Previous Section Index Home Page

The Government’s approach to the IGC negotiations is set out in detail in today’s White Paper. We want a reform treaty that provides a way for the member states of an enlarged EU to work together for mutual benefit, sets out the EU’s powers and limits, ensures that foreign policy remains based on unanimity, protects national security, and gives national Parliaments a greater role in EU decision making.

The Government will not accept a treaty that transfers power from the UK on issues of fundamental importance to our sovereignty. The agreement reached at the June European Council reflects the red lines set out by the UK. At the Council, we made it clear that we wanted a treaty without constitutional characteristics, and we stated clearly that we would not accept anything in a new treaty that required us to change our existing labour and social legislation; we would protect our common law system and our police and judicial processes; we would maintain an independent foreign and defence policy; and we would protect our tax and social security system. We secured all of that in the IGC mandate. We
23 July 2007 : Column 596
also secured an important clarification that national security is outside the scope of the treaty: the new treaty will state explicitly that national security remains the sole responsibility of each member state.

The measures set out in the IGC mandate, which now need to be turned into treaty text, offer the prospect of an EU that is more effective, democratic, open, and streamlined. The reform treaty will help to make the EU more coherent. The presidency currently rotates every six months. Instead, a new permanent President of the European Council will serve for a period of two and a half years. Over the next two and a half years, the presidency will be held in six-monthly rotation by Portugal, Slovenia, France, the Czech Republic and Sweden. In future, the permanent presidency will help to ensure better continuity.

The reform treaty will help to make the EU better able to take decisions. The principle of qualified majority voting, established by the treaty of Rome in 1958 and substantially expanded in the Single European Act 1986, will be extended to allow decisions to be taken more easily on issues where the 27 member states can bring genuine value by acting together. The UK will retain control over issues of importance to our national sovereignty, but there are many areas where it will be in our interest to work with EU partners, and to unblock decision making to allow us to do so efficiently—such as on urgent EU aid to third countries and humanitarian support operations.

The reform treaty will also help to make the EU more effective on the global stage. The IGC mandate includes a declaration stating that nothing in the treaty affects the responsibilities and powers of member states in foreign policy. Currently the EU has two primary external-facing roles: the EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, and the Commissioner for External Relations. The reform treaty will replace those roles with one new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. That will give the EU a clearer voice in promoting the agreed objectives that member states want to deliver around the world, without impacting on the independence of member states’ foreign policies.

Additional reforms proposed in the treaty are aimed at making the EU more democratic—with a welcome and greater role for national parliaments to be involved in the work of the EU, not least in policing subsidiarity—and more streamlined, with a smaller Commission, and a reduction in the number of Members of the European Parliament. Conservative Members may be pleased to learn that the reform treaty also sets out a mechanism for withdrawal from the EU.

Despite that, Britain’s place is and should remain within the EU, and this Government believe strongly that a policy of positive and active engagement in Europe over the past 10 years has yielded great benefits for the UK. EU membership brings us real gains in terms of wealth, jobs, peace and security. Around 3 million British jobs are linked directly and indirectly to our trade with other EU countries. More than half of our overseas trade is with other EU countries. Recent EU initiatives to tackle climate change and energy security have demonstrated the concrete benefits of active membership. The EU presidency statement on the Litvinenko case last week was very helpful.

23 July 2007 : Column 597

By the end of the IGC process, the EU should have moved beyond the seemingly continuous conversation about institutional reform and instead be focused on tackling the delivery deficit and on the issues where the EU can make real improvements in people’s lives. That includes EU co-operation in areas such as climate change, energy security, consumer protection, migration, economic reform and the fight against world poverty and international terror. On the issue of economic reform, for example, despite recent and real progress, there are 92 million economically inactive people of working age in the EU—more than the combined population of Scandinavia and all 10 of the member states who joined the EU in 2004. So it is clear that Europe has to be more effective in its delivery.

The mandate for the IGC promises to deliver a reform treaty that will achieve the UK’s aims and deliver for Britain, and for Europe, the capacity to act more effectively to tackle global challenges together. We are stronger when we work together with our partners in the EU to meet the shared challenges we face. An EU of 27 member states, with the prospect of further expansion in future, needs the reform treaty. The treaty will allow us to move beyond questions of process, and focus on delivering prosperity and security for our citizens. That is firmly in the interests of the EU, and most definitely in the interests of the UK. I therefore welcome the commencement of the IGC process, and the publication of this White Paper. The result, I have no doubt, will be a treaty that is good for Britain and good for Europe, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This White Paper is long overdue. We have before us a treaty of fundamental importance to the nature of the European Union and Britain’s relationship with it. It is two years since the original EU constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters, during which time the Government were largely notable for their silence. They have shown determination only in keeping the House and voters in the dark.

On the nature of what is set to be agreed by the intergovernmental conference, does the Minister agree with the Irish Prime Minister, who says that the new treaty is 90 per cent. the same as the constitution, or the Spanish Foreign Minister, who said yesterday that it is 98 per cent. the same? Does he agree with the Danish Prime Minister, who said that

Or does he agree with the German Chancellor, who said:

Even if he disagrees with the leaders of other EU countries, will the Minister confirm what members of his own Government have said about the treaty? Was not the then Foreign Secretary and current Lord Chancellor right when he said that if the treaty contained an EU President and EU Foreign Minister, it would effectively be the constitution, or does the treaty not create an EU President and an EU Foreign
23 July 2007 : Column 598
Minister? Was not the Trade Minister—Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, to give him his full title—right when he said:

If the Minister will not take it from those two ministerial colleagues, will he take it from his own Prime Minister, who, when asked at an Anglo-Irish press conference last week what he had been discussing, replied:

If even the Prime Minister can no longer keep up the pretence that the treaty is not a constitution, why is the Minister for Europe still bothering?

The Minister has pointed to one line in paragraph 1 of the IGC mandate to show that the constitutional concept is, as he put it, “abandoned”. What he did not read out to the House, however, was the very next sentence, which states that the new treaty

In other words, the constitution has essentially been brought back, but the name has just been changed. Was that not exactly the deal that the German presidency set out in its report of 14 June, which referred to


The simple truth is this: the Government’s main aim has been to re-label the constitution and hide how that has been done in the small print so that they can get out of their promise of a referendum. Is not that why the former Italian Prime Minister and current Home Minister said that the new treaty was “unreadable”, adding that the

Will the Government seek changes to the IGC mandate, or do they regard the current text as inviolable? When will an English text be available, given that the treaty has been published today only in French? Will the Minister confirm that an English text will be available to the House before we rise for the summer recess?

Does the Minister accept the opinion of legal experts that the new wording on competition seriously weakens the EU’s commitment to free and open competition? Should not the old wording in fact be restored?

Does the Minister share the concern that the new treaty, for the first time, potentially subordinates national Parliaments to EU institutions? Will he ensure that the wording of the relevant clause on that point is changed from “shall” to “may”? Will the Government support the Czech proposals for a new mechanism for member states to take back powers from the EU where that is appropriate?

As the IGC will be held in the summer recess, how will the House of Commons have genuine input into the process? I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose Chairman is in his place, has asked
23 July 2007 : Column 599
Ministers to appear before it during the recess. Has that offer been accepted and, if so, what are the dates for the scheduled hearings?

Is not the Minister just a tad concerned that the so-called red lines are falling to pieces after only a couple of weeks’ scrutiny? On the first red line—the charter of fundamental rights—is the Minister worried that Advocate-General Tizzano of the European Court of Justice thinks that no legal safeguard on the charter of fundamental rights will work if it is made legally binding, as the Government have agreed? Has he seen yesterday’s opinion from the Swedish Prime Minister that

Why has that red line already been downgraded from covering any change to UK law in any way simply to cover existing labour and social legislation? So that line is collapsing already.

On the second red line regarding criminal justice, can the Minister explain why it will no longer be intergovernmental, but subject to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction when the Government specifically blocked that, with our support, in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice? Can he explain why our national veto has been downgraded to only an opt-in?

On the third red line regarding the independence of our foreign policy, does the Minister share the apparent concern of the legal adviser to the European Scrutiny Committee that, because the safeguard on foreign affairs is only a non-legally binding declaration, it may be meaningless?

On the fourth red line regarding taxation, which we have argued all along was put up as a red herring, has the Minister seen the BBC Europe editor, Mark Mardell’s blog of 6 July? [ Interruption. ] Labour Members should listen to this; it refers to their Government. He said of that red line:

So there are vital issues at stake, even outside of the so-called red lines themselves.

Can the Minister explain why the Government now support a single legal personality for the EU, when the then Prime Minister boasted all along that he had blocked what he called “this potentially damaging proposal” at Amsterdam? Importantly, can he confirm that the ratchet clause, which would allow further centralising treaty changes without the need for an intergovernmental conference, is still in?

In the 2004 White Paper, the Government claimed that the constitution did not fundamentally change the EU. Now, they say that the constitution would have fundamentally changed the EU, but that the new treaty does not. If Ministers now admit that they were wrong then, why should we—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. As we have limited time for this statement, will the hon. Gentleman please draw his remarks to a close?

Mr. Francois: You were 30 seconds ahead of me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

23 July 2007 : Column 600

Almost every MP in the House stood on a manifesto that promised a referendum on the EU constitution. EU leaders, including the Prime Minister, say that the new treaty is the EU constitution. Ministers say that they want more accountability and consultation, so why will they not make themselves accountable and consult the British people? Why should the British people trust the Government, when the Government will not trust them? So we say: honour our promises, trust the people and let them decide.

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind half sentence at the beginning of his comments. He asked 13 or 14 subsequent questions, and I will try to get through as many of them as time allows. Incidentally, that is more questions than there are Conservative Back Benchers here today on this important issue.

The hon. Gentleman asks what the difference is between this and the original constitution. There is a substantial set of differences, not only across the EU, but specifically here in the UK. Not only do we have the opt-in on justice and home affairs, we also have the 13 exemptions or protections on qualified majority voting. Of course, we also have the protocol on the charter of fundamental rights.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the comments of my noble Friend comrade Lord trade commissar Digby Jones. If the hon. Gentleman were to be fair, as I know that he can be, he would also share with the House the fact that the noble Lord made those comments before the IGC process while commenting on the old constitutional treaty. The hon. Gentleman talks of our attitude on the IGC process. We are not tempted to reopen issues of substance on the basis that we got a very good deal.

On competition, the hon. Gentleman asks specifics. The fact is that the legal position on competition has not been changed. The system will ensure that competition in the internal market is not distorted, and that is guaranteed in a legally binding protocol in a number of treaty references: articles 4, 27, 34, 81 to 89, 96, 98, 105 and 157 of the European Community treaty.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a BBC blog. I have not had a chance to read it—I was too busy reading the various EU articles on unfettered competition—and I have the good sense not to have my own blog.

There is a strengthened role for national Parliaments, which should be welcomed across the House, particularly in relation to the issues of subsidiarity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is important that we continue to keep Parliament informed. I have attended relevant Select Committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords on that very issue in the past week or two, and we will continue to find ways to keep Parliament informed, including by providing draft non-confidential information that arises from the IGC process. The timing of the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing is really not an issue for Ministers.

It is absolutely clear that the foreign policy situation is unchanged. It is an issue of unanimity, where the rights of member states and national Governments are protected. On the issue of justice and home affairs, we do have that opt-in. On the charter of fundamental rights, I can do no better than to quote from article 1 of the IGC mandate:

the charter “reaffirms.”

I re-emphasise the point that we have not had referendums on previous treaties. This treaty transfers less power than Maastricht and the Single European Act. Only one member state—our good friends the Irish—is considering a referendum on the treaty. I look forward to continuing this conversation with the hon. Gentleman through the recess and beyond.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): We wholeheartedly agree with the Minister’s statement that the European Union brings real gains in terms of wealth, jobs, peace and security. Similarly, we agree that one of the key aims of the new treaty ought to be to ensure that the European Union is more effective, democratic, open and streamlined. However, Members on both sides of the House—whether they are for or against the European Union—will be disappointed by his reply about the way in which we will scrutinise the efforts of his Government.

Given that the Minister is making his statement today, just as the text of the treaty is being published in Brussels, and given that most of the work on the treaty will be completed before the House returns in October, how does he square that with the Foreign Secretary’s statement in the House in response to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes)? The Foreign Secretary said:

Next Section Index Home Page