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The second important aspect of the treaty is that it brings to an end a lack of coherence, a potential contradiction. Until now, the European Union has had
a distinct untidinessit is worse than untidiness; it is a serious administrative handicapin the division of responsibility between the Commission in its external affairs function and the high representative on one hand, and the country holding the presidency of the Council on the other. Until a few months ago, I sat on the Select Committee on International DevelopmentI lost that position for reasons that I shall not go into nowand I frequently saw at first hand how frustrating and almost incomprehensible it was to third-world countries to have to deal with two different representatives of the European Union. In matters of foreign policy, human rights and security, they had to deal with the high representative, Javier Solana. On matters of trade and aid, which are enormously important to a large number of developing countries, they had to deal with the External Relations Commissioner.
It is always difficult to get two or perhaps three extremely busy people such as Peter Mandelson, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner and Javier Solana all in the same room at the same time in Beijing, Delhi, Abuja or wherever it might be. That is virtually impossible, but in order to have a coherent, meaningful and fruitful discussion between the European Union and the third-world country concerned about the range of issues of interest to both sides, it would be necessary to get those three individuals into the same room. That is absurd. All those individuals have their own staffs, their own briefing and so forth. No doubt those staffs have their own bureaucratic interests and agendas. That cannot be avoided in any bureaucracy, even in one as effective and as relatively lean as the European Commission. It is a highly undesirable situation.
Anyone coming from a private sector backgroundthe right hon. Member for Wells, like myself, comes from that background and understands these thingswould be horrified at such administrative muddle, duplication and possibility of creating misunderstandings all round.
Mark Lazarowicz: The situation is even more complex when the Foreign Minister of the country holding the presidency is involved in those discussions, because as well as being the President of the Council, the Foreign Minister will have responsibilities in his member state, and will no doubt have to attend his own Parliament and perhaps deal with constituency matters in his member state. That is another reason why the arrangements proposed in the treaty are sensible for the efficient working of the institutions.
Mr. Davies: Indeed. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who set out clearly and lucidly the reason for another major reform enshrined in the treatythe replacement of the rotating country presidency by a personal president with a two-and-a-half-year tenure. That would be another enormous advantage.
Against that background, the proposal under discussion is not only a timely move, but one that should have been made a long time ago. I thought that the Conservative party, of which I used to be a member, was a pragmatic party which considered the practical costs and advantages of any move and whether a particular change had a reasonable chance of achieving some practical and desirable outcomes. I find that in many cases hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, not for the first time in some cases, take an essentially dogmatic view of these matters.
They get caught up in the treaties, sub-clauses and so on, and are reluctant to consider the practical consequences of any decision that we take in the House about further constitutional amendments to the European treaty.
I emphasise the point that I made at the outset: that the proposal is a pretty modest way forward. A plausible and convincing argument could have been madealthough I do not want to make it at the present juncturethat the treaty does not go far enough, and that there should have been qualified majority voting on ESDP matters.
There was a case earlier this weekthe matter of the recognition of Kosovoabout which the European Union was all over the place. That was obviously an undesirable situation. If the European Union splits three ways, as it has done on Kosovo, with some member states such as Spain refusing ever to recognise an independent Kosovo, some such as the United Kingdom jumping in to recognise Kosovo at the earliest opportunity, and some preferring to wait and see, it is sending not one signal or message to the world or to Belgrade or Kosovo, but three, and those three are likely to be in conflict.
The net effect of all those foreign ministries, which cost a lot of taxpayers money in all our countries, and of all those Foreign Ministers giving press conferences and making speeches, is to negate each other. That is, on pragmatic grounds, a rather undesirable waste of resources and it shows a regrettable lack of effectiveness in foreign policy. One might well have made a coherent case for going the whole hog and having qualified majority voting; in that way, the Council of the European Union would have got together last week on a QMV basis and decided whether to recognise Kosovo, to make a declaration that it would never do so or to wait and see. Had it done so, it would have mobilised the full force of the considerable influence that it can bring to bearpolitical influence, and influence in respect of economic back-up and potential defence capabilities.
We have not gone down that road, although we could have. I am surprised that people have not said that we should go further. As far as I can see, the Opposition amendments have come from those who say that we have gone far too far, that it is all terrible and that British and parliamentary sovereignty and the traditions of our constitutional history are coming to an end. As I have said, we have heard that rhetoric so many times before.
Finally, I should like to make an elementary, logical point. What is the difference between what would happen if we and the other place passed this legislation and if we did not? If we pass it, and have unanimity on ESDP decisions, we can count on being part of a body that will, effectively, exercise a superpowers power in the world and will therefore be much more likely to resolve any problem. That is a plus; we will have a mechanism that we can use if we want toalthough we do not have to, because there must be unanimity. We will have an additional asset, resource and source of leverage on events. If, however, we or others decide not to agree to the unanimous decision of principle that needs to be taken before any action under ESDP is triggered, then we will be where we are now. Nothing will have changed. Bringing in the treaty will result, at worst, in our being in the same position as before. However, it could result in our being in a better one.
I do not know whether elementary logic looks different on the Labour side of the House, but it seems to me that my proposition would be immediately understandable to any member of the human race. If we have a choice between A, the current state of affairs, and B, a future state of affairsand if B cannot be worse than A, but could be betterthen logically we should go for B. The Conservative party does not appear to do logic these days; if it did, it could have saved us an awful lot of time. We could have put the whole measure through on the basis of unanimity in the House.
Mr. Gummer: Anybody who considers these matters in the House should, as I do, ask what is in Britains interests and how Britain should use what is in front of us to spread her influence. This is the question that I have to askis the treaty, in the respects that we are discussing today, a way for Britain to have greater influence in the world or will it limit our influence?
I say to the Government that it is a scandal that one should feel rushed at this point because we have not the time to talk about the rest. It is not sensible to ask us to discuss two hugely important mattersforeign affairs and defencein the circumstances given to us. From a Government who promised us line-by-line debate, that is an outrage. Frankly, it makes things difficult, even in respect of issues on which some of us on the Conservative Benches feel that the Government are closer to the truth than are others on our side. That is why I am sorry that the Minister has had to defend what has been an intolerable timetable throughout, but is on this occasion worse than usual.
However, this is too important a subject to allow the opportunity to go by. Let me deal first with a well-known argumentthe thin end of the wedge. If one does not like something and does not have a good argument to oppose it, one argues that it is the thin end of the wedge. I have used that argument with my wife from time to time when I could not think of a good reason why we should do something that I did not want to do.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who has made the best possible case for the argument that he is advancing. However, the thin end of the wedge argument, which I have heard in this House in all the many years that I have been here, is almost always wrong, because people who use it wish to avoid the fundamental question, What is actually before us?
We hear about the slippery slope and so on, but we should simply ask what is before us. [ Interruption. ] Let me explain to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who I think is fundamentally mistaken on this issue: at the moment, we have a presidency of the Council of Ministers and a mechanism whereby the Council is able to express its view on what we would call foreign affairs. We are not suddenly deciding that it should express its view on foreign affairs
but discussing whether the way that we do it at the moment is a satisfactory one that is of maximum use to the United Kingdom or an unsatisfactory one. The treaty of Lisbon says that it is an unsatisfactory one. We want a system that is more effective and efficientone that is not hugely different but that makes an incremental improvement.
If we do something that does not increase the European Unions power but increases its ability to do what we are doing already, some people who do not like the European Union feel that that is an unhappy circumstance, because they would really like it to be less efficient. I happen not to be one of those people. I want the European Union to be better because I want Britain to have more influence in the world, and it cannot unless the European Union of which it is a member is better able to influence the world and we are better able to influence the European Union. It is clearly better to have somebody who has gained some experience in these matters, who is elected by all the Ministers, and who has a limited period but a long enough period to get used to it than to ask the representative of Slovenia, for example, to become the sort of person in six months whom it would be difficult for many of us to become with a great deal more experience and much more back-up.
We have been trying to find ways round this for a long time. Although the UK did not hold the presidency at the time, I represented the European Agriculture Ministers in the Uruguay round discussions simply because my successor in the presidency was the Luxembourg Minister, who was also Minister of Defence and several other things, and it was generally felt that perhaps my experience as an Agriculture Minister would be better served elsewhere, so I went off to Chicago and did that job. I did not mention that to some of my Eurosceptic friends because I might have been in trouble. However, I did my best to represent Britains interests because we had the presidency of the European Union and therefore had a voice and could say something. Of course, it was about a common interest, but we would not have been listened to had it not been in the context of the European Union.
That is why the EU voice is important. Although some of us would like to be back in the days of empire when people listened to us because we were Britain ruling a quarter of the world, they do not do that any longer. They are more likely to listen to 27 nations coming to a common position. Having a structure that enables us to come to a common position and that needs that common position before the president can represent us is a sensible step. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison)a very great friend and long-standing colleaguethat we need thereafter to have some system of majority voting because it is not possible to work out the details unless we do. That is an excellent balance. It is a balance between the principle of deciding in commonif we are frightened about the process, we can stop at that pointand trying to work something out together when a certain amount of give and take is necessary to achieve a sensible end.
It is very simple; Britain must decide. Can it risk the give and take of 27 nations, and believe itself strong enough to produce the answer that is best for the British people, or is it so frightened, so uncourageous
Rob Marris: I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has given way. Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) directed me, when we were talking about qualified majority voting and European Union foreign policy, to article 31, on page 23 of the consolidated text, which I can assure him I have been reading. In paragraph 2, after the bits about qualified majority voting as implementation of a common policy decided unanimously, it says:
If a member of the Council declares that, for vital and stated reasons of national policy, it intends to oppose the adoption of a decision to be taken by qualified majority, a vote shall not be taken. The High Representative will, in close consultation with the Member State involved, search for a solution acceptable to it. If he does not succeed, the Council may, acting by a qualified majority, request that the matter be referred to the European Council for decision by unanimity.
Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he underlines the degree to which the treaty goes out of its way to protect the fundamental fact that foreign policy is a matter for each individual nation. However, my concern is that if foreign policy is kept as a matter for each individual nation, a mechanism is needed whereby nations can operate together so that what they produce jointly gives greater strength to the issue with which they are concerned. That is why the treaty of Lisbon is such an excellent one with regard to this precise matter. It properly balances national interests, which are crucial and sacrosanct, with the need of every nation in a world such as ours to get together with its nearest neighbours to provide answers.
The second issue, which I find extremely difficult to deal with logically because it seems so illogical, is that saying that the changes are the thin end of the wedge means reinterpreting the treaty of Lisbon in the most apocalyptic terms. It is just not true that, because the word president is used in both cases, there is a connection between the president of the European Council and the President of the United States of America. There is a president of the National Farmers Union, but people do not compare him with the President of Russia. That is not a sensible argument. We have to consider what powers that person has, and compare them with the powers of others.
I contrast the moderate way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh moved the amendment and
my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) spokethey presented the reasonable position, with which I happen to disagree, that the treaty is a slippery slopewith some of the more extreme views, which suggest that we will wake up tomorrow to find ourselves with no sovereignty. We heard exactly the same prediction during the Maastricht debate and it did not happen. Indeed, the opposite has happened. It is a rare occasion on which I agree with the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), with whom I disagree deeply on all subjects and about whom I am sad. However, I agree with him that it could be argued that we still do not have sufficient methods for reaching a common view and getting the influence that Britain needs. It is in Britains interest to make the European Union stronger in the matters that we are discussing simply because we need to be stronger. For example, those of us who voted against the Iraq war, and have now been shown to be right, would have liked to perceive a willingness in this country to realise that there are occasions when it is important to stand up for an alternative position.
I want to consider pragmatism. I am a Tory largely because I want to achieve things. I would not like to live in the never-never world of the Liberal Democrats or the dogmatic world that new Labour patently hides in. I want to live in a world that delivers. If I am to deliver, I must ask myself about the mechanisms whereby I can do that. It is no good saying that I can deliver the important international agenda that this country has or should have if I am determinedly independent, in the sense that I do not want to associate with anyone else.
Most hon. Members on this side of the House belong to a party and recognise that that involves some co-operation. They could sit, if they got people to vote for them, as independents. However, we know that the independent who eschews all permanent links cannot achieve the many things that he or she wishes. In the end, I am the person who decides how I shall vote and I am the only representative of my constituency. However, I join people of like mind so that, if we can produce a common answer, I am more likely to achieve my end. If I have to do that in politics, I must do it in greater things.
The greater thing is how to achieve the end that Britain wants in international affairs. I do not want Britain to be a backwater or to cease to have power in the world. If she is to have that power, it must be through alliance and permanent relationships. Our permanent relationship must be, first and foremost, with the European Union. However, that does not stop us having other friends. I understand, although I missed the contribution, that a colleague suggested that we cannot have more than one friend. That is not true. I myself have more than one friend. If there is someone in the House with only one friend, that is sad.
The proposals are moderate and modest and will not lead to the terrible apocalyptic ends that some fear. They will give Britain the opportunity to exert greater influence in the world without losing any influence that she already has. What could be better? Why cannot we be as one, at least on the issue that we are discussing?
It is a great pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I agree unreservedly with his comments
about the time available. If he were still representing this country in international discussions, I would have no worries; I would be at home either tucked up in bed or on my way to bed. However, that is not the case.
The problem is that we do not have sufficient time to debate the treaty. The intervention by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) brought that point home clearly. I would like more time to go into the detail, in the way that he suggested, but we do not have time, because it is important that we get on to the next group of amendments, on security policy. What he said completely illustrated the inadequacy of our proceedings and the farce in which we are now involved.
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