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Lord Monson: Unlike my sceptic friends--I use the word "sceptic" rather than "euro-sceptic" deliberately because neither I nor, I believe, they are sceptic in any way about the proud, ancient nation states of Europe in all their infinite and enriching variety; indeed, we have great affection for them; we are only sceptical about this centralising, bureaucratic, often wasteful, corrupt, bossy and interfering European Union--I see no harm and, indeed, some possible good, in a multi-speed Europe, provided that those wanting to create their own mini-alliances, so to speak, use their own funds to do so rather than Community resources. Indeed, if they use their own funds to forge such mini-alliances without involving any of the institutions of the Community, it is difficult to see how any other member state validly could object.
Some years ago, Sir Richard Body, who is now the honourable Member for Boston and Skegness, a noted Euro-sceptic but also a passionate champion of the Commonwealth and, in particular, of its poor countries, and--this is less widely known--a great idealist, wrote a book--one of the many excellent books that he has written on agriculture and other matters--entitled, if I remember rightly, Europe of Many Circles. He envisaged a neighbourly Europe of freely co-operating, independent nation states which might wish to forge bipartite, tripartite or multipartite treaties with their neighbours in fields which particularly concerned them but which other European states might wish to approach in a different manner. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has just said, interestingly enough, Mr. Michael
Baroness Williams of Crosby: In some ways I find the debate on this amendment somewhat anomalous. If we go back a bit, we discover that one of the ways in which the then Prime Minister, Mr. John Major, dealt with the profound divisions in his own party on the Maastricht Treaty was by means of opt-outs. Indeed, I recall that he came back from debates on that treaty announcing that he had won, "game, set and match", by having organised no fewer than three opt-outs from the conclusions of that treaty. The first of those opt-outs was on the social protocol, and he was extremely proud of it. The second opt-out related to European economic and monetary union, to which noble Lords have already referred in this brief debate, and the third was the opt-out on the Schengen community, which he shared with Denmark and Ireland. It must be said that Ireland did so notably reluctantly and primarily because of its interdependence with the United Kingdom in terms of border controls, not least between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
So, there were three opt-outs at Maastricht and it was obvious that what Mr. John Major had done--incidentally, a Prime Minister whom I think that history will treat rather more kindly than do many contemporary commentators--was not to achieve a break in the deadlock in Europe, as he proclaimed, but rather to achieve a bridge in the chasm in his own party.
Having done so, the then Prime Minister discovered the route of opting out as possibly the best answer to the dilemma that he faced--the dilemma of being at one and the same time within the European Union and half outside it. It is interesting that as he developed that idea--I shall say a few more words about that development in a moment--he aroused more and more concern on the part of the other member states of the Union. He aroused that concern because they recognised that at a certain point opt-outs and their like, "variable geometry", a la carte Europe, and the rest of it, would so husk out the very core that had been achieved over all the years since 1957 that the European Community and the European Union would begin to unravel, with serious consequences not so much for the United Kingdom as for the other member states.
So, if we look at the record, we find that as early as 1995, M. Chirac and Herr Kohl sent a joint letter to the other member states in which they outlined the concept of what they described as "concentric circles"--a core of central member states who would make the fundamental decisions about the development of the European Union, a penumbra of other states which were in a sense half-members and finally an outer rim of countries that one day would wish to join but saw little prospect of doing so. The outer rim at that time contained most of central and eastern Europe, which saw little prospect of soon being able to join the Union.
I believe that it would have taken the extraordinary ability of a very great athlete to achieve that combination, for "variable geometry" implied a two-tier unit. There was no way in which one could insist upon a single tier Europe on the basis of variable geometry. Why should the other member states grant full influence to the United Kingdom if she had opted out of some of the central parts of the European treaties?
In January 1997 the Prime Minister announced that he had devised a blueprint for a multi-speed pick-and-mix Europe. That was the description given to it by the press. He said that he was in favour of what he termed "multiple opt-outs". I quote his words:
The Prime Minister was as good as his word. He entered into the Amsterdam negotiations of that summer and autumn intending to seek one opt-out after the other. That was the way he envisaged the possibility of reconciling his own party, in particular the Euro-sceptical element of it, to what he knew would be the next step to yet another treaty on the way to closer union in Europe. I do not blame him for that. It was a perfectly reasonable political decision on his part, but it had very little to do with the development of the United Kingdom's influence in Europe. Indeed, it was almost certain to be counter-productive.
The Intergovernmental Conference was instructed, after the report of a reflection group, to consider strengthened co-operation by some if not all member states which would be open to all. It would have to conform with the acquis but would leave open to Britain the possibility of a Europe of many different tiers moving at many different speeds. The Amsterdam discussions were in some ways contorted by the attempt to reconcile what the other member states wanted with the position of the British Government. When one looks at the wording of such provisions as Articles K.12, K.15, K.16 and 5a, one sees the desperate attempt to try to include Britain on the terms that she was prepared to be included.
Yet the other member states--I shall come in a moment to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, about the position of the other member states--sought to protect themselves against the impact of the variable geometry proposed by Britain. They did so in three ways. Article 5a, which stands alongside Clauses K.15 and K.16 at the core of this concept, addresses itself to the first pillar, the Community pillar, and has a great many more conditions to be met than Articles K.12 and K.15.
Among those requirements are, centrally, the protection of the acquis communautaire. Indeed, variable geometry on the first pillar was a very restricted concept. One could argue that it was tailored entirely to the demands of the British Government of the time. Even then there was a requirement--the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, pointed this out--that there should be an authorisation. That authorisation depended upon a qualified majority. If at the end of the day that authorisation was not sufficient--if one-third of the states refused to co-operate--then the proposal for greater
It was however the case--I draw it to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington--that there was written into 5(A) and K.15 a precise restatement in narrow form of the Luxembourg veto, because it said there--the noble Lord, Lord Shore, argued this point on K.15, which applies mainly to justice and internal security, and not to 5(A), where it applies to the first pillar--that where a member state had important and stated reasons of national policy for not being willing to accept a co-operative venture involving some states, the matter would not be resolved by a qualified majority, it would be referred to the European Council--the single most senior body of the Community made up of heads of state and governments.
That was an astonishing safeguard. It was made as a gesture almost entirely to the UK. The only other country taking the same position was Denmark. No other country among the 15 took that position. It was made in respect also of K.12 and K.15, where the same procedure is laid out, but with fewer flanking requirements because K.12 and K.15 apply to the third pillar, and there is therefore an intergovernmental structure into which they fall, where the requirements to be met were considerably looser than in the case of the first pillar, and understandably so.
That meant, essentially, that the rest of the Union was determined to defend the acquis except in the most exceptional circumstance affecting the core interests of a member state, but they were willing to be somewhat forthcoming when it came, in particular, to the third pillar. The reason for that was that the third pillar had within it two strains. One of those strains was the insistence of the UK and some other member states that that was to remain intergovernmental. But the other element was an understanding that the pressures of circumstance through organised crime and the drug trade, particularly in the area of the third pillar, were becoming so strong that, frankly, to talk about the strength and impermeability of national borders no longer made very much sense.
Indeed, the rapid rate of development of international organised crime and of organised crime throughout Europe--I probably share this view with the noble Lords, Lord Shore and Lord Bruce--and the speed at which we are seeing international responses to organised crime demand a much tighter control by national parliaments of the conventions that are reached than exists at present in the treaties.
I turn, secondly, to the situation outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney. I must say with the greatest respect--and I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord--that I fundamentally disagree with him on one point, as I do with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. There is no evidence to show that the six have a special commitment with Europe which is not shared by the other countries.
I was surprised by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, because only yesterday I had the privilege of talking to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of Poland specifically on this issue. There were presiding over a moving meeting which was headed
The only countries which have an opting out view of any seriousness are the United Kingdom and Denmark. My impression is that with the exception of defence which is a special case that we shall debate later, the United Kingdom Government are moving away from the endless seeking of opt outs. The Government know, as we know, that the decision to end the opting out of the social protocol was hugely welcomed on the continent of Europe not because it was felt that suddenly the United Kingdom would find itself bogged down with 1,000 regulations and requirements, but because Her Majesty's Government understood that this was the message about the kind of Europe one wanted and it was a Europe which was to be enthused with the spirit of social justice as well as the spirit of the free market and liberty. We shall discuss that subject in more detail later in Committee.
We wish strongly to repudiate what was said earlier today by one noble Lord; that the Liberal Democrats find everything right with the continent of Europe and nothing right with the United Kingdom. That is profoundly to misunderstand and misinterpret our position. I can sum up our position quickly. It is that the United Kingdom has a rich heritage of democracy, individual liberty and civic society to share with the other countries and member states of Europe. It is just because we believe that the influence of this country can be benign, that it can help us towards a Europe which looks beyond its own borders and has a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world, that we wish to see Britain playing the fullest part in the European Union.
We wish passionately to see a Europe which is free, accountable, democratic, tolerant and pluralistic. We believe that we can reach that point by getting fully inside the European Union rather than staying half in and half out.
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