Previous SectionIndexHome Page

EU Presidency

4. Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): What assessment he has made of the impact of the UK's presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement. [40200]
10 Jan 2006 : Column 145

10. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the impact of the UK's presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement. [40206]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 31 January, I will publish a White Paper on the UK presidency in the normal way. During our presidency, we secured the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, a deal on the EU budget and candidate status for Macedonia. We opened stabilisation and association agreements with Serbia and Montenegro and with Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have secured agreements on sugar reform, the withdrawal of one third of all pending legislative proposals as part of our better regulation programme, agreement on the chemicals directive, more and better development aid, action on counter-terrorism and climate change and a good deal more. Those were and are significant achievements for any presidency.

Greg Clark: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that reply, but is he aware that yesterday, in another place, Lord Triesman said that there "has always been provision" for the extra £2 billion that this country will have to pay to the EU as a result of last month's budget deal? Is it not the case that that £2 billion is not provided for in the pre-Budget report? Will the Foreign Secretary say specifically where that provision has been made? Will it be met by reducing expenditure in other areas, or by raising taxes higher than was envisaged in the PBR?

Mr. Straw: It was not in the pre-Budget report for the very simple reason that I spelled out to the House: the pre-Budget report did not follow but preceded the negotiations. It would have required a fantastic act of clairvoyance for the Treasury to have anticipated the detailed outcome. Of course, provision will be made at the appropriate time. The hon. Gentleman ought to welcome the fact that one of the many achievements of the deal was to ensure that changes to the abatement mechanism kicked in not at the beginning of the financial perspective—in 2007, 2008, or 2009—but later on. The other issue for the whole Conservative party, which I gather is now committed to narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, is whether it is saying—[Interruption.] Well, that is what the party's head of policy, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr.   Letwin), is saying, although I do not quite know what else he has to do as it has no policies.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps another time, but not at Question Time.

Mr. Hands: Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK's stated objective that the EU budget should be no more than 1 per cent. of gross domestic income in the EU was not met by the budget deal and that the actual result was a figure of 1.45 per cent., which costs us £25 billion more? That means that on not only the rebate, but the overall budget, the Government failed to get a good deal for Britain in the negotiations in Brussels.

Mr. Straw: The Opposition have to do rather better than that. The figure was not 1.45 per cent.—absolutely
10 Jan 2006 : Column 146
not. The hon. Gentleman needs to do his homework before he stands up to speak. The most that the figure is likely to be is 1.045 per cent., which is a very big difference. However, I would be happy to make a wager with the hon. Gentleman that at the end of the period we will be paying for a budget that is less than 1 per cent. of total gross domestic product throughout the EU.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that shortly before Phillip Whitehead, the MEP for the East Midlands, died, he described the UK presidency as 80 per cent. successful? Does the Secretary of State also recall that, as a Member of this House, Phillip Whitehead worked energetically for human rights in eastern Europe in the dark days before those countries could belong to the Union?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the death of our former colleague and good friend, Phillip Whitehead. He served his constituents—as MP and MEP—the House, the European Parliament and the European cause for which he campaigned extremely well. He was a very good friend to many on both sides of the House. I am sure that the House will join me in sending condolences and deepest sympathy to his family, friends and constituents.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Some of us on this side of the House—and, I suspect, one or two on the other side—recognise the reality of negotiation in the European Union and that the budget deal that was struck last month was the best deal that could be done in the circumstances to bind together the larger countries of the European Union and, at the same time, help the countries that were originally in eastern Europe, which hon. Members on both sides of the House have welcomed into the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend indicate which parts of the proposals of the Austrian presidency he thinks can add to that sense of stability and progressiveness in the Union?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his endorsement of our approach. As he indicates, the simple fact of the matter is that hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for enlargement. It was never part of the rebate that it should be used by the United Kingdom to fleece poor eastern European countries with a GDP a third of our own. It was simply to balance the contribution from countries like France and Italy, not from Latvia and Lithuania.

As for the Austrian presidency, happily my hon. Friend was not specific about the proposals, but I look forward to working closely with our Austrian colleagues on a wide range of issues.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): In the Foreign Secretary's written statement, he said that in "intensive bilateral contacts"—

presumably in this case with Spain—it was agreed to

Can he tell us specifically what we got in exchange from Spain, perhaps in relation to Gibraltar? It seems to me that we have given up €8 billion of our rebate over the
10 Jan 2006 : Column 147
next few years at least in part to fund Spain's Moroccan colonies, while Spain does all it can to cripple Gibraltar's economy.

Mr. Straw: I do not accept that. In a multiple negotiation, all sorts of countries have to make concessions. Spain was one of them. It has benefited, as it is the first to accept, significantly from structural and cohesion funds over the years, but it will end the new forthcoming financial perspective almost certainly a net payer. As I recollect, its structural and cohesion funds will drop from about €44 billion in the current financial perspective to about €4 billion.

As for discussions with Gibraltar, there have been constructive discussions with the new Spanish Government since its accession, as well as with the Chief Minister and his Government from Gibraltar. Despite the historic difficulties, I hope that they ensure that sufficient progress is made.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a successful presidency, and in particular on the agreement on Turkey. He mentioned the importance of its accession in relation to Cyprus. Will he also comment on the importance of its accession in relation to the fact that it is a Muslim country, because the European Union is not exclusively a Christian club? Will he comment on the message that that sends to the rest of the world?

Mr. Straw: It would have been a huge error by the EU if it had turned its back on Turkey. The House has recognised that. It will be a long and quite difficult path between the beginning of negotiations and its final accession, but I am in no doubt that Turkish accession will benefit members of the EU, including the United Kingdom, just as it should benefit the population of Turkey.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): One of the worst shortcomings of the British presidency was the failure to set a new direction for Europe following the rejection of the constitution. Yesterday, the Polish Prime Minister said that the EU constitution is dead, but Chancellor Schüssel opened the Austrian presidency with a declaration that the constitution is not dead, but, rather, in the middle of a ratification process. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Austrians or the Poles? Will he take this opportunity to make it clear to the Austrian presidency that this country regards the constitution as dead and buried, and we do not want it brought back?

Mr. Straw: Probably the best that can be said about the European Union draft constitution is that it is somewhere in limbo.

Mr. Brady: So it is not dead?

Mr. Straw: That shows the hon. Gentleman's poor theological background. As limbo is somewhere between heaven and hell—

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): It is a Liberal Democrat.

Mr. Straw: Of course, the Liberal Democrats wanted the constitution desperately. As limbo is somewhere suspended between heaven and hell, it is difficult to argue that the constitution is not dead.
10 Jan 2006 : Column 148

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): While I welcome the progress made on the economic reform agenda during the presidency, I remind the Foreign Secretary that in nine weeks he will be attending the fourth European business summit. What proposals do the Government have to ensure that the targets set as part of the Lisbon agenda, reviewed in the Kok report, are going to be met?

Mr. Straw: We have a number of proposals, and it is fair to say that we saw a major change of direction by the European Union during our presidency. Everybody now understands that obsession about the internal runnings of the Union and more regulation cannot deliver the improvements in welfare and prosperity which European peoples desperately want from the EU. That is why we want progressive economic policies that ensure effective social welfare and progress towards higher prosperity.

Next Section IndexHome Page