HC Deb 16 March 1999 vol 327 cc872-3
5. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What assessment he has made of the impact on British foreign policy objectives of the United Kingdom remaining outside the euro zone. [74911]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

Her Majesty's Government will decide on whether to recommend in a referendum that United Kingdom should join the euro if we believe that it would be to the economic benefit of the country on the basis of the tests set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in October 1997.

The arrangements for developing the common foreign and security policy are exactly the same for the UK whether we are a member of the euro zone or not. We shall continue to work for common positions in foreign policy where possible, on the basis that we have a much better prospect of securing common objectives in the world if Europe speaks with one voice rather than fifteen voices.

Mr. Swayne

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with Hans Eichel, the new German Finance Minister, that any monetary union must be swiftly supplemented by full political union? Is that one of the right hon. Gentleman's foreign policy objectives?

Mr. Cook

We have made it perfectly plain that we very much agree with President Chirac—that what we seek is not a united states of Europe, but a united Europe of states; that remains the policy of this Government. However, we are quite clear that if we conclude that Britain is being economically damaged and undermined by being outside the euro, we cannot possibly pretend to defend and strengthen the independence or sovereignty of Britain by weakening our own economy.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

May I welcome the way in which our Government and the French Government have been working together on Kosovo, west Africa and NATO enlargement? Is not that a positive way forward for Europe to co-operate, and does it not contrast starkly with the xenophobia we hear from Conservative Members?

Mr. Cook

I very much welcome my hon. Friend's comments. The meeting that took place in Africa last week between me and my French opposite number, and between all our ambassadors to Africa, was an historic first event in the history of Africa; we have never done that together. We have common objectives in Africa of securing stability and an end to conflict, relief of the debt burden, development and the spread of democracy. We have a much better chance of securing that if we work together co-operatively than if we compete against each other as rivals.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Perhaps I shall have better luck if I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he agrees with another statement of Germany's new Finance Minister, Hans Eichel, who said only a few weeks ago: Why does Europe need 15 foreign ministers when one is enough? Why do we still need purely national armies? One European army is enough. Does the Foreign Secretary agree?

Mr. Cook

No, I do not agree with that, nor does any member of the Government. However, we are working for better security within Europe. That is why we have again tabled with France an initiative that would provide for better security decision making in Europe and clearer access to the assets that we have provided to NATO, so that Europe can better intervene in crises in its own continent. I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the current situation in the Balkans underlines the importance of taking forward that initiative.