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That is not to suggest that enlargement is automatically an easy process. Romania and Bulgaria still have some way to go in strengthening the rule of law and in tackling corruption and organised crime. Indeed, the process of enlarging the EU to include those two countries, as well as the 10 new member states that joined in 2004, has led to a refinement and tightening-up of procedures. The requirements to join the EU are more rigorous and more carefully monitored than ever before, and they apply to Turkey and Croatia. Effective conditionality is
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one thing, but fresh conditions are something altogether different. Having agreed membership requirements and invited people down that path, it would be quite wrong to put up new hurdles or to deliberately construct barriers designed to halt this or any further enlargement. The strategic case for enlarging the EU to include the candidate countries and to keep the door open for other European neighbours remains as powerful as ever.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): As someone who has always supported the principle of enlargement, may I seek clarification of the recent paper produced by Howell James, the Whitehall co-ordinator of propaganda on those matters, who asked whether we should link the question of Europe to the Eurovision song contest and UEFA football tournaments? Given that Israel and Russia take part in the Eurovision song contest, and that Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are members of UEFA, is it the Government’s policy to expand the European Union to include those countries?

Margaret Beckett: Not in the very near future. It is legitimate for my hon. Friend to poke fun at that publication, but all that was discussed was how we communicate the good news about Europe as well as the bad news, which is zealously communicated by everyone who can do so.

The strategically important countries that we are discussing will be our neighbours, and they will play a pivotal role in our future, whatever decisions Europe makes. The choice facing us is what that role will be. It is in all our interests that they should become closer, stronger, richer and more reliable allies. That being the case, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to turnour back on what has proved to be one of the best ways of ensuring that outcome. The prospect of EU enlargement is probably the most powerful example of so-called soft power available to any country or international organisation.

In all too recent history, for example, the Balkans have been a crucible of violence and instability in the heart of Europe. Indeed, there are still significant EU and NATO forces in the region. We therefore have a direct interest in tackling Balkan insecurity and encouraging those states further down the path of political and economic reform. Croatia is showing the way for others in the region by making the necessary reforms. It has low inflation, a stable currency, and rapid economic growth. It has bright, hard-working young people and strong scientific credentials. It has taken on international responsibilities by, for example, sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan and working with British police, among, others, to fight drug smuggling and money laundering. To see how far Croatia has come, it is worth noting that although it is little more than a decade since a massive war, every year more than 250,000 British tourists choose to go there on holiday. Of course there are more conditions that Croatia must meet, particularly in reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, but it is on the right path, and it is on that path because of the prospect of enlargement.

It is worth being frank with each other at this point. There are some in Europe who have no problem with Croatia joining the EU but who do have a very real
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problem with Turkey joining, yet the strategic case for Turkish membership is at least as compelling as it is for any other country—in fact, probably much more so. Just like any other country, Turkey must fulfil its obligations to the EU. In the case of the Ankara protocol, Turkey has not yet done so and it is right that the EU should give a clear response. But that response should be proportionate and should be designed to get Turkey to fulfil its obligations and maintain the momentum of reform. It should not be a pretext for derailing negotiations. We need to agree and set out clearly what we expect Turkey to do. It is then up to Turkey to decide how quickly to reform and progress towards accession.

We, the UK Government, judge that the current measures tabled by the European Commission are too harsh and risk being counterproductive. That would be a very poor result for the people of Turkey. It would also be a very poor result for Europe. Look at some of the strategic challenges that we are facing: increasing global competition from Asia; insecurity in our energy supplies; seemingly intractable problems in the middle east; rising extremism trying to drive Muslims and non-Muslims apart; an ageing population and a looming pensions crisis; the desire for Europe to play a more active role beyond its borders; and both at those borders and within them, the need to tackle drugs, organised crime and illegal migration.

Turkey could play an immensely positive role in tackling all these challenges. It has a dynamic economy that is on track to attract $20 billion in inward investment this year. It is already a major transit country for oil and gas and is set to be a crucial energy corridor into Europe. It has a network of relationships with countries in the middle east, including Syria and Iran, which no current EU member state can match. It has a young and increasingly educated work force, and larger armed forces than any other European country. It has shown that it can deliver real successes, working with us, on tackling terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration and trafficking. Perhaps most of all, at a time when some people are peddling the idea of an inevitable clash of civilisations, it is an immensely powerful symbol that European values can be Muslim values and vice versa.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is right that we must find a way of bringing the former states of Yugoslavia into the Union, and that for strategic reasons we must find a way of bringing Turkey in, but that will require some rethinking about the disproportionate powers thatwere given to smaller countries in the European Union, such as a minimum of four MEPs and their own Commissioner. Is some thought being given to how a European Union of 30-plus member states, including Turkey, would look in terms of power balance?

Margaret Beckett: I am sure a great deal of thinking is going on in many member states. The difficulty is that it does not necessarily seem to be coming to the same conclusion in every case. It is a task which, I am happy to say, will be before other presidencies, not ours.

Several hon. Members rose—

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Margaret Beckett: I shall give way for the final time, then I must make progress.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. She mentioned illegal immigration. Many Maltese MPs have told me that their country is being swamped by illegal immigrants from north Africa, particularly from Libya, and cannot cope. What plans does the right hon. Lady have to help our strategic ally in the Mediterranean to cope with the vast numbers coming over?

Margaret Beckett: Although the hon. Gentleman is right to identify some of the problems that Malta is facing, those problems are faced by countries across the whole of southern Europe. The only way to tackle such problems is to stimulate and support the kind of co-operation that all those countries seek, and to look at those problems in the round. They are all affected by similar problems, although the details may not be quite the same.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Margaret Beckett: I will, but then I must finish.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. Some people believe that the outcome of the situation in Iraq will be the federation or even the break-up of Iraq. That would involve a Kurd problem, which would give Turkey very considerable problems indeed and make its accession to the EU even more difficult. Can I take it, therefore, that the British Government will oppose any break-up of Iraq?

Margaret Beckett: The Government have always opposed the notion that the break-up of Iraq would be in the interests of Iraq or of other states in the region. Indeed, we believe it could cause substantial problems, and there are many people in Iraq who share that view.

There is an argument that says that since we are already working so well with many of the countries that still want to join the EU, we do not need to follow through on our promises of enlargement or the prospect of enlargement. That seems to me to be both a dangerous and an incredibly short-sighted argument. We should not kid ourselves. The foundation of the extraordinary soft power of the EU to which I referred earlier, and the reason why, more than any other international organisation, it has transformed the world around it, has been the prospect of full membership. In the case of Turkey or Croatia, offering them anything else at this stage would be to go back on our word. For other countries, if we want to encourage them down the right road which is in their interests and ours, we cannot rule out that ultimate destination.

The main story at the European Council next week will almost certainly be enlargement. European leaders can choose to keep the door open to their neighbours, fulfilling our promises, helping those countries to continue political and economic reforms, and stressing the need for them to meet strict conditions and obligations. Over a period of time we could draw these strategically vital countries ever closer until they were in a position to become members of the European
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Union, or we could push them away. The Government are clear which is the direction in which Europe must go. That is the message that we will be taking, with, I think and hope, the full support of the House to Brussels next week.

2.37 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): We join the Foreign Secretary in her comments about the importance of enlargement and in hoping for new impetus to achieve the necessary improvements in the emissions trading scheme and for developmentin Africa. We also strongly support the broad thrustof her comments about the positive results that enlargement has brought to so many member states joining the European Union.

This EU affairs debate comes at a critical time in the development of the European Union and the position of the member states within it. A year and a half after the French and the Dutch rejected the proposed constitution, we are approaching what was supposed to be the crescendo of a massive national debate about the future of the EU—a debate that the Government promised to lead. Instead, in the words of the European Scrutiny Committee

Meanwhile, the German Government are preparing to try to salvage as much of the constitution as possible during their forthcoming EU presidency. French politicians are talking about a mini-treaty that would similarly increase the powers of the EU, with an EU Foreign Minister, a permanent President and the surrender of national vetoes, but in the hope that approval could be slipped through in parliamentary votes without the need for further referendums.

Ms Gisela Stuart: I agree that this is a critical time for the EU. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me when the leader of his party last met Members of the European Parliament in Brussels?

Mr. Brady: The hon. Lady will not have to wait very long.

As all this important discussion and debate about the future of the EU proceeds, our own Government have dithered and vacillated.

Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. Friend agree that the emissions trading scheme in the EU has been grossly abused by some member states by over-issuing permits? That means that in Britain, which is short of permits, companies have to pay out good money over the exchanges to continental countries that are making a fortune out of undermining the whole purpose of the scheme.

Mr. Brady: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That is a good illustration of how the European Union does not necessarily always get things right and why it should focus on ensuring that it achieves what it can using current powers and existing
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treaties—doing so properly and correctly instead of making ambitious proposals for new treaties and constitutions.

When the Foreign Secretary was recently away in India, the press reported that the Minister for Europe, in what was described as a private speech, suggested that the Government would row in behind the kind of mini-treaty favoured by the French, signalling that further vetoes would be given up.

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon) indicated dissent.

Mr. Brady: The Minister shakes his head. However, given that the Foreign Secretary has confirmed to me in a written answer that the right hon. Gentleman reports both to her and directly to the Prime Minister, we have to take such signals seriously. I hope that he will clarify the point when he winds up.

We have had to wait with bated breath for any official indication of the Government’s position on the future powers and shape of the European Union. Yesterday, the Minister finally issued a written statement setting out in very vague terms what he called

the British contribution to the German presidency’s consultations on the future of Europe. The statement tells us:

However, it does not tell us whether that means that the Government are preparing to support the “constitution lite”, or the slimmed-down mini-treaty, proposed by Mr. Sarkozy or Angela Merkel, with further extensions to qualified majority voting and an EU foreign minister. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary could tell us now, or the Minister could tell us when he winds up, exactly where the Government stand.

Mr. Davidson: May I urge the hon. Gentleman not to read too much into statements made by the Minister for Europe when the Foreign Secretary is in India? After all, when the cat is away, other things get said.

Does it remain the Opposition’s position that they will call for a referendum on any mini-constitution that is proposed by the Commission?

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am confident that the Minister for Europe is a man, not a mouse, even though he does not necessarily find such confidence on the Benches behind him. I am happy to give the assurance that it is our position that, were the Government to seek approval for a treaty that transferred further powers to the EU, we would indeed seek a referendum. I hope that the Government accept that it would be necessary to have the explicit support and approval of the British people.

Crucially, if the Government are preparing to back a revised constitution, the Foreign Secretary should give an unequivocal assurance—the same assurance that I was just happy to give on behalf of the Opposition—that it remains the Government’s policy to hold a referendum to allow the British people to decide.

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Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend recall that Mr. Sarkozy, in his speech in September, advocated not only the creation of the post of an EU minister of foreign affairs—which would take us into extremely dangerous territory with regard to nuclear deterrence, among other things—but enhanced co-operation and a legal personality for the Union, thereby effectively endorsing the proposals that came out of the Convention? Does he agree that that would be wholly unacceptable?

Mr. Brady: I do. Were that to be advocated by the Government, it should be allowed only with the support of the British people in a referendum, which, as my hon. Friend will agree, would not be forthcoming. We would both campaign against its being approved in such a referendum, as would, I hope, all Conservative Members and many Labour Members.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Brady: I will, although I am giving way a lot and should make more progress.

Mr. Stuart: My hon. Friend is a great negotiator and someone who can bring peace to troubled relationships. For the benefit of our foreign negotiations, I propose that he should lead a delegation to the Minister of Europe and the Secretary of State to ensure that they become more closely acquainted, and perhaps even sit together instead of a yard apart in future debates.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes his point. I think that they are getting on a little better today—almost as well as Michael Portillo and the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) when they sit on the sofa together, but not quite.

The Foreign Secretary says that the constitutional and institutional future of Europe will not feature on the agenda of the Council that is approaching. Would it not be wise, however, for the Government to set out our position clearly prior to the start of the German presidency, so that we can try to influence the shape that those discussions will take when the presidency begins?

The unresolved institutional debate is the backdrop to a Council agenda that includes some vital questions for the EU to address. On these Benches, as the Foreign Secretary was good enough to acknowledge, we have always been stalwart supporters of EU enlargement. We believe that the support and nurturing of new democracies, whether in southern or in central and eastern Europe, has perhaps been the most positive contribution that the EU has made. The Foreign Secretary spoke about the important strides forward that have already been taken by Bulgaria and Romania, while indicating that further progress is needed. The Council will rightly welcome the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, but it will do so at a time when the future enlargement of the EU is more controversial than it has ever been.

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