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11 Dec 2002 : Column 348—continued

8.48 pm

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I am delighted that we are having our third debate on European affairs in 10 days. We have now had two in the Chamber, and one in Westminster Hall earlier today. I was intrigued to hear the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) assert that the Conservatives had many warm things to say about Europe. When his boss, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), spoke earlier, he gave away the Tories' understanding of Europe when he gave us his little vignette on European weather. He seemed to think, in his Xlittle Englander" way, that the isobars that wave across Britain are somehow entirely British, and that French, Spanish and Italian isobars never have anything to do with this little island, which is more precious than anywhere else. It reminded me of the approach to foreigners adopted in XThe League of Gentlemen", in which anyone who goes into the little shop is told: XThis is a local shop, sir, for local people." It is a bit depressing to hear that the Conservative party still has such outmoded views.

Someone once said of the BBC that it was the greatest cultural invention of the 20th century. I believe that the European Union is probably the greatest political invention of the 20th century. It is certainly one of the greatest feats of diplomatic engineering. Countries that were at war not only in the last century but across the last 10 centuries and countries that not long ago had fascist or left-wing dictatorships have managed to find peace with one another; countries that had communist dictatorships will soon enter the EU; and countries that had and have great industrial muscle and might will soon join countries that have had little industrial might over the past 250 or 300 years. There is a common endeavour of abandoning Europe's history of rich and poor countries, areas and regions, and trying to abolish grinding poverty across the whole of Europe. That is a significant political and diplomatic achievement.

Part of that success has relied on the enormous flexibility that the Union has been able to establish. Despite the fact that the original founding fathers of the European Economic Community—they were, in the main, men—had a clear idea in their mind, which, as Members have said, is not one that many in the Chamber would share, we have none the less been able to move through major transitional periods, such as the

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accession of the United Kingdom and that of Spain and Portugal, with their history of fascist dictatorship. Over the next 18 months, we face the accession of 10 new members, but all that shows the enormous flexibility in the EU, which has been part of its phenomenal strength.

As we shall see, enlargement will bring many changes to trade, which other Members have mentioned. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that when Spain acceded to the EU, British trade with it increased by 40 per cent. across the next five years. We can probably expect significant additional prosperity for this country as a result of enlargement.

Significant philosophical changes in the understanding of the EU will come about through enlargement. For a start, the old-school idea of the EU, whereby it was seen as a club whose members shared a virtually identical cultural, philosophical and historical heritage, will disappear. In other words, the old grand tour vision of Europe—the Prado, Louvre, Uffizi and Parthenon version of the EU—will go. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's remarks on why Turkey should not be part of the EU reflected that old grand tour understanding of Europe, which will now finally disappear.

Enlargement will also mean a far more diverse understanding of the term Xliberal democracy". That will help the EU to establish a much greater and more sensible understanding of subsidiarity. The EU will involve not only republics and constitutional monarchies, which function in many different ways, but countries such as this, which have asymmetric devolution, and such as Belgium, which is barely a country at all in respect of its degree of devolution. The EU will also involve republics formed out of revolution and republics formed after the end of communism. It seems clear to me that we must have a greater understanding of a Europe of the regions in which the regional and individual identities of each different country will be far more significant.

On an issue that is perhaps significant to British understanding of the EU, some major institutions in each member state will start to change how they operate. For example, the understanding of British people about what constitutes a public service broadcaster is far different from that of people in Poland or Hungary. Over the years, the model that we have espoused—a free press and an independent public service broadcaster—will increasingly become that for the rest of the EU.

Significant institutional change will be necessary. Although I do not want to go over last week's debate, it is essential that we achieve much greater clarity about the respective roles of the Commission, the Council, the Parliament, the member states and the EU as a whole. It seems to me that ordinary members of society, ordinary members of the public, need to understand where authority lies in any given area. Unless we can provide a set of treaties, a constitution, making that much clearer, we will do ourselves a great disservice.

Although Anders Rasmussen is doing a wonderful job and will, we hope, do an even more wonderful job over the next few days, I feel that the current stop-start presidency often gives the many industries that rely on decisions made at EU level a sense of instability and uncertainty. They do not know how fast an individual directive or area of policy is proceeding until they discover the current presidency's criteria and priorities

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for the next few months. That is why I passionately believe in a much more long-term presidential system, which would also give us a better understanding of the significance of elected Governments in the Council of Ministers—hopefully more transparent than in the past—as opposed to the Commission.

Incidentally, it would be nice if the process of enlargement ended transmigration between Brussels and Strasbourg, which must be one of the craziest things that diplomacy has ever led to.

I also think that some of the Commission's institutions need to be strengthened. This is not always a popular view, but I feel that the competition directorate in particular must, in years to come, play a vital role in ensuring that the concept of state aid is not abused, especially in new member states, where the history of intervention in industry is very different from that in established EU countries.

The Trade Commissioner will, I think, play a far more significant role in the next 10, 15 or 20 years. There will undoubtedly be times when the EU wants to stand four-square with the United States, and unless we have a Trade Commissioner who can do that robustly we will again do ourselves a disservice.

There will clearly be many challenges relating to crime and defence, and we will need to strengthen our competences in those contexts. In one respect, however, I think that further accessions may lead to a significant turn towards Britain. I expect English to become, increasingly, the language of the European Union. That is already happening in many European debates. It is no longer a case of English, French and German; nearly everyone speaks English. There will, of course, be a consequence for the English language, whose future now lies more in the hands of non-native than those of native English speakers.

The problem of MEPs' pay and conditions will have to be resolved before the entry of the new member states.

Many Members have referred to Turkey's accession. I agree wholeheartedly about Turkey's strategic significance, but I reject the argument advanced by some that as only a small part of its land mass is in the historical continent of Europe, and much is beyond the Bosphorus, we should not entertain the idea of its membership. Like others, I also reject the rather anti-Islamic argument that some have advanced. It always strikes me as ironic that a profoundly anti-Islamic view should exist in many southern Mediterranean European countries in particular, while at the same time a passionately partisan view is adopted on the issue of Palestine and Israel. That has always struck me as a contradiction. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said that Turkey was Islamic while Europe was fundamentally Christian. Let me remind him that the Moors defined much of Spanish culture, and that without that history Spain would not be the country it is today.

One other issue will impinge rapidly on the United Kingdom by virtue of enlargement of the European Union: UK membership of the euro. It is getting ever clearer that all the states that are seeking to become members in the next 18 months will be fast upon the escalator to joining the euro. I have a profound worry that this country will be trying to chase the coat tails of the Polish Prime Minister when it comes to our own membership.

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There are dramatic dangers in Britain staying out of the euro, not least a fall in inward investment, which we are already beginning to see. Investment in France and Germany as a percentage of their gross domestic product has risen since the euro began, whereas in the UK it has dipped in the past two years. We already know of the logistical and cost problems for any UK business that trades in the rest of Europe. At the moment, 57 per cent. of our trade is with European countries in the eurozone. For all those businesses, there are additional costs to our remaining isolated from the euro. The chairman of the British Tourist Authority has argued that tourism in Britain is already losing out by many millions of pounds a year because American long-haul visitors are deciding to visit the rest of the Europe and not the UK because of the euro. Many European travellers are deciding not to come to Britain.

I also worry that we will be sitting on the political sidelines in Europe with other people deciding our economic destiny if we do not join. There are the dangers of the shocks of exchange rate volatility, which dramatically affect in particular manufacturing industry but nearly every aspect of the British economy.

Many arguments are advanced against the UK joining the euro, not least that there will be a significant restraint on UK spending, despite the fact that the French and Irish economies manage themselves differently: 33 per cent. of GDP is spent as opposed to 50 per cent. of GDP by this Government. We would have similar flexibility.

One could advance many arguments. Some people argue that the UK will survive well on its own, that that is what is happening at the moment, that we are doing better than the rest of Europe, so why on earth should we bother? I say to those people: we will be able to survive as an economy on our own—as a niche. If we stay isolated from the euro we will become a niche market, with all the dangers that that entails: we will be prone to the ups and downs of the world economy, and threatened by exchange rate volatility. Of course, we could survive as a country—with higher prices than in the rest of Europe, with fewer jobs than in the rest of Europe and with less economic clout.

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