|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): On the brink of enlargement, all being well, the EU is faced with great opportunities, and with its greatest dangers for a generation. It can aim to make itself, in the words of Romano Prodi, an "advanced supranational democracy", or it can strive to be a Europe of nation states in a single market working together to promote peace and prosperity in Europe. It is clear from recent elections what the people of Europe want, and we ignore our people at our peril.
The EU will never become a real force for improvement in all our societies until the democratic deficit is dealt with, as many hon. Members have noted today. This Government have failed to deal with the matter in any substantive way. Their policy so far has been marked by a rudderless drift towards a more centralised Europe. Their concrete ideas have been few and far between. One such has been the Prime Minister's absurd idea of a second chamber for the European Parliament. It has been roundly dismissed by every commentator and most politicians on the continent of Europe.
The next big thing, which the Minister for Europe has been touting for the Prime Minister, is this idea of a president of the European Council. That person is supposed to give Europe a single voice, especially on foreign policy. The president would have to be a remarkable manor womanbecause we have seen how hard it has been for Europe to find a single voice on foreign policy in any formalised sense, whether on the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, or on the middle east. Of course it is important, from time to time, to coalesce with a joint viewpoint and approach, but that is quite different.
Above all, this British Government do little to deal with the lack of democracy and accountability in the European Union's institutions. In too many elections on the continent, we have seen extremist parties coming forward in response to that. Those parties have different causes and reasons in different countries, but they are united by a sense that people's voices are not being listened to, and that the governors are becoming more distant from the governed.
The solution cannot be to create what Romano Prodi called an "advanced supranational democracy". The desire to build such an entity is a sad sign that some in the European Union do not want to listen to the loud popular voices that are calling for societies where power comes from the bottom up, where the rulers must respond to popular concerns. The Commission is clearly still stuck in a time warp of idealistic thinking, frozen in the 1950s. This has little to do with the problems and needs of Europe today.
We are all familiar with the Government's wish to make Europe a superpower, as the Prime Minister has said, but we have yet to hear anything from the Government on how such a plan is realisable. It is natural that different nations will have different views about what their interests might be and about the values that they consider to be most important to promote abroad. It is only when we have calls for "more Europe" in foreign and security policy that it becomes a problem. The unavoidable logic leads either to the imposition of some member states' foreign policy on others or a subjection to the lowest common denominator. Of course it is to our
The European Union should, above all, be an engine for its people's prosperity. That has to be the priority, and it was its original purpose. The Government have talked a lot about this; we have heard a great deal about getting Europe to embrace the enterprise agenda, making it the most dynamic economic region in the world. The Lisbon agenda has been in action for more than two years and yet it has let down Europe's businesses and workers.
We heard how, at Stockholm last year, the Prime Minister was delivering economic reform in Europe and jobs in Britain. Yet three months ago he was forced to admit to the House that at Stockholm, progress stalled. That was quite a climbdown from the talk about that Council's "good news".
Sadly, the Government have not lived up to their promises where it matters most and are failing to deliver. Let us look at some of the targets set at Lisbon to see what has become of them. In his statement to the House after the Lisbon council, the Prime Minister told us that all government was to be done fully online by 2003. I tried to find out what progress had been made in reaching the target but was told in a written answer that the information was not held centrally. So the Government are clearly up to date on that one.
We heard about the need to increase the amount of electronic commerce conducted in Europe and Britain, but in answer to a written question I was told that the Government have no means of measuring that amount. There was a target to halve youth unemployment in Europe by 2010. Since then, youth unemployment has fallen by 1 per centprogress, I grant the Minister, but very modest. There was a target to allow electronic access to all the main public services by 2003. We learn that slightly more than half of those services are e-enabled. Some progress has been made, but I will be interested to hear whether the Minister can guarantee that the target will be met on time. It is crucial that the spirit of Lisbon becomes a reality. So far, the Government have not persuaded our partners to deliver.
In reality, the Government's achievements have fallen far behind their claims and ambitions. The people of Britain want less hot air about Europe being a superpower but real delivery to make the European Union a catalyst in the creation of jobs and wealth for its people.
The second great challenge and purpose that Europe faces is to make enlargement a success. We cannot afford to jeopardise this great task, upon which the future prosperity of eastern Europe and important opportunities for British business rest. One obstacle, of course, has been the Nice treaty. We told the Government repeatedly before the treaty was signed that it would likely be more about integration than preparing Europe for enlargement. We have been proved right, because the Irish people recognised that the treaty, inter alia, would take more from their sovereignty than they were prepared to give. They rejected it and may, despite the pressure put on them, reject it again. If so, we would need a new accession treaty ready for the candidate countries. It should contain those parts of the Nice treaty that are needed for enlargement, which we have happily acknowledged and
The Government continue to have an out-of-date geopolitical agenda. Once upon a time, the Labour party refused to face up to the challenges of the communist era. Absurdly, it abandoned its policy of unilateral disarmament only as the cold war ended. Labour is behind the times again today. It appears to subscribe to a new type of Europe that is increasingly out of favour. People do not want monoliths imposed upon them any morethey want institutions that work from the bottom up, not ones that dictate to them.
The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) mentioned several issues that are wholly pertinent to the future of Europe; for example, reform of the common agricultural policya point taken up by the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore). The right hon. Gentleman referred to the economic tests for the euro, although I suggest that only one test is relevant to the Governmentwhether they can win a referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman gave an accurate warning against any form of anti-Americanism, and pointed out the importance of co-operation between Europe and the United States. Many of us will disagree with some parts of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but it is well worth reading for its view of Europe and our relationship with the rest of the world.
The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale correctly said that over the past few monthsand indeed the past few yearsthe Government have posed questions about the future of Europe but provided no answers.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on her role as a representative of the House of Commons and wish her well. She said that the convention had broad terms of reference. We thought it rather odd, however, that the chairman of the conventionwho should be disinterested as he has an important rolewas advocating the establishment of an EU diplomatic service and EU embassies. That seems a curious dichotomy. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that there seems to be some clash in that regard. None the less, we support her in the view that the EU must be made to be successful. I hope that the convention will play an important part.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) talked of opacity in the European Union and about the old-fashioned, statist character of the EU. He is wholly correct. Lack of transparency has helped to cause so much of the alienation of the peoples of Europe from EU institutions. My right hon. Friend referred to the hideous weight of the acquis communautaire. All those things must be dealt with for people to reconnect and for the convention to be successful.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) gave his views on the euro. It is significant that there are differences of view throughout the party political spectrum, although the only one that he suggested is that he has been subjected to abuse for holding his views.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said that political elites should no longer have the power that they currently hold in the EU. He also spoke of the effects of the CAP on enlargement.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) referred to the reform agenda. He, too, spoke about enlargement. It was a great pleasure to hear from him again. I remind him of our warnings during the preparation for Nice about everything that could go wrongthe impact of enlargement, putting baggage on the treaty that should not have been there. That is exactly what happened in practice and the consequences are there for everybody to see.
We heard an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds). He talked about the global overview and spoke of the lessons of 11 Septemberthe need for flexibility in a military response.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) talked about the importance of retaining our currency. He also referred to statistics showing that Britain was doing well despite not being a member of the eurozone.
A point made in the contribution of the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan): how we relate the devolved constitutional architecture of the United Kingdom to the institutions and practices of the European Union. We need to address that.
We heard a contribution from the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I point out to him that the euro will do well only if the underlying economies of Europe do well. That depends on low taxation, deregulation and a proper competitive environment.
Since the second world war we have seen the world move onto echo the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. It was a perfectly legitimate and admirable desire among Europe's leaders to create a community that would prevent war from ever happening again. In that respect, there is no doubt that the Community has been particularly successful, but we have now moved on to a point where those old-fashioned blocs, which were relevant before, are no longer relevant in the 21st century.
There is a lively debate about the future of the architecture of the EU. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary and I have had numerous meetings to discuss that point with politicians, diplomats and other opinion formers from all over the EU and the accession countries. Happily, more and more of our sister parties are taking over as the governing parties in Europe. They, too, reject in many instances the corporatist, statist, high taxation and interventionist culture that has so damaged the EU's economic performance.
To enjoy public acceptance, the EU will need to find radical ways to decentralise authority and to reinforce our national Parliaments. It is absolutely crucial to have a finality of competencies at the centre of our EU structures, to assure people that the remorseless process of integration and harmonisation will be arrested and that
The Conservative party has already produced many constructive proposals to deal with the democratic deficit and the need for economic liberalisation and reform, but there is clearly much more to do. However, we are at a crossroads. Everything points to a new European architecture that is flexible, open and more transparent. Nothing that we have heard today from the Government thus far in any way goes to the heart of those matters. Just as the Government while in opposition failed to face up to the great geopolitical challenge of the cold war, today they are frozen in a mindset of Europe utterly unsuited to the challenges of the 21st century.