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Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): Was it a referendum on the euro?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have interventions from a sedentary position.

Joyce Quin: We should not be frightened of a big debate on issues such as the euro and enlargement. Enlargement is a tremendously important opportunity for the future of the European Union. Existing member states should prepare for enlargement, just as they prepared for the entry into force of the euro.

I was fortunate recently to have the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunter Verheugen, visit my constituency and address a conference of representatives of the private and public sectors from urban and rural parts of the region. He encouraged people in the region to prepare for enlargement, and to build the necessary economic, political and social links with new member countries, so that we make a success of enlargement.

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I suggest to the Government—they are likely to do this in any case—that they go out to the people of Britain in the different regions and explain why enlargement is important and why it will bring enormous benefits not just to new member countries but to existing members. They should try to convey a sense of excitement about this historic project.

I am glad that the Government have already highlighted the benefits of enlargement, and have drawn attention to the fact that previous enlargements have brought economic benefits, such as jobs and the expansion of the gross domestic product in both the applicant and existing member countries. Those trends will continue with future enlargements.

I strongly support the provisions in the treaty on the European Parliament and co-decision. I believe that the European Parliament has used its powers responsibly. I also welcome the fact that the European Parliament can influence the decision-making process in the European Union.

However, as a former Minister, I am allowed to be a mild heretic. I think that we should examine the old-fashioned distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure, which I hope will become increasingly irrelevant with the reform of the common agricultural policy.

Although there is no hope of this, I would also like the European Parliament to be able to decide for itself where it meets, rather than be subject to the unanimous decision of the Council. I know full well the realpolitik behind that: no one will challenge the one or two countries for which this is a vital national interest. None the less, it is a modest power for any organisation to be able to decide where it holds its meetings. Most of the organisations with which Members of Parliament come into contact have that modest power.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Is the right hon. Lady aware that the writing into the treaty of the provisions on where the Parliament sits—thus making it impossible now to change that without a treaty change—was agreed to by the Government under the treaty of Amsterdam?

Joyce Quin: Indeed, and I am aware of the politics behind that decision. Many years ago, some German social democratic MEPs argued with their then leader, Helmut Schmidt, that he should push for a change of attitude on this matter in the Council. He told them firmly that it was not a vital national interest, and that there were many more important issues for him to promote and pursue. I understand why, in negotiations, Governments promote their most vital national interests, and why some of the other issues which, on a reasonable judgment, may be worth pursuing, are left to one side.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned some of the changes that have taken place in agriculture. I believe that the time is right to push for agricultural reform. Although it was not part of the Nice treaty, it was certainly part of the Berlin agreement. I believe that—not just because of the pressures of enlargement but because of changes within certain European Governments, particularly the German Government—we now have a

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chance to build up an alliance for agricultural change and reform, which will itself give us a unique opportunity. I urge my right hon. Friends to push ahead with agricultural reform at this juncture: if we can achieve it, it will make enlargement that much easier to achieve as well.

I think that the Nice treaty is helpful, and represents a positive although modest way forward. I believe that it will help us to build on what we have already achieved. I commend the Government on their attitude in European negotiations on economic reform, and on the social chapter—the job-destroying social chapter that has actually resulted in the creation of extra jobs in our country. I commend them on their positive approach to environmental policy in Europe, and to enlargement.

If these are our priorities post-Nice, we will not only make a success of European Union membership for the British people; we will help to create a European Union that will be to the benefit of all new and existing member countries.

4.56 pm

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): In European matters, the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) speaks with rare authority and experience. Her speech encapsulated in a most persuasive way the issues with which we ought to be concerned today.

I was not here at the time of the Single European Act, but I was certainly here during the Maastricht treaty proceedings. In comparison with the Maastricht treaty and the proceedings that surrounded it, the Nice treaty is little more than housekeeping. It justifies neither euphoria nor hysteria. It is certainly not a grand plan for the European Union; it is a framework treaty for enlargement. It is also true to say that the housekeeping has done little to bring Europe closer to the citizen. That may create a bond between those who speak in this debate, from whatever part of the House.

The fact is that the decision-making process in Europe remains impenetrable to the ordinary observer, and almost daily makes a powerful case for reform. The patchwork of powers and responsibilities that have grown out of a number of treaties—not all of which are easy to reconcile with each other—still requires a healthy dose of transparency and openness.

I do not believe that the Nice treaty is a great constitutional watershed, as Maastricht was and, indeed, as would be a decision to join the single European currency. Few would dare to suggest that the overall outcome of Nice has contributed much to the quality or efficiency of European governance. Nice represents at best a holding position until such time as the leaders of Europe find the will to adapt the institutions of the European Union to the realities of the kind of Europe of which the shadow Foreign Secretary spoke towards the end of his speech—with a great deal of which I found myself in agreement.

Nice is about providing a framework for enlargement. It is about effecting the institutional reforms that are necessary to allow a union of up to 27 members to function. Of course, 27 members may not be the high water mark of enlargement. There are 13 applicant countries at different stages of the accession process, including Turkey. Reference was made during the debate on the Gracious Speech to the difficulties of accession for

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Turkey. As the Foreign Secretary noted, we have held out to Balkan countries such as Croatia the possibility of future EU membership because we want to help them move away from a period of political indecision—and, in some cases, chaos—towards a more rational structure. The possibility of EU membership has also helped ensure that the fledgling democratic institutions in those countries are better nurtured and sustained.

The shadow Foreign Secretary prayed in aid a somewhat improbable ally in Mr. Prodi, but he was right to say that, in technical terms, the treaty of Nice is not required for enlargement. In theory, enlargement can happen without the Nice treaty, but what sort of EU would it be if we did not use the framework that that treaty contains?

Moreover, as the Foreign Secretary noted, if we were to put the Nice treaty to one side and say, "We will now consider the question of enlargement," the target date of 2004 simply could not be achieved. Political considerations would mean that enlargement would be delayed for a very long time. That would be poor reward for the countries of eastern Europe, many of which have worked hard to achieve democratic standards and to move towards market economies in anticipation of early EU membership.

We must ask ourselves whether the EU is outward-looking and willing to share the benefits and advantages of membership for the purposes of peace and prosperity across the continent. If the answer to that question is in the affirmative—as it ought to be—we should then ask ourselves how we can allow those benefits to be shared by others quickly and effectively.

I share the Foreign Secretary's view that there can be no enlargement without ratification of the treaty by Ireland. Ireland provides an interesting illustration of the need to make the case for EU membership. Liberal Democrat Members have criticised the Government's timidity when it comes to making the case for Europe, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech in the City on the eve of the Gracious Speech foreign affairs debate presented a positive case for Europe—despite the fact that he took what I believe to be an unduly reticent approach to the question of membership of the single currency.

The Irish result is a warning that politicians must make the case for Europe, and it shows that the requirement for unanimity in some matters means that a small country has the power to block, or even derail, the EU's progress. That rather gives the lie to the argument that we are on an unstoppable escalator, on the way to something that some describe as a superstate but rarely define.

For example, the treaty extends qualified majority voting to 31 of the 70 or so articles that require unanimity. However, 17 of those articles refer to technical portions of the treaties dealing with appointments to the European Parliament, European committees and courts, and with those bodies' rules, procedures and management. Four of the other articles to which QMV has been extended cover matters on which Britain has an opt-out. The remaining 10 extensions deal with matters such as anti- discrimination practice, support to industry, priorities for structural funds, and environmental measures. In some areas, we are talking not about enforced harmonisation but about the exchange of information to encourage best

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practice. I see no case for a referendum on the treaty of Nice, as no issue of fundamental constitutional importance is at stake.

I confess that I have a little difficulty with the Conservative position on the matter. Before the general election, the Conservatives said that a Conservative Government would not ratify the treaty of Nice but, in opposition, they now call for a referendum. It seems to me that that position can be interpreted as, "The people must speak—but not if we're in government, when we'll make sure that we speak for them."

That is a rather confusing and confused position, and I shall make my opinion clear. Referendums should be employed sparingly for principled reasons of constitutional significance. If fundamental constitutional change is involved, as it was in the Maastricht treaty and would be were we to join the single European currency, the approval of the British people should be sought in a referendum. Indeed, it was the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, who was the first to call for a referendum on entry to the single currency.

Where do we find such fundamental constitutional change in the Nice treaty? Where are the marching legions besieging the alleyways of Westminster with their calls for a referendum on Nice? Where are the crowds demanding delay in ratification? People are breaking into Menwith Hill because they feel so strongly about missile defence, but I have not been accosted on my way to the House of Commons by anyone even passingly resembling an ancient mariner wanting to ensure that I did not help to pass legislation to ratify the treaty of Nice. I cannot even remember receiving a single letter on the topic in the past four weeks, except for those from members of parties that are overwhelmingly opposed to any further integration into the European Union.

The Irish vote makes it even more important for the EU to undertake a serious round of reform. We have to reconnect the EU with the citizens of the nation states that make up the Union and move away from that rather remote elitism that can often be detected in the air surrounding Brussels institutions. I happen to think that an overwhelming commitment to, and a determination to press ahead with, enlargement will help to provoke that very discussion. We want a European Union that is more democratic and more liberal, and one that concentrates its energies on doing what it does best, not on interfering in every area of national legislative competence. The EU should stay clear of areas where its writ is unnecessary.

One of the achievements of the former Prime Minister, John Major, is that the principle of subsidiarity is ruthlessly applied by the EU. I have no difficulty with decentralisation—after all, my party argued for decentralisation in the United Kingdom for some time while those who now think that decentralisation in Europe is so important put up bulwarks against the notion that the Welsh should have an Assembly or the Scots a Parliament.

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