|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Before Nice, Ministers repeatedly listed areas where they would refuse to extend QMV: treaty change, taxation, border controls, social security, defence and EU own resources. However, Labour's election manifesto mentioned only two items to be retained for the vetonamely, tax and border controls. So are we going to see the continuation of the salami-slicing away of Britain's veto?
As we have heard, the irony of ironies of the whole process is that even the Commission President regards Nice as unessential for incorporating new members. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) reminded us of the remarks of the President of the Commission in June. It is worth listening to them again. He said:
In more than four years of government, what powers have this Government retrieved for our national Parliament where, at the very least, the law can be changed? The Minister for Europe complained in his Strasbourg speech about the "disconnect" from national Parliaments. We need to involve our national legislatures more closely in shaping and monitoring EU decisions, so why did we not embark on that process at Nice by drawing a line, as we would have done on QMV, and saying, "Let us return powers to national Parliaments"? It was not even mentioned.
The Minister should stop making speeches about "Eurobabble" and the need for plain speaking and should do something about it before the decline in confidence in the European Union's institutions among the peoples of both the member and accession states gets any worse.
We hear about so-called constructive engagementI must repeat this pointbut in four and a half years it has not yielded one power back to our national Parliament. Of course, we are happy to accept the technical changes made in the Council of Ministers and the composition of the European Commission as being necessary for enlargement. We have made that plain all the way through.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) made clear, however, nothing has proved more clearly the need for a continuing American involvement in Europe than the terrible events of 11 September. Ultimately, our American allies will want more defence burden sharing. As one surveys the declining defence expenditure in Europe, one sees that that is going to be something of a challenging aspiration.
One thing that comes through loud and clear, however, is the fact that we in Europe need our American friends to stay committed to our defence and security. We have always been committed as a party to enhanced
The last thing we need now is to go ahead and create a European rapid reaction force that is disconnected from NATO. I hope that the lessons of the past few weeks have made that proposition crystal clear.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said that the process had moved on as a result of the tragic events of 11 September, and that the importance and centrality of NATO had been increasingly recognised. I very much hope that that is the case, but we have yet to see any concrete proof, or any written document to that effect, and I remind hon. Members that we are dealing with what is in front of usthe Nice treatynot speculation as to what may have developed after that point, however welcome it may be.
Similarly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes warned of the implications of yet more judge-led law in this country, arising from the charter of fundamental rights. By contrast with the previous Minister for Europe, who likened its importance to The Beano magazine, no lawyer disregards the importance of the charter. Repeatedly, various politicians in Europe demand that it should be a basis for a written constitution.
It is worth reminding ourselves that originally the European rapid reaction force was flatly rejected by the Prime Minister, and then suddenly his mind was changed. Therefore, when he says that he will not accept a European written constitution, we all know that on the question of European defence he has flip-flopped for reasons of political expediency, and he may well do so again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) said, and I fully agree, that it is an historic obligation on our part to increase the European Union by way of enlargement. Of course we are passionately committed to
When the Foreign Secretary spoke at Chatham house, he spoke of the need once again to connect with Europe's citizens. He said that Europe should focus more on outcomes and less on process, that the European Union was built on the foundation of its nation states, and that we should be ready to engage in a serious debate about Europe; I agreed with every single word. Yet the Government, by their actions, did precisely the opposite at Nice, unnecessarily giving up our veto, failing to bring back any powers to Westminster and failing to tackle Europe's post-enlargement financing.
The Government talk boldly but have absolutely no clear idea of what a sustainable European institutional architecture should look like. Nice was not, in practice, about enlargement. As we have seen, it may actually slow down and damage enlargement. From the viewpoint of the United Kingdom, it was about our Government who failed to stand up for our national interests and failed to argue for an enduring, flexible, open and democratic European Union, valued and supported by its citizens.
We have three years before the intergovernmental conference, which will examine the competences of the EU and its members. It is a hugely important opportunity to fashion a sustainable European Union. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife that we are anxious to have a White Paper on the subject, as we examine all these considerations. The Conservatives will want, as a party, to contribute positively to the process, and I hope that the Government will do the same. At Nice, they signed up to a treaty that had precious little to do with enlargement, and I truly hope that the Government will move away from simply talking towards constructive action and firm, clear proposals. Sadly, the Government's failure at Nice gives us precious little hope that that will be the case.
I applaud the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) for reading all my speeches, but it does not seem to have done him much good. I confess that I have had withdrawal symptoms in this debate because of the absence from the Back Benches of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I miss seeing him there. I miss his 235 amendments and his championing of qualified majority voting on family law. I also miss the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), with his convoluted semantics. What has happened to them? They have been sentenced to silence by duty on the Front
There is another absent figurethe right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Where is he? What would he have said? In announcing his candidacy for the Conservative party leadership in June, he said:
Where are all the pound signs that Conservative Members used to wear proudly in their lapels when in the Chamber? Has somebody stolen them? Perhaps they have lost them, and the slogan of the new Conservative party leadership is, "We've lost the pound." Perhaps they have given them away, and their new slogan is, "We've given away the pound." Perhaps they have melted them down to form new ones, or perhaps they have scrapped the pound already. We should be told what they have done with their pound signs.