Previous Section Index Home Page

According to the think-tank Open Europe, all long-term forecasts suggest that the EU is set to experience rapid relative decline. The European Union’s own forecasts suggest that by 2050 its share of world GDP will nearly have halved. A report by Goldman Sachs shows that the EU’s competitiveness will have been diminished by higher taxes and regulations. Ageing work forces and demographic downturns will mean deteriorating public finances across member states. Data from Standard and Poor’s show an unmanageable burden on public finances for member states, with the exception of Britain.

Why, then, is the default setting of the British foreign policy establishment stuck on closer integration with Europe? Why does the Foreign Office, which really decides our foreign policy, continue to push for more Europe? While China, India, the US and others benefit from increased competitiveness, the continent that industrialised first turns its back on the economic revolution that is happening beyond. Between the end of world war two and the 1970s, Europe, with relatively low regulation and tariffs, caught up with the United States. Since then, the EU has regulated and taxed itself to the point of stagnation.

Europe’s slow growth and stagnation are a consequence of dirigiste top-down integration, a pan-European system of regulation, government by remote bureaucracy and restriction of economic activity by unaccountable officialdom. Inward-looking fortress Europe creates high tariff barriers. The EU’s overall tariff rate is high and harms the UK economy. It harms UK consumers and
6 Dec 2006 : Column 396
households, particularly poorer households. That is not just harmful to us; fortress Europe hurts Africa and the developing world as well. Goods from Japan, for example, face average tariffs of 1.6 per cent., but on average Malawi pays 12 per cent., Namibia 20 per cent. and Bolivia 26 per cent.

Mr. Walker: Does my hon. Friend agree that although the European Union talks about fair trade, its actions are totally against fair trade?

Mr. Carswell: Absolutely. I think that the European Union is one of the biggest obstacles not just to free trade but to fair trade, and one of the biggest obstacles to the negotiation of lower tariff barriers. If politicians in this House want to help Africa, instead of making speeches that emote about it and posing for photographs, they might like to axe the tariffs. They might like to tackle the Foreign Office’s obsession with European integration.

Outside the European Union, with an independent trade policy made not by Mr. Mandelson’s remote officials in the interests of protectionism but by Ministers accountable to the House, Britain could liberalise trade. We could open our markets up to Africa and the developing world. That might upset the career diplomats at the Foreign Office, but as a report by the think-tank Open Europe shows, it would be good for the British economy. It would be in our national economic interest.

European integration has dictated our foreign policy agenda for too long. The Foreign Office establishment has gone unquestioned for too long. The challenges faced by the western world—the rise of China and India, terrorism, the mass movement of people—require some degree of international co-operation by national Governments, but they do not require supranationalism. Being in the EU means that instead of taking action to deal with real problems, successive Governments have sought to Europeanise responsibility. They have passed the buck to Brussels. That does not solve or address problems; it merely pushes responsibility on to remote and unaccountable technocrats.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend may be about to deal with this point, but does he agree that one of the essential ingredients—and one of the most malevolent aspects—of the system is the existence of harmonised legal arrangements imposing requirements and obligations on individual countries, irrespective of the wishes of their electorates? That contributes to the problems that he has identified, for example in relation to Africa, which is why it is so appalling. The European Court of Justice, capping the whole arrangement, is a driving force behind those problems.

Mr. Carswell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. An important fiat for closer integration is the judicialfiat of the European institutions—the fiat of judicial activism.

When those unaccountable technocrats take responsibility, politicians are able to create the illusion that they are responding without, in fact, taking action. I believe that the United Kingdom must withdraw from the European Union, because it is increasingly evident that it is in our national interest to quit.

6 Dec 2006 : Column 397

I do not consider reform of the EU to be a realistic option. The objective of every Government since we acceded to the treaty of Rome has been to reform the common agricultural policy. Despite three notable attempts, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that reform has cut subsidy by just 1.5 per cent. Far from liberalising and achieving the Lisbon objectives, it has meant that EU rules and regulations have grown ever more prescriptive.

The notion that we might reform the EU into something that it is in our national interest to remain part of is a fantasy. It is, I believe, the greatest Euro-myth of all. The EU cannot reform, because its institutions lack the democratic accountability and scrutiny that would drive them to reform. We often debate European affairs in the House, and there is much talk of reform. There is much talk of enlargement, the Lisbon agenda and qualified majority voting. It is so much hot air. It is time for the House to recognise what many in the country now recognise: the EU will not reform in the way that it should, regardless of enlargement. The Lisbon agenda will not be met. QMV will continue to make the continent sclerotic. When we debate European affairs we must debate the real issue: should we be in or out? I say we should be out.

6.10 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I had not planned to participate in the debate, but I have been encouraged to do so by the excellent contributions from Members of various parties. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell), who speaks with passion and knowledge about tariffs and other issues that affect the European Union. I hope that he understands that I do not necessarily share all his views, but it is nevertheless good to hear them.

Much of our debate has rightly focused on the upcoming European Council agenda, although I recall the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) asking why Conservative Front Benchers were focusing on the constitution: as that is not on the agenda so we should not need to discuss it. The point is that the constitution and issues around it are unresolved business; if we looked at the minutes of previous meetings, we would see that it is outstanding business. It should be brought forward. However, we seem still to be in a period of reflection. We have heard time and again in the Chamber about the growing economic competitiveness of India, China, Brazil and other countries, and yet we still seem to be in a state of reflection. The constitution issue is fundamental to how we will go forward. What is the purpose of the European Union? What is it actually for? Such questions are still outstanding and they need to be resolved.

Like many other Conservative Members, I am concerned about the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. The referendums in Holland and France showed that there is growing grass-roots concern elsewhere that there is an unaccountability in Brussels that is unacceptable and that powers should be returned from that central unit to the sovereign states. When it was devised, the whole purpose of the EU was as a trading platform not a political programme, but that is what it
6 Dec 2006 : Column 398
has turned into, and it has done so without any checks or balances. We are not addressing such accountability issues despite the fact that we now have the opportunity to do so, as there is an absence of anything concrete coming forward because the constitution has been hit into the long grass.

I intervened on the Foreign Secretary to point out that there is a concern about value for money. A lot of UK Eurosceptics could at least feel a little warmer about the concept of the EU if the waste of money aspect were addressed, and that would be simple to do. There is still the ridiculous situation of our having two Parliament buildings. We have a tentative idea that the Government are looking into that, but for how long do they need to do so? There are two Parliament buildings, and every time that all the MEPs—along with the whole caboodle—get on the gravy train and move from one side of Europe to another there is a complete waste of money. Let us get rid of Strasbourg; let us do that today. That would give the people of Britain a strong message that we would like to save money.

Mr. Hoon: I hate to give the hon. Gentleman a couple of history lessons, but I am forced to do so. First, he might recall that the origins of the EU are in the European Coal and Steel Community, an avowedly political project to prevent conflict between France and Germany at the end of the second world war. Secondly, the problem faced by all Governments who wish to address the issue of the buildings of the European Parliament was caused by the previous Conservative Government, who agreed that Strasbourg be a legally required site of the European Parliament. As to change that would require unanimity, I am less interested in the hon. Gentleman’s rather casual observations than in how he proposes to persuade 24 other countries to end that situation—including France, which happens to be one of those countries and where Strasbourg is located.

Mr. Ellwood: On the right hon. Gentleman’s first comment, he makes my point for me: the organisation was a trading platform and we should endeavour to go back to that—that is what I am suggesting that we do. Instead, it has taken on a political dimension; it has morphed into something quite different from what it started out as. On the second point, he is absolutely right that France is holding that up, but I do not see the British Government jumping up and down and pushing France and asking other countries to join us in saying, “What a waste of money that is.”

Let me move on to what the EU could do. [Interruption.] I should be grateful if the Minister for Europe listened. I thank him for doing so. The EU could play a very positive role in the reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan. He will be aware of the lack of co-ordination between the United Nations, the EU, the Department for International Development, the USA and the myriad non-governmental organisations in that country. There is no single overall co-ordinator with the authorisation to knock heads together and to move the reconstruction efforts forward. That is one area in which the EU could actually play a very positive role. I was saddened to discover during three visits that I paid to Afghanistan in the past year the mess that is being created because international agencies are unable to
6 Dec 2006 : Column 399
co-operate and work together. Huge sums are being wasted. Yes, there are some successful small projects, but given the scale of operation required to move Afghanistan forward, the EU could play a leading role, bearing in mind its power and organisation.

I turn finally to the balance between the EU as a security element and NATO. NATO has served us well in the past 50 years, providing the umbrella of security that Europe so needed. Unfortunately, there are elements within the EU that would like it to create its own security force, which would be absolutely wrong. I want the Government to confirm that they will commit themselves to NATO’s long-term future and not allow an EU-style security force to grow in conjunction with it. The Minister for Europe might say that the two forces could work side by side, but I put it to him that that cannot happen. The EU security forces that are already in existence are double-hatting with NATO operations and overlapping them, thereby causing confusion within the military structures. That needs to change, and we need to recommit ourselves to what NATO is actually for.

Britain has a proud history of standing up where other countries have remained quiet—of taking the initiative politically, diplomatically or indeed militarily, when other countries have stood on the sidelines. The EU is going down a river and nobody is willing to grab the rudder. Britain has a prime opportunity to take advantage of that—to show some initiative and provide a new direction for the EU that is worthy of all sovereign states, not just Britain.

6.17 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): If the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), ever forms a Government, I hope that he will remember that I was alongside him when it really mattered, bearing it in mind that attendance on the Government Benches—apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz)—is somewhat lean. I have a serious point to put to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been attending a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, and a meeting of the European Scrutiny Committee was also taking place. When the party managers choreograph our Parliament, they should hold discussions with the Chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee to see whether such clashes can be avoided. Some Members want legitimately to be in both places; however, even the Almighty found it difficult to be in two places at once.

There is a particular reason why I want to speak in this debate. When I made my maiden speech here nearly 15 years ago, I spoke about the prospect of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joining the European Union. I could tell from Members’ body language that they thought that I was completely off my trolley. However, it is amazing how people rewrite history. Not many will own up to having said that my notion was fanciful and unrealistic—indeed, some said that it was undesirable—but that was the reaction across the political spectrum at that time.

We should rejoice at the fact that Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries have been brought into the European Union. I say that because it
6 Dec 2006 : Column 400
is proven that the EU is one of the greatest vehicles for conflict resolution and minimisation. I proudly proclaim in this place and outside it, to any audience, that I am pro-European for that reason. I believe that the project was important politically, commercially and economically, but it also had a moral dimension. Of course, the fact that countries such as Poland—to which others have also referred today—are in the EU is a political act. Joining was extremely important to them, as a ratchet against the totalitarianism that they had endured for so long. This Labour Government can take some pride in that, whatever else might be on their record. [ Interruption. ] This Government can and should be proud of their role in EU enlargement, for which they argued in the Council of Ministers and elsewhere.

Opposition Members say grudging things about the many entrepreneurial and enthusiastic young men and women who are attracted here from central Europe, but they may speak otherwise at election times. Those people are entitled to be on the electoral register at the next general election, and I intend to ensure that they are able to vote for the party that allowed them to come here and contribute to our economy from day one. Moreover, they will be able to vote against those people who say different things to different audiences and who have been so grudging about their arrival in this country, even though they brought with them both enterprise and much needed skills and labour.

Mark Pritchard rose—

Keith Vaz rose—

Andrew Mackinlay: I see that I have rattled a few cages. I give way first to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), and then to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East.

Mark Pritchard: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he express the same passion to the Minister in respect of ensuring that the votes of members of Her Majesty’s armed forces are counted at the next election, as well as those of new EU members coming to this country?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That goes a little wide of the motion.

Andrew Mackinlay: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would not have given way to the hon. Member for The Wrekin if I had known that he would abuse my generosity. I think that there is a moral dimension to the expansion of Europe, and I am proud of Britain’s role in that.

I give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East.

Keith Vaz: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way.He has spoken with passion on this issue for the past15 years, but does he agree that it was unfair of the Government to impose restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria? The accession eight countries have proved that registration and the operation of the market mean that those who want to work will get jobs, and that those who are unable to find a job will return home.
6 Dec 2006 : Column 401
Should we not review the policy in respect of Romania and Bulgaria to ensure that countries joining the EU do so on an equal basis?

Andrew Mackinlay: I would not put the matter in quite those terms, but I broadly agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not believe that we have anything to worry about with Romania and Bulgaria, who will join the EU just after Christmas.

Earlier, I heard an Opposition Member go on about Polish workers. His remarks aggravated me, and I decided that I should repeat and place on the record something that a number of employers have told me. It seems that Polish workers have some peculiar characteristics—they turn up on time, and are enthusiastic for the work ethic. Those attributes are much needed in this country.

I believe that we have lost sight of the fate of the former Yugoslavia. I have not heard any mention of the region in the time that I have listened to the debatethis afternoon, but I hope that my right hon. Friendthe Minister for Europe will talk about the final negotiations on the status of Kosovo in his winding-up speech.

I believe that the Kosovo talks should pursue what is usually called a “Hong Kong plus” solution, which would mean that Kosovo’s final status would not be resolved this year. The enduring fiction is that Serbia and Kosovo are one country, when in fact it is clear that they are covered by two different jurisdictions. I do not want to get bogged down in a discussion about Serbia’s de jure geographical position or Kosovo’s independence but, under the formula that I propose, it might be possible to bring both territories into the EU.

I am aware that there would have to be some collaboration with the war crimes tribunal, but EU membership for Serbia and Kosovo would be in our interests, if it could be achieved. There would also be ramifications for any refugees who might be created if there were to be a return to conflict in the area.

We should take the initiative on Montenegro, a small country with a population twice that of the London borough of Wandsworth, and bring it into the EU. Some of the traducing of Montenegro is similar to what we used to hear about Slovakia and Malta not so long ago, but which we do not hear now. I do not accept all that business about it being a dodgy area with organised crime. If we brought Montenegro into the EU, it would be a signal to Serbia and other countries in the region that we also want to attract them to the Union.

The EU is a great vehicle for conflict resolution and conflict minimisation, so we should be proactive in discussing EU enlargement with those states. I am conscious of the legitimate argument that the EU needs time to digest its rapid expansion over recent years, but we should go the extra mile for states that were part of former Yugoslavia and bring them in as expeditiously as possible.

Next Section Index Home Page