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Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's work on the reform agenda in Europe. He will know that when the Prime Minister and Chancellor Schroder wrote to the Spanish Prime Minister on 25 February, they set out 20 points for reform, which they hope will be implemented by the European Council meeting in Seville. How many of those points does my right hon. Friend think will be met at that meeting?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful for the tribute, as well as for the difficult question that followed. I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact figure[Hon. Members: "Oh."] My excellent Minister for Europe will give the answer in his winding-up speech, and as I know that all right hon. and hon. Members who are here at the beginning of the debate will show proper respect to the Chair and be here at the end, too, there will be no punishment involved in waiting for my right hon. Friend to give that answer. Although I do not have the exact number, I can tell my hon. Friend (Mr. Vaz) that a significant proportion of those 20 points, which are capable of non-treaty implementation, will be agreed at Seville. [Laughter.] The mockers will become the mocked. If Conservative Members want the European Union to work better, they should be supporting these changes, including the one that I am about to talk about.
One thing that has tended to jam up the agenda of the European Council of Heads of Government is that it has become a court of appeal for the functional councils. A member state in such a council, facing a defeat under QMV, can effectively veto a proposal by saying that they will take the matter to the European Council where, notwithstanding the requirement in the treaties that the matter be dealt with by QMV, it has to be dealt with by consensus. That means that the agenda of the European Council has become increasingly constipated by items that could and should have been sorted out by a functional council, or certainlybecause the treaties say so and because it is sensibleshould have been decided by QMV. We support the recommendationit is one of the 20that the European Council should adopt QMV for issues that have been subject to QMV in the functional councils.
Angus Robertson (Moray): I fully support the Foreign Secretary's point about increasing transparency in the Council of Ministers, which will provide access and information and allow the public to understand how European policy is made. Why do the Government not support that within the UK, and reform the concordats covering European business between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, so that we can fully understand the discussions that take place between Ministers in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question, which we discussed at some length during the many debates on the Freedom of Information Bill of blessed memory, which is now an Act. It is important to balance transparency against the opportunity to be involved in confidential discussions while alternatives are being developed.
Everybody accepts that argument as it applies to their own party, because parties could not operate if their key decision-making bodies had to work in the full glare of publicity. I dare say that applies to the hon. Gentleman's party as well as to any other. UK Cabinet Government could not operate in that way, nor could the Executives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Irelandnor, indeed, could the General Affairs Council, as was pointed out yesterday in its discussions. The natural give and take that is essential if decisions are to be reached, whether by majority or by unanimity, must take place in a rather informal setting. That could not happen if every judgment and every contribution that we made was written down and could be played back against us by Oppositions. This is a matter of balancing the way in which decisions are developed with the way in which they are made formally.
We accept that when we change the law of Europe, and therefore, by definition, the law of individual nation states, that process ought to be transparent and in public. However, if we followed the hon. Gentleman's route, there would not be more transparency and accountability but less, because the real decisions would then be made in informal meetings outside the formal rooms. That would produce the opposite result from the one that he seeks.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I am a little worried about the Foreign Secretary's qualification concerning the presence of the television cameras in the Council. He seems to be suggesting that they will be there just for the formal vote, not for the debate, so we will not know what positions various member Governments have taken in the Council in arriving at that decision.
Mr. Straw: The cameras would be there not just for the formal votes, but for the points of legislation. As for negotiations over text, I defy anybody who has had any experience of negotiations over texts to say how having television cameras recording every last detail of the negotiation of texts would assist the process of negotiation. It simply would not be possible. Everybody
The case for institutional reform of the kind that I have just described would be clear-cut even if the European Union were forever to be just 15 strong, but it becomes urgent with the impending expansion of the EU into southern, eastern and central Europe. I do not want to pre-empt the decisions on enlargement due later this year, but I hope that the Seville Council will reiterate our commitment to the conclusion of negotiations with the 10 applicants by this December, allowing them to join in 2004.
In Berlin last month I set out the case for a large enlargement. Experience tells us that we need more, not fewer, partners to tackle the issues that concern our citizensmore countries working in an EU framework in the fight against illegal immigration; more resources to defeat global terrorism; and more co-operation to shut down drug and people-smuggling routes.
We have all gained from previous EU expansions and I believe that we will gain in the future. In the 1980s enlargement underpinned the reintroduction of democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece. It has encouraged growth and mutual prosperity both in those countries and across Europe. For those of my generation, it is worth remembering that 35 years ago Spain, Portugal and Greece were fascist dictatorships. Many of us refused to visit them because of the politics of those countries, but none of us could have anticipated that 35 years later they would be fully active members of the European Union.
Since the accession of Spain to the EU, its trade with the UK has increased by over 400 per cent. Expansion has led to considerable migration, but more from the old member states to the new than vice versa. That makes the point that we must all acknowledge: the principal motor of migration is economic imbalances. As the imbalances between the Iberian peninsula and the rest of the European Union have changed, so migration patterns have changed. The figures for France and Spain are interesting. In 1986 when Spain joined the EU, there were 109,000 Spanish workers in France; by 1994 that had fallen to just 35,000. People went back to Spain for work.
For all EU member states, enlargement should not just be about an historic obligation to reunite Europe. It is also a matter of enlightened self-interest. If we want to deliver economic prosperity, a cleaner environment and safer streets for our citizens, we should embrace enlargement, not postpone it.
Roger Casale: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way again. May I draw his attention to the forthcoming report of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny, which will be published later this week, on democracy and accountability in the European Union? I shall not anticipate the findings of the report, but my right hon. Friend will know that part of its remit was to consider the role of national Parliaments. Does he agree in principle that if we upgrade the role of the Council of
Mr. Straw: I answer with an emphatic yes, as I am very strongly committed to strengthening the role of national Parliaments in the decision-making and supervisory processes of the European Union. I believe that that is one of the most important ways of ensuring that the European Union not only stays connected to its electors at an institutional and supranational level, but is increasingly better connected to them. I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), as a representative of the national Parliament, is on a working party on the role of national parliaments as part of her job as a member of the praesidium of the convention. If I am wrong, I am sure that someone will correct me.