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EU: Polish Presidency

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what principal subjects they intend to discuss with the government of Poland when they next meet, in view of the start of the Polish European Union Presidency from 1 July.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government engage with the Polish Government at all levels. These meetings are opportunities to discuss a range of issues and occur at both ministerial and official levels. Prior to, and during, the Polish presidency, the Poles have outlined their priorities as being divided into three general themes: European integration as the source of growth; a secure Europe in terms of food, energy and defence; and Europe benefiting from openness.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. In view of the Energy Secretary’s disappointment about the Polish Government’s refusal last Tuesday to accept the 20 per cent target for emissions by 2020, will my noble friend confirm that Poland is willing to accept a compromise solution to this unexpected problem during its presidency period?

We shall have to see how this works out. Obviously, there are a lot of elements in this debate as we move forward to a new energy mix and the energy transition throughout Europe. Poland will play a leading part in that, whether or not it accepts the immediate renewables targets, because it is seeking to change its own economy away from a heavy coal base and a reliance on Russian gas to a more modern mixture of energy developments. That will include renewables and, possibly, the major development of shale gas and other unconventional gas sources.

Will the Minister confirm that if there is some spare time in his meetings with the Polish presidency he might ask it to explain precisely its budget proposals, which are attracting so much media and political attention? Can he confirm that there are currently no budget proposals other than a seven-year financial perspective; that the 5 per cent increase in the budget that is being talked about is 5 per cent over seven years, the duration of the perspective; and that, in any event, a financial perspective is a ceiling which cannot be exceeded, not a target to be reached?

Obviously this issue will come up in the dialogue that we have with Poland on the budget, which has continued in the past on a number of areas. The proposals for the next multi-annual financial framework are issued today, so it seems pretty pointless to speculate ahead of that. We are focused on areas in which we can co-operate and work together. I take the noble Lord’s point that there are difficult challenges ahead, and we will certainly discuss them with Poland.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware of reports that Poland has initiated direct chartered flights to the northern part of Cyprus? If there are to be discussions, will he ask how Poland has managed this when, in the past seven years, every other country including ours has said that it is illegal to do so? Neither we nor other member states have been able to honour the promise that was given to Turkish Cypriots to end their isolation; I would be interested to hear how Poland has managed to do so.

I am not sure that I can tell my noble friend very much more. She raises an issue relating to the Ankara protocols and the question of Turkey’s negotiations on the European Union, which are proceeding although slowly. The problem of northern Cyprus has been, sadly, an obstacle in the way of developments in Turkey’s application to join the European Union, which we of course strongly support. I am afraid that I cannot tell my noble friend more on the detail of what has been decided by the Polish authorities about their own airline flights, but I will write to her if I find any more information.

Have the Government yet had the opportunity of discussing with the Polish Government the provisions of the European Union Bill, and explaining to them that no less than 56 instances could spark a referendum in this country? If they have done that, could he tell us what their reaction was?

We have certainly discussed the European Union Bill with all our European partners in various ways. We have not raised with them the noble Lord’s proposition, because it is completely inaccurate and does not represent any aspect of that Bill. The whole idea of there being 56 items which could initiate a referendum is complete nonsense. These are 56 veto elements in four or five absolutely key areas, which the noble Lord, as a supporter of the previous Government, believed are important just as the rest of the British people do today.

Will the Polish presidency be looking at reform of the common agricultural policy, which was of course promised to the Blair Government in return for giving up our rebate?

These matters remain under constant discussion. Everyone recognises that the common agricultural policy continues to have its flaws and challenges, given the ways in which it promotes exports out of Europe at great expense to poorer countries and farming communities. We will certainly discuss all these matters on a continuous basis.

Will the Minister confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said, which was confirmed by Commissioner Viviane Reding this morning on the “Today” programme, that the MFF stretching from 2014 to 2020 is a 5 per cent increase over that seven-year period, and should not be understood to be an annual increase?

This is very recent news. Initial reactions have not been favourable in other countries or this one, where we are thinking in terms of austerity in order to promote sound budget discipline and the basis for sound recovery without soaring interest rates and other deterrents. I cannot add more beyond the initial reaction that these things will be looked at very carefully indeed. The spirit of common austerity practices by the European Union in all its parts as well as the member state countries will have to be reflected.