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11 Dec 2002 : Column 359—continued

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Today we are certainly at a critical and historic juncture in the EU's development. We are on the brink of enlargement and, will effectively make history in Copenhagen, as the EU is extended to many of our eastern European friends, as well as, of course, Cyprus and Malta. There have been many excellent speeches today—of course all with the theme of welcoming the enlargement process—and I should like to mention one or two of the hon. Members who have spoken.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) talked about Cyprus, as indeed the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) has done. There is cross-party support and understanding on that issue. We earnestly hope that a settlement will be reached, but, of course, if that does not happen, it cannot in any way be allowed to impede the process of the Republic of Cyprus into full membership of the EU. I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) who talked about the historic fulfilment of a process and said how remarkable it was that we had overcome obstacles that hindered us for many decades and reached this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said that there was still work to do and talked about the need for judicial reform in the accession countries, and for transparency and efficiency in the European Commission. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) talked about rapprochement between Greece and Turkey, which is very important. Many hon. Members have welcomed Turkey's progress towards accession to the EU and the resulting positive developments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) talked about Turkey and withdrawal. We want an EU that works for its members so that the question of dismemberment and withdrawal does not arise—we are dedicated to that aim. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) talked about Tuscan nights and all sorts of things. I am not quite sure what his two principles are but he certainly spoke powerfully. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) also talked about Turkey and, importantly, fishing. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has written today to the Prime Minister asking him to raise the specific issue of the common fisheries policy in Copenhagen. I believe that all hon. Members accept that that problem needs to be resolved.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) was right that enlargement is an extraordinary event. His many achievements include writing XGlenda Jackson—The Biography", but I do not know how many copies have been sold. However, he talked about the relationship between the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Last week, the debate on the Convention on the Future of Europe demonstrated the Government's flabby attitude. We need a practical, step-by-step process to enable the EU to face up to the challenges of the 21st century, and in last week's debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) set out in detail the building blocks that are vital to reconnect the EU to its members and tackle the democratic deficit. It was saddening but

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not entirely surprising that the Minister for Europe failed to respond to any of my right hon. Friend's practical and imaginative suggestions, and concluded:

He missed the point entirely. Throughout the European Union, there are people who either wish to withdraw from the EU or oppose its enlargement. That view is more widely held in some countries than here. Conservative Members are trying to address the issue head-on by making constructive policy suggestions. That is the real difference between the Opposition and the Government both now and in last week's debate.

In the past five and a half years, members of the Government have made many accurate criticisms and observations about the EU's structures and direction—they have spoken of the Xelites" of Europe and a sense of disconnection. However, despite their analyses of the problems facing the EU, they have failed to secure the return of even one increasingly centralised power to national Parliaments. It was instructive that not one Government Member has mentioned the role of national Parliaments—they speak the language of subsidiarity but have consistently failed to deliver.

Mr. Woodward: I remind the hon. Gentleman that I talked extensively about the role of national Parliaments, but he was not in his place.

Mr. Spring: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, and will read what he said in Hansard with great interest.

Two years ago, before Nice, the then Secretary of State talked about the extension of qualified majority voting by the French presidency. He ruled it out in advance and said that the vast majority of proposals were unacceptable. In practice, as we have seen time and time again with this Government, they meekly accepted a clear majority of the proposals that had nothing to do with enlargement.

Similarly, we witnessed the creation of the European rapid reaction force. We are, of course, committed to enhanced pan-European defence co-operation, but that must be achieved under the umbrella of NATO. Again, before St. Malo, the Prime Minister made it clear that he did not want an EU defence capability outside NATO, but at Nice that is precisely what was signed up to. Once more, the Government gave way.

It is hugely important that we continue to engage with our US ally. We are already seeing defence spending levels that are wholly inadequate right across the EU. I note that in Germany the defence budget is to be cut still further. In addition, the Government should clearly have refused to allow the charter of fundamental rights to go forward. We were told that it was simply proclaimed on the sidelines of Nice and that it would have no legal significance greater than the content of the Beano. As always, the Government were wrong. The Commission stated at the time:

that is, the charter—

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The Government speak about constructive engagement, but do not stand up for their beliefs and give in, time and again.

The same thing is now happening on the proposed constitution. We were told one thing, and in practice something entirely different has emerged. It will simply lead to a great expansion of judge-led law in this country. During the debate last week, we heard much justification from the former Minister for Europe, now Secretary of State for Wales, for horizontal articles that would somehow

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) pointed out clearly in the working group that that was simply not the case, and that the great arguments that had been advanced by the Government and won by the Government, according to the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), were not true at all.

The Government have been in office for five and a half years, and we are entitled to make judgments on their conduct of foreign policy in relation to the EU and elsewhere. When the Government came to office, we witnessed the extraordinary event of the then Foreign Secretary announcing a foreign policy based on ethical considerations, with the bizarre and offensive implication that distinguished former Foreign Secretaries such as my noble Friend Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind pursued an unethical one in their defence of UK national interests. Over a period of five years, as with any Government, there will be high and low points. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has freely acknowledged recently the constructive role played by the Foreign Secretary in securing the Security Council resolution in respect of Iraq.

However, nowhere has an ethical dimension of foreign policy been more blown to smithereens than by the way the Foreign Secretary and the former Minister for Europe have conducted themselves with regard to Gibraltar. Never can a Foreign Secretary have acquired the dubious distinction of infuriating not only the people of Gibraltar, but British public opinion, and sending the Spanish Government up the garden path. It was a fantastic diplomatic failure. It is not only those on the Opposition Benches who take that view. The Foreign Affairs Committee report spelled that view out clearly.

The Prime Minister has spoken of a unified foreign policy, whatever that means. Of course, we do not favour a common foreign policy that would deprive Britain of an independent capability to pursue our national interests. The UK is at the centre of many concentric circles—the EU, the UN Security Council, NATO, the G8 and the Commonwealth, which, coupled with our history, places us in a unique position for a medium-sized power and gives us unparalleled global reach. Our country, able to pursue these links and operate freely in international affairs within these circles, offers considerable benefits to the EU. Those are a bonus, not something to be given up.

Of course, increased co-operation in foreign affairs is desirable, but when the EU needs to come to a common position—for example, on the issue of Zimbabwe—

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difficulties can arise, as in the meeting between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries on the question of visas. I hope that the Minister will refer to that, as it is a matter of genuine concern. I hope that the Minister will explain when he replies how we are to send a clear message when we have such problems with international organisations linked into the EU.

Europe faces a massive challenge post-enlargement. The EU has been hugely successful in keeping the peace on the continent, developing the single market and bringing the people of Europe together, but it has been less good at forging an economic environment that will enable it to compete in the 21st century.

The culture of centralisation and harmonisation runs powerfully in the EU and must be fought against because it undermines its success. That is the challenge. The EU was originally forged in the cold war era when the bloc mentality prevailed. It is perfectly understandable that the attitudes of a generation of European leaders were influenced by that, but the time has now come to move on.

We, in contrast to what has substantially become a mentality that is frozen in time, have set out a clear vision, as my right hon. Friend did last week, and a set of steps, which will reconnect the people of Europe with the EU and offer the necessary flexibility to the accession countries during the next few years. That will enable us to escape the bloc mentality that has informed much of the European debate in order to offer the much needed flexibility necessary for the EU to thrive and prosper.

History is to be made in the next two or three days. Let us embrace the challenge that it offers, but offer the people of Europe, both in the existing and the accession countries, structures with which they can feel comfortable. For that we need fresh and radical thinking. History, in turn, demands that of us.

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