HC Deb 15 February 2000 vol 344 cc769-83 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Government's support for the enlargement of the European Union and our approach to the intergovernmental conference, which is necessary to prepare the European Union for almost double the present number of member states.

I am today publishing the White Paper "Reform for Enlargement", which sets out in detail the steps that the European Union must take to get ready for enlargement.

Today in Brussels, the Portuguese presidency is opening negotiations with six more countries. That brings to a total of 12 the countries currently in negotiation for entry into the European Union.

Throughout central and eastern Europe, countries that have only recently emerged from a centralised state and a command economy are making heroic efforts and taking painful decisions to prepare themselves for membership of the European Union. It is in their own interests to do so. The reforms that they need to compete successfully within the single market are also the changes that they need to give their people a prosperous economy. It is also in our interest that they face up to the conditions of membership, not only because they will be better trading partners for British exporters and investors, but because the reforms that they have to make are of direct benefit to us. For example, three separate countries, as a condition of membership, are now committed to the early closure of nuclear reactors that do not meet our standards of safety.

There is no better way in which we can guarantee security and stability throughout central Europe than by providing its countries with a clear perspective of membership of the European Union. Given the difficult and courageous decisions that the candidate countries have taken to prepare for entry, the European Union owes it to them to show the same determination to make the reforms necessary for enlargement.

It is because we recognise the importance of the European Union to Britain that we want it reformed in order that it may do its job better. We have long argued for a Commission that is run on merit, not on influence. We lobbied for Neil Kinnock to have responsibility for reform, and we strongly support the package of measures that he has produced, which fully confirms our confidence in him. It provides welcome steps to measure performance against targets, to improve financial management and contract procedures, and to ensure that staff are recruited and promoted on merit, not on national quotas.

Europe must also embrace economic reform to meet the challenge of competitiveness in a global age. Next month's special summit in Lisbon will be an important staging post in the process of creating in Europe a knowledge-based economy which promotes opportunities for innovation. Britain will be pressing at that summit for commitments to remove obstacles to electronic commerce, to set targets for lifelong learning, and to match the lowest world prices for access to the internet.

We welcome the opportunity of enlargement for institutional reform. For the United Kingdom, the most pressing of these reforms is to increase the share of our vote in the Council of Ministers. France, Germany and Britain contain a majority of the population of the European Union, but together have only a minority of the votes in the Council. After enlargement, they will not even be a blocking minority. We will be seeking a fairer voting system in the Council of Ministers that gives more democratic recognition to the population of Britain.

The second institutional reform required by enlargement is a limit on the growth of the Commission. If all 12 countries were to join the European Union under the present rules, we would have more than 30 commissioners. It would be a challenge for such a large Commission to function efficiently as a single cohesive body—nor is it easy to see what jobs they could all do.

As a first step in containing the size of the Commission, we are prepared to consider that the larger countries should retain only one commissioner. That would enable the smaller countries to retain their own commissioners, at least through the first wave of enlargement. However, I stress that we see these two measures as a package. The larger member states cannot be expected to give up their second commissioners if they are not given a larger weight of votes in the Council of Ministers.

The third area for institutional reform is the balance between unanimity and majority voting. There will be double the risk of decisions being blocked if there are twice as many countries round the table with a veto. Those decisions that are blocked may well be in Britain's national interest and may concern matters on which we want agreement.

The White Paper repeats our commitment that unanimity must remain in cases such as treaty amendments, border controls, taxation, social security, defence and revenue-raising. More than 80 per cent. of legislative decisions in the Council of Ministers are already outside the veto as a result of the massive expansion of majority voting under the previous Government. There is therefore little room for further expansion of majority voting, but we are prepared to consider it in cases in which it might be in Britain's interest. For instance, it would be in our interest to reform the sluggish procedures of the European Court of Justice, but it would not be in our interest if any other country round the table could veto reform of its rules of procedure.

I do not underrate the difficult decisions and tough negotiations that will be essential before we can complete enlargement of the European Union. But the prize is great. It is the final burying of the division of Europe between east and west, which has scarred the continent for half a century. The prize is the reunion of Europe. The result will be an EU that stretches from Portugal to Poland. We will have a single market of 500 million consumers with a combined gross domestic product of £5,000 billion—the largest single market anywhere in the world.

That prospect offers exciting opportunities for our country. Those who would put at risk Britain's standing in such a powerful union are a danger to our national interests. We have no doubt that, faced with the prospect of a wider united Europe, Britain's place is playing a leading part in it and shaping its direction. The Government understand how important it is for Britain to make a success of our membership of the European Union. It is crucial to our trade, prosperity and quality of life. The majority of our exports go to existing members of the European Union. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) do not want to hear the facts about why Europe is important to their constituents. That is why their constituents will not entrust the Opposition with office.

Some 100,000 people in Britain work at any given time in Europe, where their professional skills are recognised. In the past year alone, more than 40,000 new jobs were created in Britain by inward investors, who came here because they could sell from here to the whole of Europe. Those are the gains to the people of Britain of membership of the European Union. The gains will be even greater in the wider Europe created by enlargement. At some time over the next few years, each of the 12 applicant countries will become members of the European Union. The Government want them to remember Britain as an advocate of enlargement, and want to be regarded as their natural ally when those 12 new members join us at the Council tables of Europe.

That is why the Government recognise that it is in the national interest of Britain to be both a leading advocate of enlargement and a leading partner in a reformed and reunited Europe.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

I thank the Foreign Secretary for making this statement on a matter of the utmost importance. Will he confirm that the House will have an early opportunity to debate these crucial issues in Government time?

It is absolutely right that enlargement should happen, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is equally inevitable that an enlarged European Union must undergo serious changes. The EU has today reached a fork in the road. Down one track lies flexibility, the creation of a modern and flexible Europe and a common-sense answer to the challenges of the global economy and the reality of a diverse Europe. Britain has an historic opportunity to chart such a route, and to lead Europe along it.

The second route—

Mr. Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Lead or leave?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. King) may talk about leaving Europe, but of the Foreign Secretary and me, only one of us has ever stood for that. It was the Foreign Secretary, and he said so repeatedly. Few Members of the House have been more anti-European in their time than he has.

The second route at the fork is the familiar federalist walk, step by step, inexorably towards the single European super-state. What else did Romano Prodi mean just a few days ago, when he said that "step by step", the Commission was behaving like a "growing Government"? With the talk of a European army, a European Government, a single legal area, a European prosecutor, and no role for the national veto, there can be little doubt that, step by step, the destination is a single European super-state.

Has not the White Paper simply ducked what really matters—the fact that in a bigger European Union, within a fast-changing world, the one-size-fits-all model of inexorable integration has had its day?

Why has the Foreign Secretary not ruled out the further extension of the loss of the veto in areas already identified by the Commission, which include measures on discrimination, transport, social policy, the environment, structural and cohesion funds, the common commercial policy, culture and industrial policy? Those are all areas in which an extension of the loss of the veto is proposed. Loss of each one of those vetoes would enable yet more laws to be imposed on Britain, with the House of Commons having no right to decide on them.

The Foreign Secretary says that he will consider such matters case by case. We know what that means. It means, step by step, the creation of the single European super-state. Does not his failure to rule out losing the veto mean that we are discussing not a White Paper, but a white flag?

Let the right hon. Gentleman answer these questions. Will he now rule out further loss of the British veto, so that further legislation cannot be imposed on Britain against our will? Will he reject the development of an EU defence identity outside NATO, which risks undermining NATO? Will he guarantee that the charter of fundamental human rights will never be incorporated in the treaty or made legally enforceable? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I note that there is a desire to extend the ambit of the European Union yet further.

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he, like Mr. Prodi's new Commission, is aiming at a new kind of global governance to manage the global economy", based—however incredible it may seem—on Europe's model of integration"? What a failure of vision by the Government, to give up the historic chance to lead Britain and Europe towards a braver future, where nation co-operates with nation in concord and friendship. Why are the Government so locked in the past and trapped by the dogma of rigid uniformity and relentless integration? Britain deserves better than that.

Mr. Cook

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks correctly, he welcomes the Government's support for enlargement, which, if I caught him aright, he described as right and inevitable. I am glad that that is common ground between those on the two Front Benches.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman for the third time: will he now ditch his party's policy of vetoing the enlargement treaty if the Opposition do not get their way in it? Three times I have given him the opportunity, and three times he has refused to do it, so we can only conclude that it is a question of not of the white flag, but of the white van, in which that policy is still alive and still a threat to the 12 countries of central and eastern Europe.

It is a piece of brass neck for the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, to demand that I should rule out any extension of majority voting. He is the man who, as a Minister, signed the Maastricht treaty—[Interruption.]— no wonder he is smiling. That treaty conceded majority voting in 30 different cases—on education, on health and safety, on public health and on freedom of movement. After that record, how does he have the nerve to posture as the champion of the veto?

The right hon. Gentleman should be proud that he is the champion of majority voting. I will share his words with the House. He said: The number of times that we are in the minority and are out-voted is tiny."—[Official Report, 11 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 103.] He was right at that time; he should have the courage to stand by his principles. We shall look carefully, on a case-by-case basis, at where majority voting would lift a block on reform. I may disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I cannot hope to match his all-time record of conceding the veto 30 times with one signature.

From the right hon. Gentleman's response, it is plain that the Tory party does not welcome anything that anyone else wants to discuss in the negotiations, and that anything the Tories propose will not be welcomed by anyone else. That is a recipe for isolation.

After three years in opposition, the Tories have still not grasped how much they damaged our national interest by isolating Britain in Europe. As long as they refuse to learn that lesson, the people of Britain will give them many more years in opposition to learn it.

Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for enlargement. It will be in the interests not only of the new entrants, but of existing members, including the United Kingdom. I also welcome my right hon. Friend's support for sensible institutional reform. Does he agree that it is good that his White Paper concentrates on the real issues, rather than raising the foolish spectre of the veto, which the Conservatives say they are prepared to use to block enlargement? They said that at their last party conference.

Mr. Cook

I agree with my right hon. Friend in his welcome for the process of enlargement: I appreciatg the fact that he has focused on the issues that are before the House.

The House—and perhaps people in some quarters of our press—should try to throw their minds forward to what Europe will look like 10 years from now. It will be a Europe of 27, perhaps even 28, member states. It will be the largest single market in the world. That will be an immense opportunity for Britain, but only if we are wholehearted in making the best of our membership.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

I welcome the White Paper, which builds on the joint declaration made by the Foreign Secretary and myself during the past fortnight. Let me take the three issues with which the IGC is likely to be concerned. Is it not in the interests of the UK that there should be proposals on the balance of voting in the Council that are for the benefit of the UK? Is it not also true that it will benefit the whole of the European Union if the Commission is both cohesive and effective? Finally, on voting on a case-by-case basis, is it not common sense to examine a proposal on its merits, and to determine whether to support it depending on whether or not it is in the interests of the people of the UK to do so?

The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the question of enlargement as though it was one of obligation upon those of us who are members of the EU. It would be a tragedy for Europe, and a betrayal of the applicant countries—such as Estonia and Slovenia, which are trying to provide a foundation for the democracy that they have so recently won—if their applications for membership of the EU became pawns in the anti-European game currently being played by the British Conservatives.

Mr. Cook

I agree with the last point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I welcome the fact that the Joint Consultative Committee was able to produce a document setting out a joint policy on that issue. I can see from the negotiations in the EU that other countries benefit from the strength of the consensus in their nations on the commitment to Europe and to enlargement. I regret that we cannot achieve an all-party consensus in the House. However, I welcome the fact that it is not only the Labour party that is concerned with that matter and that we have allies in other parties.

I agree entirely that the three points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman are also three issues of reform that will benefit Britain. It cannot be in Britain's interest not to go positively into an intergovernmental conference that could give Britain a greater weight of votes. It cannot be in Britain's interest not to go into that conference seeking a reformed, coherent, credible Commission. We welcome the opportunity for reform at this conference. We support Europe, we believe that Britain's place is in Europe but we want to ensure that we reform that Europe.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In his opening statement, the Foreign Secretary took some pride in the conditions that have been imposed, including the closure of three nuclear power stations. If Koslodui in Bulgaria was closed, who would pay for the replacement? The Bulgarians have few other sources of power. And which were the two other stations to which the Foreign Secretary was referring?

Given that the Danube is poisoned, and that it is blocked at Novi Sad, what is the financial obligation to an applicant country—in this case, Bulgaria?

Mr. Cook

First, the three countries concerned are Lithuania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. Secondly, the European Union is providing very large sums of money to help the applicant countries in their preparation and in meeting the conditions that we are setting for membership. Yesterday, the Portuguese presidency and the Commission informed Bulgaria and others that, now that they have entered negotiations, they can expect that sum of financial help to be doubled.

On the blockage of the Danube, yesterday at the General Affairs Council we considered the Danube commission's proposals. I very much hope that that will lead the way forward for the unblocking of the Danube, and we are willing to help with that process. We have been unwilling, rightly—I do not think that the House would wish us to do so—to submit to the blackmail of President Milosevic that we reconstruct his country as part of the price of lifting the blockage in the Danube. The Government of Bulgaria stood shoulder to shoulder with us during the conflict in Kosovo, and that is one of the debts that we owe to them in the enlargement process.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

I wonder whether it is evidence of the Government's offhand attitude to the rural economy and agriculture that there was no mention in the Foreign Secretary's statement of the common agricultural policy. Can he confirm that, at the moment, the common agricultural policy takes up nearly half the European Union's budget, and that the addition of Poland alone would almost double expenditure on the CAP? Is it really practical to think in terms of another 12 members without fundamental reform of the CAP?

Mr. Cook

My statement today did not mention agriculture because it is not a matter that will be before the intergovernmental conference—although at Berlin we did of course consider the reform of the budget of the European Union, both in relation to agriculture and in relation to structural funds. It is well known that we did not secure as much reform as we would have wished. Nevertheless, we have reduced prices in the European Union's agriculture policy, to an extent that will save the average British family of four £65 in any one year.

We need to make further progress and are determined to do so, but I would rebut the hon. Gentleman's assertion that cost stands in the way of enlargement. If he looks carefully at the proposals for enlargement, he will see that there is no commitment to direct payment for farmers in Poland or any other applicant country.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Surely the opening of the European Union to the new democracies of eastern and central Europe will be seen historically as an investment in democracy in our interests—just as earlier enlargements entrenched democracy in the Iberian peninsula and in Greece. Does my right hon. Friend hope, at the IGC, to see proposals for increased democratic control of EU institutions, including closer linkages between national Parliaments and those institutions? As we are talking about democracy, what will be the mechanisms for consulting the applicant countries about their views on the shape of the new Europe?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend makes an important strategic point about the need to support the new democracies of central and eastern Europe by embracing them within the family of nations of the European Union. I believe that one reason why we have had so much stability in central and eastern Europe is precisely that we hold out to them the prospect of membership of the European Union, on conditions that they respect borders but do not make borders into barriers. Already, throughout the applicant countries, major steps have been taken to improve the status and rights of ethnic minorities because that is a condition of membership of the European Union.

My hon. Friend also makes one or two valuable points about the importance of increasing transparency within the European Union. Britain has been at the forefront of that argument. We shall continue to be so. As my hon. Friend knows, we are encouraging closer ties between Scrutiny Committees and the European Parliament.

We will continue to do all that we can to keep the European applicant countries involved in any discussions about the future shape of Europe. That is why we had at dinner last night a discussion at which we reviewed the major strategic issues facing Europe, and we have shared our views with the applicant countries.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said recently and rightly that we are committed to membership of the European Union and, therefore, we must make a success of it. Enthusiasm for that point of view is, I am sure, shared by my colleagues who were humming the European anthem during the Foreign Secretary's presentation of the White Paper.

The Foreign Secretary is right to say that, if we are to make a success of the European Union, there are some things that need to be streamlined. We need a more streamlined Commission, a more sensible voting system in which qualified majority voting could be extended outside the core areas that he listed, and a more sensible weighting of votes in relation to population.

However, will the right hon. Gentleman address one item of flexibility that is being discussed not only in this country, but on the continent? What does he understand by potential flexibility? Under the Amsterdam treaty, members were restrained from moving ahead faster if they wished to use the institutions of the European Union to do so. What does he think the negotiations around flexibility will involve, because a few of the new entrants will move at different speeds? That fact could be accommodated by transitional arrangements rather than treaty changes.

Mr. Cook

I am not sure that I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's confidence that his colleagues were hymning the success of the European Union: I sometimes get the impression that nothing would suit them better or make them happier than to see to its failure, despite the immense damage that that would do to this country.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement to the three main proposals in the White Paper and our three main priorities. On enhanced co-operation, a number of countries wish to improve the procedures that can trigger enhanced co-operation. We are not entirely convinced that that needs to be a priority for this intergovernmental conference, given that the procedures were instituted only three years ago. However, we shall listen to the debate and consider whether it will be practical to make such changes.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend give his assessment of the prospect of developing European security and defence policies and of their effect on existing resources and relationships in NATO?

Mr. Robin Cook

The proposal for the European security initiative, in which Britain played a leading part when we started, produces the headline goal that we agreed to in Helsinki. European countries should develop the capacity to put into the field a core strength of service men—50,000 or 60,000—within 60 days and to support them in the field for at least one year. One reason for our adopting that target is our experience in Kosovo and the importance of our being able to provide such a peacekeeping mission.

I stress to my hon. Friend that that increased resource will be available to NATO in the same way as it will be available to the European Union. Should NATO decide to carry out a peacekeeping exercise, it could call on that force just as well as the European Union. Therefore, our proposals do not in any way weaken or undermine NATO: on the contrary, they make available to it a new resource that would otherwise not exist.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Why should welcome enlargement and desirable institutional reform necessarily involve more integration?

Mr. Cook

I have set out to the House this afternoon our three main priorities: increased votes for Britain in the Council of Ministers; an improved Commission that is streamlined; and, where it is appropriate and in Britain's interest, an agreement to majority voting. I do not honestly see in any of those a step to integration which the House should reject as a matter of principle. They are all important if we are to make enlargement work. The hon. Gentleman should be frank: is he in favour of enlargement, or is he not?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the dismay among young people at the flat-earth policy of the Opposition towards Europe, and their failure to recognise that the European Union has been a great vehicle for conflict resolution and is a ratchet and guarantor of democracy? Will my right hon. Friend stand firm during the negotiations in ensuring that there is no Europe a la carte? Although legitimate transitional arrangements are needed, flexibility could be the prescription for the dissolution of that which has been built up to guarantee democracy in Europe and to act as a force for good, for cohesion and for conflict resolution.

Mr. Cook


Mr. Mackinlay

Will my right hon. Friend also tell us what he is going to do about Gibraltar in the negotiations?

Mr. Cook

I should have anticipated that my hon. Friend would mention Gibraltar. We continue to pursue Gibraltar's interests in several different forums within the EU. In particular, we are seeking a way to implement the ruling that the people of Gibraltar should have a vote in European elections, but we are doing so through the common statute of the EU, not through the IGC.

I can reassure my hon. Friend on his other point. What is interesting about the Conservatives' demand for a pick-and-mix Europe is that that demand is not being made by any of the applicant countries. They all want to be full members of the EU, to play their full part in it and to accept their full obligations. Transitional periods may be required for some of the countries, but unlike the Conservative party, they know why they need to be full members and what benefits they will get from that.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Are there no circumstances in which the Government would veto the treaty of Nice?

Mr. Cook

If the treaty is produced by the time of Nice, it will be produced only because all member states, including Britain, have agreed to it.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a still a lack of clarity from Opposition Front-Bench Members about their attitude to enlargement? Does he agree that there are compelling political, social, environmental and trade reasons for enlargement and that western help and technology will be of great benefit to those countries, not least because of nuclear reactors such as the one at Koslodui in Bulgaria?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend makes an important point. One should remember that the improvements in nuclear safety in central Europe are improvements in our safety, so we stand to gain. I share my hon. Friends' disappointment at the comments that we have heard from Conservative Members. So far we have heard a lot of criticism of the Government's position at the IGC, and many new demands, but very little support for enlargement. I have to warn Opposition Members that what they have been saying in the House will sink like a lead balloon in a dozen capitals of countries in central and eastern which are trying hard to get into the EU.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

How many of the 12 applicant countries have said that it is their ambition eventually to have the euro as their currency? Will the principle of free movement of persons within the European Union apply to the applicant countries, and will the Foreign Secretary therefore welcome the free movement of Turks into Greece, Germany and Cyprus?

Mr. Cook

The principle of freedom of movement will certainly apply to all applicant countries when they succeed in becoming members. We have already said that negotiations with Turkey cannot commence until it conforms with the Copenhagen criteria on democracy, human rights and treatment of ethnic minorities. Turkey is therefore not one of the 12 that are currently in negotiations.

It is understood by most of the applicant countries that, realistically, they are unlikely to join the euro at the time of joining the EU, but many of them have their sights set on that eventual goal.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the countries that are applying will be very happy with Britain's approach to the number of commissioners and understand why there must be reweighting of voting in Council to ensure that smaller countries, which may be in the majority, will never be able to outvote the countries that have the majority in terms of population?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend touches on the very fair bargain that we are offering to smaller countries within the EU and those that are applying for membership; namely, that they may retain their commissioner, at any rate through the first wave of enlargement, but that we in turn need to have a fairer weighting of voting within the Council of Ministers. That is a reasonable bargain which has something in it for all the present members, and I hope that we can achieve that package in the negotiations.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

Does the Foreign Secretary recall that the greatest motive for the advance of British interests in Europe has been qualified majority voting? If he intends to move towards a system in the Council of Ministers in which the votes are more proportional to population, will he contemplate a situation in which the big four members of the EU no longer enjoy the same number of votes?

Mr. Cook

At present, we would prefer that the existing broad banding be retained; that would mean that all four larger countries would remain in the same band. However, additional weight needs to be given to the votes of the four countries within that band. The right hon. Gentleman refers to votes being proportional to population: we seek an outcome that is more proportional, but we do not seek to disturb the principle that all member states are equal, so votes should not be strictly proportional to population. We do, however, require that fair recognition be given to the size of our population so that we do not find ourselves in the absurd position in which three of the four largest countries do not even constitute a blocking minority.

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

Does my right hon. Friend share my amazement at the false dichotomy proposed by the Opposition spokesman—that the choice is between a super-flexible Europe and a super-federalist Europe? Will he confirm that the Conservatives are the only advocates of those two models and that there is no way in which the IGC will bring either of those two models into being?

Mr. Cook

The limited remit for the IGC will certainly not create a European centralised integrated federal state. While travelling in Europe and meeting leaders of other European nations, I find no appetite for subordinating their nation to any grand federal European integrated state. President Chirac recently said that he believed not in a united states of Europe but in a united Europe of states, and Chancellor Schröder said that the nation state would continue to be at the centre of the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of Europe. We are very comfortable with those statements—we share that vision of the future of Europe.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire)

Is the right hon. Gentleman not at all worried that he is a leading member of a Government who are progressively turning the House of Commons into nothing more than a glorified county council? He failed to answer the question previously, so I shall repeat it: does he think that the IGC will result in more integration? If he does, is that in line with the Labour party's policy of creating a political union—a Europe of the regions? Finally, why did he not mention fishing? The fishing industry is on its knees because of the failure of the common fisheries policy. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not use the opportunity to negotiate a better deal for our fishing industry?

Mr. Cook

I did not mention fishing because it is not on the agenda of the intergovernmental conference. However, it is fair to say that successive Governments have had to wrestle with the extremely poor deal that the Conservative Government obtained on joining the common fisheries policy.

On the question of integration, I can only repeat the three main priorities that we have set out: more votes for Britain, a more sensible Commission, and a case-by-case approach to accept majority voting only when it is in our interests. If the hon. Gentleman chooses to describe that as integration, he is free to do so, but let us not try to frighten the public by dangling bogeymen in front of them.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Is it not true that, without some change in decision-making procedures, enlargement of the European Union will not be possible? Is it not also true that QMV currently serves our national interests well, given that we have lost only three of the last 393 votes carried out under QMV? Is it not true that changes in the rules of procedure of the European Court of Justice that could be achieved under QMV would be likely to bring about a speedier resolution to our dispute with France over the beef ban? Is it not about time that we in this country had a grown-up debate about such issues, instead of constantly trying to pretend that Britain loses out under any changes in voting procedure, which is far from the truth?

Mr. Cook

What is impressive about the Conservatives is their lack of confidence in Britain's ability to win a majority vote. In the past two years, we have been outvoted only five times; in the same period, Italy has been outvoted three times as often and Germany four times as often. If unanimity had applied on those occasions, Italy and Germany would have been able to veto decisions that were in our interests. The fact is that, on balance, majority voting has served Britain's interests.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), recently said of flexibility that the French would not stand for it? Now that they have changed their position, does he accept that flexibility will now not only be on the agenda but is likely to be accompanied by the removal of the veto in that respect, as the European Commission has proposed? Will he assure the House that the Government will insist on retaining the veto in respect of flexibility and that they will renegotiate those provisions?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman's proposal, as I understand it, is in conflict with the views expressed by the previous shadow Foreign Secretary in his last speech. He said that Britain would not wish to stand in the way of other countries which wanted to pursue flexibility. His sudden disappearance suggests that perhaps his view did not entirely find favour with the Conservative party. We wait to discover whether it remains Conservative Front-Bench policy.

Flexibility is not a pick-and-mix charter for opt-outs. The flexibility that other member states propose means the enhanced co-operation of a tighter group. We agreed to such a model at Amsterdam. It has never been used. It is hard to understand why a provision that has not been used already needs amendment.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

What would happen if the British Government ruled out the single currency for ever and also blocked enlargement so that the potential 12 additional members of the European Union were not included in it? What would happen to relations between this country and the rest of the continent if such a policy was pursued by a Government led by white-van man?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend makes his case through his question. There is no point in this country remaining a member state of the European Union if we, like Conservative Members, are half-hearted about it. A halfhearted Britain in the European Union would secure only half a national interest. If we are to remain a member of the European Union—and we are committed to that—the only rational strategy is to be a full member playing fully to ensure full benefit for Britain.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

Will the Foreign Secretary be more specific about Cyprus? I think he said that on joining the European Union, an applicant country must accede to free movement of peoples and capital. Does that mean that if Cyprus signs and joins, the division of the island is over, but if the division continues, Cyprus cannot join?

Mr. Cook

That is not our policy. I have long argued from the Dispatch Box that Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union must be judged on its merits. It would assist that process if the division of the island was settled, and the people of the Republic of Cyprus want that to happen. However, it must not be a condition of membership. Freedom of movement between the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied northern sector would apply only if Turkey simultaneously joined the European Union.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

What does the Foreign Secretary envisage as the end state of European political integration?

Mr. Cook

I have already told the House that we share the vision of other European leaders and that we shall continue to move towards a united Europe of states, not a united states of Europe.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the eventual consequences of enlargement will be the diminution of the amount of cash available in the United Kingdom for agrimonetary compensation and structural funds? Is it not therefore essential that we do not lose out on the money that is currently available because of the Government's reluctance to contribute genuine additional match funding?

Mr. Cook

We debated those issues in Berlin. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the deal that Britain secured whereby the highlands and islands continue to receive exactly the same amount of money as they received when they were an objective 1 area.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

The Foreign Secretary is right that enlargement requires institutional reform, and I look forward to the enlargement about which he speaks. He was also right that retention of the veto could mean that reforms in Britain's interest might not occur. However, is not the reverse also true? Extension of qualified majority voting could mean that Britain would have to accept changes that would not be in our interest. Which is more important?

Mr. Cook

I have already made clear the subjects on which we do not accept an extension of qualified majority voting. They are: border controls; taxation and social security; revenue raising; treaty amendments; and defence. We will retain the veto on those matters for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's recognition, which is not shared by some of his hon. Friends, that retaining the British veto means retaining the veto for everybody else, and leaving our interests subject to it.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Will the Foreign Secretary undertake to reject any treaty that does not accord France, Britain and Germany at least that blocking minority vote of which he spoke?

Mr. Cook

If we do not achieve the increase in weighting in the Council, there will be no change to the Commission. If there is no change in the size of the Commission and no change in weighting in the Council of Ministers, it is impossible for the European Union to proceed. That is clearly set out in the protocol to the Amsterdam treaty.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Does the Foreign Secretary realise the importance to Britain's economic interests of our sovereign right to negotiate international air service agreements, particularly as Heathrow is a premier gateway to Europe for those who cross the Atlantic? Can he assure the House that he will not relinquish our veto in transport matters?

Mr. Cook

I fully understand the importance of the air service agreement to Britain and regularly raise it bilaterally with countries that I visit. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I wish to retain the freedom to do so.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

In my customary consensual way on these issues, may I ask the Foreign Secretary about systems of proportional representation, which he supports? Given the overwhelming opposition to such systems in the Labour and Conservative parties, will he guarantee that any veto that would prevent Europe from imposing on this country a proportional electoral system for which we had not voted ourselves is not among the many vetoes that he may be considering giving up?

Mr. Cook

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's attempt at consensus-building, although he will have to go a little further next time to secure it. I am aware of no such proposal and plainly would not welcome it. No European Union country—

Dr. Lewis

Would the Foreign Secretary veto it?

Mr. Cook

I am not even aware of the proposal. It would be my firm view that every nation should set its own electoral system.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

Mr. Arne Otter of the Estonian Youth Council recently wrote to me. [Interruption.] Labour Members laugh, but they have mentioned Estonia and new applicant states. The letter says that the thinking of most Estonians is that an empire is an empire … The people sitting both in Moscow and in Brussels are not familiar … with the situation in small countries … it is usually impossible to make decisions that were good for small and for big. Does not the Foreign Secretary think that many applicant countries cannot absorb the full acquis communautaire in one hit and that a more flexible approach would be sensible?

Mr. Cook

I have good relations with the Estonian Foreign Minister, but I confess that I have not received a letter from Mr. Arne Otter. The bulk of the population of Estonia strongly supports its application for membership of the European Union. Indeed, the Estonian Government have taken heroic steps to meet the conditions, particularly in their treatment of the Russian-speaking ethnic minority. In those circumstances, in which Estonia is working hard for membership, we have to work equally hard to make it possible for it to join.

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