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Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): From what started off as a European coal and steel alliance in 1951, born from the ashes of the second world war, the countries of Europe have evolved into a huge trading bloc with 450 million customers. From just six countriesBelgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the NetherlandsEurope now finds itself, as many other hon. Members have said, at a crossroads. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest ever enlargement, with 10 new countries joining. The markets of all the nation states have now been harmonised and integrated by the introduction of rules on consumption taxes, such as VAT, on excise duties, common standards and labelling. Much of that evolved from the Single European Act.
I must confess to being amazed when I heard the shadow Foreign Secretary earlier today. He seemed to suggest a substantial shift in the Conservative party's position on Europe in the direction of throwing into doubt his party's commitment to the Single European Act, which was supported by the Thatcher Government at the time. When the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) talks about replacing common standards and harmonisation with mutual recognition agreements, she is talking about unravelling generations of agreements between the member states of the EU and moving towards the idea of Europe as a free trade area.
Angela Browning: What does the hon. Gentleman think of the fact that the EU has more than 60 bilateral agreements, with countries as far away as Mexico, on favourable tariff terms, but without the harmonisation directive that is the cause of all the regulations that the House has to deal with?
I am happy to answer the hon. Lady. Those bilateral agreements are important and help to ensure that goods coming into the EU meet appropriate European standards. If they do not meet them, they cannot be traded within the single market. That is the simple answer to the hon. Lady's question.
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While economic integration has moved on at a pace, political and social integration has been much slower. That is clearly the result of differences of opinion about the EU's role. As we have heard in today's debate, there are genuine differences over which internal European policies are acceptable or unacceptable. We have seen over recent weeks, particularly in connection with the referendums, that there are divisions within, as well as between, countries about the future direction of the EU.
To those who have an apocalyptic vision of the significance of the referendums in France and Hollandbelieving that they bring the EU into reverseI say that I recall the referendums in Denmark and Ireland. The Government have called for further reflection and discussion, and the beginnings of the necessary debate will take place at the European Council of Ministers next week. I am sure that a resolution of the problems now faced by the French and Dutch Governments will be reached, so that Europe can continue to move forward.
Mr. Maples : Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the main conclusion to be drawn from the overwhelming French and Dutch no votes is that the people of those countries should be asked to think again?
Mr. Hendrick: What I am saying is that those no votes cannot mean the end of the EU's development. Agreements are needed between the 25 member states on how to proceed in future. We can now fall back on the Nice treaty in respect of the governance of the 25 member states, post-enlargement, but that cannot be the end of the story. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who served with me in the European Parliament and speaks for the Ulster Unionists, explained that when Europe was originally sold as a common market, it was very different from the EU that we have today. He is quite right. Europe has developed over many years, and such development needs to continue because the world is changing around us. If we want European development to continue, the no votes in France and Holland cannot be the end of the story.
Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Lady for that question. If people in other countries also vote no in referendums, the treaty that was agreed will have to be revised, but Europe will continue to go forward. It will not be the old Common Market that we joined, but it will be a Europe that retains social and political integration.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
My hon. Friend must be right to say that the fact that people in France and the Netherlands decided to vote against the constitution does not mean that we have reached the end of the European project. Does he agree that the nations of Europe will still be able to make progress on common
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issues, and that it would be quite wrong to stop that process? Where there is common agreement among the 25 member states on reform initiatives, it is our duty to ensure that they are taken forward.
Mr. Hendrick: I totally agree. In the future, member states that do not want to go forward on particular issues may choose to go it alone, and that is already happening in one or two cases. I am not in favour of a multi-speed Europe. I have argued, both in this House and in the European Parliament, that we should not go down that road, but it would be unrealistic to expect total agreement on every matter among all 25 EU member states. I believe that the debate on that matter will develop over the coming months and years.
John Bercow: We seem to be edging slowly towards clarity on this matter. The hon. Gentleman replied to my hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Putney (Justine Greening) in a studiously ambiguous way. Does he accept that the people of France and the Netherlands cannot be corralled into acceptance of an increase in the EU's legislative power, given that they have said no to that so decisively and explicitly?
Mr. Hendrick: I cannot speak for the motives of the voters in France and the Netherlands in their rejection of the constitution. I am sure that many voters in both countries agree with much of what was on offer, just as they obviously disagreed with other elements. I would never assume, however, that the no votes in those countries mean that all the voters disagreed with everything proposed in the constitution.
The decision-making framework designed for the six original member states has evolved through successive treaties into what is clearly an unwieldy set of procedures, as the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) so aptly put it. Nevertheless, the streamlining offered by the constitution is a step in the right direction.
If it is nothing else, the EU is a family of democratic countries committed to working together for peace and prosperity. It is not a state intended to replace existing states, but it is bigger than any other international organisation. The EU is unique. Its member states have set up common institutions, to which they delegate some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at a European level. We call that pooling of sovereignty European integration, which is what the whole process is about. Clearly, it is what Opposition Members are most opposed to.
The right hon. Gentleman, who is no longer in the Chamber, described himself as a genuine reformer. In fact, I think that he and some other Opposition Members are not reformers, but wreckers. I shall be blunt: some people are rejoicing about the no votes in France and Holland not because they disagree with the constitutional treaty proposals but because they disagree with the consolidation in the new treaty of all the other treaties going back to the treaty of Rome and the origins of the EU. So when hon. Members talk about the people of France and Holland having spoken, some
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mean that they genuinely believe that all those treaties should be revoked and we should return to a Europe in which member states are not joined in a common union.
John Bercow: I fear that the hon. Gentleman distorts his argument through over-emphasis and that he has just erected an Aunt Sally. Although of course some people oppose the constitutional treaty because they oppose the EU per se, it would be unwise and arrogant to assume that they constitute the majority of objectors. A much larger number of people would like the European Union to work better and support much of what it does, but believe that the treaty would take it in the wrong direction. Their opposition is not about absolutism or withdrawal, but legitimate criticism of the institutions.
Mr. Hendrick: I take in good faith the hon. Gentleman's assertion that not all of his colleagues are totally opposed to all of the treaties. I did in fact say "some" when I made my comment. There are some genuine reformers among the Conservatives, but when hon. Members talk about the European Union going in the wrong direction but offer no alternative direction, I question their commitment to it.
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