Home Page

Column 553

European Council (Corfu)

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the meeting of the European Council which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Corfu Council put another three building blocks in place in constructing post-Communist Europe. First, the treaties of accession signed with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden will help to create the wider Europe that we seek--a European Union that extends from the Atlantic to the Arctic. I warmly welcome the positive vote on accession in the recent Austrian referendum. I hope that referenda in the other three EFTAN countries this autumn will prove equally successful.

Secondly, we agreed in Corfu that the association agreements with our central and eastern European partners must be fully and urgently implemented ; so should the United Kingdom-Italian initiative to link those countries more closely with the foreign affairs and home affairs pillars. That will help them to prepare for full membership of the European Union as soon as possible. Cyprus and Malta will also be involved in the next stage of enlargement.

Thirdly, the European Union signed a partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia, one of the most comprehensive agreements ever concluded between the Community and another country. President Yeltsin said that the agreement symbolised Russia's return to the economic life of Europe as an equal partner. He also pledged the support of his Government in bringing about stability in central and eastern Europe and his willingness to work closely over former Yugoslavia.

Russia has just signed the partnership for peace agreement with NATO and, on 9 July, President Yeltsin will play a full part in the political debate at the Naples summit. I warmly welcome Russia's increasing integration with western political institutions. In the discussion of the problems facing people throughout Europe, I suggested a series of moves to combat drug trafficking and other international crime. The drugs problem throughout Europe is growing. Enough cocaine has been seized in the European Union this year alone to provide 24 million individual doses. I pressed for more effective cross-border intelligence gathering on drug trafficking. I urged the Community to strengthen the Europol drugs unit and to set up speedily the full European police office, which should have a wide remit to tackle organised cross-border crime. I underlined the importance of action within our own countries and suggested that the Union should hold a conference on drugs and organised crime, and should involve also countries in central and eastern Europe. I was glad to receive wide support for those proposals, which were endorsed in the conclusions of the Council.

We made progress on two economic issues high on the British agenda. First, we agreed that markets in telecommunications and energy should be further liberalised to give Europe's consumers access to wider, cheaper and more efficient services. Secondly, we strongly supported the German proposal to set up a European deregulation task force with business men as members,


Column 554

precisely as we have done in this country. That was agreed. The task force will help to cut back burdensome Community regulations on business.

The Council endorsed the macro-economic guidelines drawn up by the Economic and Financial Council on the conditions for sustainable growth. We agreed that it was essential to continue cutting public sector deficits and reducing inflation. I reported that the British economy had grown by nearly 3 per cent. in the year to this spring, and that unemployment had fallen here by more than 300,000 since the end of 1992. Britain remains the fastest-growing of the big economies in the European Union.

The Council approved a first priority list of 11 trans-European network projects. That includes the second channel tunnel rail link and proposals to improve the rail links between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Any contribution to the financing of such projects must come from within existing Community resources. At our insistence, the Council agreed that there could be no financial guarantee from the Community for the trans- European network. We believe that Europe's taxpayers must be protected against such open-ended commitments. We heard further evidence that the subsidiarity principle is being successfully implemented. We expect the number of main legislative proposals coming out of Brussels this year to be about half the number of those in 1993 and one quarter of the total four years ago. That is a very significant improvement.

In external policy, the Council discussed Ukraine, and agreed to step up support for economic reform and nuclear safety there, tied to the closure of Chernobyl. That discussion will be taken forward with the United States, Japan and Canada at the economic summit in Naples in early July.

The Council once again discussed Bosnia. The contact group has done valuable work based on the European Union's plan, but there is an urgent need for the parties to show the will for a negotiated settlement if that process is to succeed. We agreed that the European Union would make every effort with the United States and Russia to bring the negotiations to the point of decision.

Let me now turn to the presidency of the European Commission. The treaty lays down that the Commission President should be selected by "common accord" to serve a term of five years. Common accord is vital. For the President of the Commission to serve the whole Community effectively, he must enjoy the confidence and support of all of its members.

Before the Corfu Council, we told the Presidency and other partners that we supported Sir Leon Brittan's candidature and believed a genuine consensus of all 12 member states to be essential. No one disputed the necessity of a genuine consensus.

When we heard that Mr. Dehaene was thinking of putting himself forward at a late stage, we privately informed the Belgian Government and other partners that we could not support him. We warned that it would not be possible for him to attract a consensus of the whole Community. We hoped, therefore, that his candidature would not be pressed.

Neither then nor at any later stage did any partner say that either Sir Leon Brittan or Dr. Lubbers, the two long-standing candidates, was unacceptable. Both, of


Column 555

course, had outstanding credentials and long experience of the Community--Sir Leon as a Commissioner for six years and Dr. Lubbers from 12 years on the European Council.

At the Corfu Council, four states--representing nearly half the European Union's population--did not support Mr. Dehaene in the long discussion on the first evening. In several interventions, I made our strong views very clear to the Council, as I had in a number of bilateral discussions.

On the following morning, Sir Leon and Dr. Lubbers decided to withdraw their candidatures. Other European countries indicated that they could accept Mr. Dehaene. I maintained my position that we could not. I said that I had given the matter careful thought, and that our decision would not change at any stage. I reiterate that position in the House today. I suggested that consultations should be put in hand to find a candidate who had the support of all member states. The German Chancellor, who takes over the Presidency later this week, said that he hoped to resolve the matter speedily, if necessary by convening a special summit on 15 July.

Our position was not a personal criticism of Mr. Dehaene, although in our view Sir Leon and Dr. Lubbers had much stronger

qualifications. For the next five years the Commission needs a President who is in tune with the times and the mood across Europe--a President whose instincts are with enterprise and competitiveness. Above all, Europe needs a President of the Commission who is selected with the full approval of all member states.

The Corfu Council has highlighted an issue of increasing concern to many European Union members--the way in which decisions are reached. It is an important point of principle that the key decisions require unanimity and that all member states should have an equal opportunity to participate in collective decision making. The procedures used for this decision, before and during the Council, were not satisfactory. There was no need for this matter to have come to an open division at a European Council ; it should have been avoided. Had more comprehensive consultation taken place, as in the past, and had the views expressed by different states been heeded, it could have been avoided.

I believe that there are a number of well qualified people who could take on the post, on the basis of a genuinely common accord. We stand ready to play our part in consultations on it. There is no reason why that should not lead to an early and satisfactory outcome.

I wish to see Europe succeed. I want it to regain the affections of the people of Europe. I want a Europe with which all member states--now 12, soon to be 16, then 20--can all feel comfortable. Achieving that may mean disputes along the way. But being a good European does not mean signing up to everything that our partners do. At Corfu we fought for what we believe is in the best interests of this country and Europe. That is what we will continue to do.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

We warmly welcome the treaty of accession signed by Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway, and agree that the result of the referendum in Austria was encouraging. We hope very much that it will be followed by positive results elsewhere in Scandinavia in the autumn. As the Presidency conclusions confirm, all those countries will bring a great deal to the European Union--not just a net contribution to the Community's budget,


Column 556

but strong support for open government and for efforts to protect the environment. In addition, they are, of course, as the summit statement says, "in the vanguard" of support for the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty. That means that 15 out of 16 member states will support that chapter.

We also welcome the partnership and trade agreement with Russia, the financial support offered to the Ukraine to close the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, and the progress made on further enlargement, specifically the applications of Cyprus and Malta, which will be widely welcomed in the House, and of Poland and Hungary.

The Opposition are also delighted that the Corfu summit strongly reaffirmed the social dimension of Europe and, in particular, invited the Commission to make

"full use of the new possibilities available"

from the social protocol.

Another initiative that we welcome is the Council's agreement to involve the Social Affairs Council with ECOFIN and the Commission in further follow up to Mr. Delors' White Paper on growth and employment. We endorse the follow up to the White Paper, particularly the emphasis on education and training and the crucial need to maximise the potential of human resources- -to invest in people. The Opposition are pleased that at least all the other member states and all the new applicants rule out the economics of the sweat shop and agree with the Council that the agreement-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members should hear this ; they should hear what the Prime Minister has signed up to. We agree with the Council that the agreements on works councils, on the protection of young workers, and on the creation of an agency for health and safety at work all represent significant progress in the European Union's social dimensions.

We are also pleased--despite what the Prime Minister said--that the prospect of further finance to support the trans-European networks has not been ruled out, especially as one of the 11 agreed projects includes the channel tunnel rail link. Does the Prime Minister now accept--I seem to remember him boasting in the past of having vetoed it--that the worth of this project lies in the fact that it might help to redress the growing tendency for Britain to experience all the costs of membership of the EU while our Government resist the benefits ?

Will the Prime Minister ensure that one of the first acts of the new Minister working on information technology will be to lift the unfair restriction on British Telecom which prevents it from entering the emerging market for television services ? Does he not realise that the quickest way to build an information super-highway in Britain is to allow BT to compete with cable, which the Government refuse to do ?

Can the Prime Minister confirm that, during the summit discussions on many of the issues that I have mentioned, and in particular during the positive discussion on the follow up to the White Paper on growth, employment and social policy, he was not present ? Is today's report correct, that the right hon. Gentleman attended a three-hour discussion for only a few minutes and did not take the opportunity to speak ? Does he recognise that what was agreed, apparently in his absence, enhances the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty--in stark contrast to the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric ?

How much of the right hon. Gentleman's sound and fury about the Commission Presidency is a smokescreen to


Column 557

hide from his Euro-sceptics the fact that he has accepted a further strengthening of the social dimension in Europe and European intervention to promote jobs ?

Has not this weekend been, not a triumph, but a humiliation for the tactics of a Prime Minister who claims to be an ace negotiator but who found himself, and Britain, relegated to the sidelines ? May I anticipate the Prime Minister's standard response--that the Opposition simply do not understand how successful he has been--by pointing out that he went to Corfu to promote a British candidate for a senior post in Europe, won no support from any of his colleagues and ended up vetoing a Conservative ? May I further remind him that my colleagues and I went to Corfu--[ Interruption. ] I am sure that Conservative Members want to hear this. We went to promote a British candidate for a senior post in Europe, and we obtained the unanimous support for that candidate of delegations from every one of 15 member states. We need no lessons from the Prime Minister on how to negotiate successfully.

Does not this point up the fact that the Prime Minister has once again put his own standing in Europe before Britain's standing and influence ? Does he not realise that what happened this weekend weakens his chances of fighting successfully for reform of the common agricultural policy, and his chances of working to resist the further encroachment of VAT--issues that really matter to the people of this country ? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the weekend's events show not that he is a Prime Minister who is strong but that he is weak, a prisoner of his Euro-sceptics, and that yet again it is the people of this country who will pay the price for his failure ?

The Prime Minister : I never cease to marvel at the transformation in the right hon. Lady's attitude to Europe. She has slipped effortlessly from slavish and unthinking opposition to the European Community to slavish and unthinking support for everything that emerges from it. Can this be the same right hon. Lady who once said :

"If one believed, as many of us do, that the EEC is a prime obstacle to the policies we need, how can we be expected to put our consciences and principles aside and cease to fight to win ?" I shall spare the right hon. Lady the other eight quotations that I have.

I welcome what the right hon. Lady said about the accession treaty and the result of the referendum in Austria. I also welcome her support for the partnership and co-operation agreement--the further relationship with Russia and the actions on Chernobyl--and her support for the future enlargement of the Community to include Cyprus, Malta and four other countries, not just the two that she mentioned. We do accept the social dimension, but her reference to the social chapter relates to those member states that have signed the social protocol, not to ourselves--something which the right hon. Lady may not have understood.

The right hon. Lady said that further finance for trans-European networks had not been ruled out, but I can tell her most emphatically that neither has it been ruled in.

On information technology, I welcome her support for competition--a little late perhaps, but none the less welcome.

The right hon. Lady referred to a discussion. There was a whole series of discussions over lunch and in plenary.


Column 558

The one in which I did not take part related to economic matters and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, quite naturally, spoke on behalf of this country. In every other discussion I not only spoke but set out this country's position very clearly.

The right hon. Lady spoke of her successful negotiations. She, like me, met members of the socialist group in Corfu. Did she urge them to support Sir Leon Brittan ? [Interruption.] I hear the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), saying that she did not support the British candidate. Nor did we hear from the right hon. Lady whether, on an issue of principle and importance to this country, she would have maintained the British veto. She said not a word on that. We cannot get a clear answer from her on that any more than we can from the shadow Foreign Secretary, who has wriggled on every programme on which he has appeared.

The right hon. Lady also referred, without a great deal of knowledge, to the reform of the common agricultural policy--clearly not understanding that the enlargement of the Community to include the central and eastern Europeans would make it absolutely imperative that there was a root-and- branch reform of the CAP.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision he took in Corfu at the weekend on the Presidency was not only right but courageous and popular--popular not just in the Conservative party but throughout this country and in many electorates across Europe ? It is the Opposition parties who are isolated from public opinion in this country. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, in putting forward his new vision of Europe, that does not result in a Franco-German stitch-up ?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support. I made the judgment on the Presidency of the

Commission--which is the most important executive post to be determined--on the basis of what I believed to be right for the European Union as a whole and right for this country. For the reasons I gave, and although I have nothing personal against Mr. Dehaene, I did not believe that he was the right person for that job. I believe that the decision taken will have a great deal more support across Europe than is being speculated upon by many Members on the Opposition Benches, and I have no doubt that it was the right decision, in the short term and the long term, for this country and for Europe.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : Does the Prime Minister agree that the present fast-deteriorating situation in Bosnia gives grave cause for concern ? If the present fragile and much-breached ceasefire does not give way to a negotiated settlement, is it not the case that we may well be witnessing a terrifying escalation in the war in Bosnia, with the probability that it will spread to the rest of the Balkan peninsula ?

As to the Presidency, the Prime Minister's attempt to portray the Punch and Judy farce at Corfu as Henry V at the battle of Agincourt--with the right hon. Gentleman in the title role--is deeply unconvincing, to say the least. Is it not the case that everybody in Europe and most people in Britain realise that the Prime Minister sacrificed Britain's long-term influence and interests to obtain short-term


Column 559

headlines in the Murdoch press and to deliver a large dollop of appeasement to the right wingers on his own Back Benches ?

The Prime Minister : All the right hon. Gentleman achieves with interventions of that sort is to show how little he understands about negotiation in Europe and the issues at stake. I accept that there is a fundamental difference of approach to European issues between my party and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman has been very frank. He does not consider the sovereignty of this Parliament important--he has made that perfectly clear. I disagree. He does not believe that we should maintain and exercise the right to veto. I strongly disagree. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that on any occasion when this country may disagree with our colleagues in Europe we should automatically accept what they believe to be right and not what we believe to be right--which is the necessary consequence of not using a veto--he speaks for no one but himself and a tiny minority.

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the situation in Bosnia is grave. The ceasefire is holding, but we must bear in mind that a ceasefire is all that it is. Even that is not satisfactory. Tragically, another young soldier of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment was killed yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must work extremely hard in weeks to come to turn the ceasefire into a settlement that will last.

Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the fact that he considered himself to be forced to use the veto is a matter for regret, not for rejoicing ? I believe that he recognises that the inquest will continue a long time and will overhang the whole of the 1996 discussions about the treaty's future nature.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise, as I do, that Sir Leon Brittan would have made an excellent President of the Union ? Does he realise that Sir Leon received no support from any other member state because of the widespread belief that the British Government would use all their powers to bring pressure to bear on Sir Leon to reorder the Community and not to develop the European Union ? That fact must be faced.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's major task now is to concentrate on how to resolve the crisis--for crisis it certainly is ? It is said to be a matter of principle. What is the principle ? We all know that the veto is there and that it can be used--that is not an issue. The treaty clearly describes when the veto may be used. There is no matter of principle involved.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he had nothing against the Belgian candidate. How does he propose to resolve the crisis and to find a suitable candidate ? He said that there must be unanimity. Does that mean that only candidates acceptable to the British Government will be agreed to ? [Hon. Members :-- "Yes."] It is not an issue on which there can be general agreement, which is what unanimity is about in a democracy--not domination by one particular country, but the work of all the countries put together.

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend has raised a number of points, and I should like to respond directly to all of them. I share my right hon. Friend's regret that it was necessary to use the veto on this occasion. As I said in my


Column 560

statement, it should not have been necessary, and it could have been avoided had the degree of consultation that took place, for example, in 1984 been replicated. I very much hope that the matter can now be speedily resolved. There have been occasions in the past when the Presidency of the Commission was not approved at a European Council ; subsequently, rapid consultations produced an outcome satisfactory to all members of the Community. I hope that that will be the case now.

I also share my right hon. Friend's view of the qualities of Sir Leon Brittan : he would indeed have been an excellent President of the Commission. I do not think that anyone who knows Sir Leon well would imagine that he would have done anything other than that which he believed to be right for the European Union. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that the excellence of his performance as a competition Minister during the past few years weighed against him in the minds of some of our colleagues when they considered who should be President of the Commission.

I believe that we need to resolve the matter with urgent bilateral contacts, and we are ready to take part in those contacts. The point of principle was not whether the veto should be used ; as my right hon. Friend said, the veto is there, and it is there precisely to be used. The point of principle was the manner in which the consultations took place, and the manner in which the late candidature itself emerged.

As for the acceptability of the candidate, what I hope to achieve is a candidate who is acceptable to all members of the Community, not just to the United Kingdom. We are in this as one of 12, soon to be 16. The candidate must be acceptable to all member states. Although that cannot possibly mean that he or she would be the first choice of all member states, I think it perfectly possible to obtain a candidate who will be acceptable to all and who--in the next five years during which he or she has responsibilities to discharge--will carry the confidence of all member states. That is what I wish to achieve with all possible speed.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Speaker : Order. Before we proceed any further, let me point out that--as the House can see--a large number of hon. Members wish to question the Prime Minister. I now want only very brisk questions ; otherwise I shall use my discretion, and ask the Prime Minister to answer only one of the questions. I want to call as many hon. Members as possible on this important statement.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : The Prime Minister has just underlined the importance of consensus. Does he think that there really is a candidate who has the support of all the Governments of the 12 member states--especially when they include a British Government who have just shown themselves to be under the thumb of the Euro-sceptics ?

The Prime Minister : As to whether there is a candidate acceptable to all, the answer is yes. The next few weeks will prove that to be the case.

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : In his efforts to promote someone who was manifestly a very suitable candidate--Sir Leon Brittan--how was my right hon. Friend helped by the statement of the Labour MEP who is now the leader


Column 561

of the European socialists, who said that even if the Council approved such a choice they would seek to defeat it in the Parliament ?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of that statement, and, to my surprise, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has chosen not to bring it to the attention of the House.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Is the Prime Minister aware that in 1940, when I was 20, it was not considered any great crime to put Britain's interests before the then European consensus ? Does he derive some satisfaction from the recent European elections, in which some Opposition parties showed a marked reluctance to put before the electorate proposals for further surrender of Britain's interests ?

The Prime Minister : Although not every aspect of the results of the European elections was entirely to my satisfaction, my party certainly contested the campaign on European issues, while others signally failed to do so.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : I congratulate the Prime Minister on standing firm against the blitzkrieg tactics of the French and Germans in promoting their candidate. Will he take the opportunity to remind the Europeans that Britain's especially good economic situation, compared with theirs, has arisen not just because of the brilliance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's policy but because of our escape from the ERM ? Will he give that message on their future economic climate as well as his splendid guidance on the Presidency ?

The Prime Minister : In the past, I have expressed the view that the deregulatory policies--the supply side policies--that we are following are the right way to create jobs. On this occasion, it fell to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make those points, and he did so.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : Why should Britain's interests suffer because we have a puny Prime Minister who is more concerned to reassert his authority--his enfeebled authority--over his rebellious and, indeed, ridiculous right wing than to work and co-operate for the future of that great role of a united Europe ?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman speaks for the things that he believes to be important, and he must expect me to do the same ; I did so on this occasion.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Has the Prime Minister anything to tell the House and the people of Northern Ireland about the talks that he had with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic during the Council ? The agreement was that strand 1 of the talks would include only the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Government, yet, following talks, the Prime Minister announced on television that he and the Taoiseach were discussing strand 1 of the talks, from which the Irish Republic Government were excluded as the talks were internal to Northern Ireland. Having used his veto on one occasion--I agree with what he did--he should use his veto against the Prime Minister of the Irish Government, who keeps insisting that Northern Ireland should be part of his country.


Column 562

The Prime Minister : No, my discussions with the Irish Prime Minister were not about strand 1, which has been the subject of discussions between the British Government and the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. My discussions with the Irish Prime Minister related to political strands 2 and 3. We still have not achieved agreement, but we are making progress. We have commissioned further work.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney) : So far, so good : the Prime Minister has won the first battle over the Presidency, but there will be further rounds to be fought and it is the last battle that really matters. Does the Prime Minister agree that, in strengthening his position against an unwelcome candidate for the Presidency, he would do better to say that our basic objection is to the appointment of an open Euro- federalist as the President of the European Commission, and that our objection will continue if the Commission proposes any other Euro- federalist candidate ?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman carried all his colleagues with him, but his intervention was entertaining from where I sat. He would expect me to consider all future candidates on their merits, and I will do so.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : I warmly support my right hon. Friend's stand, which in due season will be supported not only by Britain but by many millions of people in the European Union. In setting up the preparatory committee for 1996 at Corfu--the so-called reflection committee, which will have two Members of the European Parliament as members--will he ensure that the House has an adequate and full opportunity to contribute to that committee and a full say in ensuring that we get the right kind of Europe after 1996 ?

The Prime Minister : I regard that as an extremely important point. The Heads of Government have agreed that a study group should convene in around a year's time to prepare for the 1996 intergovernmental conference. It is highly likely, although it is not a decision for me, that the Select Committee here may wish to take its own considerations and make its own representations directly to the study group. I believe that it would be right for it to do so. It may well be that other groups will also wish to put forward their representations, both to the British Government and to the study group. Clearly, this will be an important intergovernmental conference and it is vital, in my mind, that everybody who has a valid point to put forward should have the opportunity of doing so and the opportunity of discussing it.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield) : If the Prime Minister's objection to the appointment of the Belgian Prime Minister is essentially procedural in that the nomination was sorted out in secret, behind closed doors, will he, therefore, support proposals to make the European Union's system of appointments more open, more democratic and more accountable ?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman bases his question on a misassumption. I have not said that my objection was procedural. I have said that the procedure was part of the reason why we complained. As a point of principle, the procedure was wrong. I also made it perfectly clear that, in my judgment, Mr. Dehaene was not the best


Column 563

qualified candidate for the job. I do not believe that one should accept anyone other than someone whom one believes is fully qualified for this job. I also made the point that, on key policy issues, I did not believe that the approach that Mr. Dehaene favoured was right. None of those points is novel ; I made them perfectly clear the other day and they should be clear to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only important to ensure that we do not have a federalist as President of the Commission, but that it is essential that we do not have the Germans and the French running the European Community ? We should use the reflection group which has been set up in Corfu to ensure that we reduce the role and the powers of the European Commission and the European Union so that we can be sure that we concentrate on the office and the institutions rather than on the man.

The Prime Minister : Whoever becomes President of the Commission in due course, I very much doubt that that person will exercise the influence and authority that Mr. Delors has exercised over recent years. The changing nature and enlargement of the Community make it extremely unlikely that anyone will exercise that authority again. That view is held not only by the British Government, but by the Heads of a number of other Governments.

On my hon. Friend's other points, I mentioned the increasing success of subsidiarity. On new legislation--I take the figures from memory--in 1990, there were about 180 new pieces of European legislation. In the first half of this year, there have been 25.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : If European co-operation extends, as it must and should, to cover the whole continent, is it not absolutely clear that we shall have to move to a different system under which the nations involved harmonise, by consent, through their own peoples and Parliaments ? The real enemies of a new Europe are those who wish to seize all power and to put it in the hands of bankers and Commissioners who are not accountable and cannot be removed.

Is the Prime Minister also aware that the siren voices in this House, in the press and in the City of London are wholly unrepresentative, not only of opinion in this country, but of opinion in other countries in that huge continent ? Those countries want to govern themselves and not to be governed by a political class who have contempt for the opinions of ordinary people.

The Prime Minister : I agree with co-operation by consent. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in the Maastricht treaty we established pillars in three vital areas for co-operation by consent and agreement. There is no doubt that by consent the countries of the European Union can often exercise more influence collectively than individually. I strongly agree that that consent principle should be extended. There are areas for common decision where common consent would not properly work.

My concern is that the influence of some Europeans would move us too fast towards common decision, and not by co-operation or by common consent. That is where I fear that Europe would lose the affection of its people. I do not wish that affection to be lost. That is why I have argued


Column 564

for the nature of Europe that I set out in the election campaign just a few weeks ago. We must extend co-operation by consent ; we shall seek to do so in future.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : My right hon. Friend was quite right to say that use of the veto should be exercised with great reluctance, but, in the circumstances that he has described over last weekend, he was absolutely justified in exercising that veto. Will he now ensure that he works closely with the Germans, during their Presidency of the Community, to find a successor acceptable to all and to help the Germans who themselves have a difficult few months ahead with their elections ? When the Council of Ministers makes a proposal, can it also give a job description so that it is quite clear to everybody what is expected of the new Commissioner ?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly wish to work with the new Presidency as soon as it takes up its responsibilities to reach a common accord on a new Commission President as speedily as possible. I cannot yet say who that will be, but I think that there are a number of people who would be worthy of consideration. My hon. Friend makes a valid point about a job description.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : The Prime Minister said that there were two very good candidates available other than the one being discussed- -Sir Leon Brittan and Dr. Lubbers. Will he assure the House that, if Dr. Lubbers's name were to come forward again, he would not use his veto, notwithstanding Dr. Lubbers's federalist tendencies ?

The Prime Minister : I made it clear some time ago that, in the event that Sir Leon Brittan's candidature for the Presidency did not receive the support of colleagues, I could accept Dr. Lubbers.

Mr. Ashdown : But Dr. Lubbers is more of a federalist.

The Prime Minister : I could accept Dr. Lubbers. Whether Dr. Lubbers's name will come forward again seems very doubtful.

Mr. Ashdown : But he is more of a federalist.


Next Section

  Home Page