|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May I take the Foreign Secretary back to what he said about the strategic energy review? Apparently it is said in Moscow that it is not so much remarkable that the EU enlarged eastwards, but that Gazprom enlarged westwards. Does he thus recognise that we must secure safety of supply and, in terms of the internal market, ensure that national cartels do not become European cartels and that there is a genuinely free market?
Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend on both those points. Ensuring a broader diversity of supply was one of the summit's key conclusions on energy. She is right about national cartels. It is curious that several member states have national energy companies that are highly protective of their own market, while being atavistic when it comes to the acquisition of other energy operators in other markets. That is unacceptable and, ultimately, not in the interests of the European Union.
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): The House is united in its condemnation of the elections in Belarus, which were a travesty of democracy, in marked contrast to the experiences next door in Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary says that the matters being considered include travel bans, but exactly how watertight will they be, given the way in which people such as Mr. Mugabe have ignored or flouted similar efforts?
We welcome the summit's focus on research and development, universities, the gender pay gap and energy, but will the Foreign Secretary confirm that any future decisions on new nuclear power stations will remain a matter for the United Kingdom Government and not be passed off as somehow the responsibility of the European Union? Given the progress so far, how seriously does he take next year's deadline on energy market liberalisation, bearing in mind the rash of protectionism on the continent and the failures to date?
On Friday, the Foreign Secretary described the summit as workmanlike. Given the limited steps that were taken on energy, the watered-down services
27 Mar 2006 : Column 561
directive and the limited advances on the Lisbon agenda, was not the summit actually about missed opportunities, rather than any serious work in progress?
Mr. Straw: How watertight travel bans are partly depends on their exact terms, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's reservations about the travel bans on senior people in Zimbabwe. It is inevitable that the bans cannot prevent leaders of countries from travelling to the United Nations and other international meetings because that is required by international treaties to which all countries of the EU have signed up. We know from Zimbabwe that the bans have been both inconvenient to the leaders concerned and humiliating.
Future decisions on nuclear power stations will remain a matter for the United Kingdom Government. As I said, there has been no changein the absence of a treaty change there could not beto the basis for decisions in that respect. We wanted a decision about 2007 energy liberalisation in the conclusions to test, in a sense, whether European Heads of State and Government around the table were serious about that liberalisation, which is for consumers, not industrial users. It is my judgment that they are, although time will tell. Although sometimes we take three steps forward and two back, overall, including in countries with a protectionist past and present, the move is towards greater liberalisation because the benefits of that are perfectly plain to everyone.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): May I welcome the Foreign Secretary's wordsand indeed, the shadow Foreign Secretary's wordson Belarus, although I would not be quite so sanguine about the election in Ukraine, where there has been a remarkable victory for old-style conservatives and oligarchs, which is always bad news anywhere in the world?
On Belarus and, to an extent, Ukraine, is not the problem that Europe does not know how to spread and promote democracy? Will the Foreign Secretary ask one of his bright young officials in the Foreign Office to produce a paper on creating a European foundation for democracy, roughly based on the way in which the Westminster Foundation for Democracy works? There are €140 million unspent in Brussels for democracy and human rights promotion. Both the Council and the Commission are not very good at that kind of work. I invite him to see whether Europe cannot be bolder and more original in promoting democracy in its near abroad.
I would pick my hon. Friend up on one thing. It does not automatically follow that just because old-style conservatives and oligarchs are elected, they have been elected undemocratically. Sometimes it is possible that the people want old-style conservatives and oligarchs. Indeed, that is the whole pitch of the Conservative party. I will follow up the request for a European foundation for democracy.
27 Mar 2006 : Column 562
However, those of us on the European Scrutiny Committee have noticed no reduction in the volume of legislation or in the appetite of the EU for more business regulations. Why should we believe the statement this time around? In particular, why does paragraph 61, announcing the better regulation initiative this time, specifically exempt the 97,000 pages of the existing rules and regulations, known as the acquis communautaire?
Mr. Straw: I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, but my perception, from a position of some scepticism about whether the EU is moving, is that there is a real process of change. I have given some figures indicating that. The Commission is starting work on the most heavily regulated sectorscars, waste and constructions. Other sectorsfoodstuffs, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and serviceswill follow.
One example is the directive on registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals. Had it gone through six or seven years ago, it would have meant very heavy regulation, which would have seriously damaged the Europe-wide chemical industry. We managed to get it agreed under our presidency in a form that was acceptable to most people representing the chemical industry. My notes tell me that it led to the cost of the proposal being reduced by up to €660 million. There are other proposals, too, that are aimed at improving EU competitiveness. Things are changing.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe for their work in pushing forward the economic reform agenda. In response to Opposition Members, let me say that Lisbon was different because it set out benchmarks for the first time. The Foreign Secretary will know that, according to the Centre for European Reform, Britain has done extremely well against those benchmarks. Is he confident, however, that our European partners have learned the lessons of the Kok report, because many of them are lagging well behind on them? May I also welcome the establishment of the European Research Council and offer Leicester or Blackburn as a possible home?
Mr. Straw: I cannot speak for Blackburn as Secretary of State and my hon. Friend cannot speak for Leicester as its Member of Parliament. I think that that means he speaks for Blackburn as a Member of the House, and I am very grateful to him. I will do my best to establish the ERC there.
On the Kok report, some member states have been more resistant than others to its very clear messages. I was going to say in response to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who spoke about
27 Mar 2006 : Column 563
economic growth and relative economic decline, that, underneath the EU averages, there is a wide variation in economic performance. That is an indicator of the policies that will work, which are basically those where there is greater liberalisation as well as good underlying investment, and those that will not work, where there is a high degree of protectionism and a lack of liberalisation in the markets.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary show greater urgency in pressing for diversification of gas supplies? Is he aware that some 50 per cent. of Europe's gas supplies come from only three countriesRussia, Algeria and Norwayand that that is going to increase to 80 per cent. over the next 20 years? Will he take into account the fact that, as 52 per cent. of Gazprom is owned by the Russian Government, any decision by Gazprom to withhold gas from Ukraine, Moldova or any other country must be deemed to have been taken on political, not business, grounds? Will he make it clear to his Russian colleagues that as long as that continues, Russia will not be seen as a reliable partner in energy matters?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|