Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hopkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again. I agree entirely about the need for a new order and stability in the world. Would he not agree that the post-war world created at Bretton Woods was much more sensible, orderly and stable than the world of global financial markets, which seem inherently unstable and much more difficult to control?

Mr. Mandelson: The world of Bretton Woods was one that we were able to create, operate and manage very well, from which we derived considerable benefits. The world of globalisation is not man-made in that sense, but it will not go away. It is the way in which the world economy is operating, and its rules, what governs it, its demands and the speed at which it brings economic change to all parts of the world—the way in which problems and tremors in financial markets or in certain regions of the world are felt throughout other financial markets and other regions throughout the world—that constitute the world in which we live.

We need to design an international system to manage, cope with and respond to the world in which we live. To state the obvious, we have not succeeded in the post-cold-war world, at least so far, in creating an international system that is capable of standing up to and managing the ferocious challenges that globalisation is creating. I am talking not just about the social and political effects of economic globalisation but about disease, illegal drugs, transnational crime and environmental degradation. Whatever international issue one cares to identify, none will be solved by either

18 Jun 2002 : Column 185

America or Europe acting independently of the other. That is the common feature of the challenges with which we are now faced internationally. International terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are the new and additional threats. My fear is that EU member states are simply not appraising those external threats to our security with the realism and urgency in all cases that those threats demand.

I sometimes think that if the events of 11 September had happened in Europe rather than America, we would still be weighing up the evidence about who or which group was responsible and debating the pros and cons of whether to respond. I suspect that, had those events happened on European soil, the anniversary of 11 September would come around this year without us having acted in response. That is due partly to a lack of will and decision-making capacity on these matters in Europe. Also, however, some European nations—the majority, in fact—are not facing up to the need to equip themselves adequately if Europe is to play the full partnership role with the United States that I would like us to undertake.

It is no part of my argument that we are under-prepared or ill-equipped and, therefore, we should leave the responsibility to America. My argument is that Europe has a very important role to play, and, at the moment, it is punching below its weight. It needs to increase its decision-making and technological capability to an extent to punch its true and full weight as a partner—not as an equal partner, of course, but, none the less, as a partner—with the United States. Clearly, there is a huge technology gap between Europe and the United States. I do not suggest for one moment that we can, would or will close that technology gap. That is unrealistic. At the moment, however, most European nations are barely able to move or even talk to each other in terms of their technological capability, let alone engage directly with an enemy whom we must confront.

We are not lap dogs of the United States. We will have our own perspective on certain issues. At the moment, we take a slightly different perspective on the middle east, where we see a more pressing need for diplomatic and political action in that conflict. We do not seek to rival the United States in its power or world role—that is not realistic—but we share fundamental values and interests with it in winning the war against terrorism, in bringing democracy and human rights to nations and regions where people are denied both and in integrating Russia and China into the international community of nations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) touched on the issue of international financial institutions, and we share with the United States the aim of modernising them. We need successor, modernised, relevant international financial institutions to rise to the challenge of the new global problems and the poverty that still blights many parts of the globe. We have successfully to complete the Doha round. Those and other challenges have one thing in common: they are global issues that Europe must address beyond its continent. It must co-operate with the United States in doing that.

I know that the Government are acutely aware of all those international challenges and I strongly commend the approach that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team have taken to them. When it comes to

18 Jun 2002 : Column 186

dealing with external threats, we must seek to engage the French and the Germans with particular seriousness. The year 2004 will mark the centenary of the entente cordiale—yet another anniversary—so let us plan to make it a major milestone in British-French defence co-operation while, crucially, encouraging Germany to assume its proper share of the ever-growing burden of Europe's world role. We need to do that if Europe is to punch its full weight.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's remarks that Britain's relations with Europe have been literally transformed over the past five years. We have a position of respect and influence that would have been unimaginable under the previous Government. What do we do with that influence? How do we build it and use it to shape the future direction of the European Union?

In a further response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), I have no doubt that, in the long term, we will need to be inside the single currency—I hope that that will not shock him too much—if we are to maximise the benefits of our position in Europe and strengthen Europe's effectiveness. However, that must be determined by Britain's national economic interest and not by political prejudice—whether the Government's or that of powerful foreign nationals however mighty they may be or appear to be.

Mr. Davidson: Name them.

Mr. Mandelson: No, a thunderbolt would strike the back of my neck and I might end up making a premature—definitely premature for some—return to the Front Bench.

In the meantime, I want to encourage the Government to continue on their present course, maintaining a strong influence for our country in Europe and pressing the case for reform, especially economic reform. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was right to highlight Lisbon. We overlook and shuffle Lisbon, and Cardiff for that matter, to one side at this continent's economic peril. Economic reform needs to take place alongside reform of the EU's working methods and institutions. We also need to forge that necessary and strong transatlantic relationship with America. The interests of America and Europe do coincide, and I strongly believe that that should govern our approach to our membership of the EU.

5.35 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): First, may I associate the Liberal Democrats with the Foreign Secretary's comments about the tragic events in the middle east? It is yet another dark day for that part of the world. I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues will use this weekend in Seville to focus their minds on that problem yet again. May I also apologise on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who is unable to be here this afternoon? He sent a note to the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary in anticipation of his absence and hopes to attend to hear the concluding speeches.

This important debate has been good humoured and good natured and many of the big issues have been brought into the open. The right hon. Member for

18 Jun 2002 : Column 187

Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) said that this is a decisive moment for the enlargement process. I agree. I would also characterise it as a time when there is an uneasy atmosphere in Europe. Electorates have been uncertain in key parts of the Union in the past few weeks and some of the big decisions have to be taken when there is not a great deal of room for manoeuvre before enlargement in 2004. The different factors are coming together to create quite a bit of pressure on those who will meet in Seville later this week.

The issues before the representatives are fairly obvious. We are two years from enlargement and massive changes are in prospect as a consequence. Reform of the EU and its institutions was already necessary, and enlargement makes that more critical. Specific policies have been mentioned. Immigration and asylum policies are at the forefront of the minds of many Governments. We would not dispute that the issue is of legitimate concern. However, we are worried that an element of realpolitik has promoted the issue so far up the agenda. It certainly grabs headlines, but it may also be used to obscure other equally pressing matters.

Although that issue may dominate the agenda in Seville, others will probably dare not show their face—the single currency, Gibraltar and Irish ratification of the Nice treaty, for example. The challenge for the summit is to emerge from all the detail in which it will undoubtedly be caught up. It cannot fall into a reactionary trap and ape the right of Europe. It must show leadership.

In recent days and weeks the United Kingdom's position on immigration and asylum has been set out by senior Ministers. The Prime Minister wrote to the Spanish presidency on 16 May urging it to put asylum and immigration at the top of the agenda. The Home Secretary said:

The rhetoric is one thing, but the worry must be that in an attempt to outflank some of the less attractive parts of European politics, we might be seen to adopt their policies too.

These issues are undoubtedly very delicate, and we must be careful. Language like "swamping" and fears about the loss of cultural identity do not tackle the core issues. Just as important, surely, is the inability of Governments to co-operate on cross-border matters when they arise. The form of politics based on the lowest common denominator is depressing and rarely effective, but to have national Governments going their own way cannot possibly be the answer. The failure of the authorities in the United Kingdom and France to resolve the issues of Sangatte should be a warning to us all.

Of course, this policy area is ideally suited to joint working, and the Foreign Secretary set out the history of that from the Tampere summit in 1999. We believe that member states should be prepared to co-operate effectively on immigration and asylum in response to mutual and international concerns. Following the Amsterdam treaty, many of those policies have been developed, but we are still rather stuck where we are dealing with common minimum standards rather than eyeing up the common policy, which could still be a good distance away, although this afternoon the Foreign Secretary expressed confidence that more progress will be made.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 188

Two specific policy proposals have been floated recently. I was glad that the Foreign Secretary chose not to dwell on them. One is for European border guards. Surely there is a huge difference between co-operation and support for existing members or applicant states in securing external borders and the concept of having capped Euro-guards at the frontiers. Perhaps that idea is the product of over-imaginative spinning, but even if it could ever be attractive, it is well ahead of its time.

More important, however, is the other proposal doing the rounds, which is that aid to particular countries may be linked to their acceptance of the return of failed asylum applicants. It was not clear to me from what the Foreign Secretary said whether this is his favoured approach. Do those who propose it intend it to apply to all Governments, including those of the failed states, or only those countries involved in trafficking, where the police force may turn a blind eye? The Government need to remember the reality of the countries from which many of those people come.

We must not allow the rhetoric of the right throughout Europe to influence that decision. As the Foreign Secretary said, the evidence is that asylum applications are levelling off, and their number is half what it was 10 years ago—although from the state of the political debate one would not necessarily appreciate that. Most refugees and people in difficulty come nowhere near Europe. Many millions suffer much more hardship and poverty thousands of miles from the European Union. Cutting off aid to some of those countries as a punishment for their refusal to comply with European standards on asylum seeking and migration would certainly be rough justice, and we seek clarification from the Minister who will wind up the debate about precisely what position the Government will be taking on the issue in Seville and elsewhere.

Asylum and immigration are closely linked to enlargement, another big theme that will, of course, be extensively discussed at the Seville summit. All European mainstream parties support enlargement, but there are undercurrents of concern about the movement of people from central Europe into other countries. Because the political climate in Europe has changed in recent months, we need to be careful that excuses are not found to raise the barrier to entry as the negotiations approach their conclusion. Similar fears were expressed when Spain and Portugal joined the European Union, but the migration did not materialise, although that may not stop some arguing the case.

Enlargement debates will rightly focus attention on many other issues. Enlargement has been a long-held goal of UK foreign policy under both Conservative and Labour Governments and has enjoyed cross-party support. Significant progress has been made in recent months, as we approach the deadline of completing the negotiations by the Copenhagen summit—nine years after the last gathering in that city, which set out the criteria by which applicant countries would be judged. The Spanish presidency has made significant progress, and reports suggest that 80 per cent. of the acquis is now resolved. That is no mean achievement, but we still cannot take the outcome for granted. Questions have been raised in existing member states and, possibly more worryingly, in applicant countries as well.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 189

Perhaps we are in danger of taking for granted some of the fundamental reasons why we all believe in the European Union. The benefits of strengthening security, entrenching democracy and underpinning prosperity have been the key principles for nearly 50 years. When we worry about the minutiae of agriculture, we may be in danger of forgetting those key principles, even though agriculture as an issue runs the biggest risk of being the block to the successful completion of the negotiations.

Although 80 per cent. of the negotiations may have been completed, we in Europe have developed a tendency to postpone a difficult decision. The finances of the common agricultural policy and how they will apply after enlargement will not be tackled until after the German elections. Likewise, the proposed mid-term review of the CAP as a whole is not to be undertaken until later in the year. That may be understandable and pragmatic, but given that the CAP is the biggest financial issue facing the conclusion of the negotiations, leaving just weeks before the self-imposed deadline makes it tight, to say the least. None the less, it is extremely important that CAP reform is developed and success achieved. When the Minister winds up, it would be helpful if he would say why he is confident that the reform of the CAP and of CAP finances will be resolved.

I mentioned the need for Irish ratification. Since we last debated these matters in the Chamber, there has been an Irish election and Mr. Ahern has been comfortably returned to government—more comfortably than was his position beforehand. We must not lose sight of the fact that when the referendum on the Nice treaty was conducted in Ireland last time round, all the political parties, whether in government or in opposition, supported the proposition, so a stronger Prime Minister may not necessarily strengthen the case.

The worry now must be whether there is a plan B or some stunt that will be pulled out of the hat if the worst comes to the worst and the Irish reject ratification a second time. All the rhetoric suggests that that will not happen. Perhaps that is a way of impressing on the Irish electorate the obligation to ratify the treaty on this second occasion. However, when European electorates have been told recently what they should be thinking or doing, they have had a nasty habit of doing something quite different. The Government must face up to that. If we can get some insight into what will happen if the treaty is not ratified, that will help us all to understand the process much more clearly.

The future of Europe is the tag line for the convention that has been set up to contemplate many of the structural changes that are necessary to take account of the changing face of Europe not only because of enlargement, but largely as a consequence of the difference between a European Union of 15 states and one of 25 states in about two years' time. The Laeken summit set up the convention. Assuming that they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who have been representing this place at the convention alongside Lord Maclennan and Lord Tomlinson from another place.

18 Jun 2002 : Column 190

Europe needs reform. With enlargement coming along, there is no prospect of sustainable development of the EU unless we have that reform. Some different ideas have been bandied about this afternoon. The Liberal Democrats would welcome an enhanced role for the national and European Parliaments in the reformed Europe, not least in terms of greater scrutiny. I listened carefully to what was said about the Foreign Secretary's bold initiative on televising voting at summits of the Council of Ministers. If the only aspect of this place that could be seen on television was the voting—not that many people watch this place on television anyway—our chances of enlivening democracy and people's interest would be rather limited. Surely, that cannot be a serious answer to the underlying problem.

As a constituency Member of Parliament, I know how difficult it is to seek to influence any debate in the Council of Ministers. This place struggles to have any scrutiny role with regard to Ministers from particular delegations, unless it is through the tabling of parliamentary questions asking the Government to set out their version of events and of what was discussed and agreed. That is a partial process, however, and it is not particularly helpful.

Next Section

IndexHome Page