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EU: Reform

Volume 757: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with European Union institutions about proposed reforms of the European Union.

My Lords, Ministers regularly discuss EU reform with counterparts in the EU institutions. The appointment of a new Commission offers a new opportunity for continued engagement on this subject. The Foreign Secretary held discussions with the European Commissioners’ first vice-president on this subject only two days ago. We will continue to take every opportunity to work with our European partners to achieve the reforms that Europe needs.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. If the Government wish to see constructive and democratic reforms introduced into the governance and operation of the European Union, why are they not more open about their proposals? Would they not be more likely to succeed if they were to seek to initiate a new convention on the future of Europe which could achieve consensus about reform rather than threatening the other 27 member states with possible break-up?

My Lords, we have been very transparent about the reforms we want. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have set out publicly their vision for a more competitive, flexible and democratically accountable EU, with fair treatment for those within the eurozone and those outside it. That is in the interests of all member states. My noble friend refers to the potential for a convention. The only convention to date that has examined extensive revision of the treaties is the one in which my noble friend served some while ago. It compromised 105 full members, including Heads of State, members of national Parliaments, MEPs and Commission representatives, and the process took two and a half years. As a mature organisation, Heads of State are capable of talking to each other and coming to mature decisions.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that Sir John Major commands enormous respect on all sides of this House. Will she therefore endorse very clearly what he said last week about our membership of the European Union: that despite the frustrations of membership, which are many, and despite the reforms that are needed, which are many, there is absolutely no doubt—without equivocation—that our interests lie in remaining a member of the EU? Do this Government agree with the former Conservative Prime Minister?

My Lords, I admire Sir John Major. I know the work he did as Prime Minister and within European matters, and the struggles that he faced. He above all people knows what is involved. I agree with what he said, which was that our future is within a reformed European Union. The Prime Minister David Cameron has said that, too.

Does my noble friend agree that successful and fundamental EU reform, which is badly needed, requires two things: first, a very strong alliance of the peoples and the Governments of the European Union, many of whom are longing for really radical reform to bring the EU into the 21st century and, secondly, a deeply thought-out strategy for the kind of EU model we need to work in the 21st century, which is at present lacking? Will she assure us that at the highest level these matters are being given very strong attention and are being pursued vigorously?

My Lords, I can. The contribution made yesterday by the German deputy Finance Minister on “Newsnight” made it clear that strong and productive discussions are afoot.

Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that once the opt-back-in to the 35 measures is complete, the UK will be in a strong position to push for reform in the areas of policing and criminal justice and civil liberties, including reform of the European arrest warrant, which is needed, as well as staying within the instrument itself?

My Lords, this Government have already reformed the process of the European arrest warrant. It is different from that which this House passed in 2004. The Government are strongly of the opinion that further reform is necessary across all aspects of EU activity to make it more flexible, competitive and democratically accountable.

My Lords, will the Minister reflect a moment longer on the Answer she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, about the idea of a convention, which was echoed to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford? It is not just a question of Heads of Government making decisions; it is a question of Heads of Government being able to convince their Parliaments about what is necessary in a reformed Europe. To do that, we need a wider coming together of the various political groupings in Europe. I think the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, is on to something and I ask the Minister to reflect again on that.

My Lords, I agree that the European Union needs to be more democratically accountable, and any changes within the European Union should therefore involve the participation of national Parliaments. There is much that can be done to ensure that national Parliaments have a stronger role to play. We now have a new Commission and a new head of the Commission, and there are prospects for a very constructive discussion about how we take these matters forward. In the first instance, it takes leadership and that is what the various Governments throughout Europe are showing now.

Does my noble friend agree that the championing of the single market under the Single European Act 1986 was one of Margaret Thatcher’s great achievements as Prime Minister, aided by a Member of your Lordships’ House, Lord Cockfield? Does she further agree that, about 30 years on from that date, there will inevitably be a number of areas where adjustments can and should be made in the interests of all member states without undermining the basic principles on which the single market is based?

My Lords, yes, I agree with my noble friend. I have tried to argue over the last four or five weeks that the single market is, indeed, a British success story—my noble friend makes an important point. The United Kingdom has played a leading role in shaping the single market. We have been instrumental in driving its continued liberalisation, particularly in services. My noble friend is right; this is 30 years on, so while the single market is Europe’s greatest success, it must reflect the needs of the 21st century, with a stronger market, particularly in services, both digital and in energy. Further reforms are needed and we can lead on that.