Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Dec 2002 : Column 315—continued

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): The hon. Gentleman talks of public support. Does he now regret giving all sorts of assurances, when he was Minister for Europe, that the charter of fundamental rights would not be made legally binding? Less than two years later, the Government have signalled their assent to its being legally binding: I was attending a plenary session of the Convention when that U-turn took place. Is that how to secure public support—giving assurances that are abandoned shortly afterwards?

Keith Vaz: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, and as I have just been reminded by my hon. Friend the

11 Dec 2002 : Column 316

Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), that is not what the Government have said. They have made it clear, in the context of the charter, that we want no extension of the current laws. That is what the charter was about: it was intended to encapsulate the rights and responsibilities that currently exist. It was not about making new law, but about codifying what was already there. The right hon. Gentleman knows that very well.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were connected with the people on European issues. Can he perhaps imagine how connected the Government may be with people throughout the north and north-east of Scotland after this weekend, when a crucial move that may involve tens of thousands of job losses—the equivalent of more than 100,000 job losses in England—will go ahead because it will not have been discussed at the summit? It will not be discussed because the United Kingdom Government do not consider it to be of vital national interest.

Keith Vaz: I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Of course the Government consider such issues important, and of course they are connected with the people of Scotland. Along with other Ministers over the past five years, I spent an enormous amount of time in Scotland discussing those issues. The First Minister, moreover, is a member of the European team of my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, and attends meetings regularly to talk about such concerns.

Of course we must go on reminding people of Europe's importance. Rather than standing at the sidelines carping and attacking everything that the Government do, the right hon. Member for Devizes should do what any decent shadow Foreign Secretary would do when they are trying to fight for our agenda abroad, and support their intention.

Mr. Ancram: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that, if the Government are trying to sell out our sovereignty, I should support them even though I fundamentally object to that?

Keith Vaz: That is precisely what I mean! What a load of rubbish. There is no question of this Government doing that. This Government support a British agenda in Europe, leading and fashioning the European debate in accordance with what we are trying to do. What an absurd suggestion that was from the shadow Foreign Secretary.

As I have said, the reform agenda is important, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will tell us what progress has been made on the Blair-Schröder letter. Let me also express my concern about the ongoing debate on Turkey, and add that subject to the caveats of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), along with my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love)—that the Cyprus issue should be discussed and settled. We are not supposed to refer to those who watch our proceedings, but I know that the high commissioner for Cyprus is also aware of what is going on. Of course we have to deal with the Cyprus issue but it is vital that we have a date to begin negotiations for the entry of Turkey. I think that everyone accepts that that is a long way off but it is

11 Dec 2002 : Column 317

important for the Turkish Government and the Turkish people to know that they will be fully included in a Europe of many nation states.

I hope that we will get out of Copenhagen a date for the start of those negotiations, because, as we all know from the recent negotiations and discussions with the 10 applicants, it takes a long time to move the process forward. Commissioner Verheugen may be very busy dealing with the 10 applicants, but it is necessary for the European Commission to appoint a senior official, perhaps one of the Commissioners, to look carefully at what Turkey wishes to do and to begin that negotiation process.

I hope that that will happen at the summit because the entry of Turkey is important to an inclusive Europe. We have heard far too often the view that because Turkey happens to be a majority Muslim country, Europe does not want Turkey to join. I was glad to hear what hon. Members on both sides of the House said about Turkey's inclusion in Europe. I hope that there will be more than good words—I hope that there will be good deeds. Let us get a date out of Copenhagen.

Mr. Love: Does my hon. Friend accept that if it is not possible either at Copenhagen or next April to resolve the division of Cyprus, taking into account all relevant factors, as the Helsinki agreement has already stated, Cyprus should be allowed to accede to membership?

Keith Vaz: It is vital that Cyprus be allowed to join with the other applicant countries on 1 May 2004. The issue of Turkey also has to be addressed but that should not stop the enlargement of the European Union. It should not stop us accepting those 10 countries and enlarging with Cyprus, so I hope that that happens. I have two final points. One concerns the case of Catherine Meyer, which I raised with my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe when he spoke from the Front Bench in a different capacity. I understand that the Prime Minister has written to Chancellor Schröder about the Catherine Meyer case. I recently tabled a parliamentary question asking for details of the reply. That has not come forward yet. I know that the Minister knows Catherine Meyer, and is involved and interested in the case. It is important that we know what Chancellor Schröder has said.

It is unacceptable for the German Government and German courts to continue to act in the way in which they have. Catherine Meyer has not seen her sons for years and years. They are going to be 17 and 16. The whole of their childhood has disappeared. We are not talking about a country that does not subscribe to democratic values. We are talking about Germany, a close ally of our country. The judicial systems should be working together—not necessarily the same judicial systems. The court systems are independent but there should at least be some co-operation. There is no point in having a justice and home affairs summit meeting, and Home Office Ministers and Ministers from justice departments meeting when people are not prepared to talk to each other.

I want some progress to be made on the Catherine Meyer case. I urge the Minister, in the margins of the summit, when he meets the German Minister for Europe, and the Foreign Secretary when he meets

11 Dec 2002 : Column 318

Joschka Fischer to talk about that case, because it is a blot on the relationship between Germany and the United Kingdom. I hope that we will have some news.

I end as I started by wishing the Minister and the Government well in the negotiations at Copenhagen. We always talk about things being historic but this is a historic conference. The summit will produce for us a new and united Europe, not a federal Europe but a Europe of nation states. The Poles no more want to have a federal Europe than do people in the United Kingdom. We want not a superstate, as the right hon. Member for Devizes says, but a Europe of nation states working together for the people of Europe and for the people of the individual countries.

6.54 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): Last week in the Chamber, we spent a brief time concentrating on the future shape of Europe and its institutions. In this debate, properly, we have been focusing on this week's summit, where the European Union is poised to take a major step towards the historic reshaping of Europe. It is not simply the symbolic achievement of bringing eight former communist countries within the European Union but the sheer scale of the exercise. At one stroke, the union will admit more new members than in all the previous enlargements put together. As the airwaves and newspaper columns are filled this week with the haggles and disputes of last-minute negotiations, it is important that we do not lose sight of what is under way.

In the past half century of European integration, the world has changed significantly but the appeal of European Union membership has remained remarkably constant. The original six countries were brought together by common desires to end the uncertainties that had plunged Europe into war over many centuries, creating security by linking competing countries together. They sought to entrench democracy in the face of totalitarian disasters that had preceded the war in fascist Europe and arisen after it in communist Europe. They also sought to create prosperity by the creation of a common market for trade and economic development. Those themes of security, democracy and prosperity are as relevant to today's applicant countries as they were to the founding countries and many of those who have joined in the meantime.

After the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, Lech Walesa talked of the creation of Xa common European home", which in many ways is realised by this expansion of the EU. It is a development that the Liberal Democrats welcome wholeheartedly.

We must not presume that the anticipation of membership is universally positive within all the candidate countries. The latest evidence from the Eurobarometer polling indicates a high level of support, with 61 per cent. of populations in candidate countries believing that the European Union is Xa good thing", but in particular countries it is obvious that the case has yet to be won. In the so-called Laeken 10, which have the prospect of imminent accession, there is still a majority who regard it as positive, but it is only 52 per cent. on the most recent poll. In individual countries, opinions ranged from 32 per cent. in Estonia to 67 per cent. in Hungary. Much of that wariness is due to the detail attached to the accession negotiations.

11 Dec 2002 : Column 319

We should pay tribute to the candidate countries and latterly to the Danish presidency for the progress that has been made. When we debated the issue before the Seville summit, it looked a daunting task to get anywhere close to completion ahead of Copenhagen, but the last few days will be crucial to getting a set of agreements that can win favour in each of the applicant countries.

Attention will inevitably focus on some key areas. In particular, agriculture is a current cause of concern. The debate in Westminster Hall that I was unable to attend this morning focused on the fact that the common agricultural policy is a mess. It is costly, inefficient, and in its current form unsustainable. Farmers rightly want reform, although given the experience of previous attempts they are highly suspicious of the way in which it is being handled. Reform will undoubtedly be required but the mid-term review has been plunged into chaos and looks in danger of being fudged, and its credibility has been damaged.

The impact on the accession countries is of great concern to them. They have argued strongly about the proposals for phasing in the payments that they will be allowed to receive, not least because some of those will be back-loaded, whereas their contributions to the European Union will start almost immediately. The candidate countries are at best bemused and at worst hostile to contributing from the start to the British rebate and to French agriculture subsidies.

The crucial moment at the summit will probably relate to the island of Cyprus. The difficulty that we have there is obvious to all who have been following the debate, and Cyprus is the case in which we must be least presumptuous that accession will actually occur. Kofi Annan's November plan, updated this week, has offered real hope and a prospect of a solution to the problems experienced since the 1974 division of the island. Key players have made serious efforts to engage in the negotiations, although Mr. Denktash has made his reservations clear and there is much work still to be done. The news that the Turkish Cypriot leader must return to hospital is not good, and we must hope that he will make good progress, and that in his absence the talks in Copenhagen, too, will progress.

The Secretary-General wrote to the parties saying:

The summit is not the final word ahead of the accession treaties being signed, but with the expected presence of the United Nations Secretary-General we must hope that, notwithstanding the illness of Mr. Denktash, progress will be made.

In all this, Turkey will of course play a key role. It is inconceivable that a solution can be found without Turkey's support. Likewise, progress on Turkey's own desire to join the European Union in future is inextricably linked to a solution to the Cyprus problem. There has been much comment and concern about the prospect of Turkish entry—not all of it confined to the European Union and Turkey.

At the previous Copenhagen summit, criteria were set out that applicant countries had to match to be eligible for membership. Stability of institutions is crucial,

11 Dec 2002 : Column 320

guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for the protection of minorities. A recent European Commission report has stated that Turkey has not yet satisfied those criteria, and the Danes have also questioned Turkey's readiness to participate.

Clearly there are issues to address. Turkey must be under no illusion about its responsibilities, but it is also true that the country has made significant progress. Mr. Erdogan, the leader of the governing party, has set out encouraging objectives since the elections a few weeks ago. Although we may concur with the judgment that the country has not yet achieved the standards necessary for entry, it should be given the clear incentive of a clear future starting point for substantive discussions. Without that, the prospect of Turkey taking the EU seriously will disappear and the hope for further integration within European will be dashed. The prizes are significant—a modern democratic pluralist Turkey, and the important signals that that would send out to other Islamic states that democratic and liberal economic policies are the starting point for closer ties with the European Union. There would also be the prospect of resolving NATO's relationship with the European security and defence policy, and the issues surrounding the use of NATO assets by the EU in that respect.

Enlargement and associated issues will dominate the summit, but the opportunity of the gathering must not be lost; we must ensure that other crises are addressed. In particular, fishing must be a key priority for UK Ministers, especially the Prime Minister.

Next Section

IndexHome Page