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European Council, Greece

4.6 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

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    the need for a successful meeting of the WTO in Cancun, and foreign policy co-operation notably in the Middle East.

    "President Chirac and I had proposed, following the G8 summit, that the EU should match the US by contributing up to one billion euros in 2004 to the Global Health Fund to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Although this had majority support, some member states objected and, because of the unanimity requirement, we could not secure agreement to this sum at the Council, but did agree that the European Union would determine the extent of its contribution at the pledging conference on 16th July.

    "There was a strong focus at the meeting on the EU's relations with the wider world. Putting our support behind the Middle East peace process, we called on Hamas and other groups to declare a ceasefire and endorsed an urgent examination of the case for wider action against Hamas fund raising. We expressed serious concerns at aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme and our full support for the International Atomic Energy Authority in its effort to conduct a comprehensive examination of Iran's nuclear programme. We made clear that how Iran behaves on human rights, terrorism and the Middle East peace process is crucial to the future development of EU-Iran relations.

    "Finally, we held a positive discussion about Iraq. The European Council affirmed the European Union's readiness to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1483. We commissioned further work on the details of the help that the EU can provide.

    "The Council took stock of the economic situation following the spring summit on economic reform. It set a clear agenda for action in line with the objectives, which Britain and a number of other member states have been advocating. The Council also endorsed the appointment of Jean-Claude Trichet as the next president of the European Central Bank, in accordance with the agreement reached during the last UK presidency.

    "What is clear is that Europe at 25 nations will be very different from Europe at 15. In the coming years Europe will expand still further to welcome in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and possibly others. Plainly, this means Europe must change the way it works. There are several areas where the convention proposes moving to qualified majority voting including on trade in services and the fight against terrorism, drugs and illegal immigration.

    "However, we should not fear every extension of qualified majority voting as hostile to Britain. In some areas, we need QMV. The only reason we have any hope of achieving reform in the common agricultural policy is that decisions in the Agriculture Council are determined by QMV. It was thanks to QMV that we have opened up energy markets. If we want to drive through economic

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    reform, liberalise markets and break down state subsidies, then in a Europe of 25 QMV on issues such as trade in services and mutual recognition of qualifications is essential for the British national interest. Britain needs Europe to work and, for Europe to work, it needs to change.

    "However, that is not all that is different in a Europe of 25 or 30. These new nations joining the EU share, in many ways, the British perspective. They are firmly in favour of the transatlantic alliance. Freed from communism, they do not fear economic reform; they welcome it. Freed from subjugation by the former Soviet Union, central and eastern Europeans have no intention or desire to yield up the nationhood for which they have fought so hard. It is no surprise, therefore, that the convention so explicitly ruled out a European federal super-state.

    "It is not only the new members that sign up to this vision of Europe. Increasingly, Europe knows that the focus for its economy and for its security must be outward, not inward. The danger for Britain is that, at the very time when Europe is moving closer to the view of Europe with which we are most comfortable, and which we can advocate so well, we lose the chance to take our proper place in Europe by fighting battles long since over and by turning away at the very point Europe is turning towards us. There are real battles of course: for example, over tax or defence. But they are battles that we can win.

    "At this point in time, with Europe at a crucial point of evolution, this nation, Britain, has to have the confidence to stride forward. The next year will determine the shape of Europe, of which we are a member. There will be critical alliances to be made and choices to be faced. But I have no doubt that a Europe that now stretches from Finland and the Baltic states to the shores of the Aegean Sea, Cyprus and Malta is a Europe that should have Britain at its heart.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, the Leader of the House, for repeating the Statement. Like him, I congratulate the Greek Government for their hard work in leading what was, by all accounts, a difficult summit. There were things to welcome: a renewed recognition of the transatlantic relationship; an admission that the fall of Saddam Hussein, in which the EU played no effective role, has paved the way to a better future for the Iraqi people; the acknowledgement—something not seen before in an EU communiqué—that coercive action may be needed in the case of nations seeking weapons of mass destruction; and support for the Aqaba declaration and the Middle East road map for peace. All this must give much satisfaction to the Prime Minister.

No doubt he and the noble and learned Lord also warmly share the endorsement in the communiqé of the personal commitment by President Bush to the search

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for peace in the Middle East. We share the concerns expressed about the threats posed by the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea. Do the Government support the current stand of the demonstrators in Iran against the Khatami regime?

Staying on international matters, will the noble and learned Lord explain why, in eight detailed pages of presidency conclusions pointing to a common European policy on asylum—something on which many on this side of the House have severe doubts—there is no mention of the Prime Minister's proposals for safe haven camps in third countries or transit camps in Europe outside the EU? Despite that, the Statement makes a virtue of qualified majority voting on illegal immigrants and suggests that that is the way to go.

Have those ideas now been dropped as the basis of EU action? Does that explain the candour of the Prime Minster's official spokesman, quoted in a newspaper this morning as saying,

    "We've got ourselves into a bit of a bind on this one"?

Wherever we look at policy, the truth is becoming increasingly clear that the Prime Minister is making an embarrassing habit of "getting himself into a bind", particularly on European issues.

The signing of the accession treaty was historic, and the commitment to a wider accession process, involving Romania, Bulgaria and, in time, Turkey, is welcome. This subject will require detailed debate in your Lordships' House. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will indicate that he is keen that adequate time should be provided for this purpose.

Will the noble and learned Lord explain why common agricultural policy reform was not on the summit agenda? Is it true that President Chirac threatened to invoke the Luxembourg compromise if ideas for reform were pressed? Do the Government agree that CAP reform is vital if Europe is going to give a fair deal to third world farmers? It is bitterly disappointing that yet another European summit has passed without any commitment to real reform of the CAP.

Let me turn now to the proposed European constitution. The presidency conclusions say that this was,

    "a historic step in the direction of furthering the objectives of European integration."

However, the Government claim that it is just a "tidying-up exercise". Which is it? Since when does a "tidying-up exercise" set up a European president, transfer asylum and immigration policy to Brussels, establish a binding charter of fundamental rights, and open up new areas for the EU to expand its power without the approval of national parliaments? Does the noble and learned Lord accept that the constitution will change the way in which Britain is governed more fundamentally than a regional assembly in Humberside on which we have been promised a referendum? Can he confirm that, in the drafting of the constitution, most of the United Kingdom's proposed amendments were rejected? What does that say about the influence of the Prime

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Minister? Can the noble and learned Lord tell us whether the UK has dropped its objection to a European foreign minister? Can he say in what areas it has been decided to accept the abolition of national vetoes?

There is much that we on this side of the House want to see a positive EU do. We want to see the CAP reformed, as I said, and wider free trade. We want more progress on aviation and freedom in services such as insurance. We want a reversal of the tide of regulation that grinds down Europe's competitiveness. We want a Europe flexible enough to deal with enlargement and able to face the challenges of high unemployment, stagnant manufacturing and ageing populations let down by failed policies on pensions. That is our vision of where the European agenda should lie. Driving further integration will do nothing to advance that agenda, but it will further dilute the voice of the United Kingdom in arguing for reform.

The Prime Minister has achieved all too little in Europe in the past six years. If he weakens Britain's voice, he will achieve even less. Adoption of a new European constitution is seen as a major event by every government in Europe. It could be a turning point in our nation's history. Fatuous spin that it is all a minor tidying-up exercise fools no-one. On this great question, whatever our conflicting views may be, surely we can agree that the Government should have the courage of their convictions and put their case to a referendum.

At Maastricht Mr John Major, as Prime Minister, secured an inalienable right for the British people to vote on the question of the euro. Is the Prime Minister incapable of matching the influence of Mr Major, or is it the case that the Prime Minister believes that the British people cannot be trusted to decide the issues for themselves?

4.22 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. I echo what he said about the Greek Government's effective handling of the summit. I add the thanks of noble Lords in many parts of the House for the remarkable work done by Members of this House on the constitutional convention, as well as for that done by Members of another place. We have great reason to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, and my noble friend, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, for the distinguished role they played. We are grateful to them.

It is rather a pity that the Government did not express their appreciation of the remarkable achievement represented by the draft constitutional treaty, whether or not one agrees with every line in it. To bring 15 member states and another 10 candidate states to agreement on such a detailed document and produce agreement that it should be presented as the draft upon which the IGC will base its negotiations is, by any standard, a remarkable achievement. I also

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regret that the Prime Minister did not think it right to mention the substantial deepening of democracy in the EU represented by the draft constitution.

For lack of time, I shall not go through it all. I shall mention a couple of remarkable examples. One is the great extension of co-decision making in the European Parliament to another 35 areas currently dominated by the Council. The second is the substantial proposal to open up the legislative General Affairs Council, something for which many Members of this House and of another place have asked for over 30 years. It is worth mentioning that acceptance of the idea of open public discussion in the European Council in its legislative mode is something for which we have waited a long time. It represents a step forward in democracy. Finally, in that context, I must say that many of us are pleased to see that there is now a voluntary exit clause. That means that Euro-sceptics can come out into the open and declare their true position, represented by the minority report at the convention, which is that they want to get out of the European Union and have nothing more to do with it. It is high time that people stopped disguising that view and expressed it clearly and firmly as an alternative to be put to the British people.

In that context, I shall say a couple of things about the broader international issues in the Statement, which brings together many aspects of policy, not just the draft constitution. On these Benches, we are glad to see that the Government's pilot project for asylum did not receive unanimous support from the rest of the European Union. It was always an extremely troublesome proposal. It had about it all the hallmarks of the dangerous "safe havens" policy of the 1990s, which, as we know, led to disastrous outcomes at Srebrenica and elsewhere. To many of us, it also represented a serious invasion of the human liberties of many of our fellow citizens. We are glad that it has been reduced to a pilot project, and many of us hope that the pilot project will not get off the ground.

I must also ask a question about the Middle East. I welcome what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said about EU co-operation in the Middle East road map, which is crucial. We fully support the argument that there should be a serious investigation of the financing of Hamas. Will the Prime Minister and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House echo the statement made this morning by Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, that, alongside attempts to deal directly with Hamas and bring it into negotiations, there is the question of whether targeted assassination is a sensible policy?

I have further questions for the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council. Given the relative sketchiness of the report and the Government's decision up to now that they do not want a referendum on the constitutional convention, will the Government consider publishing a White Paper, setting out their position on the clauses in the draft constitution that they do not fully accept and explaining why they took that

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decision? That would enable all of us to have a more informed and intelligent discussion than we can have without either a referendum or a White Paper.

The Statement is marked by a great deal of timidity towards the Euro-sceptics. Those of us who are Euro-enthusiasts—we make no bones about that on these Benches—desperately want the information that will enable us to conduct a full and proper discussion with our fellow citizens. We believe that that will show that there is much more support for the European Union than is exemplified by many of our newspapers. We cannot have that unless we have the information from the Government and willingness on the part of the Government to engage openly in the discussion.

I conclude with two other questions. The appointment of a foreign minister brings together the present roles of the High Representative and the Commissioner for External Relations. What is the Government's view about that? Do they recognise that it should give the EU a substantially more influential voice in world affairs? Will the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House agree to support strongly the proposal for transparency in the Council of Ministers when it meets to discuss legislative matters and the extension of co-decision making to the European Parliament on the whole range of European legislation?

4.28 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful in substantial part for what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

The noble Lord was right to draw to our attention the importance attached to the continuance of the transatlantic relationship, to which the Government are firmly committed. He was right to point out that, despite a good deal of questioning, a good deal of cynicism and a good deal of scepticism, many people believe that the action in Iraq, in which our Government were fully involved, was fully justified. I take the noble Lord's point about coercive action, subject always, of course, to the norms of international law, about which he and I agree. I agree with him on the importance—the absolute necessity—of President Bush's personal commitment to the Middle East peace process. Again, there were those who scoffed when the announcement was made at Hillsborough, but I must say that, considering what Secretary Powell and President Bush have delivered so far, no one, I think, could fairly accuse them of lack of commitment and energetic effort.

The noble Lord asked me for the Government's view on the demonstrations in Iran. One must be careful in appearing to interfere in the affairs of other states. Sometimes, it is counter-productive. I think it is fair to say that there is a distinct reform movement among younger people in Iran. Many of us would welcome that. It is foolish to think of any society, least of all Iran, as a monolith. If there are optimistic signs, a tactful approach is more likely to succour them than undue use of the megaphone.

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The pilots have not been dropped. We hope to get agreement on safeguarding refugees nearer to their home countries. Most refugees do not wish to be thousands of miles away in countries where the culture, the language, the traditions, the history, are different.

We want CAP reform. The wheel of history turns quite slowly. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, frequently, on this side of the Despatch Box, saying how keen his government were to have CAP reform, and we have not brought it about. The important point is that had CAP reform been on the agenda, because of the unanimity rule, we would have got nowhere. There is a significant prospect—I would describe it as an imperative—that at the Agriculture Council we can take this forward. I agree entirely with what was said about poorer countries. They will never manage to improve themselves significantly without CAP reform. But of course in the Agriculture Council, it is QMV not unanimity.

The noble Lord referred to "tidying up". I am not quite sure where he got that from. If one looks at the text, 75 per cent is drawn from existing documents and plainly, in the nature of things, if we expand by 10 from 15 to 25 members, there will need to be some modification of arrangements.

The noble Baroness paid well-deserved tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. I hope it does not seem patronising but I know that the Prime Minister has been extremely appreciative and congratulatory of the role they have played. As the noble Baroness pointed out, this offers us a deepening of democracy. There should be greater national parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. We have debated this issue to general unanimity in your Lordships' House.

On the Middle East peace process, it is essential that we pursue those who finance Hamas. I do not believe there is any difference between Her Majesty's Government and the comments made by US Secretary of State Powell this morning. The noble Baroness also put asked a question about a White Paper, which I am not authorised to answer directly. I shall simply indicate that I will take that forward to see whether it finds favour elsewhere. There is some virtue in going through the articles, finding out what the objections might be and seeing what support there may be for some of them.

On the question of a foreign minister, the terminology has been rather abused. There is no suggestion that there should be an EU state at the United Nations. But there are prospects for enhancing EU representations—not representation—at the UN. That will depend on the rules of the United Nations. There is no question of a foreign minister for the EU or an EU state in the Security Council.

I should like to conclude with one general point. This was welcomed by the Prime Minister as a basis for further activity. There is going to be an inter-governmental council. That will take the best part of a year. What we are dealing with here is not a mosaic text inscribed on tablets of stone. We are dealing with proposals for the way forward.

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The noble Baroness lastly said that this was a rather timid approach. I do not believe it is. The next year will determine the shape of Europe of which we are a member.

    "I have no doubt that a Europe that stretches from Finland and the Baltic States to the shores of the Aegean Sea, Cyprus and Malta, is a Europe which should have Britain at its heart."

I do not see any timidity in that direct quotation from the final paragraph of the Prime Minister's Statement.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I wonder whether I might just press my noble friend a little more about his reference to pilot projects on asylum. As I understand it, there were two different proposals which might come under that description.

The first is that there should be centres near asylum seekers' countries of origin, where people fleeing persecution could find safety, pending a decision by the UNHCR as to whether they qualify under the Geneva Convention and pending help by UNHCR to enable them to settle in other countries, possibly even in western Europe. The second proposal was that asylum seekers reaching western Europe would be sent to a holding centre back in the area they came from and that a decision would then be made.

Those are two rather different proposals. One is finding safety near the country from which they are fleeing. The other is being sent back from western Europe to a distant region, so they are shuttled backwards and forwards. Would my noble friend say a little more about which of those two proposals would be subject to a pilot project? Also, what was the feeling of the summit in terms of supporting one or other of them?

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