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Mr. Campbell: What view has the Foreign Secretary formed of the contribution to the debate about Ireland made, apparently, yesterday by Mr. Prodi, who appeared to suggest that the fact that the Irish had voted against ratification in their referendum would not preclude
Let me now deal with the Irish referendum. The Nice treaty requires endorsement by the 15 member states, as does any other intergovernmental treaty. It is technically true that enlargement could take place without the treaty of Nice, but it could not take place without any treaty at all, because accession requires treaty agreement by not only the accession states but the acceding states. So, if enlargement were not achieved through the Nice treaty, it would have to be achieved through a treaty of accession, albeit a simpler one. There is no way of doing that through the current instruments, for understandable reasons: they have been agreed by the 15 signatory states. When there has been an accession in the past under existing treaties, legislation has had to be introduced in this House and in other Parliaments to enable us and the other member states to accede to the accession.
In the General Affairs Council last Monday, we acknowledged the fact of the result of the Irish referendum. We also acknowledged that, although there was a low turnout and many people had complained that they did not understand the issues, that was beside the point. This was a democratic vote that had produced a clear outcome under the Irish constitution.
The GAC resolved that, although we regretted the outcome--which, plainly, we did--we respected it. We unanimously agreed--that included the Irish Foreign Minister--that although the Nice treaty could not be renegotiated, the ratification process would continue in the other member states while the Irish Government sought to find other ways of dealing with their people's concerns. It was decided in the GAC resolution that the 14 other member states would be actively engaged in that process. That parallels the arrangements made when there was a similar result in Denmark in 1992. A similar resolution was agreed at that time by all parties, including the then United Kingdom Government, about that approach.
In digesting the implications of the Irish referendum, all member states accept that none of us can or should take public support for the European Union for granted. That is a matter that we all have to consider. The Gracious Speech made it clear that we should introduce a Bill to ratify the Nice treaty in this Session. The Bill was presented to Parliament yesterday and received its first reading. It will be for Parliament to decide whether Nice is accepted, including the first ever increase in the United Kingdom's voting weight, which is very important for this country.
The House will recall that one of the central purposes of the Nice treaty was to facilitate the enlargement of the European Union. Britain is a champion of enlargement, not just to reunite Europe and heal past divisions, but because of a hard-headed, practical assessment of the benefits that that will bring, including to the British people.
Mr. Straw: I know that all the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative party and all their supporters have changed their minds, but somewhere in the recesses of my brain, although this could be a case of mistaken identity, I had the information that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) is generally in favour of Europe and the European Union and its enlargement.
Mr. Straw: Yes it was, because that was the verdict of the British people and we have to respect that. However, we also sought to learn from it and understand the error of some of our ways. I recommend that approach to the Conservative party, because, otherwise, Conservative Members will stay where we were and they will be waiting not 18 years, but a great deal longer.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on moving across to his present post. There is an important point that I do not want him to gloss over. Will he give us an explanation? During the general election and the run-up to it, the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary, who has found a different job, both said that any failure immediately to ratify the Nice treaty and any renegotiation attempts would lead to all enlargement being put on hold. Today, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that enlargement could take place regardless of the Nice treaty. He said so earlier; he should look back at his text. Does he accept that what the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Secretary said was a complete fabrication?
Mr. Straw: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is exactly what I said, and the record will show it. I also say to him that ratifying Nice was always going to take time, because ratification by the institutions of the 15 member states is required.
Mr. Maude: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way on this important point. His predecessor spent the months between the Nice treaty being agreed and the general election saying that our belief that the treaty should be renegotiated would hold up enlargement. The Foreign Secretary is saying today, and the Prime Minister said at Gothenburg, that the Nice treaty is not necessary for enlargement. That is what we have always said. The Foreign Secretary's point is that an accession treaty is needed for enlargement. The Nice treaty is not an accession treaty.
Mr. Straw: They will all have to do better than that, as my right hon. Friend says. The Opposition are dancing on the head of a pin. I have given the answer to the question, and I shall give it to Conservative Members again. Yes, technically, accession does not require the treaty of Nice. It does require a treaty, however, but this is the important point, and Opposition Members need to think about it. If we were to agree to another 13 member states joining the EU without changing the way in which the EU's institutions operate, those institutions and the decision-making processes of which Conservative Members complain would collapse, because they would seize up under their own weight.
It was critical at Nice that we not only laid out a pathway to enlargement, but achieved, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, major changes to modernise the EU that are in the interests of the proper functioning of the institutions and of the United Kingdom.
It was also critical to achieve a relative increase in our voting weight inside the Council, an extension of qualified majority voting where that is in our interests, the continuation of the veto--for example, on tax--where QMV is not in our interests and changes to the way in which the Commission operates, so that it can be relatively slimmed down so as better to operate in changed circumstances in which we shall move over time
To continue on enlargement, at Gothenburg, Heads of Government reaffirmed their irreversible commitment to it. They agreed that the accession negotiations with the applicant countries would continue to gather pace, with the aim of completing negotiations for the first wave of candidate countries in 2002 so that they can participate as EU members in the European parliamentary elections in 2004.
The European Council at Gothenburg was preceded by an EU-US summit and a European Heads of Government dinner with President Bush. The Prime Minister also attended the summit of NATO leaders in Brussels on Wednesday 13 June, at which President Bush was present.
Some say that we have to make a choice between our co-operation with the EU and our alliance with the United States. In our judgment, that is an entirely false choice. The United States remains our closest ally, and by any measure is our single most important partner. Our vital national interests coincide now as much as they ever did, and our strategic partnership in NATO remains fundamental to the national security of both our countries. The point is this, however. The stronger we are in Europe, the stronger our voice is heard in the United States, just as our influence in the EU is buttressed by our close ties with America.
On European security and defence policy, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, made it clear that NATO as well as US-European relations would be strengthened by the initiative, because it will, in turn, help to strengthen European capabilities. In his later speech in Warsaw, the President said: