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Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): The right hon. Gentleman says that the Bill has nothing to do with enlargement. Surely he remembers that at the time of the Amsterdam treaty there were various matters that were called left-overs. Those matters were dealt with at the Nice treaty, and there was a clear link between them and enlargement.

Mr. Maude: I do not know whether the right hon. Lady, as Minister for Europe, drafted the then Foreign Secretary's words when he said that agreement at Amsterdam had cleared the way for enlargement. That seems to be fairly unequivocal and fairly unambiguous. He did not say, "By the way, there are all these other things that we must decide in the meantime."

The matters that we are discussing are not needed for enlargement. We know that there is a political desire—this is what really is going on—among some leaders in Europe to take further the process of deeper political integration before enlargement happens. They suspect—for all I know they may be right—that the new candidate countries will be less amenable to proceeding with deepening integration than current members.

It seems an un-European approach to decide to have a tightly closed club where we make our own rules before we open our arms to embrace the entire family of European nations, which is what I regard as the historic destiny of the EU, and which must be done. It seems profoundly wrong to introduce tighter rules and then to say to all candidate countries, "Here is it is, take it or leave it—these are the rules, which we decided while you were waiting outside, and you must accept them as they are." It is wrong that the EU has gone down that path. It is wrong also that the Government have acquiesced in, and in some ways promoted, that approach.

The things that are necessary for enlargement to take place have not been addressed by the Government, and especially radical reform of the common agricultural policy. When I raised the issue during the previous Parliament, the then Foreign Secretary used to sneer and say, "That is completely unnecessary. It has all been dealt with at Berlin. There is nothing to worry about." However, the Prime Minister said—

Dr. Starkey: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maude: I must make some progress.

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The Prime Minister himself said, as long ago as 1995, in his early days as leader of the Labour party:

this is important—

Then, he was absolutely right: it was a necessary precondition. We know that it still is, because in all the negotiations that are going on there has been no agreement, so far as I am aware, on the chapter concerning agriculture with any of the candidate countries. There are big problems with structural funds as well, but the biggest problem is agriculture.

When one asks someone from one of the Governments in question, "How is it going with the negotiations?", they say, "Oh, it's going splendidly. We've just got agriculture and the structural funds to deal with." Those are the big problems, the really difficult ones. That is why, if Nice had been genuinely a summit to deal with enlargement, it would have addressed those issues. However, it did not, and so far as I am aware, neither the then Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister made the slightest effort even to get the reform of the common agricultural policy on the agenda at Nice, let alone tried to get it dealt with. Yet by their own admission—now conveniently forgotten—they have accepted that that reform is essentially necessary to enable enlargement to take place.

Dr. Starkey: May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he had read the excellent report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he would know that six of the applicant countries had closed the chapter on agriculture?

Mr. Maude: This has been the longest-standing problem and it has delayed matters immensely. It took so long because it was necessary to negotiate immensely lengthy transitional proceedings, as there had been no serious reform of the CAP.

Everyone agrees that the European Union has to change. It needs to turn the challenges facing us, which concern many people, into opportunities. The European Union needs to be more relevant and more immediate to its current and future members. The answer is not simply to steam on regardless in the same dogmatic direction. We must require the European Union to re-examine itself. It has already succeeded in building the biggest single market in the world, and I think that the previous Conservative Administration can take some credit for that. I spent two happy years in the late 1980s negotiating a number of the directives that opened up—not in a perfect way, of course—that single market.

The European Union must now adapt to the era of decentralisation and to the network age. At present, too many of its structures are rigid, and too many of its aspirant members are being forced to sign up to the approaches of the past. In the network age, this rigid and centralised model of European power is not only inappropriate and outdated but a recipe for division and fracture. In today's world of global economic integration, the creation of big centralised blocs simply does not make sense any more.

We in the European Union can no longer afford to be impervious to the trend of change across the world and still expect to succeed. Through low turnouts in European

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elections and falling support in opinion polls, the people of Europe have sent a clear message to their Governments. It is that real unity across Europe cannot be imposed by integrationist treaties or by diktat.

Last September, the Danish people made their views clear in their referendum on the euro. In March, the Swiss rejected early membership of the EU by as many as four to one. Whatever the merits of the case for Swiss membership of the EU, that result ought at least to give us cause to stop and think, "Why did this happen?" Plenty of people might say, "The Swiss have just got to make the necessary changes to allow them to join." But should not we in the European Union, when we consider a stable democracy as prosperous as Switzerland, ask ourselves, "What is it about the European Union that makes a country as successful as Switzerland decide so overwhelmingly that it does not even want to contemplate negotiating to join it?" Of course, if Switzerland were to join the European Union, it would have to make a lot of changes. However, it is worth our while to reflect for a moment on whether the European Union could effect any changes to make itself an attractive place for a country as successful as Switzerland to join.

We need a fresh and more modern approach to Europe. In this electronic age, the EU needs agility, adaptability, flexibility and a light touch from the state if we are to realise the goal of a stable, prosperous, outward looking, free market, democratic Europe. We have a positive vision of an EU of constant change, constant bargaining and constant negotiation. We believe that that vision is true to both the spirit of the goals of Europe's founding fathers and the demands of our age; and that it would free Europe to prosper, rather than bind it with rigid rule and diktat.

A constitution for the EU, which has been proposed by some, would prevent that continual process of renewal, bargaining and change from happening. Far from lumbering from treaty to treaty, as the EU is increasingly prone to do, our vision would achieve a multi-system Europe in which groups of countries—different combinations for different purposes and to differing extents—would proceed to integrate and co-operate in different ways according to their different choices. That vision represents a more modern, more sophisticated, decentralised EU.

We want an open, flexible, free enterprise Europe that is ready to serve the whole of Europe—a Europe that celebrates diversity in culture, ethnic background, language, history, outlook and perspective and which does not try to stifle and submerge that diversity. I am afraid that the Bill and the Nice treaty take Europe in the wrong direction—back to the old world of tightly integrated, centralised regional blocks. That is wrong, and we shall vote against the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the next speaker, I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches. It applies from now on.

4.47 pm

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): Unlike the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who spoke for the Opposition, I welcome the Nice treaty

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and the fact that we are beginning the ratification process in the House today. I warmly congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on their appointment and wish them well in building on the work done by the Foreign Secretary's predecessor in the important sphere of European policy.

The Nice treaty is fairly modest, but it makes real improvements, particularly in terms of vote reweighting in the Council of Ministers, sensible changes in the European Parliament and sensible reforms in the European Court of Justice. Overall, the Government promoted and safeguarded British interests in the negotiation and built on both the success of the Berlin settlement, which we debated in the House yesterday, and the gains that they achieved in the Amsterdam treaty.

In all three negotiations, the Government showed that they could successfully negotiate for Britain without being isolated, and there was certainly no repetition of the disastrous policy of non-co-operation which the previous Government tried for a time. Furthermore, I find the Opposition's arguments curious. The treaty is modest, so wanting to hold a referendum on it when no referendum was held on either the Single European Act or the Maastricht treaty, for which they were responsible, defies belief.

Conservative Members often refer to attitudes and arguments in Denmark, where there is a strong degree of Euro-scepticism on occasion. I say to them that the Danish Folketing thought the treaty so modest that it did not represent changes in terms of integration. Therefore, the Folketing recommended that a referendum should not be held, and that recommendation was accepted. Indeed, there was a healthy majority in favour of the Nice treaty when it was voted on in the Danish Parliament.

However, the fact that a referendum on the treaty is not being held in this country should not make us shy of having a public debate on Europe. Indeed, I am pleased that Europe, among many other important matters that were debated, was an issue in the general election campaign. I am glad that the result of the general election seemed to confirm that people believe that the Government have been doing a good negotiating job in Europe, and I strongly agree with that.

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