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11 Dec 2002 : Column 351—continued

9.3 pm

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): The forthcoming summit in Copenhagen will deal with enlargement, which will bring together the nations of Europe on the basis of free trade, international agreement and co-operation founded on current democratic institutions. It will mean a Europe capable of looking after our interests in a global context. It will mean a bigger trading area to create even more prosperity and more jobs. That is why the Government support enlargement: it is good not just for the applicant countries but for the British people.

Europe in the previous century was for the most part divided: there were two world wars, millions of people were killed, and nations across the continent lived in fear of each other. What has been achieved in the past 50 years is astonishing, and history is accelerating. The achievements of the last 50 years outweigh those of the previous 2,000 years. National barriers to goods, people

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and services have been swept away by the European Union. The development of international road, air, rail, energy and information networks has turned the globe into a village and Europe into a neighbourhood—a community two clicks of a mouse away. These networks are the arteries of the European economy, and the health of that economy is totally dependent on the ability of goods, services and capital—and people—to flow freely around Europe.

An enlarged Europe will bring even more prosperity to its citizens. This is about a strong Britain in a greater Europe. At Copenhagen, EU Heads of State and Government are expected to take all the necessary decisions to conclude accession negotiations with the 10 candidate states identified as ready for EU membership: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia are all destined to become EU members.

The European Council is also expected to decide on a detailed road map for the future accession negotiations and preparations with Bulgaria and Romania, and on the next stage of Turkey's candidacy. I have been fortunate enough to visit Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia this year to look at their preparations for entry into the European Union. I have also visited Romania, which, with Bulgaria, will have all the 31 chapters required for accession closed by 2004, ready for it to enter in 2007.

The popularity of the European Union in those countries is enviable. They all recognise the potential for peace, prosperity and security that membership will bring. It is lamentable that the Conservative party always chooses to attack and denigrate what many other nations hold in high esteem.

Turkey's new Government and eventual accession hold the key to two major problems—

Mr. Bacon: Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of what he says we attack that other nations hold in high esteem?

Mr. Hendrick: The very institutions that bring prosperity and peace to Europe, such as the European Commission. From many Conservative Members, we have heard nothing today but regular attacks on the European Commission and the other institutions.

Mr. Bacon: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, earlier last week, the Court of Auditors of the European Union qualified the Commission's accounts for the eighth year in a row, and that his constituents and mine, as taxpayers, work hard to earn money that they then lose through fraud?

Mr. Hendrick: All institutions lose money. The hon. Gentleman's local authority and mine will have outstanding debts and money that has—

Mr. Bacon: Qualified accounts.

Mr. Hendrick: I am not going to get into a discussion with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bacon: Obviously not.

Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Gentleman has made his points, and they do not stack up.

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I was talking about Turkey. The willingness of Europeans to accept a predominantly Muslim but secular democracy into the European Union will, as many of my hon. Friends have said, send a signal to all the Muslims in the world that the west is not anti-Muslim, and that the European Union is about peace and democracy, not race and religion.

As I said earlier, I also believe that Turkey's accession would solve the problem of a divided Cyprus—if Kofi Annan's plan has not solved it beforehand. The economic and political security that Turkey's and Cyprus's membership of the EU could add to the military security already provided by NATO would help to remove the scars of a divided island.

Too often we hear from people who should know better that Britain and the rest of Europe are anti-Muslim. Turkey is a key opportunity for Europe, and should be seen as a problem only in so far as it still has to meet the Copenhagen criteria.

With anything up to 25 nations as members, the reform of EU institutions such as the Commission, the Parliament and the Council of Ministers is also on the agenda. The Danish presidency has responded positively to that agenda by producing a report detailing many of the discussions so far and describing three models of presidency reform.

The first option maintains the main features of the current rotating presidency, while extending the co-operation between successive presidencies. I would call that the least change option. It would improve presidency preparations and handovers, but not alter significantly the workings of the presidencies themselves. In an EU of 25 nations, the current model, even in an enhanced form, would be unworkable.

The second option combines an institutional presidency for the Council's co-ordinating chain—the General Affairs and External Relations Council and the Committee of Permanent Representatives—that could be chaired by the secretary-general/high representative or his representatives, with a system of rotating presidencies or elected bodies for most other Council configurations. That model seems arbitrary, and I am not sure what advantages it would bring.

The third option offers the prospect of a team presidency. The team could be composed of three to five members, selected according to criteria such as geography and size, for a given period—one and a half years or two and a half years, for example—renewed at fixed intervals or through a rolling system. That seems the most exciting proposal. It offers a much wider involvement in the presidency, along with maximum co-operation between member states.

I understand that the Danish presidency has proposed strengthening the role of the high representative to respond to the problem posed by the presidency's role in external relations. Proposals include chairing certain Council meetings; representing the EU in international organisations or in meetings with third countries; negotiating international agreements in respect of common foreign and security policy, and in European security and defence policy; submitting proposals; informing the European Parliament; and supervising EU special envoys.

As the European Union enlarges still further, there will be an increased need for a coherent voice to express the EU's general views on both soft and hard diplomacy

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issues. The ideas put forward by several member states on an elected president of the European Council are also important. This variant could be combined with the second or third of the models that I have mentioned. A European Council president would be elected for a longer period—up to five years—prepare and preside over the European Council, and represent the EU in relations with third countries at heads-of-state level.

In the absence of a European Government, that proposal would go a long way towards giving the EU the identity that it currently lacks. For all the importance of the President of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, citizens view them with scepticism, and as not being their own. An elected president would give them a figurehead—someone with whom they could identify. I look forward to a successful summit in Copenhagen, and I wish our Government representatives all the best in their deliberations.

9.12 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I must apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being unable to be present for the opening speeches; however, I wanted to get in on this matter if possible.

I want to raise an issue that I do not suppose has been raised by anybody else in this debate or elsewhere: the relationship between the European Union, ourselves, the United States and the International Criminal Court. That issue should be debated in this place, and the Government should make a statement on it. Less than two years ago, this House passed legislation on the ICC. For many of us, it was a matter of great pride that we ended something that started at Nuremberg. There were obstacles in the way for many years, but ICC legislation is now on our statute book, and 85 countries throughout the world have ratified the ICC.

However, the ICC is now in danger because of the actions of the United States. The US is not merely saying that it does not agree with the ICC; it is trying to eliminate it. It is doing so, first, by threatening to withdraw peacekeeping forces around the world unless agreement is reached that American forces and personnel will not be subject to the ICC. Secondly, it has passed the American Service Members' Protection Act 2001, which prohibits US involvement in peacekeeping unless US personnel are excluded from the powers of the ICC. Ultimately, it gives the US the power to liberate any American personnel who are kept in The Hague.

Thirdly, the US actively pursued countries to sign bilateral impunity agreements. That is of great significance, as the EU was at the forefront of establishing the ICC. Unless the EU and those countries seeking full EU membership act in a united and co-ordinated fashion, there will be a severe danger that the ICC will be undermined.

When the US approached the EU with the idea of establishing bilateral agreements to exclude US personnel from the activities of the ICC, I hoped that the UK would take the lead and say that that was not on. I hoped that we would say that the ICC could have no credibility if the most powerful nation in the world were excluded from its provisions. Instead, however, the UK sought to establish that there could be bilateral agreements with the US if they followed certain principles.

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I do not have time to go into those principles, as I want other hon. Members to be able to contribute to the debate. Also, I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will not have time, when he replies, to give me the answers to the several questions that I want to raise. However, I hope that he will assure me that he will respond in writing later.

First, will my hon. Friend the Minister describe the current state of negotiations between Britain and the US over an impunity agreement? We know that the Americans have been seeking bilateral agreements with each of the countries in the EU. What stage have those negotiations reached? I think that the House should be told.

Secondly, the EU laid down various principles for the conclusion of bilateral agreements. Have the Americans accepted the European conditions as to when an impunity agreement can be signed, or do they consider the conditions to be inadequate? I believe that about 14 bilateral agreements have been signed so far. The countries that sign such agreements tend to be placed under great pressure by the US. For example, the US has negotiated very aggressively with East Timor and said that it will withdraw resources unless that country agrees to a bilateral agreement. Have any of the agreements signed so far been ratified by the Parliaments of the countries concerned?

Does it remain a condition of EU entry that countries should sign up to the ICC in its entirety, or has that requirement been dropped? What legal advice have the Government received on whether it was legal for the UN Security Council to defer for one year the application of the ICC to the US? Also, what legal advice have the Government received regarding bilateral agreements that conflict with the intentions behind the International Criminal Court Act 2001 that we passed less than two years ago? What has priority—the intentions and contents of the 2001 Act or a bilateral agreement?

This is an important issue. I realise that the Minister cannot answer it fully in 15 minutes. However, the negotiations on legislation that mattered so much to the Labour party in establishing an international criminal court are very important. Does he agree that we should be kept in touch with what is happening if actions are taken that will inevitably weaken something that we created less than two years ago?

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