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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): That is very wise.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I would not expect the right hon. Member for Horsham to give us such a glowing tribute as The Sun gave us the other day. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent man and that he is mildly embarrassed by the fact that he has to speak for a Conservative party that will not say anything good about Europe. However, I hope that he will not try to repeat the words of the Leader of the Opposition, who said an hour ago that the steps to majority voting in the Nice treaty represent a major step towards a superstate.

Let us put this into perspective. As a result of the Nice summit, majority voting has been introduced on more than 20 articles. Seven of them do not apply to Britain because they are matters for the Schengen countries, to which we do not belong. Five of them concern appointments to the Court of Auditors and the Committee of the Regions and appointments of other officials. Frankly, I think there is enormous merit in having majority voting on the appointment of officials. Unanimity on every appointment means that we end up with the lowest common denominator--the person who does not offend any of the 27 countries in the room. We would prefer appointments to be made on merit even if one or two countries in the room wanted someone with their own particular view.

In addition, a paragraph provides majority voting on the pensions of court officials and the Secretary-General. That will not bring the white cliffs of Dover crumbling

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down. If the right hon. Member for Horsham proposes to roam the country during the general election campaign warning that majority voting on the pensions of officials of the European Union is a major step towards a superstate, the electorate will regard him as having lost his marbles. That is not a matter on which we need to fear the introduction of the trappings of a superstate. After all, why should we not have majority voting on appointment of the list of members of the Committee of the Regions? We still have our national prerogative of nominating people to it and we do not necessarily want other countries to block our appointments by introducing their veto.

There are some issues of substance on which we have moved to majority voting. We sought to do that because it is in Britain's national interest to get rid of other countries' vetoes. I mentioned some of those in the debate that we had on the Floor of the House in preparation for Nice. I said that we wanted majority voting on the financial management of the budget so that we could get rid of the Spanish and Portuguese veto on tougher management. We secured that at Nice. I said that we wanted majority voting on external trade policy so that we could get rid of the French veto on protection. We secured that at Nice. I also said that we wanted to get majority voting on the rules and procedures of the European Court of Justice so that we could get faster, firmer decisions. We secured that at Nice, and reformed the rules of procedure of the other courts of the European Union as well.

It is true that we introduced majority voting on a new statute relating to the funding of European political parties. I note that the Conservative party is going to declare itself against that measure, but, before it does, it should be aware that the EU has introduced a separate legal base for such funding because the Court of Auditors recommended it as a way of achieving greater transparency in the use of Community resources in the European Parliament. I would hope that the Opposition would also welcome a recommendation by the Court of the Auditors.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the proposal was fully supported--indeed, requested--by the European People's Party group, which includes every European sister party of the Conservative party. I was rather taken aback by the reaction of the Conservatives to a reference to the EPP. As I understand it, they are not too keen to be associated with their sister parties in the EPP--no wonder they have difficulty with the EU when they cannot even integrate with their own sister political parties in Europe.

We have made major gains in those matters on which we wanted to achieve reform and progress by getting rid of other countries' vetoes that stand in the way. The biggest gain of all is that we have cleared the way for enlargement. We have reformed decision making in the Council of Ministers and reformed the size of the Commission. It will not increase when the first half dozen new members join, but will remain at broadly its present size for most of the decade. In addition, we have set a cap on the size of the European Parliament. We have taken the essential institutional steps that will enable Europe to function with nearly double the current membership.

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The Opposition have expressed some doubt about whether that is necessary for enlargement. It is vital for enlargement, because at Amsterdam we agreed to the protocol which set out that enlargement cannot take place until the institutional reforms are put in place. The treaty to which we agreed in the small hours of this morning is one that specifically states that the conditions for enlargement have now been met. That is important to Britain because, otherwise, other countries might have delayed enlargement.

We stand to gain from enlargement. It is in our national interest that the EU should become bigger, that the single market should become larger, that, together, we should have more strength in trade negotiations and that there should be greater stability in central Europe, which will accompany enlargement. Enlargement is also important to the candidate countries, which regard it as the best way to guarantee that they will share our freedoms, and the only way to increase their trade and investment. EU enlargement is the reunion of Europe: when the Berlin wall came down, it was the end of the division of Europe into two systems of politics, but only through membership of the EU can we end the division of Europe by two standards of prosperity.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): Has the Foreign Secretary not considered that the applicant countries are far less interested in the internal deepening of the Brussels structure than in what is to happen to the common agricultural policy? How can he claim that we are seriously looking forward to enlargement unless that problem has at least begun to be tackled?

Mr. Cook: The Opposition have dragged that red herring through our every discussion on the Nice treaty. I do not know whether they persist in doing so because they cannot quite grasp the point, or because they have a deliberate desire to mislead, but let me try to reason with the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) who was once a Front-Bench spokesman on foreign affairs and should therefore have some knowledge of the subject.

The agriculture policy changes that are needed are not treaty amendments; they are not something that can be pursued through amendment to a treaty--they are policy reforms. We achieved policy reforms in Berlin--granted, it was not as much as we wanted to achieve--but I hope that the Opposition will reflect on the reason for that: when the Agriculture Council met and proposed policy changes, it went further than we went at Berlin because the Agriculture Council makes its decision by majority voting, whereas the European Council makes its decision by unanimity, and France therefore had a veto on some of the policy reforms that we wanted. I hope that the Opposition will reflect on that point before they oppose more majority voting.

None the less, we made some progress at Berlin. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the effect of the package drawn up there is to reduce the average British food bill by £64 a year. It is important that the Opposition understand that, at Berlin, we agreed that we had created sufficient room in the current financial perspective for enlargement to go ahead. Every time the Opposition question whether there has been enough change in the common agricultural policy to provide that financial room, they feed ammunition to those in Europe who want to delay, oppose and obstruct enlargement, so I hope that they will now stop doing so.

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The hon. Member for Windsor claims to speak for the candidate countries. All those countries were represented in Nice. They all came to a meeting of the European conference on Thursday morning, at which they all spoke, and every single one urged us to proceed with the treaty of Nice and to reach agreement on it. I did a press conference at lunch time that day with three of my colleagues from central Europe: the Foreign Ministers of Hungary and for Estonia and the deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic. All three had two clear messages: first, they wanted the Nice meeting to reach agreement on the treaty; and secondly, they wanted national Parliaments to ratify that treaty.

An hour ago, we heard the Leader of the Opposition say that the Conservatives will not ratify the treaty if they are elected--although I am bound to say that I believe neither the commitment nor the eventuality. However, it is clear that the Conservative party is moving out of contact with any of the parties that describe themselves as Conservative either in Europe or in the candidate countries, and with any of the Governments of the candidate countries of central and eastern Europe. The Tories appear to demonstrate more and more the truth of the view that was expressed by Chris Patten, who once was a member of the Conservative Government, that their anti-European case is increasingly about the little green men who live under the bed. Even given that eccentricity, I cannot believe that Conservatives are setting themselves up to be the only political force in Europe that wants to delay enlargement. If that is their position, I warn them that it will not be the electoral jackpot that they claim it will. On the contrary, it will become an albatross around their neck.

I thought that the Conservatives might have learned something from their wild and extravagant attack three weeks ago on European security arrangements. After all the publicity that they had given to European security arrangements, they discovered that they had convinced the public that they rather liked the idea of greater security in Europe. In three successive opinion polls, the public gave the European security initiative an average majority of 15 per cent. over the views expressed by Conservative Members. If they want to fight the next general election on saying no to the treaty of enlargement, I predict that they will suffer the same rejection by the public.


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