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The figures affect the Maastricht arrangements because the level at which a country can no longer go into the euro, in terms of percentage of debt as against national income, is 60 per cent., which happens—surprise, surprise—to be a mere 3 per cent. above the 57 per cent. at which the Government have pitched their figures. That was quite a nice little coincidence. I was intrigued that almost immediately after the pre-Budget report was issued up jumped Lord Mandelson, in effect urging people—in concert with his old chum President Barroso, who certainly is not elected by us—to join the euro, and the pressure again emerged for us to do so. However, the Government will not be able to do that, on any reasonable, competent analysis of the percentage of debt as against
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national income, because they cannot get anywhere near what is required. A great deal of that—not all of it; I will be slightly generous—is the Government’s own fault. It is unwise for Conservative Members to say that it is all the Government’s fault, but I would say that it is about 75 per cent. their fault, because they induced the situation and made it worse.

Let me turn to defence. I made an interjection—I call it that rather an intervention—on the Foreign Secretary when he referred to the remarks made about European defence by the NATO ambassador. Those remarks were wrong, because historically the relationship between ourselves and the United States has been built on NATO, for very sound reasons. Yes, we can and should have co-operation between ourselves and other countries in Europe, but I am bound to ask how much that has been worth given that our young lads are being killed in the south of Afghanistan when other countries—not all of them, but some—are not committing as they should in the situation in which our boys are being put at risk. The European Union must consider this before it starts grandstanding, as Nicolas Sarkozy is prone to do, about what it will do as a European defence organisation. It is a serious matter, because every week the Prime Minister has to get up at Prime Minister’s Questions and tell us about the sad circumstances in which, as a matter of patriotic duty to this country and peace in the world, our young lads are going out there to fight. It is no good telling us that that can be done under the aegis of the European Union.

I would strongly urge President-elect Barack Obama to consider the speech that he made in Berlin and subsequent remarks that have suggested, in effect—they may be misquotations; I make that point very strongly—that Britain should join up with this new European Union. I imagine that he would also mean, if he was not being misquoted, that it would be along the lines of the Lisbon treaty. I am sure that he is far too diplomatic to say anything directly, but I comment on it to this extent. Since 1947, United States policy on Europe has always been to encourage us to play a direct part in the integrated process. That has been proved to be wrong over an extended period.

There are advantages to working within a European community or alliance. Contrary to what the Prime Minister frequently suggests when I intervene on him, which is that I am seeking withdrawal, that has not been my explicit objective at any time. I have always said that we need a renegotiation. That is implicit in the fact that this is a failing system. It is undemocratic and over-regulated. The Lisbon agenda does not work. Unemployment levels are enormous. The rise of the far right in parts of Europe is extremely disturbing. It is important to deal with this situation before it becomes a crisis. The responsible approach would be for all the member states at the Council meeting that is about to take place to get together and see how they can create a new kind of Europe that would fulfil the criteria of association that I have suggested. If that is not done, I fear that the whole thing will come crashing down, and then we will get massive unemployment combined with all the circumstances that go with it, including disruption at local level that could cause no end of trouble for the people of Europe. We owe it to them to be responsible and not to allow Europe to go on turning itself into a compression chamber that will explode under the weight of the compression put into it.

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Over the years, the best policy that has been adopted is the kind of relationship that existed between Churchill and Roosevelt or Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am not going to decry the relationships between past Labour Governments and our friends in America, but we should be very clear that our advice to the United States is that we do not want to be part of a European Union along the Lisbon treaty lines or any other lines that frustrate and undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament, which was responsible, and will continue to be responsible, for standing up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Europe, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in future.

I turn finally to the question of Georgia, Ossetia and Kosovo. I was deeply worried about the recognition of Kosovo. I know that I disagree with my Front-Bench colleagues about this. As far as I am aware, the matter has been referred to the International Court of Justice. Some of us who said that it was unwise are now being justified, because there is a serious problem about the way in which the European Union pressurised, organised and manipulated the arrangements that subsequently led to the declaration of independence. It is an internal problem as well as an external one. The same applied in relation to Ossetia and its neighbouring province. I am afraid that that, too, was precipitated by the actions in Kosovo. Although there may be blame on both sides, the reality is that one opens the Pandora’s box of those sorts of countries at one’s peril. This needs to be re-evaluated. We should not assume that merely because it has been done it will remain a matter of indifference to the people who live in those countries, because that is not so. As I understand it from a television programme that I saw, which seemed pretty convincing, the President of Georgia is being accused of war crimes, or at any rate the people under his direction or surveillance are being so accused, in relation to how they behaved in Georgia a few months ago.

It seems to me that all is not well in the European Union. It would be far better if we could have a proper renegotiation at this Council. I have made the case for that on many occasions. I am not expecting it to happen; I am not holding my breath. I have to say that the situation is getting more critical. The financial package, and the financial situation, is generating more difficulties, and this is the time— [ Interruption. ] I am so glad that the Minister for Europe has just come in. It is such a pleasure to see her. She very wisely stayed out during my speech. None the less, I will do my best to astonish her by saying that if I were asked, despite my deepest concerns about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the supremacy of this Parliament, which I thought was more important, today’s debate or yesterday’s debate on the question whether this House was sovereign over its internal affairs, I would say—difficult as it may be to draw a distinction—that in principle, yesterday’s debate, abortive as it was, was more important than the question of the supremacy of the European Union. If we do not get the matters that we debated yesterday right, and we have not yet, we will not be able to deal later on with the question of the supremacy of the United Kingdom Parliament.

7.31 pm

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): It is a real honour and privilege to have listened to the debate for the past couple of hours. It is a strange
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pleasure to follow on from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is such a famous Eurosceptic. It was a great pleasure to hear him speak, and surprising to hear him being as supportive of Europe as he was. It is a pleasure to take part in the debate because European issues, especially the European economic union, are of such massive importance, especially today.

I want to consider Europe from a much wider perspective and examine the founding principles of the European project as a whole. Sometimes we are in danger of losing sight of why Europe is so important, and I would like to speak about why Europe is so important to me from a personal perspective. I have a British mother and a German father and I moved to England when I was nine years old. I was born and brought up in Berlin—West Berlin, as it was known then—which at the time was an occupied and divided city. It was at the forefront of the cold war, and that small area represented Europe’s history—both the war itself, and the post-war ideological divisions. Berlin was absolutely at the centre of that.

I remember travelling from West Berlin to West Germany by air when we could choose from only three different allied airlines or—far worse—queue for hours and hours at one of the few checkpoints so that we could go by car to West Germany, travelling on the bumpiest roads that anybody has ever been on. Because Berlin was an occupied territory, Berliners did not have West German passports; we just had Berlin identity cards. Whilst we were much freer than our East German neighbours, it did not feel like freedom. It was a small city, and we were surrounded on all sides by walls and watchtowers. We could not go very far without bumping into a brick wall—literally—or into massive fencing that had been erected, alongside huge watchtowers with Russians inside. Although it was quite exciting when we were younger, it did not feel free. I found when visiting relatives in West Germany or England that things were completely different. We could see what freedom was, and it was not what we had in Berlin.

For all those reasons, and as long as I can remember, I have been a European first and foremost. I listen in horror and despair when I hear people moaning about how much money we give to Europe. They complain about the highly skilled labour we have got from the eastern European accession states—people who are helping our local and national economies. And they complain even more now that they think everybody is going back home again. People lap up stories about straight bananas and ready salted crisps. However hilarious these stories are, most of them are completely mad and totally wrong, such as the story about renaming Waterloo station so that we do not offend the French. I read a fantastic one about circus acrobats having to wear hard hats because of some EU health and safety directive. That was reported as gospel truth, and it was absolute rubbish. Those stories are hilarious, and even though I am half-German, I find them funny, but there is a serious point to be made about why Europe is so important.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that in recent history, people in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece lived under dictatorships. These were actual police states and dictatorships, and they are still in living memory for some people. Now that we have a European Union, we forget that. People talk about the UK within Europe and say that it is like a dictatorship, and that we live in a
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police state. When I hear people come out with those lines, I want to scream and say, “You’ve clearly never lived in a dictatorship, you’ve never seen what a dictatorship is like. This is not a dictatorship.”

Of the 27 EU member states, 10 are former communist countries. There were no freedoms in those countries, and I saw that directly as a child when I went to visit people in East Germany. People could not say what they thought, they had no freedom to travel and their travel was often restricted within their own borders. People often could not travel around the country in which they lived. They could not buy what they wanted, quite apart from what they needed, because things were not in the shops. People were desperate for things that we took for granted such as soap, sink plugs and oranges. People could not listen to the music that they wanted to, and they could not read books that they wanted to. Although those freedoms that were denied to people were small, taken together they were significant and important. Ask people from the countries that were former communist states what membership of the European Union means to them and what freedom means to them, and they will tell you.

It is because of Europe that the countries that were communist states are thriving parliamentary democracies. Because we are members of a European Union, we are no longer on the verge of annihilating warfare with those states. I remember clearly that those states were the enemy when I was growing up, and they are no longer. They are not just not the enemy; they are states that we welcome. We accept their culture and we are starting to learn their languages. That has got to be a better way of doing things than what we had before. That is why the European Union matters so much. It is also why Eurosceptics are wrong-headed—they lack sympathy or an understanding of what it must have been like to live in those countries.

It is important to remember that the European Economic Community was founded on the principles of communities of democracy. The EEC founders wanted to find a way of ensuring that the whole of continental Europe would never again be ravaged by the death and destruction that it experienced in the second world war. In that community of democracies, we are far less likely to declare war on a country that we want to trade with. Through trade and cultural links, this community, the European Union, brings together a collection of distinct and diverse democracies. All the democracies are completely different. They are all imperfect, but by bringing them together we understand that we can support each other and make our democracies even stronger.

That is partly why the Tories have such a problem with Europe. It works because member states believe that common endeavour strengthens everyone. I know that the UK, along with many of the other richer EU nations, has been a net financial contributor to the EU, but we should not be apologetic about that. That money has been spent to help much poorer countries in the EU—as Ireland, Portugal and Spain once were. They have become economic success stories in comparison with what they were previously. As such, formerly poor countries are in a position to buy our goods, visit our country and spend their euros. For good socialist reasons, I support that. By making Europe economically successful for every nation, we improve our own economic standing. We strengthen Europe and thereby strengthen our standing in it.

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I sometimes wish that the founders of the European Economic Community were around now to see what we have achieved. They simply would not believe what we have done to the EU—I hope that the hon. Member for Stone will not intervene.

Mr. Cash: How could I?

Natascha Engel: With 27 nations of all sizes, even the smallest nations have a seat at the table where all the big decisions are made about Europe. That is a wonderful fact. The size and economic strength of each country does not matter—every one has representation and a voice in Europe. Each domestic nation is represented in the European Union.

The European Union has approximately 500 million inhabitants. It is by far the world’s largest economic trading area. The United States has a population of 300 million people. We are vastly bigger than even the United States and, to my mind, we are a far more civilised continent. One of the important conditions of EU membership is not having the death penalty. Any EU member state that adopts the death penalty is automatically excluded from the EU. That fact alone makes us a far more civilised union than others in the world, and I am glad to be part of it.

All citizens of the EU know that they can work and travel throughout the continent. We take that for granted now, but only by visiting a country where those freedoms are not taken for granted and movement is restricted can we genuinely understand what it means. As EU members and individuals who live in the EU, we are free to travel anywhere. Too often, we take that for granted. Freedom to travel is a basic human right, which we have because of Europe.

As citizens of Europe, we are free to work throughout the continent. Not only that, but because of the European working time directive and social chapter—again I hope that the hon. Member for Stone will not intervene—all European workers get at least four weeks’ paid holiday a year. In the US, most people get only a fortnight’s holiday every year.

One of the best things about our membership of the European Union is our adoption of a more European way of living. Today, we have a better appreciation of balancing work with family and social life. I believe that that is a European way of doing things, which we have adopted wholesale.

Hon. Members of all parties are beginning to recognise the importance of early intervention and improving people’s life chances by giving more help to families that are struggling. I have watched with delight the Tory party’s moves on that. Recognising the family as a unit and appreciating that we need to help whole families, not devise policies to punish individuals, is a much more European way of behaving. We are considering how families can spend more time together, and society is consequently far better.

We have far better maternity leave today than we had in this country previously and for the first time we have paternity leave, thus appreciating the important role that fathers play in family life, especially when children are first born. Again, those policies have come from Europe and they are wonderful.

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We also have new rights to request flexible working, and even more important, part-time workers now enjoy the same rights as full-timers. That does not discriminate against people who work full time. The issue has always been about discriminating against women—far more women work part time. I therefore welcome the rights for part-time workers.

Only by existing as a bloc of states—a union—could we hope to compete against America. It is not a matter of choosing whether we look to Europe or to America, but of recognising that America is a massive superpower and that we stand a much better chance of competing with America as a bloc of united states than we do as individual countries. The EU gives us far greater economic strength.

The EU also gives us greater strength in combining a massive pool of skills. It has been fantastic to witness the sort of skills that people who have come to work in the UK have brought with them. We also go to European countries and take our skills, knowledge, language and way of doing things. That has made us stronger.

Having a united voice on foreign policy, and many of the matters that have been mentioned today, with Britain at the heart of Europe, contributing to European foreign policy, is exciting. We are taking massive strides. The aspects that the UK has identified as the most important elements of foreign policy are all on an EU-wide agenda. That is the result of Britain being at the heart of the EU—

Mr. Evans rose—

Natascha Engel: You’re going to do it, aren’t you? Okay.

Mr. Evans: I am not too sure of what I am being accused. The hon. Lady’s excitement about Europe’s development shows that she believes it to be right for the British people. However, the last time we had a vote on the matter was in 1975, when we voted to stay in the EU. If everything is as brilliantly rosy as she says, should not the British people be consulted on the next step—the Lisbon treaty? Should not they have another say? After, all it has been 33 years.

Natascha Engel: I thank the hon. Gentleman for stopping me in mid, passionate flow. I am being positive about Europe because I believe that it is a fantastically important project. I do not think that everything in Europe’s garden is rosy. Some of the institutions need serious examination and many different, minor matters need considering. However, as a European project and a concept of which we are all part, we underestimate how exciting it is. We also underestimate the EU’s significance not only from a cultural point of view but in terms of the freedoms that it has given us as individuals who live in it. That is why I am so enthusiastic. I appreciate that I am taking a broad-brush approach and speaking about broad principles.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech, especially the passion with which she is delivering it. Does she agree that being wholeheartedly in favour of and positive about the EU means that we gain more from it than we would if we were a little more sceptical?

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