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Convention on the Future of Europe

7. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What recent discussions he has had with his French, German and Spanish counterparts on the Convention on the Future of Europe. [104465]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We submitted a joint paper with Spain on 28 February to the Convention. The Government continue to work closely with their European partners, including France, Germany and Spain, on the Convention on the Future of Europe on a wide range of issues.

Mr. Bryant : My hon. Friend knows that, notwithstanding the debacle over the French use of the veto last week, many of us hope that there will be a significant rapprochement with France in the coming months, especially if we are to achieve outcomes in the Convention. However, will he put paid to one French idea that appears to be burbling around in the mind of the President of the Convention, namely that the preamble to the constitution should explicitly refer to Christian heritage in Europe? Surely that would be profoundly unhelpful at this time.

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend, with his background in holy orders, is right to ask the question.

Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has raised the possibility of a reference to religion in the preamble, but that does not reflect the French Government's view. My hon. Friend knows that their views on such matters are secular. Although we acknowledge the enormous contribution of Christian, Jewish, Moorish and Muslim heritage to our common Europe, the Government do not believe that it would be appropriate in a multi-religious, multicultural Europe to include a specific reference to one faith in the constitution of the Convention.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): The Minister will know that the latest tranche of draft articles includes provision for a European public prosecutor. As the Government are apparently opposed to that, but have been very weak and timid in making their objections clear so far in the Convention, will they on this occasion make clear beyond doubt to the Convention and to other member states that we will not accept a treaty containing provision for a European public prosecutor? If the Minister is clear now, that will avoid tears later. Will he begin to stand up for British interests, and make clear that the Government have bottom lines that we will not cross?

Mr. MacShane: That has been clear for a number of years—and I was not aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Hain) was a weak and timid person.

I cannot speak for myself in this matter, but the Government's view is plain, and is shared by a number of other Governments. We believe that the establishment of a European public prosecutor as such is not the right way forward. We must, however, find serious mechanisms for the combating of European

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fraud, and for combating trans-frontier crime. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will turn his mind to that, as one of our parliamentary representatives on the Convention.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is now a need for a European constitution, and also a need for a clear statement of the European Union's objectives in a form that people can understand?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right. I recommend an excellent article in The Economist entitled "The European Constitution" and penned by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Given that the impetus for the Convention was, to a great extent, the enlargement process, does the Minister agree that the accession states should have not just full rights of participation at the Convention and the intergovernmental conference, but full and equal voting rights at the IGC? Would that not reassure those countries greatly, especially after the hollowness of a common European foreign policy has been made so obvious by the disgraceful and patronising attack on them by President Chirac?

Mr. MacShane: As so often, the hon. Gentleman spoilt a good first point by including yesterday's insults in his closing remarks. It was clear from the treaty of Nice that the new European Union member states would play a full and a voting part in the IGC.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): Does my hon. Friend feel able to say that the extent of agreement in the European Council on the appropriate role of the United Nations in post-conflict Iraq and the middle east peace process, as well as the shared commitment to Macedonia, point encouragingly to the healing of the diplomatic wounds in Europe and the possibility of creating a European common foreign and security policy? Does he agree, however, that it would not be appropriate now or in the foreseeable future for such a policy to be subject to qualified majority voting or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as the new EU draft constitution appears to propose?

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Come back to us!

Mr. MacShane: My right hon. Friend—whose contribution from the Labour Benches we welcome—makes a good point. I cannot see how foreign policy issues can be linked with the European Court of Justice, and I think that foreign policy will remain principally intergovernmental. I think, however, that in the new European Union of 25 states those that wanted a robust line to be taken on Saddam Hussein would have enjoyed a comfortable majority.

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Anglo-French Relations

8. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will make a statement on Anglo-French bilateral diplomatic relations. [104466]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): Relations with France are close, but could be better. We continue to work with France on a range of important issues.

Michael Fabricant : Over the weekend Le Figaro reported further critical attacks on Britain by Mr. Chirac, but the Government are right to try to strengthen ties with not just the old but the new Europe. What, though, will be the cost of United Kingdom membership of the new expanded European Union of 25 states that the Minister mentioned a few moments ago? Has the Foreign Office conducted any analysis? Is he aware that the United States Government believe that, taking into account indirect costs, that cost could be as high as £30 billion a year—equivalent to about 80 new hospitals in Britain every year? Has the Foreign Office conducted such an analysis, and if not will it do so?

Mr. MacShane rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister should not answer that question. I call Mr. Shaun Woodward.

Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South): Despite the considerable differences and problems, alluded to by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), with the French concerning military intervention in Iraq, does my hon. Friend agree that in fact, there are substantial areas of agreement with the French in foreign and security policy? Nowhere is this more important than in seeking a peaceful resolution between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and in the implementation of the road map for peace.

Mr. MacShane: I am glad that my hon. Friend makes that point, because on a range of key foreign policy issues such as the Balkans and the middle east, and on others concerning the idea of Europe as a partnership of nation states, we are much closer to the position of the French than some of our other European partners. If I may answer the initial question, Mr. Speaker, the Foreign Office has of course analysed the cost of enlargement of the European Union. We believe that it will add about Euro1.75 billion—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I told the Minister not to answer that question. I call the Reverend Martin Smyth.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): When the Minister said that we are really close to France, I thought for a moment that he was speaking of the tunnel. On our links with the European Union and the question of the European governor of the European Central Bank, when will France come up with a viable candidate, rather than prolonging the agony that they

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have entered into in the past? Is the Minister satisfied that we constantly defend our rights with the same determination that the French defend theirs?

Mr. MacShane: The question of the next governor of the European Central Bank will have to be resolved soon. Jean-Claude Trichet, the French candidate, certainly has the support of the City. He is a most austere and rigorous monetarist, and he is not lax on fiscal matters. He is stern on monetary matters—in fact, he is the very model of an Anglo-Saxon banker, even if he is French.

British-German Relations

9. Ian Lucas (Wrexham): What plans he has to meet representatives of the German Government to discuss British-German diplomatic relations. [104467]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer last Friday at the European Council. I had good talks with him, and a brief conversation with the German Chancellor. This follows my extensive meetings with Government and Bundestag representatives in Berlin last Monday.

Ian Lucas : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important that at this stage we work very closely with our German friends in putting together a new UN resolution on Iraq? I hope that we will move away from the rhetoric that has characterised much of the discussion of our European partners in the past week. We must rebuild the UN consensus, and could not our relationship with Germany be at the heart of putting forward a new UN resolution on the reconstruction of Iraq?

Mr. MacShane: That is very much the wish in Berlin, and I hope that some of the rhetoric directed against this Government from certain of our partners and friends in Europe also dries up, because this has not been a one-way street. However, my hon. Friend is right: we must work very closely with Germany, and we welcome co-operation on ideas about a post-Saddam Iraq. We can put behind us, or leave to historians, analysis of diplomatic wranglings at the UN, and start to build a happier future for that troubled part of the world, in collaboration with Germany and other partners.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Can the Minister make it clear to his counterpart in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany that the continued presence of British troops in the federal republic will be called into question in this country unless the German Government, through diplomacy and their conduct of foreign affairs, do not give encouragement, at least, to the Queen's enemies in Iraq?

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Mr. MacShane: That is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. German military facilities are at the full disposition of the coalition and Germany military units are in the Gulf to help, in case of attack with chemical and biological weapons.

I do not greatly object to the anti-militarist feeling that animates people of all political persuasions in Germany. I would have liked to see a different diplomatic course from the German Government in the last few months, but what they did was a response to promises made at elections by all parties, and I will have

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no truck with any anti-German feeling or with remarks about our troops being anything other than fully welcome in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): In the important discussions on diplomatic relations between my hon. Friend and our German counterparts, will the emphasis be on our Atlanticism or our Europeanism?

Mr. MacShane: Both.

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