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In this country, both the major parties have recognised the importance of encouraging Turkey to look to the west and the role that the process of EU accession could play in achieving that. Indeed, the
opening of Turkish accession talks was perhaps the only significant achievement of the last British presidency of the EU, and we gave the Government full credit for that. We share the Foreign Secretarys view that the decision to suspend so many chapters of the accession negotiations is regrettable and is a major setback. It is essential that more progress should be made towards achieving normal relations between Turkey and Cyprus, but it is surely the case that the prospect and process of EU accession is an important lever to help to achieve that endas it would be for further improvements in democracy and freedom in Turkey.
We also hope to see continuing progress in relation to Croatia and the western Balkans, and real efforts to improve co-operation with and support for neighbours of the EU in Ukraine, Belarus and beyond.
The hon. Gentleman re-emphasises that the Conservatives are in favour of enlargement. Will he take this opportunity to distance his party from the tasteless articles in the tabloid press criticising citizens from EU countries who seek to exercise their legitimate right to come here to work, with constant monitoring of how many Polish babies are being born? Surely, if we believe in enlargement those citizens should come here, exercising their rights under the appropriate treaties.
I agree with the Foreign Secretarys general comments about the importance of enlargement, but there are those who are trying to tie future enlargement of the EU to acceptance of a constitution that has already been rejected by the electorate of two major EU nations, and which the Home Secretary described on Monday as deceased, a dead parrot. It was therefore heartening to hear the Foreign Secretary making clear on The Westminster Hour this week her view that institutional reform is not essential. She said: Some of thisdecision-making
could become more difficult but it would be too much to say that were not coping at the moment.
She went on to say that things are not too bad. When the Minister winds up, will he put the Governments view on the record and confirm that they do not regard institutional reform as essential and that they will continue to support the further enlargement that the Foreign Secretary and I agree is desirable, regardless of institutional change? That is contrary to the view that he expressed in his speech at the Institute for European Affairs in Dublin on 20 November 2006, when he said:
The current rules are unsustainable in a European Union of 25 stateslet alone 27 or more.
progress achieved in implementing The Hague Programme.
We believe that those matters are fundamental to national sovereignty. We agree with the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, who said so clearly in the Financial Times on 23 September:
The whole criminal justice area is an area of national sovereignty in which there are huge sensitivities.
My vision for Europe is that instead of constantly seeking to enlarge the competence of the union, that the justice and home affairs ministers should concentrate on practical measures of co-operation between states to enhance security and combat terrorism.
As recently as last Thursday, when the House debated an EU Scrutiny Committee report, the British Government appeared incapable of setting out even their own position, insisting on leaving open the possibility of using the so-called passerelle. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), said that the Governments position was clear and that there was a debate to be had. The Governments preferred outcome for that debate was unclear. However, after the meeting of the Home Affairs Council, the Home Secretary pronounced:
Theres a clear and probably overwhelming majority against
Thats our view ... We should not by using weasel words attempt to revisit this at a higher level when theres such a clear majority.
Will the Minister for Europe confirm for the first time that the Government now regard the matter as closed and that they do not want proposals for surrendering the veto over justice and home affairs to be
revisited at a higher level
The Foreign Secretary said that discussions would focus on immigration. Obviously, the Commissions forthcoming report will be on the agenda. Will the Minister for Europe give a little more insight into the Governments thinking? Will he state categorically, following the difficulties of recent years, that the Governments priority now is to reassert control over our borders and that, as far as the UK is concerned, border control will not become a shared competence?
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the UK will oppose Commissioner Frattinis proposals for a comprehensive migration policy for the EU? Will the Government confirm that the proposed EU-wide criminal offence of employing irregular migrants is one of the first attempts by the EU to create criminal law using qualified majority voting, following the controversial ruling of the European Court of Justice last September?
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the defining characteristics of a democratic, independent nation state is a border, which is defensible and under the control of that nation state?
As winter sets in across the continent, the Council will examine ways in which we can work together to guarantee security of energy supply. That is naturally a matter of the highest concern for countries that are wholly dependent on gas from a single source, but, last winter, the UK also suffered unprecedented problems. In our case, they were a clear demonstration of how far short we continue to be of a proper and efficiently working single market in energy. The Commission has a massive programme of work to ensure that all EU customers, including British customers, are treated equally, that all EU companies, including British ones, can compete equally and that EU member states do not use fears of energy insecurity as an excuse to distort markets by creating so-called national champions. That is a big agenda for the European Commission. Attempts to add new competences instead of making proper use of existing ones are an absurd diversion. For example, the proposal for a single European energy market regulator should be rejected.
We must also retain flexibility on third-party agreements. It is desirable for EU countries to work out a common position on specific energy suppliers, but there are other energy suppliersfor example, Norwayoutside the EU, on which a common position is unnecessary. Overall, we need a pragmatic, market-oriented approach, the main goal of which is the results that customers and businesses want, not the aggrandisement of EU institutions.
Daniel Kawczynski: My hon. Friend intimates that there should be closer co-operation in the EU on energy. Countries in eastern Europe, such as Poland, are frustrated by Germany building an underwater pipeline in the Baltic sea from Russia to Germany. It is a disgrace and contradicts the spirit of a common EU policy on energy.
Mr. Brady: I am aware of the concern caused in the Baltic states, including Poland, by that decision. It shows how all member states could reflect more on co-operating freely to achieve the desired outcomes. Perhaps it is unusual to criticise the Germans for not being as communautaire as they might, but the decision that my hon. Friend cites is, perhaps, an example of it.
Energy, enlargement and the future institutional arrangements of the EU are all important, but the gaping hole in the Council agenda is an assessment of the Lisbon agenda and the massive competitive challenges that face the EU. We are 60 per cent of the way through the period that was meant to witness the EU emerge phoenix-like as the worlds most competitive knowledge-based economy. Not only has no progress been made, but we are moving backwards.
Business fears new wave of EU labour regulation
in the wake of a new EU Green Paper on Flexibility and Security in the workplace. Meanwhile, the City of Londonone of this countrys most successful business sectors, which has welcomed the prospect of a genuine single market for financial servicesis increasingly worried that the implementation of new rules will damage its international competitiveness.
It would be a tragedy if over-regulation from the EU blows it for London, just at the point when the City has a shot at overtaking New York. Far too much of the FSAP has ended up being about protecting inefficient players elsewhere in Europe, rather than really opening up markets.
Several other member states seemed to be more concerned about protecting themselves from competition within Europe rather than focusing on the increasing competition we are experiencing from the rest of the world.
The paradox is that the scale of the competitive threat to European economies is almost universally acceptedby the Commission, member states, businesses and the public. When The Economist produced its excellent analysis of the economic problems that France faces, with the cover showing Lady Thatcher against the background of the French flag and the banner headline, What France Needs, the editor John Micklethwait tells me that 24,000 copies sold on news stands in Francemore than four times the normal number. Yet month after month, year after year, we continue to slide in the wrong direction while other world economies surge ahead.
Keith Vaz: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. He is right to raise the Lisbon agenda, even though it does not feature toany great extent in the schedule for the discussions on 14-15 December. However, does he accept that Britain is a good performer on the Lisbon benchmarks? We are the fourth best performer in Europe. The problem is convincing our colleagues and partners in Europe that the benchmarks must be adhered to, otherwise we will never fulfil the good vision that was behind fashioning the agenda.
Mr. Brady: The right hon. Gentleman is right that that is one problem that we face. However, the other is the danger that additional regulation will damage Britains competitive position and stop our good performance. We must guard against that as well as trying to ensure that the Lisbon agenda is achieved throughout the rest of the EU. On that, as on so much, the United Kingdom could and should offer a lead to Europe, but does not.
While the British Government have wobbled and equivocated, other member states have been busy either ratifying the EU constitution, as Finland did yesterday, or pressing on with other ways of increasing the EUs powers. At a time of uncertainty and turmoil for the EU, the British Government have wasted an historic opportunity to lead the process of reform that is needed if the EU is to compete and prosper in future. The member states that are looking to Britain for leadership towards a more flexible, less regulated, more free-trading EU have seen instead a Government who are paralysed by their lack of vision and afraid to listen to the views of their own people.
Next weeks summit is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to rediscover the reforming zeal that he displayed when he addressed the European Parliament at the beginning of the British presidency of the EU last year. The longer the EU is forced to wait for the leadership that it needs, the harder it will be to achieve the necessary change. We hope that the Prime Minister will have something of substance to report to the House when he makes his statement on 18 December, but the indications so far do not augur well.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but I should at this point announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 15-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions, which applies from the right hon. Gentlemans speech.
It is always a pleasure to follow the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), but I noticed that he would not give way in order to hear what the Minister for Europe had to say, so we shall have to wait until 6.30 pm to hear my right hon. Friends riposte. It is always good to participate in these debates and to hear what the Foreign Secretary has to say about the forthcoming agenda of the European Council. I do not think that we received an explanation of where the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, is this afternoon. It is customary, when the Foreign Secretary speaks from the Dispatch Box, for the lead Opposition spokesman also to be here, although we are very grateful that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West is in his place.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put on record that my right hon. Friend is in Pakistan at the moment, undertaking an important engagement which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, a former Minister for Europe, will accept ought to continue.
I find it fascinating, as I always do when I attend these usual suspects debates, that Opposition spokespersonswhether it be the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks or the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, Westspend at least half their speech talking about the European constitution. That is not a subject for consideration at the forthcoming meeting. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West will have heard the Foreign Secretary say that the paramount story that is likely to come out of the meeting in Brussels is the process of enlargement. Although we have heard a recommitment by the Conservatives to supporting enlargement, it is not long since they sought a referendum
on the Nice treaty in order to block the enlargement that led to the entry of the A8 countries. That would have been the effect of such a referendum.
Mr. Brady: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot be serious. Given that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that she does not believe that we need institutional reform to accommodate 27 or more EU member states, the right hon. Gentleman cannot seriously believe that a referendum on the Nice treaty would have prevented further enlargement at that time.
Keith Vaz: Of course it would have. If such a referendum had gone against the admission of those countries, they would not have been allowed to come in. That is why the Nice treaty was raised in that way.
There are three issues that I want to discuss this afternoon. The first is enlargement. I am glad that Britain remains a champion of enlargement, and I am full of praise for the work of the Foreign Secretary and of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe in pushing forward the enlargement agenda. They are right to recommit themselves to the entry of Turkey as soon as possible, although there are many obstacles to be overcome. The Cyprus question has to be sorted out, and there are other issues that Turkey needs to address. However, the support of the United Kingdom and the constant reference by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe to Britains wanting Turkey to join the EU helps to make the case for Turkey. I hope that we will be at the forefront of that debate during next weeks discussions. I also hope that, as a country with historic investment in and historic ties to Cyprus, we will do our best to help to deal with any problems that need to be solved. Without Britains support, Turkey would never have become a candidate country. We therefore need to ensure that we push that agenda forward.
We also need to remind the public and the tabloid press how important enlargement has been. When I mentioned the accession of the A8 countries, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West talked about the need to get his plumbing system sorted out. I know that he was jokingalthough I am sorry if his plumbing system really is not workingbut the fact remains that the entry of the A8 was extremely important for Europe, for all the historic reasons that we have rehearsed many times in these debates. It was important because it united Europe again and created the largest single market in the world.
I am glad that we did not impose restrictions on the citizens of the A8 countries to come and work here. The figures show that more eastern European migrants have gone to Germany than have come to the United Kingdom, even though they faced quite severe restrictions there. The entry of the A8 countriesand their citizens coming to work in our country, whether on a long-term or short-term basishas been good for their economies, good for Europe and extremely good for Britain. The sum of £300 million has been added to the Treasurys coffers thanks to the arrival of the A8 citizens, and we are very grateful to them for being able to contribute in that way. It means that we do not have a grey economy. We have a straight economy in which people who earn salaries when they come to this country pay their taxes and national insurance.
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