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28 Oct 2002 : Column 547—continued

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends entirely with the expressions of condolence and sympathy for all the Russian people who have lost their lives in the terrible events in Moscow at the weekend, and I express our relief that at least the Low family from our country have escaped with their lives. I thank our ambassador and all the diplomatic staff, who, as we know from media reports, have worked so hard on our behalf and on behalf of the British citizens immediately involved in that terrible situation.

Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the grotesque events in Moscow again underline the fact that, even in this day and age, some within the wider perimeter of Europe are still prepared to wage conflict on an indiscriminate basis? Although we rightly talk about the detail of these summits, it is surely always worth bearing in mind the fact that the whole European ideal was built out of the ashes of the second world war—out of two grotesque conflicts in the last century—and that the goal of growing stability, security and maintenance of peace and prosperity is something of which we should never lose sight.

In the context of this weekend's summit, we welcome the further progress made on enlargement, although perhaps the Prime Minister, like me, reflected just a few minutes ago on the fact that, if enlargement is to be made a reality, those who pay lip service to the practicality of enlarging the European Union also have to go through the motions and the Division Lobby of the House to give effect to treaties such as the Nice treaty, rather than opposing them at every juncture. Some of the comments that we heard a few minutes ago need to be viewed in that context.

Will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that aspirant states wish to come into the Europe Union? Although it is marvellous that they are at last being liberated from old-style central command-and-control economies, they are none the less finding that existing member states and the Commission are still putting too much red tape and bureaucracy in their paths. Further emphasis needs to be given on ensuring that the enlarged Europe that evolves is more liberal and more free-trading than it is at the moment.

On the specific issue of common agricultural policy reform, which has to be the big disappointment of the weekend, too little progress—if, indeed, much progress at all—was achieved. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that the agreement reached simply to cap subsidies is not a long-term solution? Does he agree that Commissioner Chris Patten was correct yesterday when he said that far-reaching reform remains inevitable? In that context, we have to get away from the wastage of EU resources and the unfair discrimination against emerging economies elsewhere, in the third world in particular. We also have to recognise the unfair penalties that the existing CAP imposes on our hard-pressed agricultural community in Britain.

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How does the Prime Minister reconcile the outcome of the summit with the commitment to the phased withdrawal of EU subsidies in favour of the wider Doha commitments, to which we are already a signatory? Does he see any potential in coming times for assembling a coalition of interests within existing EU member states towards that end? Will the Prime Minister also reaffirm that the British budget rebate still requires unanimity for reform, and that some of the scaremongering in the media and elsewhere in politics is simply trying to mislead people on that fundamental issue?

Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that our country would have greater leverage, not least on agricultural reform, if we were seen to be more of an active participant at the top table in Europe, especially as we are the fourth largest economy in the world? Are we not in danger of missing the boat at the formative stage of the single currency in the same way as we did at the outset of the establishment of the CAP? Did the Prime Minister have bilateral discussions on the single currency with other Heads of Government over the weekend? In that context, when will the next bilateral summit between France and Britain take place, and what items does the right hon. Gentleman propose to discuss with the President of France?

The Prime Minister: I am sure it will be a wide-ranging discussion as always.

The position on the single currency is the same. We are in favour of it in principle, and in practice the tests have to be passed. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the abatement. Unanimity is required. It is important to explain, however, that abatement is merely a form of compensation. Sometimes it is treated as if it were a marvellous and unusual device that allows us to get an unfair advantage. That is not the case. In fact, it is the minimum necessary to compensate us for what would otherwise be a highly unfair situation. That will change over time because of the deal struck in Berlin in 1999. In the ensuing years after enlargement, Britain's net contributions to the EU will come into line with those of France and Italy for the first time since we joined the Common Market. At the moment, however, even with the abatement, our net contributions are three times those of France. It is hardly surprising if we are vigorously defending our position.

Again, it is important to understand the two completely different aspects of CAP reform. The summit was originally not about CAP reform, but about enlargement. Germany took the same view as Britain, which is that we need some cap on overall agriculture spending. This summit delivered such a cap, and we can do more on that if we do more on agriculture reform. That is why it was so important to resist the notion that, as the trade for the spending cap, reform should be taken off the table. It was never the case that the nature of reform would be decided at the Council, but it had to remain on the agenda, otherwise the continuing work of the Agriculture Council would have been suspended. Reform is on the agenda.

The right hon. Gentleman remarked on the Doha treaty, which is vital. He is right about the Nice treaty. I had forgotten that the Conservatives voted against the

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Nice treaty. [Hon. Members: X They did."] In that case, it is a little difficult for them to say that they are in favour of enlargement, but we shall leave them to sort that out.

Finally, to emphasise a point made by the right hon. Gentleman, it is important that the next few months are remembered as those in which enlargement takes place. If anyone had said two or three years ago that we would have 10 new countries in the EU, they would have been thought very bold. Those 10 countries will join the EU, and they have made enormous strides to do so. When all is said and done, and leaving aside all the differences that emerge at any summit, what should be remembered is the enlargement of the EU, which is an historic and massive step forward for Europe.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that so far as the Government are concerned, enlargement is not a means of slowing down or hampering the development of the EU but an investment in democracy in the new member countries and, positively, a means of enhancing the potential of our new Europe? Does my right hon. Friend expect the new European force to be in Macedonia by 1 January? Is it the Government's view that Turkey should be given a start date for negotiations at the Copenhagen summit? What are the prospects of that happening?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that, over the next few weeks, there will be discussion of timetables for Turkey, and I do not want to prejudge the results of the Copenhagen summit, but I hope that we can give further significant welcome to the steps that Turkey is taking. On the possibility of European defence taking over the Macedonian operation, I think that that is an excellent idea, and it underlines why European defence is a good, sound project, because these are circumstances in which NATO does not want to be engaged. Obviously, it is important that European defence is used only in light of an agreement between Europe and NATO because it is important that European defence is seen as wholly complementary to the existence of NATO.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Prime Minister is right to welcome enlargement and to talk about the importance of the world trade round, but on agriculture reform, he has clearly taken his eye off the ball. Does he not recall that on 23 September the Financial Times carried a letter from six EU farm Ministers entitled XThe CAP is something we can be proud of", and that as France, Italy and Spain were all signatories, there is a clear blocking minority?

Is the Prime Minister further aware that on 3 October the Financial Times had on its front page a story headed XBerlin and Paris close to deal on farm reform"? What have the Government been doing in the meantime? Why did the Prime Minister's great friend Herr Schröder, whom the right hon. Gentleman is supposed to have rescued from election defeat, team up with the French and apparently defeat his own interests? Faced with that coalition, how can the Prime Minister believe that the mid-term review of agriculture reform is still on track?

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The Prime Minister: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman precisely why—for the very reasons that the European Commissioner Franz Fischler gave today, when he said:

That is what he said today.

The point that I am trying to make to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues is that one part of the French-German agreement, the limit on CAP expenditure after 2006, is an advance on what existed before the summit. Before the summit, there was no such agreement. If we had simply had the European Commission proposals, there would have been no limit on agriculture spending after 2006; now there is.

What was unacceptable was the idea that in return for that, we should abandon CAP reform in the Agriculture Council and the mid-term review. As Franz Fischler has just stipulated and as was agreed at the summit, that mid-term review continues, so the way is open for agricultural reform. Of course there will be attempts by countries to get together a blocking minority; that is the same as it was before the summit—but the important thing is that, as a result of the decision of the Council summit, there is no way that the matter can now be taken off the agenda.

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