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EU: UK Membership

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Germany about recent comments made by senior members of that Government about the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

My Lords, the Government discuss a range of issues with Germany and with other EU member states, many of which agree about the need for reform to address the challenges that the EU faces, including dealing with the eurozone crisis, increasing the EU’s competitiveness in the global economy and making the EU more flexible and democratically accountable. Of course, the Government are committed to membership of a reformed EU. As the Prime Minister repeated on Monday, membership of the EU is in the UK’s national interest.

Does my noble friend agree that our connection and links with Germany are a key factor for us not only bilaterally but in extending and empowering our greater influence in the whole of the European Union? Can he give some specific examples of how British Ministers have engaged positively with their German counterparts in recent times to further those links?

My Lords, this Government have made it a priority to increase our engagement with Germany. We have nearly quadrupled the number of ministerial and senior official bilateral visits to Germany each year compared with 2009-10. We have established joint meetings twice a year of the British-German ministerial committees on the European Union, in which I take part myself. The Foreign Secretary has made many visits to Germany, most recently to the Königswinter conference on 31 May, and the Prime Minister works very closely and regularly with Chancellor Merkel.

Does the Minister accept that, in the impressive list that he gave of things that we are discussing with our German friends, he did not mention our future engagement with justice and home affairs, on which I am sure that the German Government have strong views, somewhat in conflict with the views expressed from the government Front Bench in the other place yesterday?

I thank the noble Lord for his usual extremely constructive contribution. Of course we are discussing co-operation in police and judicial matters with the Germans, as we are discussing all other matters.

Does my noble friend agree that bilateral discussions are one thing, but negotiations on the future of the EU are another? When do the Government expect negotiations to start and with whom?

My Lords, the European Union is a continuous process of negotiation. We are pursuing a multilateral reform agenda and, indeed, in the past few months a number of things on that agenda have been achieved. We were committed to containing the growth of the European Union budget and the multiannual financial framework agreement has achieved that. We have been committed, as indeed were the previous Labour Government, to extensive reform of the common fisheries policy; that has now been more or less achieved. We were committed to an EU patent court; that is now here. There is a range of further items that we wish to pursue and we will do so with like-minded member Governments, many of whom share our concerns, through the processes of multilateral negotiation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of ensuring that great concerns are not caused by British European policy would be to accept the sage advice of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place? In its report published earlier this week it said that the way to proceed is through a broad, positive reform agenda for the EU as a whole and not by devising new cut-outs for the UK. In the effort that the Government are making to talk at all levels with the German Government, which I strongly welcome, please do not forget—and I hope that the Minister will say that he has not forgotten—about the need to talk to France, too, because unanimity is needed to get many of these changes.

My Lords, we have certainly not forgotten about France or the other 25 members of the European Union. Bilateral discussions and multilateral negotiations are a constant process. We welcome the report from the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and I recommend it to Members of this House.

Given that these days we are regularly given the benefit of different members of the Government giving different opinions on government policy, will the Minister, with his academic and political background, give us the latest definition of what he understands by the term “collective responsibility”?

My Lords, we are a coalition Government. However, I remember that during the previous Government there were occasions when Ministers—and special advisers—actively briefed against one another.

My Lords, as we are the eurozone’s largest trading partner, both for exports and imports, will Germany not do all in her power to ensure that none of our jobs is in danger when we come to leave the failed political construct of the EU itself?

My Lords, the idea that countries in deficit have the overwhelming negotiating advantage over countries in credit would not be supported by most economic historians. I trust that the noble Lord noticed the Daily Mail story yesterday on the European Parliament, which noted that three of the five most ineffective and absent Members of the European Parliament are members of UKIP and that the most conscientious, dedicated and hardworking group is the British Liberal Democrats.