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It is wrong to hold out as a threat the idea that those doing peacekeeping on behalf of the EU in, I think, 16 countries, should not be supported by some kind of bureaucracy that allows them to continue such fundamental work. That should not replace ours, or our seat at the UN, and the Prime Minister has made it clear that he would not allow that to happen.

The Prime Minister continued:

That means that justice and home affairs, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, should not be transferred from the third to the first pillar, and should not therefore become subject to qualified majority voting. That is fundamental.

The Prime Minister went on:

In other words, we still have the veto. He made the position clear:

Those four fundamental changes have been the result not just of the comments made by Opposition Members but by members of the European Scrutiny Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and like-minded people across the Chamber. I hope that that will change fundamentally the outcome of the Council
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meeting. If so, we will be talking not about a new constitution but about another amending treaty to the original treaty of Rome, which does not do any of the threatening things that the shadow Foreign Secretary has suggested. If he were in the Government and negotiating, at any time in the future, with his European counterparts, I am sure that he would agree with most of the common-sense proposals left in the original treaty. Some of them could be stripped out, and some of them, especially proposals relating to the power of parliaments, as opposed to the power of Executives, could be strengthened; I would certainly support that.

The institutional changes might founder on the Polish problem. When Poland signed up to the treaty of Nice, it was given a great deal, whereby it would have 27 votes, and Germany would have 29. Of course it signed up to that. It was rather strange that the convention then brought forward a proposal that would give Germany twice as many votes as Poland. How can one ask a country to enter a new system, and then change the voting balance? A wondrous system has been suggested whereby the number of votes a country has should be based on the square root of its population. Actually, it is quite simple: if Germany had nine votes, the UK would have eight votes, and Poland would have five and a half—alternatively, those countries would have 18, 16 and 11 votes respectively.

We need to deal with those institutional matters to get a solution. Agreement should not founder, however, on the myth that if the four fundamental parts of the amending treaty are taken out, a referendum will be required. I do not like referendums; they are not a sensible part of the system of government of this country. We have a liberal press, who would run the referendum according to what they thought the conditions were. With the best will in the world, even people like me, who are Euro-anoraks, could not make people understand the complexities of what we were voting on. It would be an emotional vote.

I hope that people will stop all this posturing, and wish the Prime Minister well in the coming Council. I hope that he will get an amending treaty that will safeguard Britain’s position, and I shall certainly support him in that.

2 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): Our debates on European affairs are among the most reliable features of the parliamentary calendar—reliable in that they turn up on schedule twice a year, and reliable in the predictable way in which they unfold—and that comforting familiarity has been on display in the Chamber again today.

With a few topical flourishes, today’s debate so far has been almost a rerun of the many debates on Europe that littered the period before and after the constitutional treaty finally appeared on the scene in 2004. It has been characterised by precious little being given away by the Secretary of State, save hints at red lines that have been well trailed in the media, and precious little being held back by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks
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(Mr. Hague), who demanded that pretty well anything resembling a treaty—let alone a constitution—should merit a referendum. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) made a characteristically robust speech.

I make no apologies for entering into the spirit of the afternoon by going over some old ground myself. However, as we have also observed today, there are topics other than the amending treaty that deserve some of our attention, and I hope to touch on one or two of them later.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome. Whatever our thoughts about the future, we ought at the very least to reflect on that, and on what has been achieved in the intervening time. In the course of the expansion of the European Union from six to 27 member states, communist and fascist states have been transformed, and the risks of war within Europe have been largely put behind us. Democratic values and institutions have been the priorities for many countries striving to join the European Union, and those values have become entrenched once the countries have joined. Similarly, their prosperity has increased many times as they have become embedded in Europe’s trading system and economy of nearly 500 million people.

Over the last five decades Europe has learnt to work as a whole, and to tackle problems that are beyond the control of individual countries. In an era of globalisation, climate change and international terrorism, the requirement for countries to work together has not dimmed. Britain has been a beneficiary of that co-operation, not least in dealing with terrorism. We should remember that one of the suspects involved in the failed attempts to bomb the London Underground two years ago was extradited from Italy within days of his arrest in Rome. Such a fast-track process has only been made possible by co-operation in justice and home affairs. It is just one example of the importance of being part of the European Union. Rather than displaying the ambiguity of some in the Labour party or the barely concealed antipathy of many Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats’ approach recognises the importance of the European Union and the importance of the United Kingdom’s playing a full part in it.

Mr. Goodwill: The hon. Gentleman spoke of new European member states putting aside some of their communist and fascist past, but does he not agree that in countries such as Italy, Austria and Poland, proportional representation has allowed political views of that kind to rear their ugly heads again?

Mr. Moore: I do not wish to be distracted into a debate on voting systems, tempting as that might be. The point is that by embracing those countries within the European Union, we have strengthened their democratic traditions and the values that underpin their Governments and way of life in this modern era.

It is now some two years since the French and Dutch referendum votes cast Europe into what was politely termed its “period of reflection”. The Liberal Democrats welcome the German presidency’s efforts to leave behind that period of doubt and uncertainty, particularly as the recent accession of Romania and
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Bulgaria has only emphasised the inadequacy of the current institutional arrangements. However, we need to move beyond the current navel-gazing: the time has come for the Union to refocus on the real tests in Europe and abroad. Globally, the EU’s combined political and financial clout should be used to tackle global problems, not least in furthering international development as a force for good in the fight against poverty.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman suggested that the European Union could do better in the world as a collective than as a group of individual states. Surely that does not apply to aid, in respect of which Britain, for example, does a much better job than the European Union. Is there not a case for saying that although some of the very strong countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Britain and many others could work as a loose collective if they needed to, individually they can do tremendous work in the world, and indeed may be held back by the restrictive nature of the European Union?

Mr. Moore: I respect the hon. Gentleman’s view, but I do not agree with it. I acknowledge that difficulties that may arise, but I believe that when countries can work together they can get more from their pound or euro than they necessarily can on a bilateral basis.

Europe needs to accept that it must enhance its capabilities on the global stage, and it needs to look carefully at the way in which it does that. In the context of the growth of India and China, Europe still has much to do to address the economic disparity among its member states, and to complete the single market in line with the objectives of the Lisbon agenda. Those are some of the real challenges for Europe and its leaders—challenges that affect everyday lives in our constituencies and those of our European counterparts. It is on those issues that people look for action, not constitutions and their associated trappings.

To deal with those key issues, however, we need a new institutional settlement. It is unsustainable to continue arrangements designed for a Union of six nations when there are now 27. There are obvious areas crying out for reform. For a start, it is essential for the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality to be put explicitly at the heart of the Union and its operation. We desperately need to tackle the lack of transparency in the institutions, and to clarify the roles of European and national Parliaments.

It is pretty obvious that the Union needs more continuity and direction in delivering its agenda, so it makes sense to replace the six-month rotating presidency with a longer-lasting arrangement. Equally, the large—to an increasingly embarrassing degree—Commission creates unnecessary bureaucracy, and should be slimmed down to create a more efficient and effective body. There is surely no disagreement about the fact that we need more efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in the Union. The need for institutional reform should unite us all. If only!

Three years ago we supported the constitutional treaty as a package that was, on balance, in the interests of Britain and the European Union as a whole. The treaty was certainly not perfect, however, and it raised important constitutional questions. Indeed, we
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believed that it contained some measures that altered the balance of power between the Union’s institutions and the member states sufficiently to require a referendum.

There are many reports on the current state of negotiations on the successor treaty, but we do not know for certain what will be presented at the Council meeting this weekend. The Foreign Secretary repeated today what she has said in the past—that she will not reveal her negotiating position in public—but as the shadow Foreign Secretary observed, not everyone has been quite so discreet. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have allowed the media to know their views, which have been well trailed by Members who have spoken today. They are all perfectly valid, but there is a rather hackneyed feel to them. That is not surprising, as they bear more than a passing resemblance to the red lines that were set out—and not breached, the Government told us, thanks to opt-outs and emergency brakes—in the original constitutional treaty. It is surely more than a little implausible that a mini-version of that treaty will seek to breach them now. As the shadow Foreign Secretary said, the red lines could more honestly be described as red herrings.

Mike Gapes: The hon. Gentleman referred to his party’s previous position of support for a referendum on the constitutional treaty, but he also said that the current situation was not yet clear. Has he seen the draft intergovernmental conference mandate document produced by the German presidency? It would change some aspects of the constitutional treaty’s proposals. If he has seen that document, does he believe on the basis of it that the Liberal Democrats will still support a referendum?

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman tempts me into dangerous territory. I have seen the mandate—it has been kicked around—and there are many different interpretations of it. As I will come on to say, we will do best to wait and see the actual documents before making judgments, rather than get ahead of ourselves.

If the outline—or the detail—of an amending treaty emerges from the summit this weekend, that will be welcome. Of course, if the Government do not succeed in their declared aim of much reducing the scope of the treaty, we will have to consider carefully how it should be ratified. We firmly believe that any significant changes, other than overdue institutional alterations, ought not to be introduced by stealth, and we will have to assess the text carefully to determine if a referendum is the appropriate way forward again. We cannot make that assessment at this stage. We will undoubtedly return to this issue time and again. We seem cursed to do so—and no doubt an excited public can barely wait.

The summit has an ambitious agenda, but we must hope that time will be found to discuss some pressing foreign policy issues. In particular, there ought to be an urgent discussion about the situation in Kosovo. Some eight years have now passed since NATO intervened to halt the murderous campaigns by Serbia. The “transitional arrangements” which were put in place then are now unsustainable. As many others have done, I visited Kosovo earlier this year, and the tension there was obvious. It is clear that the desire for independence
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and autonomy cannot be contained indefinitely. If there is no progress, there is a genuine risk of a new crisis.

We know that there are difficulties in the Security Council about the way forward. There are reports in today’s press about the latest initiative; perhaps the Minister will comment on that in his speech. We must be careful, particularly in the light of Russia’s position. The threat of the veto remains a key obstacle. There is a danger that the carefully worked out proposals put forward by Martti Ahtisaari will be scuppered.

We have a particular responsibility to the people of Kosovo, who are fellow Europeans. The European Union is central to the future status of Kosovo. Preparations for civilian support for the Administration are already under way and any new settlement is likely to be policed by an EU mission. It is therefore imperative that the European Council agree a robust position that can withstand Russian and Serbian attempts to prevent a solution. Britain’s and Europe’s interests in this dispute and in the region are clear and legitimate. The intervention in Kosovo was one of the high points of the Prime Minister’s foreign policy, but it remains unfinished business.

There is one other foreign policy issue that is rarely far from our minds, and which will demand time from the heads of Government this weekend. The serious and destabilising events in the occupied territories in the past fortnight have rightly already occupied some of our time in the House this week. Financial aid is essential to the ordinary Palestinians, who are most affected by these events but who have least say in them. Over the past year, aid has been severely restricted as a result of Hamas winning the Palestinian elections, with the Israelis holding back tax revenues and the European Union joining others in restricting the flow of funds through the temporary international mechanism.

There are serious problems with Hamas; we cannot duck that. In particular, its stated intent to obliterate the state of Israel is repugnant. But international attempts to force it to recognise Israel or to force it out of office have so far failed, and now the military wing of the organisation has asserted itself over the political wing. Hamas and Fatah are solely responsible for the violence of recent times, but the international community has failed to make any progress on the key Quartet principles by marginalising the political wing of Hamas.

Peace, the recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements are nowhere in sight. There will have to be a new approach when the immediate priority of humanitarian aid is resolved. The United States, Israel and the European Union have already decided to restore direct funding to the Palestinian Authority and its emergency Government, which we welcome. However, the new reality in Palestine is that there are two Governments: one in Gaza and one in the west bank. Given that the emergency Government have little or no influence in Gaza, it is essential that the European Union explore ways to ensure that vital aid reaches the desperate and impoverished people there as well. That must be a priority for the European leaders later this week.

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The risk of failure at this week’s summit is high. Europe desperately needs to show that it has found a new direction and sense of purpose after two years of introspection. It needs to show that it can lead on the key foreign policy issues of the day. While leadership in our country is changing hands, we cannot afford to be distracted. More than ever, it is vital that the United Kingdom finally play a central part in Europe and help to make a new European Union a reality.

2.16 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Last July, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs published a report on developments in the European Union, in which we said:

The Foreign Secretary yesterday told the Select Committee that many EU countries had been in denial about the facts that we pointed out. I have to say that not every member of our Government was saying last year that the treaty was dead; there was obviously a diplomatic reluctance to say so, even though everyone in this country knew that there was no prospect of a treaty that had been rejected in France and the Netherlands being endorsed in the United Kingdom.

We are where we are, and the negotiations this weekend will be difficult. Not only have 18 countries ratified the constitutional treaty, but about three others would do so through their Parliaments if they thought that there was any point. Other Governments, including ours, are in a different situation. The French and the Dutch rejected the treaty, the Poles have a particular position and the Czech Government also have some problems. It is not only the UK that has difficulties, red lines or concerns, but it will not be easy to get agreement on the basis of what has been put forward so far.

I have read the draft intergovernmental conference mandate document produced by the German presidency and made available yesterday, and I have studied certain aspects of it. It is unfortunate that Members of this House and parliamentarians across Europe have had such a late opportunity to consider it. As I have already said, I believe that whatever comes out of the negotiations at the weekend, if it is decided that we in this country will not conduct a ratification process by means of a referendum, there must be thorough engagement by parliamentarians. I do not like referendums. I agree with Clement Attlee’s remarks about devices of demagogues and dictators—a phrase that Baroness Thatcher also used in a debate in this place.

We need Parliament to be sovereign on these matters—Parliament as the expression of the popular will, able to engage in, debate and consider such provisions clause by clause. If and when we get something that can be put forward for ratification, it is essential that we have a parliamentary process leading up to the intergovernmental conference envisaged under the Portuguese presidency.

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