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3 Dec 2009 : Column 1316

Mr. Francois: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a tremendous environmental cost in moving from Brussels to Strasbourg. Outside most MEPs' offices at the European Parliament in Brussels, as my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) will recall, are what are called Strasbourg boxes. Once a month, MEPs put everything in the boxes, travel down to Strasbourg, unpack, carry on there, and then repack them and come back. If MEPs of all parties are really committed to fighting climate change, they could send a powerful signal and save a tremendous amount of carbon by not travelling from Brussels to Strasbourg every time. My hon. Friend makes a good point.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Far be it from me to defend the European Parliament, but that is one of the few matters on which the Brits suggested that we move to qualified majority voting. However, certain other Governments thought that the seats where the European Parliament meets ought to remain decided by unanimity; it is not entirely MEPs' fault.

Mr. Francois: I realise that the fact that we have two seats is established within the treaty base and would require unanimity to change. The hon. Lady follows such matters closely, and she is right. However, I reiterate that that does not mean that we should not change it.

The major development since the House last debated European affairs is the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty. It is worth recording the original terms set for the project by the Laeken declaration of December 2001. That document stated that

and that the peoples of Europe

The declaration called for more democratic legitimacy in EU institutions. It is now clear that in those original terms, at least as far as this country is concerned, the treaty project has been a lamentable failure.

The treaty's entry into force is a matter of regret to Conservatives and should be to the Government as well, if they were in any way consistent. It is a matter of public record that this Government sought to make 275 amendments to the original EU constitution's text, to which it is almost universally agreed that the Lisbon treaty is substantially equivalent. Of those, 27 were accepted. A treaty is now in place, but the Government objected profoundly to many of its provisions in the first place.

Kelvin Hopkins: One hears the phrase about bringing Europe closer to its citizens across the whole European Union, yet on the occasions when it is brought closer to its citizens-through referendums in France and Holland, in Sweden on the euro before that, and perhaps in Britain in future-the citizens of Europe tend to take a negative, rather than a positive, view.

Mr. Francois: We should not forget the first Irish referendum either, if the hon. Gentleman is compiling a list.

Chris Bryant: Or indeed the Spanish referendum.

Mr. Francois: Would that be the same Spain that is not a member of the G20?

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One immediate change brought about by the Lisbon treaty is the establishment of the new presidency of the European Council and the enhanced High Representative. We in this party are pleased that our view that the President of the European Council should be a chairman and not a chief was widely shared in many European capitals. As the Prime Minister was forced to admit, the role of President of the Council has now been redefined.

It would also be churlish not to express our gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for his decision to champion Tony Blair in his campaign for the presidency. It was strongly our view that the former Prime Minister was exactly the wrong man for the job. Not only would his appointment dramatise the treaty's lack of democratic legitimacy, but to make so ambitious and limelight-hungry a politician the office's formative first occupant-he is even more so than the current Minister for Europe-would have shaped the post as an unconstructive centralising institution.

In the EU, the front-runner seldom gets the job. By doing everything that he could to make Tony Blair the front-runner, the Foreign Secretary did a great deal to undermine his case. Characterising him as the man who could stop the traffic in Washington and Moscow helpfully crystallised everything that many countries did not want the President to be and implicitly put down the other candidates. The Prime Minister's people skills are obviously rubbing off on the Foreign Secretary.

We congratulate Baroness Ashton on her appointment. It is interesting that she was the Government's third or even fourth choice for the job-I will return to that in a minute-but we appreciate the appointment of someone able to work across the political divide. Some have criticised her for a lack of experience in foreign policy, but we know that she possesses a keen intelligence, and we are prepared to work with her in the British national interest.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) warned the Government before the summit, however, they should have sought for Britain not the position of President of the Council or High Representative, but a major economic portfolio in the European Commission. Recent events have borne out the wisdom of that warning, as Lord Mandelson belatedly grasped. The whole saga of the appointments to the European Commission and other positions demonstrates this Government's lack of influence in the EU, lack of strategy and disunity.

The Government received no support for Tony Blair's candidacy from their socialist allies. They were talked into seeking the High Representative position. It is reported that the Prime Minister agreed not because he thought that Britain's interests would thus be best served but because he thought that it might secure better headlines. According to one key figure, there were two groups in the Government: those who made the real-world argument that the UK's interests would be best served by securing a strong economic portfolio to protect the City, and the media managers. It is, sadly, no surprise that this Prime Minister preferred to listen to the media managers. Once again, his preference for short-term personal political calculation has trumped the national interest.

Many will also find it extraordinary that the Prime Minister of this country was reduced to accepting his third choice of High Representative before he could
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find someone acceptable to the Party of European Socialists. They will find it even more extraordinary that the First Secretary of State, it is said, conducted his own campaign for the job and that even with his skills he was unsuccessful. As No. 10 was trying to push one set of candidates for the job, it appears that the First Secretary was trying to press another, namely himself. When the Minister winds up, will he tell the House whether the Foreign Office supported Lord Mandelson in his efforts to bow out of this Government for a new berth in Brussels?

Michael Connarty: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is coming across as a smaller and less tanned Simon Cowell from "The X Factor" rather than as a shadow Minister debating the facts of the case. He is discussing personalities and not what has come out of the process. Does he not welcome the fact that the Council has clearly decided to downgrade the presidency to mere chairmanship of a committee, he expressed fears during the debate on Lisbon that a super-powerful President would speak for Europe and take away the power of the Prime Ministers of the European national Parliaments? He cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Francois: I will reply to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, who always takes a close interest in these debates and is, as usual, in his place, where we expect him to be. There are questions for the Government to answer. They ask whether we have influence in Europe relative to them. They put tremendous effort into advocating that Tony Blair be President of the Council. The Prime Minister backed him publicly for weeks. We said publicly and plainly that we did not believe that he was the best candidate for the job, setting out our reasons clearly. At the end of the day, it was apparent that many European Union countries agreed with us and not with the Government, or indeed the Prime Minister, so we are reluctant to take any lectures from Labour Members about influence in Europe.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose-

Michael Connarty rose-

Mr. Francois: I will give way to my hon. Friend, and then once more to the Chairman of the Select Committee, out of respect for him.

Mr. Cash: In relation to the question that my hon. Friend just answered, has he considered what happened at the moment when former Prime Minister Tony Blair resigned in mid-June 2007? The Foreign Secretary was left out of the loop in discussions as we moved towards signing the Lisbon treaty. The matter was taken over entirely by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, the so-called mandate, to which the current Prime Minister clearly objected originally, suddenly went through. The net result was that the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, got himself into a position in which the Lisbon treaty would be signed in return for the current Prime Minister's agreement that he would allow the treaty to pass without a referendum, therefore effectively betraying the British people.

Mr. Francois: Labour's denial of a referendum betrayed the British people-that is clear-but it is not unknown for this Government's Foreign Secretary and the Foreign
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Office to be isolated. Another example is the bizarre position that when No. 10 first tried to press for Tony Blair, the Foreign Office agreed, even though the Minister for Europe, notoriously, put together a letter signed by Labour MPs a couple of years ago to try to get Blair to stand down as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party.

The FCO was then out of the loop: No. 10 was pressing for Baroness Ashton to become the High Representative, and over in the First Secretary's apartments the phones were buzzing because he was pressing the case for himself. The Foreign Office was isolated not only in Europe, but in Whitehall. Increasingly, the Foreign Secretary feels nervous because, it is reported, the First Secretary of State would like his job. I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on that when he winds up the debate later today.

I promised to give way to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Michael Connarty: I respect the hon. Gentleman, his diligence and the fact that he normally deals with matters of substance, so I am still troubled by his wish to dance around on the issue of personality. It may play better in the press, but it is not what this issue is about. Will he at least concede the fact that the European Council of Prime Ministers decided to downgrade the position of President of the Council to that of chairman of a committee, and not to give the position the power feared by those of us who did not wish to have a President of Europe who spoke on behalf of Europe and took over from the Prime Ministers in national Parliaments?

Mr. Francois: I have been called Dastardly about three times in this debate.

Chris Bryant: Muttley.

Mr. Francois: It was Muttley. Anyway, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) can hardly accuse me of reducing the debate to personalities. The Minister has been reducing it to cartoon characters, and he seems to call that parliamentary debate.

Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend made the case about the way in which the Foreign Office has been isolated in Whitehall. That was an issue of policy and substance. It is very interesting to note that in an interview published on, the former Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), made it clear that when she was in that position, with the right to attend Cabinet when Europe was discussed, she spent

It seems to me that having a Europe Minister who is never invited to discuss Europe at Cabinet does not say much for the seriousness of any Foreign Office influence within this Government.

Mr. Francois: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and it will be interesting to see whether the Minister wants to say anything about that when he winds up the debate later this afternoon. I suspect
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probably not. As I warm to that theme, I note that there has been a very high turnover of Europe Ministers in the Labour party. I have been doing this job for about two and a half years, which makes me a comparative veteran. I have shadowed four different Europe Ministers in that time, and I think that Labour is on to its 12th Europe Minister since 1997.

Keith Vaz: rose-

Mr. Francois: Here comes another one. If we wanted to hold a reunion of all the Labour Europe Ministers, we would have to book quite a large room. The Government lecture us on influence in Europe, but, if they are trying to make friends and influence people, why do they keep rotating that job so fast?

Keith Vaz: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Francois: I am sorely tempted-but no.

Keith Vaz: I was going to help you.

Mr. Francois: Okay, you've talked me into it. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Could we please have this debate conducted properly? Let us leave all the characters out-wherever they come from.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall leave out all the characters.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is important that Ministers be in position for a time. I hope very much that the new Minister for Europe will be in position for a long time, because that is how relations with other countries are built up. I also agree that the Europe Minister's job ought to be a full Cabinet position.

Mr. Francois: I am grateful for those comments-particularly the last one. I was kind enough to let the right hon. Gentleman intervene, so if he were to drop a line to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) I would be indebted unto him for that.

Returning to the First Secretary of State and the business of appointments, I think that the First Secretary realised, after he did not get the High Representative's job, that a further blunder had been made. He wrote in the Financial Times-a week after my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks had written in that publication-that


We know what followed. Against this Government's belated objections, Michel Barnier was appointed as the Internal Market Commissioner. Against this Government's further objections, his portfolio includes financial services. Both the Prime Minister and the President of France had a number of conversations with Mr. Barroso about that portfolio, and it is clear that the Commission President took a great deal more notice of his conversations with the French President than he did of those with our Prime Minister. The French President now says that

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and that

It is clear that this Government have been comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the French, and that this country is now left playing catch-up.

That leads us on to the financial services industry and its relations with the EU. The financial services industry is a vital national economic interest, and to further it we need to learn the lessons from the crisis and improve the global co-ordination of supervision and regulation. However, as Mervyn King said,

Bank failures can have fiscal consequences-something that we are only too familiar with in the United Kingdom. That means not only that European co-operation is essential for the promotion of financial stability, but that we must safeguard taxpayers' interests when it comes to decisions that the new European authorities make. That must remain the clearest of red lines.

Yesterday's ECOFIN conclusions seemed to be clear:

-European Supervisory authorities-

The Chancellor claims now to have secured his red line, but that represents staggering complacency when we look beyond the press release and into the detail. The new supervisory bodies can make decisions that have a fiscal impact either in a crisis or as a consequence of binding mediation. However, to overturn such decisions, the UK will need to secure the support of a majority of member states under qualified majority voting. We have no veto over those decisions, and as one EU official put it:

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