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Volume 738: debated on Monday 9 July 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they next intend to discuss the plans for a full fiscal, monetary and banking union for the eurozone at forthcoming meetings of the European Union Economic and Financial Affairs Council and the General Affairs Council.

My Lords, the June European Council discussed a report by the four presidents on strengthening economic and monetary union. They will conduct further work and report back to the European Council in December with an interim report in October. There is likely to be discussion on aspects of these issues in a number of different fora before and after the December report.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on their strong official support for the eurozone summit agreement success, in stark contrast to the negative carping of some Tory MPs and MEPs and of a few voices in the Christian Social Union in Bavaria.

I am grateful to my noble friend for confirming the success of the recent European Council, a Council which confirmed among other things that the single market had to be considered in the context of fiscal union, which brought important parts of the new EU patent court to London, and which considered a raft of other growth-related matters.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government keep pushing the eurozone countries to go in for more fiscal and monetary union and yet do not seem to accept that that cannot take place unless there is a sovereign union in the way that there is in the United States of America or a country such as India? Why do the Government not accept that, and why do they keep encouraging the eurozone countries to pursue more and more fiscal and monetary integration?

My Lords, I am pleased to say that no encouragement is now needed from the UK. The paper by the four presidents—the presidents of the European Council, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the Eurogroup—set out what they believed to be appropriate in relation to fiscal and monetary union. That work will continue and the UK is participating in the discussions in and around those reports. We are being fully supportive of those efforts.

My Lords, would it not be wise to ask the people of Germany and the other eurozone donor nations whether they agree to be burdened with the debts of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and others, which even the Germans and the other countries cannot afford for long?

My Lords, I thought I might have been asked a question about a UK referendum, instead of which I get a question about whether the German people will be consulted. I think I will leave that to German politicians to answer.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a crucial ingredient in a successful fiscal and monetary union is transfer payments between the more prosperous to the less prosperous, as occurs within the US and even within the UK?

Indeed, that is part of the remorseless logic of what an economic and fiscal union normally brings with it.

My Lords, does the LIBOR scandal and other financial scandals strengthen or weaken Her Majesty’s Government’s plans for exceptional treatment in Brussels? Do we not have a common interest in a properly regulated single market? Would not Her Majesty’s Government, particularly the Prime Minister, be better involved in discussing these matters rather than sulking on the sidelines?

My Lords, the UK is very much involved in the discussions in Brussels. That is why, as I have already said, we secured important parts of the EU patent court coming to London. That is why we recently secured a new British head for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. We are at the table and that is where we intend to stay.

My Lords, with the leave of the House and as there are some minutes on the clock, instead of going along with this madcap, dangerous scheme of European financial integration, why do the Government not encourage the eurozone countries to abandon the incurable euro and go back to their own currencies, each with their own interest rate and exchange rate? Would that not be less painful and expensive than to go on trying to save the wretched thing?

My Lords, as we have discussed many times, 40% of our exports go to the eurozone. It is our most important trading bloc. The priority has to be to strengthen the eurozone countries. That is what they want to do and that is what we want to see them do and we must help them to achieve that.

The United Kingdom often blames the eurozone for the problems with the economy as it is being run by Her Majesty’s Government here. Why do we not do more to help? Does the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, agree with Mr David Lidington, who stated in replying to the Select Committee’s interrogation last week that he welcomed more Europe if it meant the implementation of the full ambit of the single European market?

On the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about the cause of the weaker growth in this country, the Office for Budget Responsibility and other commentators have identified the eurozone as a major source of threat to our growth and of weakness. Significant parts of the eurozone are plainly now in recession. I agree with my right honourable friend David Lidington about the need for more Europe in many areas including, particularly, more completion of the single market. That is why it is important that the four-presidency proposal referred to in the Council conclusions at the end of June will include,

“concrete proposals on preserving the … integrity of the Single Market”.

That is critical, as are the many growth initiatives included in those conclusions.

My Lords, we all wish to see a successful European economy, but is my noble friend not aware that the so-called success of the European Council a fortnight ago has already disappeared, the financial markets have put the interest rate on Spanish sovereign debt back to where it was before, nothing was achieved, nothing can be achieved in this way and the sooner that it is realised that this project, however well intentioned, is a terrible mistake, the better?

I certainly agree with my noble friend that we delude ourselves if we think that words coming out of one meeting of European leaders are going to solve all the problems. Part of the problem seems to have been a belief that the crisis can somehow be dealt with by fine words. I believe that in the underlying work— whether on the two pack, the six pack, or the intergovernmental treaty—there is the beginning of a construct of great significance to underpin the eurozone.

My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to share with us his prepared text on whether there should be an in/out referendum on our membership of the EU? If the Government are holding out the prospect of a referendum in relation to Europe, can he tell me why the Government refuse to have a referendum on the future of your Lordships’ House?

I realise that I walked straight into this one. Now is not the time for an in/out referendum on Europe. Once Europe has settled all the matters that we have talked about, we can look at our relationship with Europe in the round. As for referenda on other matters, the legislation is starting in another place today and, no doubt, it will get here in due course.

Given that the eurozone is very likely to survive in a position very similar to its position at the minute and that it will probably move forward to a banking union and closer economic and fiscal union, what strategic preparations are the Government making in the longer term to make sure that Britain is not marginalised once we get through the existing crisis, however long it takes?

My Lords, I think the most important thing is that we continue to be, as we are, constructively at the heart of all the discussions on these matters. As I have already said, there have been some significant achievements, as evidenced in the conclusions of the June Council, and that is the basis on which we have to continue our discussions. I would not think about it in the contingency planning terms that my noble friend portrays. We are there at the heart of the discussions and are continuing to focus our partners on growth and the completion of the single market.