HC Deb 15 February 2000 vol 344 cc751-3
3. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What recent discussions he has had with EU counterparts regarding enlargement. [108532]

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

I shall make a statement on the Government's policy on enlargement later this afternoon.

As I speak, the European Union is launching accession negotiations with six more applicant countries to join the six already in negotiation. Along with my EU colleagues, I discussed the prospects for enlargement with the Foreign Ministers of those six countries last night. I was impressed by their commitment to making a success of their application. Their enthusiasm for the European Union demonstrates a shrewder understanding of the benefits of membership than we often hear in the House from those on the Opposition Benches.

Helen Jackson

Did my right hon. Friend read the comments of the former shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), in The Daily Telegraph last week, when he argued that Britain should hold up European Union enlargement until it accepted his pick-and-choose interpretation? [Interruption.] I am aware that that will not have been the reason that he was sacked, because he never discusses foreign policy with his leader. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a view of enlargement is a betrayal of Britain's interests and something that no responsible politician should advocate?

Mr. Cook

I assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Government's policy is to do everything that we can to enable enlargement to proceed as quickly as possible. It is important for Britain's interests that, when those countries enter the European Union, they should remember Britain as a friend and an advocate of their membership.

I have long been puzzled by the Conservatives' policy of vetoing enlargement treaties if they do not get their way, but I understood how they got themselves into that position when I read the former shadow Foreign Secretary's remark today that he never had a serious discussion on foreign policy with his leader, despite several attempts to do so. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) should now tell us whether he will advise his leader to ditch that embarrassing policy out of the back of his white van, or whether he has not yet had a chance to discuss the matter with him.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

Everyone should be totally committed, as we are, to the European Union at last embracing the whole of Europe. It is a scandal that, 10 years after the Berlin wall came down, not one of the great European countries that regained their freedom and nationhood at that time has yet been admitted to the club. Will the Foreign Secretary commit himself today to arguing in the intergovernmental conference for a new framework of flexibility so that at least the new entrants to the European Union can be spared the stifling grip of the "one size fits all" straitjacket that is currently promised?

Mr. Cook

We have no intention of using the intergovernmental conference to try to turn the treaty into a charter for opt-outs. We shall not do so, because we do not for one minute believe that it would be in Britain's interests for France to have the right to opt out of food safety regulations, Spain to opt out of animal welfare regulations, or applicant countries to opt out of environmental rules, such as the condition accepted by many of them to close nuclear reactors that do not meet safety standards faster. I repeat my question to the right hon. Gentleman: if he does not get his way, will he veto enlargement and so make the Tory party as unpopular among the 12 new members as it is among the existing 14?

Mr. Maude

Is not the simple truth that, faced with a choice between the modern, flexible Europe of the sort that is increasingly advocated, in which nations can co-operate in friendship and harmony, and the steady drift towards a single European superstate, the Government have unhesitatingly chosen the latter? They have done so step by step.

The Foreign Secretary talks about a charter for opt-outs, but he is getting rid of opt-outs. He gave up the opt-out on the social chapter, with the result that social legislation can now be imposed on this country from outside without Parliament or the House of Commons having any right to discuss it. The Government have signed away our veto in 16 areas as they proceed step by step down the road to the superstate. They are taking forward the defence identity outside NATO, and thereby risk undermining NATO. What have they got in return for all those concessions? Nothing.

Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman must have picked up his response to my statement this afternoon by mistake. No one advocates a centralised European state and that will not be the outcome of the intergovernmental conference. However, he must recognise that not a single Government in Europe will accept his proposal for a pick-and-mix Europe—not even a sister party of the Tory party would accept such a proposal. The leader of one, John Bruton, has said that the Tory proposal is disastrous—that is what the right hon. Gentleman's own allies say. I repeat my question: even if no other Government agreed to the Tories' demands, would they really veto the treaty and stop enlargement of the European Union?

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