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I unfortunately could not be here last Friday for the Second Reading of the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on the implications of withdrawal from the European Union. I am glad that he is in his place and will speak in the gap. Todays debate is an opportunity to redress the somewhat unbalanced and gloomy view of things that was presented last Friday. I would not fear the outcome of any such inquiry, but that does not prevent me regretting that after so many years of membership of the European Union, our membership can be considered to be an issue by large numbers of responsible people. Why are we in the United Kingdom incapable of debating the issue of Europe without introducing the suggestion, directly or implicitly, that we would rather not be there at all?
I read Fridays debate, and a great deal of emphasis was put on the cost of membership and rather less on the political implications of withdrawal. There has always been a political implication and a political dimension to the old European Economic Community and now to the European Union. Surely those who question the wisdom of our membership do so, and say so, because they believe that the United Kingdom is a country of considerable influence and economic power. They therefore cannot believe that if we were to withdraw, or to be seen to be seriously contemplating withdrawal, that would not have a serious political impact in Europe and the European Union. What impact would it have on those member states that joined recently, who share so many of our approaches, especially in economic areas? Those new member states cherish their freedom and sovereignty after years of it having been denied. Why is it that after those experiences they can enthusiastically embrace membership and we cannot do the same? What would the future of the European Union be without the UK? Unless we totally devalue our own political and economic importance and put it on the same level as that of those admirable countries Switzerland and Norway, which are often cited as successful countries outside the European Union, we cannot believe that we could do anything other than have a very serious effect on Europe.
As noble Lords said on previous occasions, the proposed constitution was not the constitution of a federal state. It was a consolidating or amending treaty, and it should have been recognised as such. It was unfortunate that it was misrepresented as something different and that those who chose to misrepresent it used that as an excuse to demand, and eventually to persuade, Her Majestys Government to commit themselves to a referendum. Many noble Lords have made the case that an amending and consolidating treaty is still required, and it should not be the subject of a referendum. The opponents of change or any new treaty always cite the French and Dutch referendums and ignore the 18 ratifications, the votes in national parliaments and the positive result of the referendum in Spain. It seems that for some people the only valid referendum results are those that say no. My fear is that if there is an agreement between Heads of Government next week, the pressure for a referendum will reappear. Yet who is not in favour of replacing the rotating president? Will not the double-hatting of the high representative and the External Relations Commissioner lead to a more effective common foreign policy? The recent events in Russia on energy surely show the weakness of not having an effective common European position.
Who is against the other issues that noble Lords raised? The noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, outlined acceptable and important changes to introduce in a mini-treaty. I hope that we will embrace those changes as a Parliament and will be prepared to give a lead in the country. We must put aside the misconceptions so often put about regarding the European Union and stop representing it as a conquering enemy, forgetting that it is, in fact, the construct of free sovereign states in which we all played a part. If we are to take this forward, we need to have confidence in the European Union, but it is most important that we have confidence in ourselves.
Pride in Europe and pride in one's own country are not mutually exclusive. I agree entirely with noble Lords who say that the amended or mini-consolidated treaty must rid itself of all the unnecessary elements that are likely to cause controversy, including the symbols of the European Union. However, while I too think it important to achieve an agreement, I hope that one day a confident and committed member of the European Unionthe United Kingdomwill, like so many of our partner states who have equal pride in their sovereignty and their country, be ready to see the European Union flag flying alongside the union flag, and will not see it as a symbol of something foreign and threatening but as a symbol of something to which we belong and of which we have played a full part.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord McNally for calling this important debate. Europe is a subject that causes great emotion not only in this House but outside and within families and elsewhere. My mother was born in 1919, the same year as the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Her views are those of extreme Euro-scepticism. One of her great heroes is the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, even though her greatest criticism would be the Channel Tunnel. To her, the signing of that treaty was almost treason to the country. Indeed, when I travel on Eurostar to Brussels I usually admit only to going by the ferry. That is how strongly people feel about these subjects.
In terms of emotion, I wonder how our leaders back in, say, 1944 would look now at the European Union and Europe. We use the words shock and awe in other ways, but I think they are appropriate here. There would be shock that, unlike the Treaty of Versailles and the conclusion of the Great War, the emotion was not one of revenge on defeated states but of building and creating economic success, rather than raping and pillaging nation states that fought on the wrong side. The emotion is also one of awe that this body has been so successful over 50 years.
What are the EUs successes? Noble Lords have gone through so many of them during this excellent debate. The successes are peace and security, economic growth, particularly in the post-war era, that there is a market economy, democracy and the rule of law across a whole stretchthe majorityof a Europe of half a billion people. That is not just in the eastern European states. Italy in the 1960s did not turn to communism, Greece did not go back to the colonels and became a democracy, and Spain and Portugal, which we forget were so recently under fascist rule, have become secure and stable democracies.
The European Unions soft power has been perhaps most successful in providing an answer to the break-up of the Soviet empire, a break-up that took place, outside Yugoslavia, without toil and bloodshed. Beyond that, we have a single market that works, and a single currency that is one of the worlds most dominant. It amazes me that over less than 10 years, between the Maastricht Treaty and when the euro was in our pockets, technically the European Commission delivered a new currency, bringing together a dozen others. That was successfully executed and it immediately moved to a position of dominance in world markets.
That is a tremendous track recordit is finished business in many ways, although it is unfinished in certain othersbut we cannot any longer rely on it as a justification for the future of Europe. Today, we have different agendas. They are around justice and home affairs, particularly on terrorism and organised crime. Strangely enough, although that is one of the agendas we would expect our European citizens to be enthusiastic about, it is in many ways portrayed as secretive and as oppressing the individual rather than protecting, as it should do. It is an agenda that will move towards energy security. Already 20 per cent of oil in the EU is supplied by Russia and it is estimated that by 2020 75 per cent of our gas will be imported. There is a lot of talk in the European Union about energy security, but, as other noble Lords have stated, we have yet to show the mettle of our ability to change that situation.
We all now see climate change as a major priority. Indeed, from March we have important targets on carbon emissions, biofuels and renewable energy. But, as we have seen perhaps from our own Government's examples, targets are not everything, and we have to find a way of delivering that. One area where the European Union has been far more successful than it has been given credit for has been in the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Although there have been all sorts of issues around the first phase of that regime, in the second there is a viable carbon price of around €30. The scheme is being copied, and is envied by California, by other states on the west coast of America and by British Columbia. Other communities are starting to look at it.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, we have had one particular success in Europe in the past year: it has managed to cap our international roaming mobile charges. This is one of the most popular things that has touched citizens. But where does Europe go in the future? One thing that always strikes me as the ultimate naivety of the argument about the future of the European Union is that somehow because of globalisation we no longer need regional blocs, that all we need to do is to go back to national states. That is clearly evidentially not the case.
Elsewhere in the world we have Mercosur in South America; NAFTA; ASEAN, which is building up; and the Confederation of Independent States of the former Soviet Union. That is perhaps the one that has failed most in its mission, but has been replaced by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which will probably become one of the most important and powerful regional blocs over the next 10 years.
Why are regional blocs such as the European Union important? It is because with a population and a size of economy you have power. A population and market of half a billion citizens counts in global negotiations. An economy with a GDP of $13 billion counts in negotiations. A currency that makes up 25 per cent of world reserves counts in international negotiations. We should remember the American economy. America may in many ways have not used its military power to the greatest success for the United States, but in terms of its economy it has hardly ever put a finger wrong. It bargains and bargains hard.
It is also important for the protection of small states, which are important. We never forget that the Great War started because of Serbia and Belgiuma problem with small states. In the Second World War, Poland was a medium-sized state. Yet, we have seen, particularly at the recent Russian EU meeting at Samara, it was through the European Union that Lithuanian oil supplies, Polish food exports, and Estonian interests on the superhighway and the hits on its internet system were protected in solidarity by the European Union. I am sure that that would not have been possible if those Baltic states were outside the European Union and that power blocs relations with the Soviet Union.
I should like to say something which is different from many contributions. In the European project, two areas of the Maastricht Treaty went wrong. Rather than solving the complexity of Europe being completely not understandable to its citizens, the structure of Europe was complicated by pillars and the various institutions brought in at that time. It is absolutely critical that the European Union is understandable to citizens, transparent and accountable.
The Maastricht Treaty also went wrong in calling the European Union a union. The EU is not a super-state; a confederation; a federation; a superpower; nor is it a mere association. I believe that its original description was exactly right. It is a European community, but not a community just of member states, but a community of member states and a community of its citizens. It is in those two parallel bodies that the European Union as a community needs to move forward. Many noble Lords have mentioned referenda. On major constitutional issues, within the Council of Ministers each member state rightly has a veto. Each member state can say yes or no and any individual member state can stop a constitutional treaty moving forward.
What of the community of citizens? We should have one referendumnot five, six or 27, but onefor all European citizens that balances that individual vote of member states in the Council of Ministers. In that way, we would have greater accountability. On any treaty that is called constitutional, the citizens of Europe deserve that vote. Two weeks ago I received my renewal on my road fund tax in the post. It shocked me. It was £110, which I thought was a lot of money. I think that in 2006 my membership personally for the European Union was £150. When I get my money back, as we have particularly in the south-west, from Europewe did not from Whitehallthat comes down to £70. As a citizen, that is great value for my membership of the European Union. I want greater accountability as a citizen. Then we may see the European Union as a community as the two communities move forward.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I rise as the single Euro-sceptic pearl in this oyster of Euro-philiac debate. So far 22 of your Lordships have extolled the benefits of our EU membership. After me, there will be three more from the Front Benches. So I hope that it is helpful if I recommend to students of our ill fated involvement in the project of European integration that they also read a more realistic debate in the House on Friday 8 June, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was good enough to refer.
In that debate, most speakers asked the Government for an official cost-benefit analysis of our EU membership. It was not a Bill about withdrawing from the EU. It is regrettable that neither the Government, nor the large Euro-phile majority in your Lordships' House, dare to support such an initiative. It is also obvious that the reason they do not want it is that they are scared stiff of the results. We Euro-sceptics are prepared for our view, that the United Kingdom would be immensely better off outside the European Union, to be put to the test in an unbiased, official inquiry. The Euro-philes are not.
One contributory reason for the wholly Euro-phile tone of todays debate may be that no fewer than 10 of the previous 22 speakers have been Members of the European Parliament or senior employees of the European Union. No doubt they are proud of their careers in these capacities and, no doubt, they enjoyed their time in the plush
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord can say whether his strictures about having been employees of the Commission or the European ParliamentI hope that he did not include me among them, because although I was, my pension was repatriatedwould extend to those Members of your Lordships House who are drawing pensions from the British Government? Does that mean they have a conflict of interest when they speak on matters of national interest?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the noble Lord has a little patience, he will hear the kernel of my argument. Former Ministers do not lose their pensions if they fail to uphold the ongoing interests of the country. As I was saying, these noble Lords are proud of their careers in the plush and well remunerated conclaves of Brussels, but of course they are alsohere I exonerate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, if necessaryalready in receipt of a generous EU pension, or are looking forward to one. Few people know that EU pensions are unusual in that holders of them can lose them if, in the opinion of the Commission and the Luxembourg court they,
Our view is shared by no less a personage than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who chairs your Lordships sub-committee on our declaration of interests. But unusually, and perhaps uniquely, our Privileges Committee itself has just overridden the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on grounds which appear to me to be almost wholly spurious. Watch this space.
There has been much speculation in both debates about what will and should happen at the EU summit on 21 and 22 June in Berlin, from which a mandate will emerge for a new inter-governmental conference and result in a treaty, to be concluded probably by the end of the year. So far the Government have refused to divulge even to the Commons Select Committee the parameters of their wheeling and dealing in the run-up to the summit.
Perhaps I may put a question officially to the Minister on behalf of the UK Independence Party: will the Government hold full debates in the House of Commons and your Lordships House before the Prime Minister signs up to anything at the summit? Will they thus put the options and their intentions clearly in front of the British people before signing away to Brussels yet more of our sovereignty and our right to govern ourselves? Finally, can the noble Lord tell the House why the present negotiations are taking place behind closed doors? Is there anything in the European treaties which requires such secrecy, and as a rider to that, is there anything in the treaties which requires the entire process of EU law-making to take place in secretor is it just for the convenience of the Eurocrats?
We learnt last Friday that most of our national law is now imposed by the secret Brussels system of law-making. I trust that even your Lordships would agree that the British people are therefore entitled to answers to the two questions I have asked, and I look forward to the noble Lords reply.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this debate has registered a consensus among a great many expert and experienced Members of this House that British interests are best pursued through European co-operation. It has been in sharp contrast to the debate last Friday, where a minority of Euro-sceptics called for withdrawal. That in a sense was a parallel debate taking place in a parallel universe. I am glad that we heard, at last but if only briefly, from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. He used a number of his familiar phrases, of which the pension conspiracy came out strongly. He did not repeat for what would have been the third time in two weeks his reference to the deep psychotic need of the French, but I do worry about the deep psychotic need of some of our Euro-sceptics to repeat these conspiratorial views of Europe. We have to recognise, however, that much of the British public debate does take place within this parallel universe, one in which honest Englishmen are constantly outwitted by untrustworthy foreigners, and one in which Britain stands alone against a hostile continent determined to impose straight cucumbers, square tomatoes and metric measures on our embattled nation.
In this Motion for debate, we have put a deliberate emphasis on British national interests and the contribution which active engagement within the European Union can make to their pursuitthat is, as Ed Balls has been quoted widely as saying, our hard-headed interests in European co-operation and in the management of global problems through European co-operation: climate change, as a great many Members of the House have said; energy security, on which our dependence on gas imports necessarily locks us in to very close co-operation with our continental partners; the whole complex issue of economic transformation; how we manage globalisation, including the rise of China and India; the problems of crime, which are increasingly trans-national; the problems of migration; the problems of terrorism, and the underlying interests of our foreign policy and of our security with regard to Russia, the Middle East and even the United States.
There has been a colossal failure of nerve by successive British Governments in their hesitant approach to making the case to the British public of where our national interests lie. That is closely linked to the unresolved questions of Britains identity and of our self-image of our proper place in the world. We all recognise that English nationalism, unionism and our attitude to Europe are very closely linked. I was very pleased to see that the Bruges Group the other week held a dinner to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Anglo-Scottish union. Unionism together; a Protestant nation against the wicked Catholics of the Continent is, of course, the whole underlying theme.
Gordon Brown, in his British Council annual lecture two years ago, recognised that the confusions over Britains national identity have inhibited Britains engagement in the European Union. I hope that, as Prime Minister, he will link together the two debates. He has been active on the question of national identity but not yet very active on the question of Britains involvement in the European Union.
There has been a long history of governmental dissimilation on the implications of Britain becoming a member of the European Union. Harold Macmillan, after all, insisting that in spite of the Suez débâcle we were a great power, talked about the Common Market as being less important than our links with the United States and the Commonwealth. Harold Wilson downplayed the significance and abdicated political leadership and party leadership by accepting that there should be a referendum, rather than providing a clear lead that it was in Britains interests to stay in. Mrs Thatcher revelled in the old image of Britain standing alone but, as a number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, have remarked, she contributed a great deal to the development of the European Union through the single market. For those of us who were there when it was made, the Bruges speech was not an anti-European speech; Bernard Ingham made it one in his briefings to the press that evening. That is how it is remembered. John Major set out to take Britain to the heart of Europe and then drifted back, as a weak Prime Minister, to the margins.
Now we have the question: what will be Tony Blairs European legacy? Will it merit comparison with John Majors and Harold Wilsons? The past 10 years, after all, have been marked by a widening gap between the realities of close co-operation within the European Union and the public presentation of British government policya real hypocrisy of a Government who have recognised what Britains interests are but have spun policy in a different style, or, at least, allowed the media to spin developments differently.
It did not, of course, begin with this Government. I remember reading about the occasion when the question of what symbols the European Community should adopt was under discussion. The British delegate said, She will never agree to a flag, but if you agree to a common badge and then put it on a flag, that will get past the British Prime Minister. I can assure the House that that is part of the origins of the European Community flag.
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