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6 Dec 2006 : Column 364

I need not rehearse all the arguments or mention the European Court of Auditors reports, the failures of the European Commission periodically and the real problems that lie at the heart of the system, which needs to be reformed into an association of nation states. The system must be fully democratic, with co-operation where necessary, on the principle of subsidiarity—whatever that word means; it depends on whom one speaks to—and it must operate in a way that genuinely allows freedom of speech and the freedom of markets to be determined by freedom of choice. That must lie at the heart of the democratic system. Accountability ultimately depends on that freedom of choice.

Kelvin Hopkins: I very strongly support the hon. Gentleman’s emphasis on democracy. In reality, is not one of the reasons why the EU is not democratic the fact that the elites that run it are fearful that their citizens do not support what they are doing and might vote against them?

Mr. Cash: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. It would be difficult to say that this is not a party political matter, but it is also right for me to say that this is a matter of such importance that it is essential that we have an understanding on both sides of the House about the importance of the principles that I have enunciated. I have demonstrated the lack of democracy and I could enlarge on that. There are so many instances of proof. It is a matter of overriding national interest that we get this right.

I asked myself, “Where are the problems and difficulties that arise?” In the context of the system that now exists, they reside in most of the other member states. In Germany, for example, there has recently been a challenge to the European constitution through the German constitutional court, which has decided to put the matter to one side for the time being, because there are political questions that have yet to be resolved. However, the court did not suggest that it thought that the European constitution was consistent with the German constitution. In fact, I get the impression that it does not think that it is consistent, but it wants to put that on one side until the political questions are resolved during the course of the German presidency.

What is the German presidency after? In my opinion—I know that this is controversial, but I have said it before—the German nation, in its own vital national interests, believes in a concentric circles plan. Michael Mertes, who devised the plan, had a clear idea of it. I discussed it with him at great length on a number of occasions. The indications are that, whether by design or otherwise, Germany would end up by having a disproportionate amount of dominance in a Europe dominated by the system of qualified majority voting. Those countries that are economically or politically dependent on Germany, which includes most of the new entrants, would be in a difficult position. How would they be able to vote against a country to which they were so deeply committed economically? I am not trying to evoke dark impressions of the past. I am saying that there is a realistic problem, which some people want to push under the carpet, but which has to be considered
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responsibly in this Parliament, which represents a system of democracy and accountability.

We know that Chancellor Merkel intends to start the revival process in January. We understand that she wants a road map, leaving it to the subsequent presidency to take things forward. Apparently she is not optimistic about the German presidency solving the constitutional issue, but the fact is that she wants to kick-start the process. She is also against cherry-picking, or, in other words, taking bits and pieces, like Nicolas Sarkozy. She is against him on that. However, the reality is that underneath, there is a continuing commitment in Germany, in the Chancellery, to the idea of a European constitution and all the problems that will flow from it.

There are two contenders for the presidency of France. One is Ségolène Royal. I happen to be a strong and fervent admirer of France. My father is buried there. He was killed in 1944, in the war, fighting for liberty. Ségolène Royal says that she does not want a two-speed Europe. However, in effect, she wants a hard-core Europe, relaunched with Germany, Italy and Spain—so we are told. She has expressed considerable concern about the American influence. She says that it is possible to have treaties within the treaty among four nations. I say that she said that, but actually it was said on her behalf. However, I do not think that we can have any doubt about the interpretation of that. Mr. Savary, who is her spokesman, also said that goals should include convergence of tax and social security and that there would be talks on a European army, which would not replace national armies.

So, we have a mixed picture—in France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere in the Nordic countries. It is not just a mixed picture, but a picture of confusion and uncertainty that makes the disintegration of the eurozone more likely. That will be driven by an implosion, with problems due to high unemployment of the kind that we have seen in Paris, Lyons, Hungary and elsewhere. The system will not work.

This country has been denied a referendum. Apparently, the Prime Minister is in favour of the European treaty, but he will not bring forward another European Union Bill. He says that treaties cannot be implemented in part, but what kind of treaty will there be? People can look to the future against the background of the considerable differences that exist, such as Mr. Sarkozy suggesting that we would want a legal personality for the Union, that we should have more majority voting and that there should be a Foreign Minister. As I put it to the Prime Minister—I think that he saw a googly coming and decided just to play it straight back, if he could—as Germany is prohibited from having a nuclear weapon by the NATO treaty, but we are committed by article 5 of that treaty to a joint alliance in the defence of our interests, if NATO and Germany are going further abroad and there is talk of the European Union supplementing or subordinating our position on the United Nations Security Council with a European Foreign Minister, a European foreign policy and a European security and defence policy could not work because of such conflicting internal collisions.

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The whole problem with Europe is that it does not work—it needs to be remedied. It is undemocratic and it needs to be reformed. If people are not prepared to listen, yet we put our case in a measured and proper manner, there will be no option but to withdraw. However, I set that against the landscape that I have described. It is not an objective in itself—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his 15 minutes.

4.6 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): This is one of those many occasions on which I follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I did not want to interrupt his speech, but he simply never addresses one point when he talks about parliamentary democracy. By its very nature, Parliament rarely has the means of finding an opinion that is contrary to the Government’s because the party with the most seats forms the Government. It is not undemocratic that the Government win votes, because that is the way in which the process works.

I want to ask two questions that are specific to the Council meeting in the hope that the Minister for Europe will be able to address them. In the context of enlargement, will there be any consideration of the problems that giving Kosovo an independent status could cause with Russia? It would be the first state that was not a former nation state to be given independent status, so that could be seen as a green light for some of the rebellious groups on Russia’s borders.

Secondly, what progress is being made on the security of energy supply? I find it extraordinary that that is not at the top of the agenda, especially, as we heard earlier, given the quite extraordinary way in which Germany is conducting itself in its dealings with Russia. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will have to say about that when he winds up the debate.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): The hon. Lady is absolutely right about energy. Is there not a considerable danger that Russia will simply pick off individual states one by one, as it has done with Germany, and say, “Have a pipeline and all is forgiven.”?

Ms Stuart: I absolutely agree that that is the danger.

One of the features of these debates is that they are very much like groundhog day. We never get to grips with the way in which the European Union really works because we are dealing with such a long-term process. It was mentioned earlier that if one wants to get something on the agenda, one has to flag it up about two years in advance.

It is easy to overlook the way in which the process by which the European Union forms its institutions actually works. There is no single voice with any cohesion within the Union, other than the one calling for deeper European integration, and it is foolish to think otherwise. There are two ways of achieving that deeper integration. The first is to use crises, and the other is to create new institutions. Rather than anyone saying, “On this occasion, we will deal with the problem in hand,” crises, whether it be a terrorist attack or bird flu, are used as a pretext for setting up structures that lead to deeper integration. New institutions always start with a particular function
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but end up doing something quite different. My objection to that is the absence of honesty; what is proposed may be fine, but we should be up front about it.

It is interesting to follow the path of the European Defence Agency, an institution that is just emerging as something quite different from what it was meant to be. I hope that the Government will keep a close eye on it to ensure that it delivers what it was originally meant to deliver. It is a bit like a mixture of Cardinal Newman and Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams”. The European Union believes the saying, “Build it and they will come”. Cardinal Newman believed that it did not matter how small the step was, as long as it was a step forward, and that applies to attitudes to deeper integration, too—one must never turn back, because to do so is to be regarded a heretic.

The European Defence Agency started life just before the European Convention process started in 2003. Defence has largely been outside the treaty obligations. Any real, big progress in defence co-operation has always occurred when the UK and France decided to do something, and things would move on from there. It was during work on the Convention in 2003 that it was first rumoured that a new agency was to be set up. I thought that it was an extremely good idea, because it was to be called the European military capability agency, and it was supposed to identify and monitor military capacity. When it was first set up, the UK Government were most concerned that it was the Commission’s way of making defence procurement a Commission responsibility through the back door, but that was never mentioned, and the agency was set up. It was a key part of the constitutional treaty, and although the treaty was rejected, we went ahead with the agency because the truth was that we did not need the treaty provisions to set it up. The UK was comforted by the thought that it was run by a Brit.

If one looks into the way in which the agency operates, there is still a hell of a lot of duplication going on. It seems to be leading to greater protectionism, too. It has a budget of €22 million for 2007, which, in defence terms, is chickenfeed. The United States of America spends $18 million a month supporting Pakistan in its counter-terrorism activities, so €22 million for the whole of Europe is not very much. However, what the agency does with that small sum is bicker and argue. Four or five years after its original, very helpful, purpose was decided on, it is enlightening to look at the agency’s report on what it thinks that it has achieved.

The agency thought that its major achievement was

which shows that it concerns itself with procurement, rather than with conducting a real audit of the capabilities and shortcomings across Europe, or with setting out who needs to do what. The agency claims that its website is a big achievement, and that its

The agency

but it goes on to say that it supports

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That was not the original idea; the original idea was to make the money spent far more effective by making sure that, when a country purchases something, it fits in with what is needed across Europe. That does not mean that there should be only European purchasing, or that we should become protectionist. The agency regards it as one of its main achievements to have made things much more protectionist. Towards the end of the document, under the heading, “Some negatives”, the agency casually mentions that

member states

Many Europeans regard the institutions as a huge achievement, but all that we have done is set up a bureaucracy that bickers about how much money it spends. The UK is comfortable with the agency, because it was headed by a Brit but, in its own words, it has failed to address the problem that the EU must confront if it wants to be a serious player in defence. It must start spending more on defence—despite all the protestations, defence spending continues to go down—and rather than fighting NATO, it must start to work with it.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has just returned from Afghanistan. The operation there is not a proper NATO operation but a balkanisation of NATO troops. Command is provided by the international security assistance force, but the national units protect their own turf, and in some cases they are sitting on their hands. In Riga, we did not secure the advances that we wanted, but the good Europeans are comfortable in the knowledge that they have created an institution. That happens repeatedly, so I urge Ministers to demonstrate at the Council the healthy pragmatism for which the Brits are renowned. What is the purpose of the institutions that we have set up, and are they delivering it? For most partners, the setting up of institutions and initiatives is a mechanism to achieve deeper integration. I will admit that I am wrong the minute that a French or German politician says that there are some EU functions that are better performed by the nation states. But no one says so, as there is a continuous push for deeper integration.

I care about the issue—and this is where I have a deep disagreement with the hon. Member for Stone —because I do not want to return to an association of trading states. The EU should have political and trade functions, and it should work effectively. It appears, however, that with every step, we are moving further away from the people who have given us their consent. Their disillusion with the EU has deepened, because it is not delivering. The EU therefore risks falling apart, which would be a matter of deep regret.

I wish the Minister fair speed at the European Council, and I look forward to his response, particularly on Kosovo and energy.

4.17 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who made a telling point
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about the damaging growth of spurious bureaucracy in the EU. Her key point, however, was that people do not have a sense of ownership of EU institutions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, almost every aspect of our national life is subject to the influence of the EU, but people have no sense of control. As a result, there is a disconnection from the process.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that there should be an open door to new entrants. I accept, too, that for some countries on the borders of the EU, the possibility of membership is helpful in achieving reforms. I wish to explore that, but before I do so, it was Willy Brandt who said that the trouble with politicians was that they went into politics to resolve a given set of problems. Once they had done so, however, they failed to move on. The EU is a classic example, as the challenge that it faces is not one of constitutional centralisation, which is quite irrelevant to its needs, but one of demography and lack of competitiveness. Astonishingly, UK corporation tax, which used to be lower than the EU average, is now higher. As a percentage of world trade, the European single market is diminishing as a result of globalisation and other challenges. We have become more insular and obsessed with policies and directives that do not address those challenges for the long-term benefit of the people of this country and of other Europeans.

I echo the hon. Lady’s point. Notwithstanding all the ambitions for a common foreign and defence policy, what we have seen in Afghanistan is truly shocking. Although that is nominally a NATO exercise, our European partners have been unwilling to play their part in dealing with the terrible situation in Afghanistan, which is universally regarded as a huge challenge for all of us. There seems to be an inverse relationship, with those who plead more for political integration and centralisation being unwilling to face their domestic electorates and argue for the defence spending to make that credible and viable, and those who are conceited enough to believe that the European Union should be a force in the world being unwilling to argue with their domestic electorates for adequate defence spending. That makes a mockery of the EU’s demand to be listened to.

Like other hon. Members, I shall speak about the issue of Turkey. We sometimes forget that the accession process has been going on for a long time. Turkey became an associate member of the EEC in 1963. The formal application to join the European Community was made in 1987. Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate for membership in December 1999 at the Helsinki summit of the European Council. The negotiations for Turkey’s entry started only in October 2005. With the current problems, the issue will take at least a decade to resolve.

We should recognise the extraordinarily brave part that that country played during the cold war, right on the border of the old Soviet Union. We should respect the fact that Turkey played a significant part in our defence and our freedoms. Its geographic location enables it to play a hugely important part not only culturally, but militarily, between Europe and the middle east.

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