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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I would be reluctant and foolish to give from the Dispatch Box this afternoon that overriding assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Renton. However, I was very interested to read the extremely authoritative debate on the charter of fundamental rights which was held in your Lordships' House last Friday, when regrettably I could not be present. The way in which those issues were covered lends great credit to those who took part in the debate, and notably the people who were actually involved in the discussion on the convention. Many of the points made this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, were thoroughly examined and very positively aired.
I reinforce the point that I made in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Prime Minister led off the discussion on the charter at the Feira summit, saying that it should be declaratory and limited to existing rights. As I emphasised in my earlier reply, this position was supported by several partners. I also reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Scotland in her reply to the debate last week, that it is the Government's position that the charter should not extend competence or disturb member states' legal relations with their citizens within areas of national competence. To that extent, the declaratory point, which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made as his primary, opening contribution, is one which we very strongly feel should be supported. It should not be an aspiration or a legal requirement.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the Statement. It is one of unusual importance. She has covered a vast menu of subjects. Looking ahead to Nice, one has to pick up, as it were--this Council is only a stepping stone towards that--what will be the big issue. The big issue is undoubtedly closer co-operation, which the French and Germans have placed on the agenda of the IGC. However, we would be only too happy if it was not there.
Let us be clear about the matter. I ask my noble friend to confirm my next point. This is almost the breaking point. "Closer co-operation" is code for "full steam ahead" to that European state and ever-closer union upon which the founding six set their sights from the beginning. We should not be dragged along behind, unwillingly, at this moment when a great enlargement is bound to influence and offer opportunities for change in the whole European Union relationship. This is a great opportunity for us--if we have only the wit and the will to take it--to change our own relationship with the European Union into an honest one. We do not intend to become part of a federal union state. We need to have an honest relationship with the European Union and at the same time do great service to the rest of Europe, particularly to a number of the applicant countries which will lose their own freedoms in being subjected to the 31-odd chapters of the acquis communautaire which they are supposed to swallow at the point of entry.
I should be grateful if my noble friend would at least indicate that she realises that the big issue is now with us and that the Foreign Office and the Government are thinking carefully about where we go from now.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments. I hope that it is self-evident that the Government are thinking about the issues. However, the question remains as to whether or not they are thinking about them from the same perspective as that of my noble friend. I am not sure whether my noble friend was present in the Chamber when I said in response to an earlier question that the Government have recognised for some time--the Prime Minister stated this explicitly at the news conference that he gave yesterday afternoon in Portugal--that these issues would be on the agenda for the Nice summit. As I said, this is not something into which we have suddenly found ourselves "bounced".
We have always accepted that in a more diverse Europe some flexibility will be needed. However, on the other hand--I emphasise this point--we do not accept that closer co-operation automatically leads to the creation of an inner core of member states, nor indeed, in the fashionable phrase, to a "two-tier Europe". As I said earlier, this is made explicit in the Presidency conclusions in terms of seeing this whole process within the solidarity and cohesion of the wider Europe.
My noble friend Lord Shore challenges the Government to demonstrate wit and will in this area. I emphasise again what I said in my first reply; namely, that what has been demonstrated above all at the Feira summit--given the strong leadership that exists on the specific issues which I mentioned, and which are included in the Statement--is that the Government have a good record of achieving change through persuasion and of achieving leadership on those issues in which they wish to play a prominent role.
Many within the applicant states consider that the British Government are not giving great priority to enlargement. The Foreign Secretary has just cancelled his visit to Warsaw which was due to take place this coming weekend. This follows two cancelled visits of the Prime Minister to Warsaw during the past year. There is a queue of Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers from the applicant states asking to visit London and waiting for acceptance. The image is therefore not given that the British Government attach great priority to that matter. Will the noble Baroness give us some assurance that in preparing for the Nice Summit the British Government will attempt to achieve an early target date?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as regards the target date, it was decided at Feira--this may not have been set out in the conclusions as precisely as the noble Lord wished--that all remaining chapters with the best prepared Helsinki 6 countries would be opened as early as possible in 2001. The noble Lord will be aware that the EU is committed to be ready to welcome new members by the end of 2002 and has set aside funding for new member states to join the EU from 2002 to 2006. However, as the noble Lord will appreciate, the date of accession depends on each applicant's readiness. It would be foolish to make artificial predictions about that this afternoon.
On the broader point about the Government's commitment to the enlargement process, there is no moving away from the position that that remains our greatest opportunity and a great challenge to the European Union. Clearly, the Government are aware that achieving successful enlargement enhances not only the security and the stability, but also the prosperity, of Europe. This is therefore a matter on which we have certainly not slowed down. However, the fact that it was not given the prominence in the conclusions that the noble Lord expected was simply because other issues, such as the withholding tax, took greater priority in this particular two-day meeting.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I hope that I may put one short and one slightly longer question to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. First, has she seen the report in yesterday's Times which reveals that support in Poland for EU entry has dropped from 80 per cent to 50 per cent and is still falling, and gives the reason why that has occurred? I hope that the noble Baroness will comment on that report, if she has read it.
Secondly, although, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the agreement to drop the withholding tax seems to have been welcomed by many other EU countries, nevertheless the United Kingdom is obviously the main beneficiary by virtue of the importance of the City of London. Can the noble Baroness guarantee that the Government have not privately indicated to the other countries that, as a quid pro quo for the dropping of the withholding tax, the United Kingdom will be prepared to accept certain integrationist measures that may be desired by the more federalist members of the Community?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot be as helpful as I normally like to be to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, as regards both his questions. First, I regret that I have not read the article in The Times to which he referred. I am sure that he will know as well as I that in general the perspective of the populations of individual countries on such matters tends to vary enormously. The views expressed in, for example, Denmark and the United Kingdom in relation to the Maastricht Treaty showed variations in public opinion at different stages of the process.
As regards the withholding tax, I understand that no measures of the kind that the noble Lord mentioned were agreed in the margins or at any stage of the summit. However, as I was not present I cannot make a categorical statement about whispers in corridors, although I do not think that is what the noble Lord seeks. As regards the positions that were agreed, I can state categorically that there was no undertaking of the kind that the noble Lord mentioned.
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