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There was no counter-push, and I do not remember a single statement from a pro-European saying that we should not have a referendum. It may be helpful if the Minister can indicate whether that conversation happened, or whether, like his telephone conversation with the King of Spain, it was merely a figment of his own fevered imagination.
There is a clear conflict between the Government's position and that of the Commission. The Commission's ambition for a vigorous cohesion policy implies an increase in resources. What we need to know is where the Government really stand on this wider policy, which is one of the Commission's principal objectives for the forthcoming Council meeting.
In looking at the real priorities for the EU and its future development, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the Lisbon agenda. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) spoke very eloquently about the big forces that are at work in shaping the future of Europe and the worlddemographic and economic trends that, as he said, are not being addressed by the EU and are not on the Council agenda for this week. He described a state of paralysis, but graciously accepted a correction from the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), who made it clear that it was worse than paralysis and that there is a movement in the wrong direction, rather than no movement at all.
We have also heard a great deal about EU enlargement, which will occupy much of the agenda for the Council meeting. I hope that the Minister can answer some questions about Turkey's possible accession to the EU. Does he agree that the accession negotiations may be a long process, perhaps taking more than 10 years? Can he throw some light on the report in yesterday's edition of The Guardian that the Prime Minister has proposed some Turkish delights to soften opposition to Turkey's accession in some European countries? Would the Government find it acceptable if the beginning of accession talks was delayed until the second half of next year? Is it true that the Government are already trying to renegotiate the constitution to limit Turkey's potential voting weight? Are the Government ready to agree to a clause ensuring that accession negotiations with Turkey need not necessarily end in its membership? Would not the latter be a cruel blow to Turkish hopes after the Government have built up its expectation of joining?
Will the Minister also tell us how he views Romania's accession? We very much hope that Romania can join in 2007, but can he tell us whether he is satisfied that it has done enough to tackle corruption and problems with the integrity of the political and judicial processes?
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Incidentally, yesterday in Foreign Office questions, the Minister gave me an undertaking that he would consider my request to cover the expenses of British election monitors in Ukraine. Will he tell the House whether he has yet reached a conclusion and whether the Government will rapidly implement such expenses payments?
The Lisbon agenda is of central importance to Europe's future economic competitiveness. Some hon. Members have suggested that everything in the garden is rosy. For example, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) suggested that we are ahead of schedule on the Lisbon agenda and that things could not be going better. However, former Commissioner Bolkestein said that the Lisbon agenda may not happen given current progressas he put it, "Not now, not ever." That is a counsel of despair from somebody who is close to the process.
"For the time being, it may look too much as a catalogue of worthy aims. The Commission wants to reshape it and transform it into a road map for prosperity, identifying clear objectives and a demanding calendar."
Turning to the priorities for the European Council meeting, we have heard a good deal today about fraud, corruption and hopeless accounting procedures in European Union institutions. The European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the accounts for the 10th year running. The former chief accounting officer of the EU, Marta Andreasen, has been referred to in the debate, and she has described the problem lucidly. I shall quote from her article in The Times on 6 December, which said:
"In 2002 I was appointed chief accountant to the European Commission to helpas I then believedto reform the inadequate systems and stamp out fraud. I drew attention to those inadequacies; I refused to sign accounts that I believed unreliable; for two years I was suspended from my job, obliged to live in Brussels yet forbidden to enter any EU building; and in October I was dismissed, the charge against me being disloyalty, a decision against which I am appealing.
But I do not believe that I was disloyal to draw attention to the failures that leave the EU's budget completely vulnerable to fraud and error and to propose urgent changes. The National Audit Office found that in 2002 alone there were 10,000 examples of possible fraud in the EU's accounts. For nine consecutive years the EU court of auditors has refused to sign off the budget. The numbers are huge. The annual EC budget is around €100 billion (£65 billion). The auditors cannot clear 95 per cent. of that. We simply cannot tell what is happening to that money; the system does not allow us to say even if the money is well or fraudulently spent."
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The OLAF annual report for 200304 states that €1.5 billion of the €100 billion budget is in accounts under investigation. How does the hon. Gentleman account for the disparity between those figures and his figures?
Mr. Brady: The systems of accounting in the EU do not allow anybody to see how the system is working or know how the money is spent. When I met Marta Andreasen, she made it clear that that is deliberate, because it suits too many people for the picture on EU expenditure to be opaque.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was prompted to call for the Commission to put its house in order. In turn, he was denounced by Peter Mandelson for "crude Euro-bashing", and the Minister for Europe attacked Departments whose default setting is to issue press releases attacking Brussels. However, when I asked the Minister for Europe to list those Departments, his brief response to my written question simply said, "No." Was the Chancellor serious in his determination to clear up the EU accounts or was it just populist posturing to make it appear that he would be less negligent in dealing with EU fraud than the Prime Minister, if only he were in charge?
The Chancellor has not spoken to the Foreign Secretary, but perhaps he has taken some advice from Marta Andreasen, the EU's former chief accountant and the whistleblower who knows so much about practices in the EU. When I ask what meetings Treasury Ministers or officials have had with Marta Andreasen in the past year, I get the answer, "None." It seems that the Chancellor's real interest in EU fraud is in persuading people that he is doing something about it while he actually does nothing.
We have real priorities that should be addressed at the Council meeting. The Chancellor has talked about the importance of fraud but has done nothing. We have heard the Prime Minister himself, a great champion of the EU constitution, apparently acceptingwe want to hear an answer from the Minister on thisthat the constitution, which he has already signed but will not bring before the House, is already outdated because it cannot deal with the possibility of Turkish membership. Will the Minister tell us whether that is one of the so-called Turkish delights that the Prime Minister offered to the Germans a couple of days ago?
The truth is that the Government have not made a proper assessment of the implications of the EU constitution that they are trying to foist on the British people. Even in one of the most obvious areas of concernthe effect on our business competitivenessMinisters cannot give straight answers to the straight questions that I have tabled in the past few weeks.
The Council meeting may, like so many that have gone before, achieve modest progress on matters of real concern. Moves towards expansion and the opening of talks on Turkish accession are welcomed by the
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Opposition, but there will not be the leadership and vision that Europe needs if it is to address the real challenges that were set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. There will be no moves to achieve the more open, flexible, decentralised Europe that our people want and that Europe needs if it is to survive to enjoy a free, prosperous future.
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