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Why have the Government done nothing to tackle the scandal of the EU accounts, and why, when I asked in November, had the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary not even bothered to discuss the problem that needed to be tackled?
Mr. Davies: I am most grateful. My hon. Friend will doubtless be aware that the auditors have invariably signed off the accounts of the Commission and the Union's institutions; the problem has been that many of the disbursements are carried out through the mechanisms of the member states. I do not imagine that my hon. Friend is proposing the very federalist and centralising idea that the Commission take over responsibility for disbursing all these sums, even if that might lead to greater transparency and a better audit record.
My hon. Friend is right in at least one respect, in that I do not propose that idea. But I should point out that one of the most scandalous examples of fraud in the EU involved EUROSTAT, and money that was directly controlled by the Commission. Indeed, it was one of the most startling instances of financial mismanagement and malpractice. Amazingly, the Chancellor has not taken the trouble to talk to Marta Andreasen, the whistleblower who exposed EU fraud and who was fired for her trouble.
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The real challenge is notas my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said so powerfullycreating a constitution that cedes more powers to Europe and takes decisions further and further away from the people, but tackling the massive burden of cost and regulation that is holding back our businesses and making them compete against China and India with one hand tied behind their backs. That is why such a large majority in British business oppose the constitution. An Institute of Directors poll found that 86 per cent. of its members believe that the constitution would mean more red tape, while 3 per cent. of them believe that it would reduce red tape.
"The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU, undermining its ambitions to play a heavyweight international role."
It adds that the EU's economic growth rate is dragged down by Germany and its restrictive labour laws. Structural reforms in Germany, and to a lesser extent in France and Italy, remain key to whether the EU as a whole can break out of its "slow growth pattern".
The only action proposed by the EU is yet another relaunch of the Lisbon agenda. The response is set out in the joint statement by the Irish, Dutch, Luxembourg, UK, Austrian and Finnish presidencies called, "Advancing regulatory reform in Europe":
"The four Presidency statement drew attention to the economic cost of poor and excessive regulation, and the benefits that respected and independent research shows could flow to European growth and productivity from improvements to the regulatory framework . . . . The Spring Council focused in particular on refining the integrated impact assessment process, by enhancing a competitiveness dimension, and on developing a methodology to measure administrative burdens for business. It also invited the Commission to take account of the Council's views in relation to priority areas for simplification and invited member states to commit to accelerated implementation of national regulatory reform initiatives . . . This statement, presented at the end of the Dutch Presidency of the EU"
Only by rejecting the constitution can we lead Europe to a better, freer and more prosperous future. Astonishingly, however, this clapped-out Government have no plan for the way forward if one or more of the member states votes no. Ministers even admit that they have no plan B. Having started off opposing the constitution, they have no idea what to do when there is no constitution.
We know what to do. A Conservative Government would lead the way towards a more flexible, less regulated Europe that recognises the differences between 25 different cultures and economies. Some 20 years on, there is a widespread acceptance in the EU that for Europe to compete, it needs the kind of economic reform and deregulation that Conservative
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Governments brought to this country in the 1980s and 1990s. The tragic lesson of the Lisbon process is that Europe does not know how to do that. Given the choice between real deregulation and increasing the jurisdiction of EU institutions and adding new layers of bureaucracy, the wrong decision has been taken yet again.
Conservative Members will be proved right on today's big constitutional question, just as we won the economic arguments of the past 20 years, and the rejection of the constitution presents a huge opportunity for Britain, and for Europe as a whole. In a recent debate, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)it is sad that she is not here today, because she contributes wellsaid that the proponents of the constitution often seem like old men talking about their dreams. Those dreams may have had a place in post-war Europe, but they have no relevance to the Europe of today.
The real challenge in modern Europe is not internal aggression, but external competition, a challenge that the EU is disastrously failing to meet. Instead, we have the so-called Lisbon agenda, which halfway through its 10-year programme was described by the President of the Commission as a "catalogue of worthy aims". Europe is subject to continuing economic stagnation, over-regulation and rising costs. In the words of Derek Scott, a popular figure in this debate and the Prime Minister's former chief economic adviser, the constitution would
However out of touch the metropolitan clique around the Prime Minister may be, I know that many Labour Members are not so out of touch with the people whom they represent. Those Members know that their constituents do not want this latest shift of powers from our democracy. They know, too, that this constitution would be bad for Britain. If they vote for the amendment, they, like us, will be able to stand on the doorstep at the forthcoming election, look their constituents in the eye and say that they have represented the interests of their constituents and of our country.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We have had a good debate; 26 colleagues, right hon. and hon. Members, have spoken. It is the most enjoyable European debate that I have listened to during the decade or more that I have been a Member of the House. Colleagues have responded to one another and taken forward proper dialogue and discussion. For the most part, there have been no set-piece, speak-your-weight, pre-written speeches.
The debate is part of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's clear commitment to bring these issues to Parliament. Since the intergovernmental conference of October 2003, we have had no fewer than 16 debates, 14 of them on the Floor of the House, which have dealt wholly or in large part with the EU constitutional treaty.
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There have been a further 13 debates in the House of Lords. Commons European Scrutiny Committees and House of Lords European Committees have undertaken detailed inquiries into aspects of the treaty. Ministers, including myself, have given evidence. There have been Westminster Hall debates and, of course, the unprecedented creation of a Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conferencethe only time in parliamentary history when Members have been allowed to question Ministers about the negotiation of a treaty while it was under way.
We want to maintain that, which is why I welcome the part of the new treaty that strengthens the role of national Parliaments. It is true that we shall have to adapt our ways of thinking. We shall need to talk and communicate with colleagues in other national Parliaments, but Labour and other Members will want to use the occasion of the treaty to strengthen parliamentary accountability for what is done in our name in Europe.
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