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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Foreign Secretary did not know the contents
of the draft minutes shows that in fact the results are in the hands of the bureaucracy and not in the hands of Ministers?
Mike Gapes: Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in June, when the Irish referendum was held, only 13 member states had ratified the Lisbon treaty but that 23 have now done so? In one of the other countries, Poland, the legislation has gone through both chambers of the Parliament and is merely awaiting the Presidents signature. In the Czech Republic, one chamber has passed the treaty. The Prime Ministers party in the Czech Republic, which is in favour of ratification, has just been re-elected. That is the party with which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to associate in the European Parliament.
Mr. Hague: We are not quite sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. In the one country that had a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it was rejected. Four countries had a referendum on the constitution, the treatys previous incarnation, and two of thoseFrance and the Netherlandsrejected it. We are happy to speak with so many millions of people across Europe. The fact that other countries, including Britain, went on to ratify the treaty after the Irish referendum is the very point that I am trying to make. That continuation of ratification, even though the people of a sovereign nation had rejected the Lisbon treaty, showed the anti-democratic instincts that I am attacking.
One of the reasons we oppose the Lisbon treaty is that we believe that the EU does not need more powerful institutions, but that it needs the will and capacity to take action. That is true of a number of foreign policy areas, on which I think there will be less disagreement between those on the Government and Opposition Front Benches than there has been on the topics that I have raised so far. On some issues, the EU risks sending the wrong signals not through any lack of institutions or treaties but through a lack of appetite to face up to some serious challenges. One such challenge, of course, is the Iranian nuclear programme, on which we have called for and the Government have sometimes sought more serious and wide-ranging EU-wide sanctions. Since that subject falls more properly in the debate on international affairs we shall have tomorrow, I shall return to the subject then, but a couple of other major foreign policy challenges are more closely bound up in European affairs, one of which is the western Balkans.
The Foreign Secretary and I both recently toured the Balkans, where I think we both received a warm reception from the new Government of Serbia, from President Tadic downwards. The election of a Government in Belgrade who are looking to strengthen their ties with EU nations and the EU and the arrest of Radovan Karadzic are hugely positive steps that underscore the extent to which the prospect of EU membership can help to entrench democracy and open economies in countries that have only recently had the opportunity to establish those things. Of course, we now look to Belgrade to take action to extradite the remaining war criminals.
I know that the Foreign Secretary also shares our alarm at the deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We in the Opposition have drawn attention to that, and the right hon. Gentleman and the Czech Foreign Minister have rightly drawn their colleagues attention to it. We warmly support his action in that regard, which was consequently discussed at last months General Affairs Council.
The deadlock in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to concern us because, despite the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement between Bosnia and the EU, the situation remains very fragile. Given everything that has happened in Bosnia in the past, and the huge efforts eventually made to allow the people of that country to establish themselves in peace and greater prosperity, I hope that the Foreign Secretary agrees that there is an absolute need for a tough EU approach. That approach must have the carrot of eventual EU accession, as well as the stick of robust reactions to threats to Bosnias stability and sovereignty.
That is why we were concerned when EU Defence Ministers suggested in early October that the small remaining force of international troops in Bosnia would be withdrawn imminently. It is also why we are reassured to know that the decision was taken at the UN Security Council on 20 November to renew the forces mandate for a year, but I hope that Ministers will make it clear that, if necessary, that mandate should be extended further. That would make sure that the clear message goes to political leaders in Bosnia that backsliding will not be allowed and that the renewal of violence there will not be permitted.
We have a parallel concern about the situation in Kosovo. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), raised this matter, and the Foreign Secretary gave a helpful explanation of the position of the 2,000-strong EULEX mission. We have been worried that there is a serious danger that if the deployment of EULEX is status neutral it may not be able to implement the Ahtisaari plan on the future status of Kosovo. That would lead to de facto separation of the northern part of Kosovo under the UN, from the rest of Kosovo under the EU.
When the Minister for Europe winds up the debate, I hope that she will additionally clarify the following point: is it the case that the police, customs and courts in Serbian enclaves will be under UN jurisdiction, while EULEX will be in charge of areas with a majority Albanian population? If not, we will welcome the assurances about EULEX. Are the Government confident that the arrangements will not result in a de facto partition of Kosovo?
The immense subject of relations with Russia illustrates the same difficulty. I had hoped that the Foreign Secretary would say more about that, but he may address it tomorrow. The Opposition have rarely differed much with the Government in matters relating to Russia: we have stood together with them on matters such as the expulsion last year of four Russian diplomats, and we have shared their outrage at the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and the failure to bring Andrei Lugavoi to justice. We have certainly regretted with the Government Russias rescinding of a number of international agreements on security in Europe, such as the conventional armed forces treaty. We all deplored Russias actions in Georgia in August, while appreciating that the Georgian Government may also have made mistakes. Both the Government and Opposition have expressed support for democracy in Georgia and Ukraine and supported the ceasefire agreement sponsored by President Sarkozy, and so on.
there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law
raise the costs to Russia of disregarding its responsibilities.
We completely agreed with that speech, and at the same time we united with the Government in supporting trade and dialogue with Russia and in being open to better relations if they can be created in the future through what the right hon. Gentleman described as hard-headed engagement.
Therefore, we differ with the Government not over this countrys strategy towards relations with Russia but over whether that strategy was consistently pursued last month. In our view, the European Council was right to uphold the ceasefire conditions at its meeting on 1 September, and to make it clear that the resumption of the suspended talks on a new EU-Russia partnership would depend on the complete implementation of the ceasefire agreement. However, the Council having taken those steps and made that clear, we consider it a mistake that it then resumed the partnerships talks anyway, even though it is clear that not all the ceasefire conditions have been met. In our view, that sends out, from the EU, a signal of weakness and of a lack of credibility where there should have been united strength. The message sent to Russia and the rest of the world on such matters is that the EUs bluff can be called. My message to the Foreign Secretaryand our only difference on this issueis that when he does and says the right thing, which he very much did in August on Russia, he should keep doing and saying it, and not be so easily pushed off into an EU policy that now looks inconsistent and confused.
Mr. MacShane: I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Handling Russia correctly is an enormous international problem, but there is another tiny, technical problem. As he knows, in the Council of Europe, Conservative MPs are in the same group as Mr. Putins party, which, this time last year, pushed for an ex-KGB man to be made president of the Council of Europe. The Conservative party briefed in August that the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition would order those MPs to withdraw from that group. That has not yet happened; when will it happen?
Mr. Hague: One might regard that as a side issue, given the matters that I have just described. [Interruption.] No, and I want to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman on the issue. We have said that the arrangement cannot continue in its current form, although it is important that decisions on the issue are made in the Council of Europe, which, of course, is awaiting a report on the conflict in Georgia; it is due in January. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make the same point to his party, because on the Socialist group in the Council of Europe is Mr. Zhirinovskys so-called Liberal Democratic party of Russia; it is nothing like as liberal or democratic as our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Chamber. The Liberal Democratic party of Russia gives unequivocal support to the Putin Administration on a wide range of issues. Indeed, one member of the Liberal Democratic party delegation is the vice-president of the Socialist group, on which the Labour party sits. The right hon. Gentleman has asked us questions on the issue a couple of times, but I am sure that he will pursue the matter with the same vigour with his partys leaders. I look forward to him questioning the Foreign Secretary about that in future.
I really must bring my remarks to an end. There is much to be welcomed in the other steps that the EU has taken on Georgiathe humanitarian aid, the EUs participation in the donors conference, the deployment of the monitoring mission, and the measures that the European Commission proposed in the eastern partnership, which we strongly support; we look forward to its launch under the Czech presidency. It is absolutely right for the EU to intend to extend its ties with not only Georgia and Ukraine, but Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus. Of course, extending ties with the last of those countries is conditional on continued improvements in human rights and the rule of law there. However, I want to register our disappointmenta disappointment that I hope is shared by the Governmentat the fact that the Commissions communication contained no explicit acceptance of any of those countries European aspirations. It would have been a better communication if it had included that.
The Georgian crisis was a further pressing reminder that European countries have serious energy security issues to deal with. Energy security and liberalisation are linked. The more diverse the sources of supply in the European Union, and the freer the flow of energy between member states, the harder it is to disrupt any one countrys energy supply. We welcome the recent European Commission proposal on the subject. We hope, too, that the Government will drive forward the earlier Lisbon reformsan issue already raised in this debateand help to drive forward many aspects of the single market that continue to need attention.
We hope that the Government will fight against excessive regulation from Europe, which is why we cannot understand why Labour MEPs are rebelling against their Government in trying to abolish the opt-out from the working time directive, a piece of legislation that should never have been in the EUs competence in the first place. Ending the opt-out would have a devastating effect on businesses trying to ride the recession, and particularly on the national health service.
The Foreign Secretary rightly mentioned climate change; European countries can be proud that they have taken a lead on the issue, but now is not the time to fall back. We must continue to lead by example. At this weeks summit, we urge the French presidency to bring about an agreement to the package that does not compromise its effectiveness. These issuesthe single market, energy liberalisation and climate changeare Europes proper priorities, and they should be at the centre of the Heads of Government meeting on Thursday, rather than the issue of how to force the rejected and unpopular Lisbon treaty down the throats of the Irish people.
On climate change, energy and the single market, the EU has all the powers that it needs to help the peoples of Europe work together to succeed. One of the Governments greatest failures of leadership is that time and again they have let those obsessed with deeper political integration set the agenda, which is a dangerous and undemocratic distraction from so many concrete issues where the EU can make a positive and real difference to peoples lives.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I want to concentrate on just three areas, beginning with the future of the Lisbon treaty. The Irish Government will no doubt introduce their own proposals in the next few days, and it is important that the UK continues to recognise that they will need to find a way to deal with that problem in their own time. That will certainly mean that, next year, it will not be not possible for the changes envisaged in the Lisbon treaty to come into effect in accordance with the original timetable, which raises questions about what will happen with regard to the future of the Commission, about the number of Commissioners, and about the size of the European Parliament.
If elections for the European Parliament are to go ahead next June, they will do so on the basis set out in the previous treatythe Nice treatyand not as envisaged in the Lisbon treaty. That is important, because a different number of Members are involved. There is the question, too, about the fact that the existing Nice treaty says that we should move to a situation in which the number of Commissioners is lower than the total number of states. That could give rise to a complex position on the relationship between the size of the Parliament and the size of the Commission. I hope that when the Minister for Europe responds to the debate, she will clarify the Governments attitude to those questions, because either some fancy footwork is needed or we will have to adopt procedures to reconcile the issues if the decision in Ireland is not to be made, as seems quite likely, before next June.
The second issue I should like to highlightand I touched on this in an intervention on the Foreign Secretaryis related not just to Kosovo but to the
future of the relationship between the European Union and the western Balkans as a whole. Today, one of the countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia is already within the European Union. A second country, Croatia, is in train to join the EU quite soon. A third country, Macedonia or, to use the term that appears in the documents, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Mike Gapes: It is, but it is politically important. The reality is that there is no way, unless the issue of the name is resolved and unless there is flexibility or agreement between Greece and Macedonia, that that EU membership will happen. That is a fundamental difficulty.
Alongside the questions of Croatia and Macedonia, there is the question of what will happen to Serbia, on which outstanding issues relate to what is happening in Kosovo, including the unresolved question that only 52 countries recognise its independence and that five EU states to date still do not do so. We are therefore in difficulties regarding the Serbian application to join the EU. In addition, we must look at the other countries that emerged from that region. I do not want to go through each of them in turn, but there is an important associated question to consider. Albania was not part of the former Yugoslavia, but it has its own history, and there are difficulties arising from its internal political turmoil.
There will be a general election in Albania in the near future. I hope that the Albanians resolve their current internal difficulties and that the election is free, fair and subject to international standards, so that all countries in Europe can say that Albania is continuing to make good progress towards its aspiration of joining the EU. I hope that that is the case, but there are some controversial issues about electoral systems and related matters, which have led to some Albanian Members of Parliament going on hunger strike. We do not do it that way in this countrywe just get involved in arguments that look a little bit facetious to the rest of the worldbut perhaps the day will come when Members of Parliament in this country go on hunger strike.
Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, so does he agree that Greece should not be able to veto Macedonias joining the EU unless the issue of the name is resolved?
Mike Gapes: Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman and all of us who want to see simple solutions to such matters, EU enlargement cannot take place without the agreement of all member states, which is how it has always been. Regardless of how unreasonably or intransigently a country takes a particular view in blocking the membership of another country, that membership will not happen. Similarly, if one EU member state were to decide to block Turkeys membership for ever, Turkeys membership would not happen. That is the reality. The hon. Gentleman is younger than me, so perhaps he was not born at the time, but he knows that General de Gaullethere is a cartoon about this in Portcullis Housevetoed British membership in the 1960s, so there is a precedent.
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