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Roger Casale (Wimbledon): We began considering the Bill in July, well before the terrible events of 11 September in America. I do not say that we must ratify the treaty of Nice because of the international crisis, but I do say that the European Union, which had already reached a critical juncture in its developmentlike all international institutionsfaces a critical challenge to its ability to make decisions, and its capacity to act in the world as we find it today.
Now as, perhaps, at no previous time in its history is the time for the EU to demonstrate to the people of Europe that the nations of Europe are made much stronger by being able to act together through the European Union than they are by acting alone. Indeed, what better mechanism could there be at this time to strengthen Europe's contribution to the international response to terrorism? What better mechanism could there be at this time to expand the European effort in the fight against terrorism than an intensification of European co-operation, and an enlargement of the EU as envisaged by the Nice treaty?
Some Opposition Members have given the impression today that it is business as usual in the European debate. Let me tell them that, in terms of where we pick up the debate about the Nice treaty this evening, we are in a different world from the world we were in when we left that debate before the summer break. Others may believe that consideration of the issues in the treaty should perhaps be postponed until after the immediate international crisis has passed. I believe we should treat the international crisis as a spur, or a wake-up call, to intensify efforts to produce important measures such as those in the Nice treaty, which will accelerate European reform.
We urgently need the introduction, at European level, of measures to counter international terrorism, to strengthen judicial and police co-operation, to tackle money laundering and to operate in many similar fields to strengthen the security of the people of Europe. We need those measures to be agreed quickly, and implemented across as wide a range of European countries as possible. For that reason too, it is important to ratify the treaty of Nice. We are now talking not just about the advantages of expanding the common market and the benefits of trade, but about the advantages that will flow from an enhancement of the ability of EU states to deliver perhaps one of the most fundamental public goods of all: the security of our citizens.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Prime Minister would have enjoyed the freedom to perform the admirable role that he is performing on the world stage in helping the United States to tackle the crisis we all face by offering the military support that this country is offering if this country had subscribed wholeheartedly to a common foreign and defence policy that required us to make decisions on a European rather than a national basis?
Roger Casale: I am coming to that, but I think part of the reason the Prime Minister has been able to play the role he has played is the desire that the United States has felt to act, together rather than alone in the world. It is for precisely that reason that I think we should exercise leadership within the European context as well, and strengthen our leadership role in Europe too.
The treaty of Nice will enhance the EU's capacity to act in the world. I think we all see and support, and we are debating, the leading role that Britain is playing through the present crisis, but, as I have said, we are able to punch above our weight in the world precisely because America is engaged. It is crucial that we also seek to play a leading role in Europe, and ensure that Europe too punches above and not under its weight during the current international crisis.
I am certainly not one who claims that the European Union is perfect. Indeed, through my work with colleagues in the European Scrutiny Committee I discover more and more of its imperfections every week. Nor do I claim that the EU would be made perfect by the implementation of the Nice treaty. I do, however, see the treaty as part of an historical processa small new step following on from all the other treaties that made the European Union what it is today, starting with the treaty of Rome in 1958 and proceeding with the Single European Act, the Maastricht treaty and the Amsterdam treaty.
I believe that, in opposing the treaty of Nice, the Opposition seek to turn their backs on Europe at a time when Europe's citizens look to the European Union to deliver greater security, greater international leadership and greater stability as a foundation for peace. The people of Europe must and, I believe, will see that the EU is more than just a common marketthat it must renew its historical mission of 50 years ago to strengthen international resolve in consolidating peace. The EU itself, however, is much in need of reform.
I was visited this evening by a constituent who had put in a green card, wanting to talk to me about the Nice treaty before this evening's vote. He came to lobby meto ask me to vote against the treaty. When I asked my constituent, a Mr. Anderson of Graham road, Wimbledon, why he did not want me to vote with the Government for ratification, he told me a story about a European regulation concerning recycling of elements of his refrigerator, which would be more difficult as a result.
I said "Yes, we must look very critically at regulations presented at European level. Not all of them are doing the good that was intended. But are you aware of the work of the European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons? The Committee is there to look at individual regulations, and to weigh the costs and benefits of particular regulations as they relate to the United Kingdom." My constituent said that he was not aware of that.
I think there is a myth that there is no scrutiny of, and no accountability for, what happens and is proposed in Europe at the level of national Parliaments. A great deal that is done in the European Union is imperfect, and may indeed need to be improvedI am reminded of the suggestion that the EU should do less, but betterbut the mechanisms for improvement are in place through, for example, the work of the European Scrutiny Committee. Moreover, as I reminded my constituent, decisions in Brussels are not made by bureaucrats. Regulations may be drafted by civil servants, but they are decided by Ministers of State, who have an important democratic legitimacy as a result.
Very many great challenges still lie ahead. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to overcome the disconnection between the citizens of Europe and the institutions of Europe, as is still being demonstrated in low turnout at European elections. Another challengewhich will not be resolved by the treaty of Niceis to increase the transparency and democratic accountability of European institutions. Another important challenge, as I said, is to strengthen further the input and role of national Parliaments in the European Union decision-making process.
I hope that the Select Committee on European Scrutiny will continue to play the role of trying to improve the governance of Europea role that we played throughout the intergovernmental conference that led to the treaty of Nice. In future, I hope that not only our Select Committee but national Parliaments more generally will perform that type of role. I also hope that the role of COSACConference of European Affairs Committeeswhich is the scrutiny committee that brings together representatives from national scrutiny committees, will be enhanced.
I am sure that, both in the House and across Europe, we shall have many interesting discussions as we prepare and look towards the 2004 intergovernmental conference, which will reshape the future of Europe. However, one thing is certain. Today, by Parliament's ratifying the treaty of Nice, Europe will take one more step towards that future. I believe that our ratification of the treaty will make it a better future.
To allow Conservative Members to prevent our ratification of the treaty of Nice, as they are seeking to do, would have the effect of diminishing Britain's role in the world and turning the clock back for the European Union by perhaps 50 years, to a time even before the treaty of Rome was signed. It would postpone, perhaps indefinitely, enlargement of the European Union. It would also, in the post-11 September world, compromise the European Union's ability to take collective action to combat terrorism.
I urge all hon. Members to join Labour Members in the Lobby to ratify the treaty of Nice. Our citizens want, need and deserve the security, prosperity and leadership that the European Union is being challengedperhaps more so than ever beforeto offer. I believe that the European Union now faces its greatest test: to show that it can deliver for the citizens of Europe. Let us ratify the treaty of Nice and enlarge the European Union, and let that test begin.