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Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for sending a clear message to the Turkish Government that they cannot block Cyprus's membership by not making progress. Can he also make it clear to the Turkish Government that the treatment of the Kurdish population is important? Although some changes have taken place on language in recent years, Kurdish political activists are regularly imprisoned and Kurdish political parties, including those that do not espouse violence, are persecuted in Turkey.

Mr. Cook: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for the formulation that we have followed in relation to Cyprus. I know of his close interest in the matter. On the Kurdish population in Turkey, it is important for both sides in Europe and in Turkey to recognise that respect for minority rights is one of the fundamental principles enshrined in the Copenhagen criteria. We have made good progress on that with several countries already in the accession process and we would expect the same standards to be met by Turkey before negotiations could be started.

The House should beware of regarding enlargement as a one-off process that will suddenly happen on accession day. Much is already happening for the better in central and eastern Europe. Across the region, the rights of ethnic minorities are improving because of the Copenhagen criteria. In country after country, painful decisions on economic reform and trade liberalisation are being taken under the stimulus of access to the single market. The Governments of three separate countries have taken steps to close nuclear power plants because of EU requirements on the safety of the environment.

Each of those candidate countries is making heroic efforts to get ready for membership. We would not be playing fair by them if we did not show the same commitment to getting the EU ready for enlargement. That is why our second objective for Helsinki is to secure a commitment to an intergovernmental conference that prepares the way for enlargement and is kept sufficiently focused to be completed in time for enlargement.

There are three changes to institutions of the European Union that are made more pressing by enlargement. The one in which Britain has the clearest self-interest is the reweighting of votes within the Council. It is a principle

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of the European Union that the weighting of votes diminishes the difference in size between the member states. Thus Belgium gets five votes, while Britain gets 10, although it is six times bigger than Belgium.

As each successive wave of enlargement brings in more small countries, the disadvantage to the larger countries becomes worse. Britain, France and Germany contain between them a clear majority of the population of the European Union, but they have barely a third of the votes in the Council of Ministers. That disadvantage will get even more marked after enlargement. Unless changes are made, Britain, France and Germany together will not only be a minority but will not even be a blocking minority under qualified majority voting. That is why any further enlargement needs to be accompanied by a reweighting of votes in the Council that more fairly reflects the difference in population between member states.

Of course, we must also get the balance right between procedures that give weight to larger populations while recognising that Europe is a union of equal member states. That is why Britain recognises the importance that each member state, however small, attaches to retaining a seat on the European Commission. There is a practical limit to how big the Commission can become and still remain efficient. That is why all the larger member states are willing to concede their right to a second seat on the Commission. That would enable the probable first wave of enlargement to take place with little increase in the size of the Commission. It is a fair package deal between the large and small nations. The large states would get a fairer share of the votes in the Council and the small states would retain their right to a seat on the Commission. I stress that it is a package. Britain will not concede its second seat on the Commission if there is no agreement to increase Britain's voting strength in the Council.

A fairer weighting of votes in the Council is also relevant to the third issue before the IGC--whether there should be an increase in qualified majority voting. The Government believe that some key matters of national interest are always best resolved by unanimity. That includes issues such as border controls, defence, taxation, social security, own resources and treaty amendments. Neither we, nor many of our partners, intend to accept qualified majority voting in these areas.

For much of the rest of decision making within the European Union, QMV is already the rule. Some four fifths of decision making within the Council of Ministers is based on QMV. As a result, there is limited scope for expansion, but outside the key matters of national interest we are willing to consider the introduction of QMV on a case-by-case basis.

Sometimes Opposition Members appear to be afraid of majority voting because they assume that Britain will always be in the minority. That may well have been their experience in government, but it has not been ours. Our experience has been that if we argue a good case with good will and good presentation, we can mobilise a majority vote. Last year, votes took place in the Council of Ministers on 213 occasions. Britain was overruled only twice, whereas by contrast Germany was overruled 18 times, the Netherlands 15 times and Italy 13 times. Those who insist on the national veto should recognise that the balance of advantage in bringing back unanimity

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in those votes would have been heavily in favour of Germany and the others, not in favour of the arguments that Britain put forward for its national interest.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): The Foreign Secretary has just disclosed quite a lot of information about voting in the Council of Ministers, which I understand was previously kept confidential. Is he prepared henceforth to provide all information on voting in the Council of Ministers to the House of Commons Library so that we can have some genuine democratic scrutiny of what is going on?

Mr. Cook: I do not imagine that the hon. Gentleman was complaining that I was releasing new information. I hoped that it might inform the House and remove some of the prejudices of his honourable colleagues. It has long been Britain's position--in fairness, under both Labour and Conservative Governments--that there should be more transparency in the Council of Ministers. I personally would have no objection to revealing the votes, but it would be wrong for us to do so unilaterally without the agreement of our partners. We shall continue to argue that case. In the meantime, I hope that the information that I have provided will help to dispel some of the prejudices against qualified majority voting among Opposition Members.

There may even be some cases that are resolved by unanimity at present in which majority voting might be in Britain's interests. Transport is an example in which QMV would help the UK to advance a more liberalising agenda. Similarly, reform of the European Court of Justice would be made easier if its rules of procedure could be agreed by QMV, not unanimity. If we want to make sure that the rules of the single market are policed vigorously and effectively then we need a European Court of Justice that does not take years to reach a verdict.

However, I can assure the House and especially the Opposition that, whatever may be agreed on QMV this time around, it will be as nothing compared with the positive deluge of majority voting that occurred while the Conservatives were in power. They agreed to majority voting on 42 new articles, and they were right to do so. If they had not done so, we would never have been able to forge the single market because we would never have been able to overrule those who wanted to put obstacles in its path.

I congratulate Opposition Members on having been the architects of the biggest expansion of QMV in the history of the European Union. I would congratulate them even more if, given that record, they were now to give up the pretence of being the champions of the veto. It is a fair offer--I hope that they will accept it.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that there is a vast difference between QMV on trade matters compared to, for example, European government matters? Will he assure the House that we will retain the veto for those matters on which other member states want an extension to QMV--defence and foreign policy, for example?

Mr. Cook: I began this section of my speech by saying that we would retain unanimity on defence. There is already a provision--

Mr. Cash: What about foreign policy?

Mr. Cook: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would allow me to answer his question. There is already a provision in

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the foreign policy section for majority voting where there is implementation of an agreed strategy; unanimity is required for that. We see no case for making a change and do not intend to support one. [Interruption.] I am being perfectly frank in my response to the hon. Gentleman's question. However, he seems to care neither to defend the record of the previous Conservative Government in expanding majority voting, nor to accept that the Conservatives cannot now pretend to be champions of the veto.

Our agenda for the IGC is to keep it focused on enlargement. Some other minor items might be included in the agenda, but the Government's view is that any such additions should not be so extensive as to defeat the central objective of preparing the EU for enlargement, and of doing so as quickly as possible.

The Opposition's view, as stated to their conference, is that the IGC should be taken hostage. Last week, their Foreign Affairs spokesman, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), accused me of getting their policy wrong. I am anxious to get it right, because it is so wrong-headed that it does not need to be misrepresented in order to be discredited. I have therefore checked what the Leader of the Opposition said to the Conservative conference. He said:

Those words at least have the merit of being clear, if not blunt. They are capable of only one construction, which is, I suspect, shared by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East: unless the rest of Europe agrees to the Conservative vision of a pick-and-mix Europe, there will be no new treaty from the IGC.

The institutional protocol to the Amsterdam treaty is equally blunt. I remember it well because I drafted it at 4 o'clock in the morning in order to end the impasse in negotiations. It provides that, before the date of entry into force of the first enlargement, there shall be reform of the seats on the Commission and the weighting of votes in the Council. The political reality is that if there is no new treaty, there will be no enlargement.

Enlargement is in Britain's own interest. It makes no economic sense for us to oppose the increase of the single market that will come from enlargement.

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