elsewhere—between Al Fatah and Hamas and the growing signs of division and civil war, which mean that the prospect of a Palestinian Government who could negotiate or join in the quartet road map procedures is even more remote than it was before.

The Statement rightly argues that the need is for a European structure that makes a real and positive difference to all our lives. The biggest difference of all would be to set the European Union on a path towards flexibility, an end to over-centralisation and a modern adjustment to the requirements of a networked world. That is what is needed. Did Her Majesty's Government give a strong lead in that direction? Frankly, there is not much sign of it in the Statement.

My Lords, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement, I ask whether he is aware of the report in the Evening Standard of the characteristically honest comment that he is alleged to have made in the gym this morning about his expertise on this subject. In light of that, I will not press him too far.

We have a short Statement but a very long communiqué, which contains a great deal requiring careful scrutiny by your Lordships’ Select Committee on the European Union. There are a number of commitments regarding what we might be doing, including the network of energy security correspondents and the suggestion of a maritime patrol in the Mediterranean. I recall our Prime Minister saying several years ago that Britain’s frontiers are now in the Mediterranean, but we would all like to know a great deal more about how far Britain will be committed to close co-operation in FRONTEX and in everything that happens in patrolling the Mediterranean and Atlantic borders of the Union.

On enlargement, it is good to know that we are still on track with Turkey. The western Balkans, about which we had an interesting short debate the other week, must not be forgotten. It is important that we maintain progress on the western Balkans as some other EU member state Governments begin to get cold feet about those countries. I hope that the Government accept that, although we talk about the capacity to absorb new members, enlargement necessarily requires some further institutional change, because the idea that we shall end up with 30 commissioners and 30 representatives on many other institutions simply will not work. Therefore, I emphasise at least as much to the Conservative Benches as to the Government that modest further institutional change is part of what we have to do in order to keep enlargement on track.

The communiqué spent most time on climate change and energy, Africa and migration. We on these Benches found it disappointingly vague on climate change and energy. It suggests, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, also suggested, that there is some way to go before we have agreement on an effective strategy. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme has not worked well so far. The initial quotas were clearly too large in several other countries. The role of the EU is crucial in pushing forward the global climate change agenda and we will give the Government every support that they may wish for—probably more than they desire in some ways—in pushing this further.

We are slightly puzzled by the commitment that the spring European Council in future will have a report on progress and energy policy. The spring European Council agreed some years ago to pay particular attention to progress on achieving the Lisbon goals. Does this suggest that the Lisbon goals in effect have now been abandoned and that we shall instead discuss energy policy?

Africa and migration go together. Much of what is said in the communiqué about Africa is to do with managing the roots of migration, stabilising African governance and encouraging African economic and social development so as to contain the intense pressures of migration. Again, we support that, although the implications for the future EU budget and the ESDP are far more radical than the Government have yet begun to explain to the public.

On a European institute of technology, again I assure the Government that we on these Benches support their deeply sceptical approach to this proposal. The idea has required a certain amount of momentum which does not seem to us to be a governmental priority.

On justice and home affairs, the Council talks about,

“options for strengthening the framework for decision making in order to respond effectively to the current challenges”.

In distinction from the Conservatives, we stress that in Britain’s national interests some of those options involve some extension of qualified majority voting. There are areas in which Britain has advantages to gain from making sure that decisions can be taken effectively and quickly.

A common European asylum system is the sort of thing that will frighten the Daily Mail every day of the week. We hope that the Government will do their best to explain to the British public precisely what that entails and why and how it is in British interests, as it is in the interests of others.

The two last declarations are, first, on the Middle East peace process and, secondly, on Afghanistan. I am not entirely clear whether Her Majesty’s Government are now working with the European Union initiative on the Middle East or with the US Administration. There is, after all, a widening gap between the approaches that the US Administration and the majority of EU Governments are now taking to the Middle East peace process. The Government have been remarkably silent on the French, Spanish and Italian joint initiative on the Middle East. We have heard nothing from the Government about the EU monitoring role on the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt. We have also heard little about the funding implications for the EU and, therefore, for Britain of closer involvement in supporting the Palestinian Government. The declaration remarks:

“The European Council calls for the release of Palestinian customs and tax revenues withheld by Israel”.

That is worth underlining. Israel has an association agreement with the European Union, and some of those revenues are collected on goods that come through to the EU. We have some real leverage in that respect.

Lastly, the Government claim to have a clear strategy on Europe. We are very glad to hear that. We would be even happier if the Government would explain it to the British public through the pages of the popular and Euro-sceptic press. The 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome is approaching and we understand that the 27 member Governments will issue a declaration on 25 March. At lunchtime today, I met the Italian Government’s special representative for drafting that declaration. He tells me that all Governments have appointed such a special representative, and I would be interested to know who the British representative will be. I hope that between now and March Her Majesty’s Government will share with us and the British public what they see as the priorities for the European Union that should be set out in such a declaration on the 50th anniversary.

My Lords, I am grateful for the questions and for their tone. I shall do my best to answer some of them. If I miss anything out, no doubt a letter will wing its way to me. I had a personal briefing in the locker room of the gym this morning by the Minister for Europe. He had been at the Foreign Ministers Council earlier in the week. It was extremely helpful to me, I freely admit.

On the latter point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, I do not know whether I will have a name to give him before I sit down, but the Government have been committed to engaging with the public on the issue of Europe. I know it is not easy to increase awareness about the European Union and the fact that it continues to reform and deliver for its citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, said that there had been little coverage in the press and, rightly, that you have to read the small print. That is a fair point, but I am not aware that anything is buried in this text. I do not think that is what he was suggesting, but you certainly have to read it a second time. There has not been a lot of coverage in the press.

I am grateful for what both noble Lords said about Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked me about the Greek Cypriots. That is a contentious issue, but we welcome the positive reaction from both sides to proposals put forward by the UN Under-Secretary-General in mid-November to implement the July agreement aimed at the resumption of substantive negotiations leading to a comprehensive and durable settlement. We support that route to a solution.

The noble Lord also mentioned Turkish public opinion turning away from the EU. However, from all that I have read, and as has been noted in this House, there have been remarkable changes in many areas in Turkey during the process of trying to join the European Union. I accept that there is still a long way to go, but there have been substantial changes in how society is organised and in the economy that have benefited the people of Turkey.

On the European Union constitution, I understand that the term is that we are in a “reflective period”. In answer to the noble Lord’s substantive question, during the six months of the German presidency from 1 January, they will consult member states and report back to the Council at the end of that period. They will discuss with all 27 member states where we are with the constitution, and I cannot forecast what the result will be. It is not as though the matter was not discussed; it is generally accepted that the Germans will undertake that consultation. The Government’s commitment to the referendum continues; there is no backtracking on that.

On energy correspondence, it may simply be a grand description and I do not wish to denigrate the people involved but it is a network of senior officials appointed to drive forward the project, so no new institution is created.

We welcome the ongoing evolution of thinking for a European institute of technology, which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about. But—this is where the noble Lord was sceptical—it is important that we get the design right so that it can contribute to Europe’s innovation record. The view of the UK Government is that the European institute of technology must add value, be distinct from existing instruments and assist creating incentives for business research and academic involvement.

We do not need to apologise on climate change. The European Union has a role to give a lead and the UK will play a central role in ensuring that the EU continues to demonstrate our commitment to tackling the issues. I am not in a position to get down to whether America has cut its emissions to a greater or lesser extent. Obviously there have been substantial changes in America since Kyoto because some of the states of the United States have taken a more proactive green stance than ever was the case before; clearly that is the case in California. So there is a key role, and there is no doubt that we have a good record in emissions trading and our recent proposals. I understand that we are the only country whose programme satisfied Brussels. All the others were sent back to look at how they are going to operate. We need not be mealy-mouthed about that.

The noble Lord said that the western Balkans were on track for enlargement. There were general discussions about enlargement. We want to push the principle of enlargement, not just in relation to Turkey, although that is a substantial part of the discussion. The UK remains committed to EU enlargement for the western Balkans. The only viable solution to the region’s difficult past is a European one. We welcome the Commission’s recent progress reports on the Balkans. They are a useful tool for the western Balkans to focus their efforts on the priorities for reform, so I hope that that is a positive response.

I am reluctant to talk about the Middle East because it requires more considered responses and cannot be dealt with off the top of one’s head. We are committed to the road map. I cannot go beyond the statements published from the European Council and that which the Foreign Secretary made in the other place. I do not see why anyone should be upset or take a misleading view, as implied in the noble Lord’s reference to the common asylum system. Most ordinary people would say that it was about time that we had a common asylum system so that one country was not played off against another, but that need not raise horror headlines. We are trying to get our house in order in a very difficult area of policy, where it has not been done before.

My Lords, can I press the Minister a little more on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford? What assurances or guarantees did the Government receive from the Government of Cyprus that, on the 27 chapters of the Turkish negotiation which are not frozen, negotiations can now go ahead unhindered and not be blocked by the Cypriots as they have been hitherto? If they did not receive any guarantees or assurances on that point I am not sure that it was worth a great deal.

As I understand it, the eight chapters that have been frozen in the Turkish succession negotiations have been so as a consequence of the unwillingness of the Turkish Government to accept a set of proposals from the Finnish presidency on the implementation of the extension of the EU-Turkey customs union agreement to cover the new member states and on the freeing-up of trade between the north of Cyprus and the EU. What penalty is being imposed on the Government of Cyprus, who also rejected precisely those same proposals? If the answer is none, is not that an unfair and unjustified discrimination?

My Lords, on the first question of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I do not think that there is any qualification to the 27 chapters. Negotiations can move forward on 27 of the 35 chapters of the acquis. I have no caveat to that. I may not have the nuances right, but I make no qualification to that answer. I understand the sensitivity of the matter. I could read out further statements, but I do not think that it would be helpful to go beyond what I said to the noble Lord. Given the importance of the UN/Cyprus settlement process and the expert involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, anything I might say outside my notes will cause confusion. But on the main point of the noble Lord’s question, no member state has erected any barrier at the European Council to moving forward on the 27 unfrozen chapters.

My Lords, I refer the Minister to a revealing confession in paragraph 3 of the Presidency Conclusions, which admits that the EU is,

“making best use of the possibilities offered by the existing treaties to deliver concrete results”

as it pursues the proposed constitution, after it was voted down by the French and Dutch people.

Can the noble Lord confirm or deny that this means that a number of new initiatives, all of them giving more power to Brussels at the expense of the member states, are going ahead, mostly based on Article 308 of the treaty establishing the European Communities? Can the noble Lord let us know what those initiatives are? If he cannot do so now, will he be good enough to write to me, putting a copy in your Lordships’ Library?

I further put it to the noble Lord that Brussels is clearly up to its usual trick of quietly adopting new powers for itself, even if there is no clear legal base. When we come to the next intergovernmental conference, those new powers will be taken as read and incorporated into the treaties because they are already there. If we do not like it, we should have said so at the time. That is why I am asking the questions now. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could assure me that I am wrong and that any new powers have a clear legal base. To confirm his point, if that is what he is going to say, I ask him again to write to me with the initiatives which are currently going through based on Article 308.

My Lords, the fact that we are in this reflective period about the constitution does not mean that all the agreements and treaties reached in Europe in the past few decades have been nullified or are inoperable. The noble Lord assumes that nobody should do anything, even though the existing treaty provisions allow for it. I am happy to give him the chapter and verse that he asked for, but the underlying assumption of his question cannot be valid. Many existing treaties are operating in the normal course of events. Nobody ever implied or inferred that that would not be the case. I reject what the noble Lord is implying because it is simply not the case.

My Lords, my noble friend glides effortlessly from single farm payments, through Northern Ireland to emission standards. He deserves the House’s warmest congratulations. I wish to ask him questions on enlargement and on the sections of the Presidency Conclusions in respect of migration.

On enlargement, the Presidency Conclusions refused to set any target dates in respect of the western Balkans and made decisions relating to management and quality of negotiations. Does this not amount in effect to a higher hurdle for some potential new entrants, particularly Croatia, which arguably has a better case and is better prepared than Bulgaria and Romania?

A large section of the conclusions on migration relate to what is termed a “comprehensive” European migration policy. The background is the enormous pressure on the Canaries, where more than 26,000 illegal migrants arrived this year from west Africa. Tragically, thousands died en route either to the Canaries, Malta or Italy. We are told that the capacity of FRONTEX would rapidly be enhanced; we are told that there will be a centralised record of technical equipment, the creation of a European surveillance system and greater efficiency in co-operation on search and rescue. But what is proposed is, essentially, greater co-ordination by FRONTEX of the national coastguard systems. Are we not moving inexorably along a road, because of the pressures on the southern borders of Europe, towards a European migration agency? Is that the view of the Government?

My Lords, on that latter point, I have not seen the term “European migration agency” in any of the briefs that I have read. I can return only to the Statement, which said:

“The Council also agreed to have a common European asylum system in place by the end of 2010, starting next year, with a preliminary evaluation of its first phase”.

Therefore, this issue will be upfront and is not for the long distance. The matter will come before the House early on.

On my noble friend’s first point on enlargement, as I understand it, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey are in the queue. I do not know the dates and I do not think that they have been set. It is accepted that there is a long way for the negotiations to go. Indeed, as I said, regarding the western Balkans, there is no evidence of a higher hurdle being put in front of those countries. Their aspirations and those of other countries to join the European Union are there and all of them know what the rules are—they are not changing and they include the rule of law, democratic systems and other attributes of the European Union. It does mean a lot of change for some countries compared with the way that they have been operating their societies. If they think that the prize is worth it, they will make the changes. In the negotiations, each application will be dealt with on its merits, on a country-by-country basis.

My Lords, may I press the Minister further on climate change, particularly the emissions trading system? I very much welcome the communiqué’s concentration on climate change and the fact that there will be a major strategic discussion next spring that will, I hope, lead to real action over the long term. However, we can sometimes be too pessimistic about the emissions trading system. First, a huge amount of carbon trading has taken place since the scheme was introduced and, although it has many flaws, the current system is a financial market that works and has an important operating base in the United Kingdom. We can already show that climate change management can start to work through market mechanisms. We should not underestimate its success so far.

Having said that, the system is now entering a phase—leading up to 2012—that will decide its success. For the moment, much is needed to ensure that the system works effectively between now and 2012 in terms of allocations among industries and which industries are included. What practical conversations have there been between heads of Government in this key area to ensure that the 2008 to 2012 period for the emissions trading system works effectively, so that it can be one of the major global tools for climate control, given that one in five of the world’s carbon emissions comes from the European Union? The amount is, admittedly, smaller than that of China, but we are still a major player globally.

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I agree with him that we should not be apologetic about starting the emission trading system. A price has already been put on the product. It is early days and there will be changes. I do not know whether it was discussed in more detail than I indicated in the Statement, but the fact is that we are working with the Commission to encourage a strengthening of the European emissions trading system.

The EU heads agreed that climate change and energy should be considered together. The energy policy contains many of the levers that we want for a transition to a low carbon economy. Good progress has been made on climate change and energy security under the Finnish presidency. The German presidency will start in January. Germany has announced upfront that climate change will be a key feature of its presidency.

We look forward to a spring European Council, which is likely to have a strong focus on climate change and energy issues. We will play a central role in ensuring that the EU continues to demonstrate its commitment to tackling these issues. We need to make some changes to policy; and to be ambitious and not mealy-mouthed about it. The emissions trading system will probably require some changes. But the fact is that once the Governments have set a price on the market, the market will perform. I hope that in future that can work as well as it does in other areas.

My Lords, first, I welcome the non-reference in this Statement to any constitutional treaty. There is no need to bore the British public with that; it is, after all, the season to be merry.

Secondly, I welcome very much the emphasis put on the strategic importance of enlargement, not just the individual issues in relation to one or another country. Overall, enlargement is a vital part of what is happening in the European Union. The more we stress it the better.

Finally, I draw to the Minister’s attention a point about migration. The Statement promises “detailed action” in 2007 on a number of important issues. It quite clearly says that that is what the EU is trying to do. This is an issue that the public is much concerned with. I invite the Minister to indicate to his colleagues the importance of respecting a promise which is put in here; otherwise, we will have a counterproductive effect.

My Lords, I will take the last point first. The noble Lord is absolutely right: migration is important. It is important for legislators, Government and opinion-formers to be upfront about this because that can prevent misleading tabloid headlines. That is the reality. If you do not discuss it and do not accept that it is an issue, then you are more likely to have the agenda led by the headlines in the press. They can sometimes be less than factually accurate—I will put it in that way. The point is well made by the noble Lord, and I will ensure that my colleagues are made aware of it.

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s point about the strategic importance of enlargement. Obviously, there was a discussion about Turkey. Turkey did not form a great part at this Council because it had been signed off by the Foreign Ministers earlier in the week. An agreement was made, as I indicated in the Statement.

The noble Lord made a happy reference to the fact that good tidings were around because there was not a big discussion of the constitutional treaty, for reasons that I hope I have explained.

My Lords, I am afraid that I am going to break the consensus on the admission of Turkey. I believe that Turkey is not a European country. Indeed, by the time it is admitted its population will be 90 million, the largest population in the European Union and it will be dominant. I imagine that I am in a minority on that issue.

What is meant by “justice and home affairs”? Does it mean that the Government are about to give up the veto on all matters relating to justice and home affairs? What is the latest situation on that?

As regards asylum, there is a United Nations policy on that. How will any agreement by the European Union affect the United Nations policy? Perhaps the Minister could remind me whether the decisions will be taken by QMV or unanimity.

Finally, I note this declaration at the end of paragraph 3:

“The European Council reaffirms the importance of commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome in order to confirm the values of the European integration process”.

I had understood that Her Majesty’s Government were in favour of the European Union being an organisation of nation states co-operating together, not a process of integration. That is bound to lead eventually to a European superstate, or a country called Europe. I really would like to know the Government’s policy on that, and the Opposition’s for that matter.

My Lords, to be honest the Government’s policy is set out in the Statement. My noble friend Lord Stoddart—for he is still my noble friend—raises scepticism about Turkey, and he is of course entitled to his views. However, as I have made clear, Turkey is of strategic importance. It is a large state but it will not join the European Union for some years, as negotiations will take a while.

As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, Turkey has made huge changes in recent years by abolishing the death penalty, by significantly reducing torture—it should not be doing that anyway, but it is significantly reducing—and by ensuring constitutional rights for women and improved cultural rights for minority groups. The EU accession process has been a catalyst for that reform, which has to be good, while Turkey has been an incredibly loyal and active member of NATO. Therefore, it does not quite fit to separate Turkey out as though it is some wayward state that has nothing to do with Europe.

There is no proposal to give up the veto at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, and I have no real details so far as celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome is concerned. I understand that 2007 will be a year for celebrating several treaties—whether separately or together, I do not know.

My Lords, will British and EU diplomacy seek to persuade Israel that acceptance by Hamas or by any other Palestinian Government of the principles—if not the detail—of the Arab League peace proposal, sometimes known as the Saudi proposal, would amount to de facto recognition of Israel? Would that not open the way to much needed negotiations?

My Lords, I cannot go beyond what the Statement said about legitimacy. I cannot remember the phrase now, but I will come to it; it was about accepting “a legitimate Palestinian Government”. I do not want to say that we would adopt one set of proposals, because of the nuances involved. Quite clearly, we want the road map for the Middle East to work, and to bring about peace. Indeed, that is why the Prime Minister was not making the Statement in the other place today, and why he is in the Middle East.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to see what lessons the member state governments of the European Union have learnt from the 50th enlargement? I am pleased to see that, among the many lessons that there should have been, they have certainly learned one in saying that,

“The Union will refrain from setting any target dates for accession until the negotiations are close to completion”.

Although we welcome Bulgaria and Romania coming in, it was not a terribly smart move to tell them that they would fail the exam in 2006 but were guaranteed to pass it in 2007. That is no way to give a country’s government incentives to make necessary reforms on time.

Would the Minister also agree that we need some assurance on whether one other lesson has been properly learnt? It is clearly great folly to bring into the European Union any state that has serious unresolved disputes with another non-member state. We do not want—the European Union should not want and should never allow—that kind of problem to be imported into the European Union. I hardly need mention what country that is. The lesson needs to be learnt because we must be extremely vigilant that in the case of Kosovo and Serbia that cannot happen again. Disputes need to be resolved before a country comes in. We made a mistake in the fifth enlargement in that one case.

My Lords, I fully accept where the noble Lord is speaking from. On the point about refraining from setting target dates, it has been made clear why that has been done. That is a lesson learnt. I am not sure that one could be as bold as to say that all disputes have to be completely settled before you are in. Sometimes, getting countries in may be a way to solve the dispute to people's satisfaction, but there remains a veto for existing member states on new member states joining. In some ways, that is partly an incentive to get such disputes solved. Solving disputes by talk around the table in the European Union is by far a better way than doing it with tanks and guns.

House adjourned at 6.36 pm.