HC Deb 08 May 1996 vol 277 cc226-9
9. Ms Roseanna Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on measures to facilitate the enlargement of the EU; and if he will make a statement. [27200]

10. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the enlargements of the EU. [27201]

Mr. Rifkind

I frequently discuss enlargement of the European Union with my counterparts. We are working hard to create the conditions in which enlargement can take place successfully.

Ms Cunningham

Given the Government's view that further enlargement may mean that it would be inappropriate for each member state to have its own Commissioner, and the understandable rejection of that view in large parts of the European Union, does the Secretary of State consider that an equitable solution would be for each of the larger states to give up one Commissioner, thereby making the position much simpler?

Mr. Rifkind

I think that the hon. Lady's understanding of the views of other states needs some clarification. At the moment, there are potentially 27 members of the European Union which, under current rules, would mean our having more than 30 Commissioners, regardless of whether there was work for them to do or departments for them to run. That is clearly an absurd proposition. The problem would not be resolved simply by larger states agreeing to have only one Commissioner; there would still be far too many for the job required. A more radical view is therefore clearly necessary.

Mr. Griffiths

Does the Government's view on European Union enlargement correspond more closely with the views of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Sout-West (Mr. Budgen) or with those of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)?

Mr. Rifkind

The Government's views on the European Union correspond with the views of the British public.

Mr. Garnier

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept the fact that the introduction of a common foreign and security policy under the aegis of the European Union would be a hindrance rather than an assistance to enlargement?

Mr. Rifkind

A common foreign and security policy that concentrated on areas in which there is a genuine identity of interests between the member states would be useful, and we would welcome it, because it would give added weight to our overseas representations. However, we would strongly oppose any attempt to achieve a common foreign policy by majority voting, which would seek to impose on states with different national interests policies that they could not possibly accommodate.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is not the enlargement of the European Community/Union the most important objective of the Union, and can that aim be helped in any way by the pathetic and expensive propaganda of a Europe day, which I understand is to take place tomorrow? Was not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland absolutely right to fly the Union Jack and not to peddle the pathetic multi-yellow-starred flag?

Mr. Rifkind

It has been the policy throughout the United Kingdom not to fly the European Union flag from public buildings, so the policy enunciated by my right hon. Friend was consistent with that pursued for many years—under Governments of both parties, I believe.

Mr. Gapes

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that, in the negotiations in the intergovernmental conference, it is still the Government's policy to oppose any extension of any kind into any area of qualified majority voting? If so, are the Government happy to allow the smallest countries, such as Luxembourg and potentially Malta and Cyprus, an indefinite veto on any developments?

Mr. Rifkind

In saying that, the hon. Gentleman seems ignorant of the fact that qualified majority voting already applies in large areas. It applies, for example, to virtually all matters involving the common agricultural policy and the single European market, as well as in a wide range of other areas. For that precise reason, I can confirm that we shall oppose any further extension of qualified majority voting.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that most of the countries that want to join the European Community have social conditions that are not up to the standard of the social chapter, so that if the social chapter became a universal requirement of membership it would stop countries joining, which would be bad for them and bad for the rest of the Union?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend has made a valuable and important point. It is one of the characteristics of the European Union that flexibility is becoming much more acceptable. It used to be heretical to contemplate the idea of individual countries not participating in areas of common action or policy, but there are now many areas in which not only the United Kingdom but Denmark and other countries do not participate in certain actions that the majority has chosen to initiate. That is an important characteristic, which we should take into account.

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Foreign Secretary admit that the Government will not carry much clout in negotiations on enlargement when so many of their Back Benchers want to shrink the European Union by detaching us from it? As he believes that the Government's views are in such happy unity with those of the country, can he tell us whether the Government agree with the views of the Deputy Prime Minister, who believes that retaliation against Europe would be macho, or with those of the chairman of the 1922 Committee, who wants retaliation to bludgeon Europe? Is not the real tragedy for the country that the Government's relations with Europe now take second place to in-fighting about who will take over the Conservative leadership once the country has thrown them out?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has spent most of his political career advocating that this country should be detached from the European Union, he carries less than total conviction when, now, he seeks to present himself as an apostle of the European ideal.

Mr. Devlin

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that a large community of nations is queuing up to join the EU? Does he agree that those countries look forward to the pleasure of flying a blue flag with gold stars on Europe day? Will he take the opportunity tomorrow, on Europe day, to state the benefits that this country receives every day from the EU, not least the significant investment that has been made in the north of England and in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the fact that there has been a consistent desire to join the European Union, and not just on the part of countries at the poorer end of the prosperity spectrum. Countries such as Austria, Sweden and Finland—despite their relative prosperity—believe that membership of the EU is crucial to their interests, because it will enable them to participate in decisions on issues that will affect them. That is also of particular importance for the United Kingdom, and it is why I believe that this country's interests are extremely well served by our ability to participate in the continental and global decisions that the EU takes.

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