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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Do the Government support the proposed enlargement of economic and monetary union to include three eastern European countries, and how would that affect the prospects of British entry?
Mr. Alexander: It will perhaps not surprise the hon. Gentleman that I have nothing new to add to our policy, set out to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1997, if I recollect accurately, on the key economic tests in relation to the single currency. On the hon. Gentleman's point about the three new member states seeking membership of EMU, that is entirely a matter for them. In that regard, we would allow the decision to be taken on the basis of what they judge to be in their interests, given the obligations under which they entered the European Union.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab):
To return to the services directive, I urge my right hon. Friend not to listen to the Opposition's seemingly uncritical view of the directive, but to stick with what he told the House
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some moments ago. If not properly constructed, the directive will cause real concern, not simply to employees but to employers, particularly in terms of the country of origin issue. Were the directive to be passed in its present form, it could seriously jeopardise the ability of many companies in this country to operate without seeing terms and conditionsnot simply labour rates but other important contractual termsset at nought. It is really important that we get this right, and I hope that the Government will stick to their position and get a proper deal.
Mr. Alexander: I think that a balance needs to be struck. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the terms of the original Bolkestein directive did not find favour with many European partners. In that sense, I would fully expect changes to the terms of the original directive. On the other hand, the Government continue to believe as a matter of principle, and on the basis of the evidence available to us, that there is much for the European Union to gain by having an effective services directive. If one considers, for example, the progress made in prosperity and growth as a consequence of the original establishment of the single market, it ill behoves others to criticise the prospect of a genuinely single market in services. It is right, however, to have due consideration for the concerns raised, for example, in relation to labour law, as it was never the intention of those who designed the services directive to change the position fundamentally on labour law. That is why we welcome the ongoing discussions, but we would be keen to see a resolution so that we can secure the very jobs and growth about which José Manuel Barroso spoke only a few weeks ago.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister talked about enlargement and, clearly, one of the key benefits of enlargement is the strengthening of democracy. With an increasingly belligerent Russian Government behaving in damaging ways towards their near neighbours, will he confirm that small countries such as Moldova, which are not yet engaged in accession negotiations, can retain some hope of eventual EU membership? That hope is a real factor in strengthening democratic institutions in that sort of country.
Mr. Alexander: I am fully aware of the importance of the prospect of European Union membership in securing the transition towards effective democracy. I had the privilege of travelling to the western Balkans in September during the British presidency, and saw for myself the tangible evidence that the prospect of European Union membership is perhaps the strongest single motor driving those countries out of a history of ethnic cleansing and civil unrest. The prospects for future enlargement of the European Union are best described on the basis of the existing treaties. In that sense, the basis for an application to be received by the European Commission in relation to further candidates in future is a matter of record.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his impressive work during the presidency and I welcome the commitment in the White
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Paper to economic reform. He will know that although the United Kingdom has reached seven of the 17 quantifiable benchmarks under the Lisbon agenda, France, Germany and Spain have reached only three. What steps will he take to ensure that our colleagues in the European Union embrace economic reform as effectively as we have done, especially in the run-up to the European Council business meeting in a few weeks' time?
Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important issue of economic reform. We have already worked closely with the Austrians to ensure that the focus of the spring Council meeting will be on exactly the subject of economic reform. We have sought to make progress in relation to the better regulation agenda over recent weeks, but the recent spring report by the European Commission highlights the scale of work that still needs to be taken forward on the Lisbon agenda, which he had so much direct responsibility for authoring several years ago.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): May I introduce a dissenting note on Turkey? I am aware that there is consensus between the three Front Benches on Turkish accession, but does it really make sense for us to talk in terms of a state joining the European Union when that state does not recognise an existing member state and prosecutes people for writing books on Turkish or Armenian history?
Is there not a real danger in holding out the hope of Turkish accession? It is very likely to be vetoed through either parliamentary vote or referendum by one of the existing member states in some years' time, and that would create a major long-term crisis in our relations with Turkey. Would it not be better to talk in terms of a special relationship that does not involve full accession?
Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman can always be relied on to ensure that consensus does not break out absolutely in the House. I pay tribute to his long-standing interest in these issues. As for the idea of some kind of privileged partnership, Turkey has had that with the European Union for a number of years. A customs unionthe Ankara protocol, which I have mentionedapplies to the original EU Fifteen, and the prospect of EU membership has been held out to Turkey for 42 years.The debate has been well rehearsed, especially the hon. Gentleman's argument about the non-recognition of an EU member state. Such issues can, of course, be addressed during the accession talks.
I find common ground with the hon. Gentleman, however, on the need for fundamental reform in the Turkish economy and, indeed, in Turkish society more generally. Labour Members are convinced that those of us who share an interest in a more democratic and effective Turkey would best serve the interests of that goal by seeing Turkey join the EU, if it adheres to the rigorous thresholds of accessibility that are set out for all candidate countries.
I genuinely believe, in relation to, for instance, the case of Orhan Pamukwho, incidentally, said that he did not wish his trial to be seen as a bar to EU membership for Turkeythat those of us who continue to be concerned about human rights have a great deal to gain from the high level of scrutiny that will take place on civil and human rights issues relating to Turkey,
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given the accession process that is now under way. There is a long way to go, but continuing the accession process gives us the best guarantee we can have that the scrutiny will continue.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister made an interesting statement, but, as I suspect he will agree, it will not make my constituents jump up and down in great excitement. Will he now deal with two issues that do concern them?
First, has the Minister any intention of giving more priority to stopping the gold-plating of all the EU directives to which we sign up and then reinforce to a much greater extent than the rest of Europe? Secondly, what will he do to protect the pint?
I can assure my hon. Friend and, indeed, her constituents that I made inquiries of officials about the pint only this morning. I understood from them that the matter was raised by the European Parliament rather than the Commission. The suggestion in many British newspapers that there is a devilish plot by the European Commission against the great British pint is simply untrue. There is no recommendation that we should see the end of, for example, the pint of beer or the pint of milk. On the other hand, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that there can be common measures across the EU[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Let me answer the question. Those common measures are to guarantee the degree of transparency that is necessary to ensure that suppliers of products are not able to hoodwink consumers. If my hon. Friend opposes greater transparency in pricing, that might be of direct concern to her constituents.
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