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Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): It is a particular pleasure to follow the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). He introduced himself as the son of a former distinguished Foreign Secretary. I suppose that he thought that he had better do so before anybody else referred to it. If I may say so, he has no need whatsoever to lean on his genes, as it were, because he has immediately shown that he is eloquent and informative in describing his constituency, generous and indeed accurate in praising the work of his predecessor, John Wilkinson, and intuitive and perceptive in describing the attitude of his constituents towards the European Union.
I know that it is difficult sitting here waiting for many hours to make a maiden speech. My hon. Friend was third, and by no means the least, and he deserves all our congratulations. He was powerful and articulate in setting out his own view of what Europe should be doing. I am glad that he mentioned the climate change
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agenda, which no other Member has touched on today. As he said, we are concerned that Europe should do those things which affect the way in which people can live their lives. Climate change is climbing up the agenda rapidly, and nation states are, almost by definition, incapable of responding to it by themselves.
I wonder to what extent the Government do any competent preparation and planning on European issues at all. Two years ago, they walked into a meeting to find that Chirac and Schröder had stitched together a package on agricultural financing. The Government made the best of a bad job, but the fact is that it was put together in their absence and they have been unable to unstitch it. Now, I get the impression that the Government did no real planning as to what the consequences of a no vote in France or elsewhere might be. Again, it looks as if they have been caught on the hop by a French counter-offensive on the rebate. Perhaps we did not anticipate trouble on that. Perhaps the Chancellor, with his well-known and well-advertised impatience with Europe and all its works, his anxiety to take the last flight to and first flight from Brussels, his reluctance to engage in what the French call les rondes de jambesa necessary part of European negotiations, which goes better with alcohol than withoutand preoccupied with G8 issues, took his eye off the ball.
A month ago, no one in Government was talking about a fundamental change in the balance of EU funding. During the general election campaign, I did not detect anyone telling me that a fundamental decision to change the orientation of Europe would happen, however much we might have welcomed that. We appear to have stumbled into a demand for a fundamental revision of European finances almost by accident and as a reaction to coming under attack about the rebate.
We were already at the beginning of a major change in the common agricultural policy. The first transitional period in the move to the single farm payment is this year. There are years to come. It applies differently to different parts of the United Kingdom, but it represents a fundamental change and the other EU countries have timetables in a broadly similar framework. If the Government now say that we will start from scratch and that we need a new reform, the sooner we know about it, the better.
Do we have any idea of the change that we want? I do not believe that we do. I have heard nothing from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the future shape of the CAP. I congratulate the Secretary of State on negotiating the single farm payment reforms, which was a significant achievement and a fundamental break with the past of the CAP. However, I have not heard that it is the aperitif before a much bigger change later.
Are the Government aware that CAP funding will be cut significantly and that that the sword will fall precisely on the most useful partsthe environmental and rural development elements? It is already clear from
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the management committees that there is serious axing of the very programmes of which the Government made most in arguing that they have introduced a new environmental chapter into agricultural policy.
The best hope of reforming the CAP is for the British Government to pursue vigorously the World Trade Organisation round and ensure that Europeans do not lapse on their way to the ministerial meetings at the end of the year. The demands of the marketplace and the WTO have always been more effective drivers of change in fundamental policies such as agriculture than self-generated demands. It will take all the skills of the British presidency to ensure that Ministers arrive in Hong Kong in December still determined to strike a deal. It would be a significant win simply to ensure that the farm support of Bulgaria and Romania falls in the envelope that is currently envisaged when they join the EU.
As I said to my Front Benchers, the stuff about horrible, miserable, inefficient French farmers, ghastly peasants and how we should stop them getting more money is tedious. First, it is inaccurate. The French have some of the most efficient farmers in the world. East Anglia has little to teach the French cereal farmers in the Paris basin and northern France about agricultural productivity. The Dutch, the Danes and other European nations are as efficient as us in other sectors of agriculture. We do not help ourselves by perpetuating some of the little British myths because it means that we sometimes fool ourselves about the genuine needs of our farmers.
We need to examine the current politics of the EU. I am a well-known Francophile, sometimes to my cost. However, President Chirac is undoubtedly the empty man of European politicsl'homme vide de l'Europe. He brought about his own misery. He has made a series of heroic miscalculations in his political career and the latest is probably the most fatal. That is not our fault. At the moment, he appears almost to want to take revenge on his people, but there is no reason for the United Kingdom to help him. We helped him before the referendum on the services directive and I see no reason for continuing that help.
It is ironic that, in many ways, the vote in France was to stop the world and get off, whereas some of the most efficient multinational companies in the world, in the insurance, aerospace, nuclear and motor industries, are based in France. Some French companies are world-beaters, so we should not characterise the whole of France as some backward industrial society hiding behind a luddite exterior.
Chancellor Schröder is going for an early election in September, which we hope profoundly that he will lose, and which I am sure that the Prime Minister also hopes that he will lose. He will be much more comfortable with a Christian Democrat regime than with a Social Democrat regime, as the Prime Minister is much more a Christian Democrat than a Social Democrat. Angela Merkel would be a much more effective partner in sharing a vision of the sort of economic society that she wants in Europe than Chancellor Schröder. I hope that there will be no last-minute electoral dashes to Germany to help the Chancellor, although, on second thoughts, perhaps I would like that, as it will no doubt reinforce the determination of the German people to get rid of him.
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Signor Berlusconi has an election a year from now and is in serious difficulties. His status as the Prime Minister's best friend, which brings such singular delight to the Labour Benches, might not continue for much longer. In Spain, there is a relatively newly elected but unfortunately moralising leader, with whom the Prime Minister has nothing in common. Let us not fool ourselvesChirac-Schröder is not Schmidt-Giscard or Kohl-Mitterrand. It is an old man in a hurry and a middle-aged man in a panic, and both of them might be heading for the exit.
We do not need to blink on the rebate issue. Europe will need its budget eventually and, if we hang on, a budget will have to be agreed. We should be clear that it is not permanently sustainable, for the reasons that have been explained. It is not reasonable that the new member states should be asked to bear a mounting burden over a long period. If we believe in our own liberalising agenda, and that the geometry of Europe has changed because of enlargement, we look to precisely those states to be our allies in delivering that liberalising agenda. As the Prime Minister has said, albeit belatedly, we need to address not merely the rebate but its causes, to coin a phrase. Perhaps we need a wider mechanism to address legitimate concerns of countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, and we need a long-term shift in the balance of European spending. Globalisation and the WTO are likely to be more efficient drivers of that than internally generated forces.
I hope that the UK presidency will not be a huge brawl, which it could become if we are not careful. We have interests in driving forward a single market agenda in services, working for a successful WTO round and developing the European Union's capacity to deliver soft power, of which enlargement is part, while accepting that, essentially, member states must address their own economic difficulties. We will not do anything at the European level that will solve France's economic problems with the labour market, or stop the German problems, which stem as much from the terms of reunification as the exchange rate of the euro. There is no single Anglo-Saxon model, and no single continental model and nor, we should remember, is the UK always supremely better and different from everybody else in its economic performance. If we are to get the outcomes that we want, we must make sure that we get French and German engagement. We cannot deliver those outcomes in Europe against the French and Germans, so we must try to create that boring old consensus to try to move forward.
I agree that we must maintain the course for enlargement, which is the European Union's greatest achievementthe creation of a civil society, with a functioning democracy and accountability, through member states from very diverse dictatorial or totalitarian backgrounds having to subscribe to certain civil liberties criteria in order to be part of the European Union. The changes that they bring about to do that are much more fundamental than they would achieve autonomously, as we are seeing in Turkey at the moment. The final prize would be Turkey. The ability to demonstrate that an Islamic society can be part of a much wider association that is predominantly, but far from exclusively Christian, would be an enormous contribution of soft power by the European Union to geopolitical stability.
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Europe faces two huge tasks. The first is that we need to discuss properly how the European Union works in the new world of global investment and trade. Issues such as education, training, research and development, and market-based culture will become much more important, because globalisation will not go away and we cannot close the frontiers again. We will have to deal with that incredibly competitive society, and Europe has a role in ensuring that we can do it.
Secondly, there is the question of connection with citizens. The problem is that the European Union has lots of institutions, but they do not have the legitimacy with which citizens endow the institutions of member states. In other words, they do not have demos, unlike the institutions of a nation state, which draw directly on the people.
That means that we need to find mechanisms to draw national bodiesnot just governmental, civil society bodies, but national Parliamentsmuch more closely into the working of the European Union and the decision-making processes, so that people can find in those institutions and bodies geometry with which they are familiar. They will see shapes, functions and procedures with which they are familiar and that they can relate to until we can create a marriage of institutions that are necessarily supranational, but which draw to the maximum on familiarity with institutions in which people have invested a certain trust and faithalthough perhaps not always deservedly, considering the history. None the less, they are what people have chosen. If we can do that, it will be a significant help.
Finally, I want to make one little point. It would be awfully helpful if Europe could occasionally dismantle something instead of creating it. May I recommend the Economic and Social Committee? The European Parliament is the international democratic body of the European Union, so I cannot for the life of me see what the residual function of the Economic and Social Committee is. I am not a great fan of the Committee of the Regions either. We must be able to say, "This has served its purpose, but it has been superseded. Europe can be more efficient and slimmed down." That would give a great lesson to everybody. We talk about devolution: let us do it at home and do it in Europe. Then, perhaps, we will be able to show the citizens that we have listened to them.
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