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We must press on with the enlargement negotiations, to conclude on schedule by the end of 2002, so that new members can join by mid-2004 at the latest. We hope that they will be able to join by 1 January if possible, to deliver the Europe we all want. That is a challenging agenda. It can be achieved, but only if all of us, including the UK, the other member states and the candidate countriesit would be nice to include the Opposition, toomake every effort to achieve it . There can be no more obstacles and no more excuses for delay on any side.
I have explained why we brought the Bill to the House soon after we were returned to office. The Bill is necessary for a treaty that, in turn, is necessary for enlargement on time and in a sensible form. All member states agree that the enlarged EU we want cannot work effectively without the changes that Nice will make to the EU's institutions and procedures.
All member states agree that Nice is necessary for enlargement. All member states also agree that Nice is all that is necessary for enlargement and that once Nice is ratified the EU will have completed all the institutional changes necessary for the accession of the new member states. That is the point. Nice will complete all the changes necessaryinstead of a shambolic, treaty by treaty approach that would never reach a conclusionand that is why the other member states support Nice. That is why the candidates support it. That is why the Government support it. That is why we brought the Bill to the House. That is why I urge the House to support the Bill today, and the stronger, safer Europe that it will help to build for Britain. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): It is some years since I faced the Minister at the Dispatch Box, and in those days he was a Minister at the Welsh Office. I am delighted that his breathtaking arrogance has not been altered by his promotion to the Foreign Office.
I come late to the legislative process on this Bill, which has now reached Third Reading. However, the jockey may have changed but the horse remains the samealthough I hope that this slightly heavier jockey will not injure it. Moreover, it is clear that I shall have to learn the niceties of behaviour in the Chamber on this Bill. I was interested to note that, during his speech, the Minister was subject to friendly fire that came symmetrically from both sides of the Chamber.
The Opposition oppose this Bill, as we have done throughout its passage through the House. I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against it tonight, for two reasons. First, we believe that the treaty agreed at Nice fails to achieve even the aims set out by the Government. Secondly, it fails to advance the vision of a flexible Europe that lies at the heart our policy. We believe that that flexibility is essential to the successful enlargement of the European Union, as we wish to see it.
We have always been in favour of enlargement. The Minister related a litany of all the benefits that would accrue from enlargement, which by and large I welcome, as they are broadly the same as those that we have identified. However, they are not what the Nice treaty is abouta subject to which I shall return.
We have long argued for a more flexible Europe, yetas has happened again todaythe unsubstantiated response that we receive when we do so is that we are flying in the face of achieving greater strength through political integration. Much of the debate on this Bill has centred on those two different basic positions.
It is worth pausing to consider those differing positions in the light of the current international situation. Europe is an essential part of the coalition that has been put together so painstakingly in the fight against international terrorism. As it happens, the European Union's ability to contribute constructively to the coalition has depended not on further integration but on the flexibility that currently exists in Europe. The Nice treaty, and other initiatives, would reduce that flexibility.
That flexibility has allowed our partners in the EU to be part of what has effectively been a layered coalition, with different levels of participation and, even, enthusiasm. If the supporters of integration had had their wayif the implied common foreign and defence policies had been establishedwould it have been possible for the Prime Minister to attach himself so firmly to the American cause? Would he have been able to sign up so readily to the longer-term objectives of the fight against international terrorism, and could he have committed armed forces to the military phase in Afghanistan? I think that the answer to those questions is: almost certainly not.
Mike Gapes: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the remarks of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi were helpful in building the coalition? Does he think that it would be in the interests of European unityor of the Conservative partyfor his party to continue its discussions with far-right former fascists in Italy?
Mr. Ancram: I am not certain what those questions have to do with the debate. I am making it clear that the coalition works because all partners are not being asked to give precisely the same response. I am sure that the Minister, if he has met Ministers from around Europe, will be aware of that. That is what flexibility means. The lowest-common-denominator approach that would have been adopted otherwise would almost certainly have restrained the valuable support that the Prime Minister has been able to give the USA. Almost certainly, it would have prevented military engagement by forces from the UK, France or Germany, and it would have militated against the best interests of this country in the fight against international terrorism.
Mr. John Smith: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons for a layered response within Europeprobably the most important oneis the variation in the military capability of NATO allies in Europe and the fact that some could not contribute to the extent that we did? The headline goals in the treaty will help those assets to be developed within NATO as well as within Europe.
Roger Casale: In the right hon. Gentleman's pursuit of greater flexibility within the European Union, is he limiting himself to opposing the treaty of Nice or would he, if he could, unpick previous treaties such as Amsterdam and Maastricht and even the Single European Act? Where does it stop?
Mr. Ancram: We are dealing with the Nice treaty. However, we have made it clear throughout the debates on the Bill that we would have liked the Nice negotiations to be used to return certain powers to national Governments. That would be in the interests of a stronger Europe. People feel disconnected from what is happening in Europe, and I believe that that is one way to deal with that. I shall come to that in greater detail shortly.
Mr. Robert Jackson: I hope that when my right hon. Friend does so he will explain why he thinks we should reject the Nice treaty on the basis that it does not provide us with sufficient flexibility, when in fact it makes provision for enhanced co-operation to be extended and developed.
Mr. Ancram: If this were an à-la-carte Bill, we could pick the bits that we thought were better for Europe and say no to the rest. However, we cannot do that, as the Minister sayswe have to take this lock, stock and barrel, and we happen not to like the stock and the barrel. That is why I will be asking my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill tonight.
Nice was, in our view, a missed opportunity. It was a chance to create greater flexibility, to give powers back to national Parliaments and to create a closer connection, through those Parliaments, between the institutions of Europe and the people of Europe.
The debates on the Bill have all been conducted in the shadow of the Irish referendum. That referendum and its result cannot be ignored; it was symptomatic of people's feeling of alienation from Europe, which has been growing ever since the Maastricht treaty was signed. Nice was an opportunity to address that and find a way of reconnecting with people. The Minister said that that was one of his aims, but I do not believe that it has been achieved. It could have been a way of showing the disillusionment felt by so many at what they understandably see to be the immutability of European-made law, but the opportunity was missed.
The Government went to Nice with no clear view of the Europe they were seeking ultimately to achieve. To put it bluntly, they were ill prepared. They indicated before they went that they would not give way on qualified majority voting and then promptly did so when they got there. Now they do not seem to be able to make up their mind as to whether the areas of QMV that they
The Government declared that they would not undermine NATO through the approval of the rapid reaction force, and then signed up to a report in the annexe to the treaty that clearly does so. They claimed that in approving the inclusion of the charter of fundamental rights as an annexe they would be doing more than agreeing its principles. Now there is every indication that they signed up to something very much more.
Suffice it to say that, in each case, the Conservative party gave the Government due warning. They chose to ignore those warnings. Tonight we will try once more. The Bill seeks to ratify a treaty that failed to achieve the Government's objectives. It flies in the face of our vision of a flexible Europe, and it is increasingly integrationist.
The strongest arguments made for Nice, which the Minister made again this afternoon, was that it enabled enlargement of the European Union to take place. Our opposition to it has been inaccurately described as anti-enlargement. I stress that nothing could be further from the truth. We are the long-standing and very committed supporters of enlargement. We were pursuing enlargement in 199011 years ago. We have always believed that the European Union should welcome the new democracies that emerged from behind the iron curtain at that time. That would not only bind them into the European family of democracies, but enhance the concept of the flexible Europe of nations of which we are a natural part and which has always been at the heart of our European policy.
Throughout this process, therefore, we have made it clear that we remain strong supporters of enlargement and that we would accept immediately those aspects of Nice that relate to enlargement, such as Commission size, which has been mentioned, and vote re-weighting. That remains our position, but this legislation does not allow us to do so. It would ratify a treaty that contains much more to do with integration, which carries within it the disincentive to enlargement, and much less that is central to the enlargement that we seek.