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Angus Robertson: I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman says about enlargement, but does he agree that there is a certain irony in the fact that, among the accession countries, nation states such as Slovakia—a country of 5 million people, without a single centimetre of coastline—will have more direct say over the Scottish fishing industry than the devolved Government of Scotland?

Mr. Spring: I will be happy to refer to the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises in a few minutes if he will bear with me.

Political liberalisation has been matched by economic liberalisation and the values that accompany both. That bodes well not just for the countries themselves, but for existing EU member states, as fresh investment and economic opportunities open up in what was previously the eastern bloc. On their accession, those eastern European countries bring with them not only fresh ideas and expectations, but new challenges for the EU. Those countries do not bring with them the old-fashioned ideas of some existing EU members; they have only recently thrown off the influence of a centralising power, and they aspire to a close relationship with their transatlantic friends, as well as the EU, rather than being forced to make a false choice between the two. Their voices deserve to be heard. Britain should be the champion of the smaller countries of the EU, seeking to protect and promote their interests and creating an EU institutional structure to reflect that.

There are very real question marks revolving around the EU's whole direction and outlook that require much greater flexibility and a willingness to look outwards, rather than inwards, but they also involve the need to modernise the existing structure of common agricultural policy subsidy payments and structural funds. Fundamentally, the EU faces problems associated with its demography. Europe's birth rate is falling, and the population of the EU is ageing and declining. Over the next 50 years, it is predicted that Europe's median age will rise by 11.8 years. The European social model is completely unsuited to address that because of the lack of competitiveness and the human resources of countries such as India and China, which do not have expensive welfare support structures.

A further issue is how we formulate relations with countries on the borders of the enlarged EU. It is important that we come to an accommodation not only with countries in the Balkans, but with countries such as Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. Not only is that important from the viewpoint of securing the EU's external borders, but, although their possible accession to the EU is many years away, the prospect of membership in the future for such countries will act as a spur to economic and political reform. Furthermore, we very much look forward to the date—we hope, in 2007—when Bulgaria and Romania become EU members.

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In October, I had the opportunity of visiting Turkey—a country to which we are greatly indebted because of its steadfast commitment to NATO during the cold war. Turkey is anxious to join the EU, and I hope that a formal accession process will begin at the end of next year. Turkey is making remarkable progress in its political and judicial reform process, in the latter case assisted by us. Turkey faces a number of obstacles to EU accession. First, there is opposition in France and in Germany, which has a substantial Turkish minority. Prime Minister Erdogan has indicated that he will not press for the free movement of Turkish citizens, which is an issue with Germany in particular. Let me be blunt: it is a matter of the most profound political misjudgment to deny a country a relationship with the EU simply because it is Muslim. Given the current tensions in the middle east and other parts of the Islamic world, what sort of message would be sent out if the EU rejected a Muslim country, not because of any breach of the Copenhagen criteria but because it is Muslim, albeit committedly secular? It would be offensive and would reflect a total and fundamental misreading of one of the most important current geopolitical challenges that we face. Turkey should be judged by entirely dispassionate criteria, and I expect the Government to tell our European partners that loud and clear, as we certainly do.

Elections are imminent in north Cyprus. Obviously, we cannot prejudge the result. Whatever it is, however, a massive effort must be made to establish the basis for a settlement in Cyprus before 1 May. We have the juxtaposition of a prosperous, outward-looking and legally recognised republic of Cyprus entering the EU, while north Cyprus remains relatively impoverished and diplomatically unrecognised by others. The Annan plan must be the basis for a solution. Those who counsel Turkey to wait for a formal acceptance of EU accession before substantial movement to agreement about the island do Turkey no favours. Of course there is pain and mistrust on either side. There are real ties, however, of history, kinship and affection between Britain and Cyprus. We hope that it will not be long before Turkey formally becomes part of the European family of democratic nations.

In addition, Turkey has important relationships in the region, not least among which are its friendly ties with Israel, which are a shining example of how a Muslim country can co-exist productively with the state of Israel. Those long-standing and trusted links will undoubtedly, over time, prove most valuable in that volatile and difficult part of the world.

Turning to the European Council this weekend, it is true that core elements agreed at Nice dealt with accession. At Laeken, however, issues relevant to enlargement and to the EU's future direction were raised. We welcomed the recognition at Laeken that change was required within the EU and that the citizens of its member states wanted the European institutions to be less unwieldy and rigid. The Laeken declaration was clear: within the Union, the European institutions must be brought closer to Europe's citizens, and the Union needs to be more democratic, transparent and efficient. That is the agenda that we have been championing for a long time: an agenda for a flexible, modern EU, not one stuck in a time warp of irrelevant thinking.

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The Labour party, on its big conversation website, states:

the EU's"—

Typically, the Government analyse the problem correctly but fail to come up with the right prescription. The Convention on the Future of Europe was a response to the Laeken diagnosis of the challenges facing the EU—to remedy the democratic deficit, to reconnect the EU to the citizens of its member states, and to create an EU capable of meeting the economic and demographic changes of the 21st century. At this point, may I pay a genuine tribute to all those from both Houses—and to those among our MEPs—who sat on the Convention and who, faced with such a daunting task, carried our their work with dedication and a genuine desire to analyse and debate the issues? I am sorry that, despite the best efforts of many of them, what has been achieved by the Convention falls far short of what was needed.

Alas, what has emerged from the Convention, specifically the draft constitution, does virtually nothing to address and respond to the main points that were identified at the Laeken summit as being of such pivotal importance. This weekend, in the "News Review" section of The Sunday Times newspaper, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) wrote:

The hon. Lady, as we know, is better placed than virtually anybody in the House to understand what really went on at the Convention and what the constitution is really for. In the same article, she said:

Is that not proof, if any were needed, of what we have been saying about the constitution having nothing to do with enlargement but everything to do with the remorseless desire for closer political union?

The Government have failed to engage in the genuine debate about the EU—a debate for which this country is crying out—mendaciously saying that anybody who disagrees with them is in favour of withdrawal. Let us examine the proposed constitution.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I would not blame the Government for not engaging in a debate on Europe. We as politicians from all parties have failed over the past 30 years to engage in a debate with the public about Europe. This is our opportunity to engage in that debate.

Mr. Spring: I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's point. Over time, there has been a sense of denial about what is going on in the EU and about the objectives of many of our European partners. Time and time again in the House, over many years, there has been

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a projection of reality that does not always accord exactly with the reality itself. I am afraid that we have reached, in this constitution and this Convention, new heights of disconnection between what is perceived among our European partners to be happening and the view projected by those on the Government Front Bench.

In May, the Foreign Secretary said:

He implied that it meant very little. Joschka Fischer did not seem to agree. He said:

Lamberto Dini said:

So which is it? I know what I believe. The Government are pathetically in denial of what is obvious to everybody else.

What those quotes illustrate are the Government's blatant attempts to create a false debate on this subject. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will remember the Prime Minister saying after Nice:

Well, that forecast turned out to be utterly untrue. The constitution deals with subsidiarity only as an aside. The Foreign Secretary has admitted that the current provisions on subsidiarity are inadequate. The only solution is for national parliaments to be able to enforce this principle to protect their rights. The current proposals for national parliaments are totally inadequate. The Government have boasted of how national parliaments can now "vet" proposed EU laws, but what use is this "vetting" given that the Commission can ignore it, when it really should be made to abandon a proposal if enough national Parliaments demand it?

As it stands, the Convention creates constitutional primacy over our unwritten constitution, a single legal personality for the EU and a legally binding charter of fundamental rights. It aspires to a new definition of a common foreign and defence policy and explicitly states and constitutionally enshrines the primacy of EU law, expanding its roles in criminal law, asylum and immigration, economic affairs and energy. How is that not a "fundamental change"? How on earth can anyone describe it as "tidying up"?

Although the Foreign Secretary and others may choose to ignore the cumulative effect of these changes, a ratchet mechanism is clearly at work. Once a power is granted away, rarely, if ever, is it returned. The ratchet turns in one direction only.

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