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EU: Reform

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals for reform of the European Union they will present to the forthcoming meeting of the European Council.

My Lords, the agenda for the forthcoming European Council on 22 May is tax, energy and an update on economic and monetary union. Our objective will be to secure EU support for a G8 commitment to a new global standard for tax and the multilateral automatic exchange of information on tax. We will also aim to secure agreement for a stable energy policy framework that provides growth, competitiveness and investment. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have both been clear that the EU needs reform. The UK will continue to argue for reforms to ensure that the EU can better tackle the challenges it faces.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Bearing in mind the very sad humiliation and setback that the Prime Minister, absent in the USA, suffered yesterday, with a much larger vote than expected, would not the obvious solution, because of agreement by those two, therefore be to assign any negotiations to the Deputy Prime Minister and other Liberal Democrat Ministers in the Cabinet who have excellent relations with other EU member states and who would help to exorcise the Tory demons of xenophobia?

My Lords, this is a coalition Government, and we work as a coalition Government. There is substantial ground in the Government on a multilateral EU reform agenda. I spent three days in Brussels last week and was encouraged to find how much support there was for the sort of reform agenda we are talking about within other Governments and with a number of senior people in the EU institutions themselves.

My Lords, is it possible for the Minister to be more vague and imprecise about the exact nature of the reforms that the UK would wish to propose within the European Union?

My Lords, we are, of course, following up the PM’s speech with some detailed work under way at present on precisely what our reform agenda should be. I will simply set out that it includes changes in the EU budget. We have already made some progress on that in the multiannual financial framework, but that needs to continue. There will be a stronger role for national Parliaments. The Lisbon treaty allows for that, and we are encouraging our own Parliament and others to work more closely together. An external trade agenda will include in some ways more European action; the Prime Minister, after all, pursued that very thing in his discussions with President Obama in Washington. There will be a deepening of the single market, such as digital single market services. Therefore there is a range of areas, including better regulation and cleaning out some of the dead aspects of the acquis.

My Lords, does my noble friend know yet whether other countries will make proposals for the reform of the European Union? If so, for what purpose, and what will those proposals be?

We have already had extensive discussions, particularly with the German Government but also with a number of others. There is the potential here for a like-minded group. Of course one has to work in shifting coalitions on many of these issues. On some issues, some member Governments agree strongly with the British Government’s proposals; on others, we have others to work with. On changing the culture of the EU institutions and perhaps changing the balance of portfolios in the next Commission, et cetera, discussions are already well under way.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question concerning Article 50 of the European treaty. As he will know, that is the provision that deals with the renegotiation of the treaty. Will he kindly tell the House whether any member state has invoked the provisions of that article, and, if so, with what result? Furthermore, will he tell the House that the Government will publish a list of the powers that they seek to have repatriated, so that the British people will be able, in the light of reason, to determine what the issues are rather than having to fumble about in a miasma of popular clichés?

I welcome the noble Lord’s support for a reasoned debate. The question is not about unilateral repatriation but about the multilateral reform of the EU.

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord can speak for the Prime Minister on this occasion, but will he tell us whether the major changes that he said he was looking for will require treaty change and the agreement of all 27 member states?

Of course, many things require the agreement of nearly 28 member states—Croatia is about to join. There is a great deal that we can achieve without treaty change; the Lisbon treaty has considerable headroom in it. The question of whether we are likely to face treaty change in the next five years is much more to do with what form banking union takes—I am sure that the noble Lord read Mr Schäuble’s article in the Financial Times the other day—and with other areas of management of the eurozone.

My Lords, as a first step towards closing down the whole ill-fated project of European integration, why do Her Majesty’s Government not propose the abolition of the euro, with all its participants returning to their national currencies? Would that not start to ameliorate the suffering of the Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Cypriot and—soon—French people? Would it not also give us financial and monetary clarity for the longer-term future?

My Lords, I am fascinated by the way in which the noble Lord approaches some very complicated international issues. I am struck by the extent to which European Union regulation and global regulation go together. While the UK is inside the EU, we are playing a major part in negotiating global regulation, for example on tax and on how the global framework for digital regulation will evolve. If we were to leave the European Union, we would lose our influence over the evolution of global regulation—unless the noble Lord is such a free trader that he believes that we should have no global regulation at all.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the success of any proposals for reform that are pursued by the Government at the European Council will be severely diminished as a consequence of last night’s vote in the House of Commons, when the majority of Conservative MPs who voted voted against Her Majesty’s Government’s Queen’s Speech?

My Lords, I agree that the degree of noise in the British domestic debate damages our ability to conduct a reasoned, multilateral negotiation with our European partners. We need a reasoned debate on the advantages and costs of EU membership.