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6 Dec 2006 : Column 351

That is why I am at odds with the Government’s policy on Romania and Bulgaria, whose citizens will have the right from 1 January to come here, but not to work unless they meet certain criteria. That will place employers in an impossible position and put a huge burden on the operation of the immigration and nationality directorate. I am afraid that the policy will have to be reviewed. We read in the newspapers that my right hon. Friends the Minister for Europe and the Foreign Secretary were on the other side in this argument. I believe that they were right, and that the policy will have to be reviewed.

Ms Gisela Stuart: May I put forward another argument concerning Romania and Bulgaria? By definition, the people who leave their own country are often the best, the brightest and those with the most get up and go. Cannot those countries ill afford to lose those people to the bright lights of other countries, and might not our policy in fact be doing them a favour?

Keith Vaz: I have great respect for my hon. Friend’s knowledge of these subjects, and for all the work that she did on the European constitutional convention committee, but I think that she is wrong on this matter. It should not be for us to decide what is in the best interests of another nation. It is for us to be fair, and if we are fair to Poland and Hungary, we should be fair to Romania and Bulgaria. I have lost that argument, but in a year’s time, the Government will have to review their policy, because it is totally unworkable. I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, “Carry on doing what you are doing on enlargement. Keep ensuring that we are able to have these discussions, and let us not give up our position as the champion of enlargement.”

Kelvin Hopkins: Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), with which I totally agree, is it not a fact that the Polish Government have expressed concern about the loss of the brightest and best from their society? They need those talents, but they are losing them to the richer, more developed areas of western Europe. Would not that problem be even more acute in poorer countries such as Romania and Bulgaria?

Keith Vaz: I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, but I do not agree with him. Some people will remain in their own country, some will want to stay in the United Kingdom and some will want to go back, but it is for them to make that decision. It is not for British parliamentarians to decide where people from Poland should live, how long they should stay in this country or what effect they are having on their own country. It is legitimate for people to raise these issues, but it is not for us to make those decisions.

Mr. Davidson: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Keith Vaz: No, I will not, as I have given way a lot on that point.

My second point is on institutional reform. The constitution will not be the major feature of the European Council meeting, but the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West was right to raise the issue—although not at such great length. The fact remains that we need
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to address such matters. The Government’s position is absolutely right: there is no need to resurrect the constitution as, clearly, this country has no appetite for a referendum, and I do not think that that would be successful. The French electorate have put paid to the European constitution for a long while. It is now a matter of negotiation and discussions between Heads of Government in the normal way.

On institutional reform, however, we need to keep the British flag flying, as we should also lead the reform agenda. It is right to remind the House of the Prime Minister’s many speeches about Europe being more acceptable to the British people if it reforms itself. Clearly, it will not reform itself, so we must lead that reform. When Bulgaria and Romania become members, the EU will have 27 countries. I have attended European Council meetings, as have other right hon. and hon. Members present. It will be impossible to get decisions made at such meetings with 27 Foreign Ministers,27 Prime Ministers and 27 Europe Ministers—along with all the Commissioners—sitting round the table putting their countries’ positions.

I therefore say to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe that if we need to move ahead in areas in which co-operation is possible, when that is in the national interest, we should do so, as long as it does not result in the need for treaty changes—if it does, obviously, it is a great constitutional issue. If the practicalities of the way in which Europe is governed are at issue, we must go ahead. We cannot leave the European Union in a position in which decisions cannot be made and the organisation is paralysed.

That leads me to the issue of the Tampere agenda, which was agreed in 1999 and has now become The Hague formula—named after the city, not the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, who is in Pakistan—which is the agenda for justice and home affairs. Of what are we afraid? Surely we are in favour of controlling illegal migration, dealing with the drugs barons and controlling the trafficking of people. Of course we need to move forward on that agenda with our European partners. It would be astonishing if our security forces, the police and other agencies would not work in concert with the police, Interpol and the security services of other countries to deal with those three issues. What have people got against co-operation on that line?

I have no problem with giving up the veto on those issues. In majority voting, we are always on the winning side. The Conservative Government gave up the veto and allowed us qualified majority voting more than any other Government in the history of this country. Under them, the veto disappeared out of the window on whole areas of policy. I have no problem with QMV in justice and home affairs. In this day and age and in this climate, it is vital that we are able to co-operate with our European partners. I will take the judgment of Ministers on that, however, as they are in possession of the information, and they know whether it is right to do so. There is the argument—if the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West looks at the figures on the number of times that we are on the winning side on QMV, he will be amazed at the statistics.

My final point is on the Lisbon agenda, which was correctly raised by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, but, sadly, is not a matter that will
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occupy those in Brussels on 14 and 15 December. To my mind, it is the crucial agenda that Europe should follow. On the day of the pre-Budget report, it is important that we pause briefly to emphasise the importance of the Lisbon European Council, which was different from any other such meeting, as for the first time it set out strict and legitimate benchmarks against which countries are to be judged. The hon. Gentleman has an engaging smile, and when I asked him about our performance, he smiled. In fact, our performance is the best of the big countries in the European Union, thanks to the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the Lisbon agenda, we are the fourth best performer in Europe, Germany is 10th and France is eighth. On practically every one of the targets, especially the employment targets, we are well ahead of our European competitors. It was the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who ensured, while he was in Tokyo, that the derogation was agreed with Brussels so that we remain the financial capital of the world and keep New York at a far distance.

Mr. Cash: Surely the right hon. Gentleman must take account of the fact that the Labour party in opposition was completely in favour of monetary union, in principle and otherwise, and of the exchange rate mechanism. It is precisely because we are out of both of those that our economy is having relative success. That is a question with which the current Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to contend when he becomes Prime Minister.

Keith Vaz: We are in such a strong position, as we have heard from the Chancellor today, because of the polices of this Government and the stewardship of the Chancellor. Let us not get into a long debate about how economic policies compare.

Please will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe ensure that he pushes the Lisbon agenda forward in discussions? We waited for and received the mid-term report—the Kok report—which was published in 2005, and which made sorry reading. Europe’s economy will not be the most dynamic in the world unless it can meet the Lisbon benchmarks, and we cannot wait for five years to find out about that. I know that the issue was pushed forward in a meeting of Finance Ministers on4 December to discuss innovation. We need to push the Lisbon agenda forward at all times, as it is the only way in which we will make a difference to Europe’s economy.

I wish my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe well in pursuing the agendas set out so well by the Foreign Secretary today. In doing so, he has my support and, I think, the support of the vast majority of Members of the House.

3.17 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests.

This debate has certain traditions, one of which for me is to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). It is a pleasure to do so, as he has spoken a lot of good sense about the issues facing Europe. The debate also always has a slightly surreal quality, which has been honoured by the references to plumbing and the idea that the Eurovision song contest
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is setting the agenda for enlargement. Thankfully, a lot of serious points have also been made, which the subject of Europe surely merits.

Two weeks ago, two important speeches were made on the same day about the future of Europe. Each, however, said different things. One was made by the Foreign Secretary, who was addressing European Union ambassadors to the United Kingdom at the Finnish embassy in London. The other was made by the Minister for Europe, who was addressing the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin. Of course, the differences in the speeches might be viewed as the latest twist in the soap opera of King Charles street, which has been entertaining some and depressing the rest of us in recent months. On that occasion, however, the differences were not about splits—at least not on the surface.

The Foreign Secretary’s speech dwelt on the challenges of climate change and energy security, the increasing complexity of Europe’s external relations and the importance of common responses to the threats posed by international terrorism, and touched on the desperate need to make progress on the Doha trade round and to tackle the desperate situation in Darfur. The Minister for Europe’s speech focused on the historic recent enlargement of the Union, the opportunities offered by the growth of the single market, and the need to reform Europe’s institutions if we are to make the most of Europe’s potential.

Whatever the differences on the Treasury Bench, one does not need to be too charitable to acknowledge that the two different speeches underline the sheer breadth of issues confronting the United Kingdom and our European partners, and the importance of ensuring that, as a country, we are committed players in a growing European Union.

The recent mood has been downbeat, and it is proving hard to shrug it off. We have had a somewhat muted and low-key 12 months since the rejection of the constitution by France and the Netherlands. Finland acceded to the presidency with high hopes of re-energising the Union, bringing the passive period of reflection on the constitutional treaty to a close, and starting active discussions on the future of the treaty; but, with recent inconclusive elections in the Netherlands and French presidential elections in 2007, it is not surprising that the issue has barely been discussed by European leaders, openly at least.

We believe that recent and planned enlargement will place further pressure on Europe, which will force further reform of the institutions. Only yesterday, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Altrinchamand Sale, West (Mr. Brady), Finland became the16th country to ratify the draft constitution. Perhaps that was a belated attempt to restart negotiations on the treaty; but whatever the reasons for the ratification and whatever Finland hopes to achieve by it, it is clear that the review of the constitutional process as it stands is virtually moribund and in need of a fresh start.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman mentioned Finland. Some years ago I asked a Finnish journalist why Finland did not hold a referendum on these matters. The journalist said, “We could not hold a referendum: the people would not vote the right way.”

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Mr. Moore: That was an unfortunate and cynical calculation. Perhaps similar thoughts have crossed politicians’ minds in this country in recent years.

It is important for us not to concentrate on examining our constitutional navels. Europe must not lose sight of the need to address the delivery deficit which directly affects all the people of Europe. That means refocusing on the economic weaknesses that the Lisbon and Hampton Court agendas have sought to address, and, in the wake of the stark warnings in the Stern report, on tackling the urgent issue of climate change. Whatever the disappointments of the past six months, we should not blame the Finnish presidency, which for the most part has been left to deal with more immediate, although none the less important, issues. In particular, the issue of Turkish membership of the European Union has continued to be a key challenge for Europe, and controversy continues to be inextricably linked to the issue.

The twin issues of relations with Cyprus and fundamental internal reforms continue to provide barriers to a smooth accession process, but those barriers must not come to be regarded as insurmountable. Turkey will have to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, and further moves towards settling the Cyprus dispute are clearly a prerequisite for Turkish accession, as are measures to tackle the shocking human rights issues in the country. However, it is important that we reinforce our commitment to Turkish accession to the European Union. There ought to be no ideological or—despite what some may try to assert—religious barriers to Turkish membership of the Union. The issue of Turkish accession may prove to be the most difficult of the enlargements that Europe has undergone, but in the end a reformed, democratic Turkey will be stronger, and at the same time will strengthen the European Union. It must be worth the effort.

Of course, the issue of Turkish membership is not the only matter of enlargement with which we are concerned. The enlargement process must continue in the Balkans, and we must reject any idea that the Union’s absorption capacity precludes any further members from south-east Europe. The Balkans are a hugely important part of our continent and we are all affected by what happens there, as was demonstrated so disastrously in the 1990s. The legacy of those conflicts is still with us in Kosovo and Serbia, where the fragile state of affairs is testimony to the difficulties of overcoming conflict.

The coming year will be important for Kosovo and Serbia, and we must hope that the Council will address these matters. There will be elections in Serbia in January, and the results of Kosovo’s final-status process are expected shortly thereafter. It is important for Britain to speak strongly on the issue. Serbia’s recent reassertion of its territorial claim to Kosovo means that there are tough times ahead for the region, but some form of internationally guaranteed independence for Kosovo is inevitable and vital. Serbia and its neighbours must recognise that. Moreover, all the aspirant countries in the region must recognise their continuing obligations to satisfy international demands relating to the war crimes committed during the bloody conflict of a decade ago.

A strong approach is essential, but it is also crucial that the Union continues to offer the carrot of membership to the region as the countries continue to undergo the difficult process of recovery and reconciliation. Accession
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and its economic and political benefits remain an important prospective reward for the difficult choices and the work involved. For the Union, it will represent the chance finally to unite all the different corners of Europe in a peaceful and prosperous continent, and the hope of burying the terrible legacy of Europe’s 20th-century conflicts in the process.

Despite its aspirations, the European Union’s external relations have at times been fragmented and haphazard in recent years, not least owing to the divisions caused by the Iraq war. Increasingly, however, it is becoming apparent in both Europe and Washington that European involvement is a crucial component of international affairs. We therefore need to develop Europe’s capability in its external relations policy. That requires difficult choices on the part of member state Governments, not least the British Government. We need to rebalance our British foreign policy, away from dependence on taking Washington’s lead and towards greater influence within Europe. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the middle east, where the United Kingdom appears to have been completely bypassed by the recent Spanish, French and Italian peace initiative. Current international policy towards Israel-Palestine is in danger of irreversible failure, and we need a serious rethinking of that policy if we are to see a solution.

Europe has an important role in the region, and in resolving that conflict. The EU is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians. In 2005 it gave €500 million, and the figure for 2006 is expected to be even higher. In Lebanon, too, Europe is a key donor, pledging€100 million following the disastrous conflict earlier this year. The Union also has an important economic relationship with Israel through the association agreement. We are Israel’s largest trading partner, representing 35 per cent. of its trade—a full 10 per cent. more than its trade with the United States.

Europe therefore has the motive, which is the crisis in our neighbourhood, and the means, which is our economic influence in the region, to play a greater role. For too long we have been the banker for a failed international approach to the conflict, providing hundreds of millions of pounds to rebuild what has just been destroyed in the most recent confrontation. That money, rather than genuinely developing Palestine and Israel by reversing their descent into poverty, is in essence paying the cost of each failed military action.

The Franco-Spanish initiative was welcome and served to remind us how far removed we are from the road map, but it did not set out a new strategy, and without support from countries across the Union—including Britain—it is likely to become just another failed initiative. What we need is a new common European position on Israel-Palestine, and such an approach must continue to be based on the Quartet’s principles to create a secure and stable state for both Israel and Palestine. Europe must use its economic and geographic influence, backed up by a willingness to be part of the necessary security measures, to ensure that we get a proper and sustainable peace in the region. Unilateral UK efforts or trilateral European efforts are unlikely to succeed. The European Union is the formal member of the Quartet; it must act in accordance with that fact, and not simply continue to bankroll an increasingly failed policy over which it has limited influence.

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