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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for such an excellent maiden speech, and congratulate all those others who have made excellent speeches today. It was a particular privilege for me as a relatively new Member, not having heard a maiden speech before.
The Nice treaty brings together the wider nations of Europe on the basis of free trade, international agreement and co-operation, founded on democratic institutions, and it paves the way for European security. It is a recipe for a strong Britain in a greater Europe. Enlargement will mean a bigger Europe capable of looking after our interests in a global context. It means a bigger trading area to create even more prosperity and jobs. That is why the Government have negotiated the treaty on behalf of the British people.
In the last century, Europe was for the most part divided. There were two world wars, millions of people killed and nations living in fear of one another. What has been achieved in the past 50 years is astonishing and, in its significance, outweighs the achievements of the past 2,000 years. National barriers to the movement of goods, people and services have been swept away by the development of international road, air, rail, energy and information networks, and those networks are the arteries of the European economy, the health of which is dependent on the ability of goods, capital and services to flow freely around Europe.
Where problems exist within the European economy, European institutions support and restructure development so that ailing parts of the economy are remedied. In my region, more than 400,000 jobs are linked to membership of the EU and in the next five years the area will receive more than £1.5 billion in EU structural funds. It is essential that all the nations of Europe benefit in that way. The alternative of division and isolation will only lead to the conflicts that plagued the last century and continue to fester in this century.
Nationalism in Europe has been swept away by those economic forces because the nation states of Europe recognise that future economic prosperity and security require membership of the EU and commitment to its further development. However, with anything up to 28 nations as members, there is clearly a need for the reform of European institutions such as the Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers. That is what happened at Nice. Anyone who says that reform is still needed obviously has not read the treaty.
The Government have achieved that while acquiring more power for Britain through the reweighting of votes in the Council of Ministers. They have agreed a limit to the size of the European Commission and more majority voting where that will promote Britain's interests in areas such as trade liberalisation and improved financial controls. On vote reweighting, Labour has secured a substantial increase in the strength of Britain's vote in the Council of Ministersthe first increase since Britain joined the European Union.
Many hon. Members will know that, as smaller states have joined the EU in each successive round of enlargement, the voting strength of the larger member states has declined disproportionately. In an EU of 28 countries, it would have been possible for member states representing a minority of the population to achieve
The historic treaty of Nice introduces improved procedures for enhanced co-operation. It is essential for an enlarged European Union to be flexible enough to enable groups of member states to co-operate more closely on specific projects. This is not a lumbering superstate, as the Opposition would suggest, but a flexible union which can act, for example, in the fight against crime and drugs, where closer co-operation is essential, but which would not prejudice the fight against these problems in non-participating countries. The interests of member states will be preserved and the use of enhanced co-operation can be referred to the European Council. Enhanced co-operation cannot be used to undermine the single market or other common European Union policies. It will be open to all member states, which will provide a guarantee against the creation of an inner core of member states that operate as a block vote.
The next intergovernmental conference, in 2004, will discuss a delimitation of competencies between the European Union and the member states to prevent unnecessary centralisation. There will be a debate about how to involve national Parliaments in European decision making, and the conference will also consider the means of putting the treaties into plain language so that they are easier to understand for the people of Europe.
Europe needs strong member states, and the development process will explode the Conservative myth that the European Union is becoming a superstate. The extension of qualified majority voting will contribute to the reform that Britain wants: further trade liberalisation, improved financial controls and European Commission appointments being made on the basis of merit. QMV is an opportunity, not a threat. It is the oil of the European Union, and the huge benefits that it has brought, such as the European single market, are a testament to that fact. Labour has ensured that the national veto is retained in key areas such as treaty change, taxation, border controls, social security, defence and the revenue-raising mechanisms.
Although one would not have thought it when listening to some Opposition Members, the Conservative party agreed to 42 extensions of QMV when it was in government. Twelve extensions were made in the Single European Act 1985 and 30 were made in the Maastricht treaty. Yet Opposition Members have the cheek to argue against the treaty in its current form. QMV has always worked in Britain's interests.
Let us consider what is good about the treaty in terms of QMV. Obviously, there are improvements in trade and services. Changes have been made in respect of structural and cohesion funds, to prevent net recipients from blocking efficiency and cost savings. There is also help on environmental issues, financial regulation, appointments and industrial policy. The treaty will enhance stability and security in Europe, as well as many other aspects.
We live in a world that is shrinking because of new means of travel and communications. The world of the 21st century should be about peace, freedom and security for all. If we can bring together the whole of Europe in this manner, who knows what we can achieve on a global scale? It is my firm belief that, later this century, we can bring together a global union with all the values and types of institution that we have created here in Europe. That needs reform of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, and a willingness in the worldand the G8 nations in particularto recognise that peace and prosperity can be achieved only by co-operation and by sharing the world's resources. The enlargement of Europe is an important step towards that goal, and I only hope that I will live long enough to see it achieved.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I want to confine my remarks to the European security and defence policy aspects of the treaty. Before I begin, I should like to add my congratulations to new hon. Members on their maiden speeches. I remember that there was an empty Chamber when I made my maiden speech on a Friday morning in 1992, while the Queen's Speech was being debated. It must be far more difficult to make such a speech to a House that is relatively full, at least on the Labour Benches. The Conservative Benches are rather empty at this moment.
I wish to concentrate on the defence aspects of the treaty because it is important for us to recognise that there has been a shift in recent weeks in the attitudes of the United States in respect of European security and defence policy. I was in Washington last week, meeting members of Congress and of the Administration, with a British-American parliamentary group delegation. Significantly, the previous rhetoric of the Republican party, which was whipped up by the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, has died down. We were told by officials in the new Administration that the US had been astonished by the developments at St. Malo and had been concerned about what had happened since, but was now far more relaxed. We were also told that the European developments that were foreshadowed in the Helsinki statement of 1999 and that are set out in the Nice proposals and the comprehensive presidency report appendix were seen as complementary to NATO. One person to whom I spoke said that it would be worse for European security and defence policy to fail because of lack of resources than for it to be autonomous. The key is how to work out the day-to-day relationships of NATO and the European Union.
That attitude is welcome, and follows a further shift in the position of the American Administration, who have been in office for only a few months and have not formed all their posts, in relation to policy on the Balkans. Secretary of State Colin Powell has now said that we went in together, so we should go out together. That position is diametrically different from the Republican party's election platform of cutting forces from the Balkans and withdrawing unilaterally. That is welcome as Europeans try to cope with the legacy of the conflict in the Balkans and in view of the dangerous situation in Macedonia.
I visited Kosovo a few months ago with the Select Committee on Defence. We stood on the so-called chicken leg, looking down on the Presevo valley in Serbia. On the other side, in Macedonia, we saw the area