HC Deb 10 July 2001 vol 371 cc653-5
7. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

What plans Belgium has for its presidency of the Council; and if he will make a statement. [1544]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)

Belgium has identified 16 priority areas for its presidency. I will place a list in the Library of the House.

Mr. Paterson

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether one of those 16 areas is the proposal pressed by the Prime Minister of Belgium and his Finance Minister to establish a European tax to be levied throughout the European Union on the benighted citizens by unelected authorities in Brussels? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that if that proposal were put forward and pressed, he would use his veto to block it, as it is a fundamental principle of our democracy that there should be no taxation without representation?

Mr. Straw

That proposal is not formally on the list, but perhaps the Prime Minister of Belgium has since expanded it to 17. I confirm what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear, which is that we are opposed to that European tax.

Mr. Paterson

A veto?

Mr. Straw

Hang on. It follows therefore that we will use all the powers at our disposal to ensure that that opposition is carried through.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)

What plans does my right hon. Friend have to improve the accountability of European Union institutions to ensure that they are more relevant to the people of Europe?

Mr. Straw

My first plan is to ensure that we better explain, in language that our constituents and citizens understand, the values of the European Union. We should get away from jargon and talk about the benefits that the EU has brought for jobs, security and peace in Europe. Nothing more undermines support for Europe than a retreat into jargon. As for institutional changes, frankly, I am sceptical whether, as if by magic, an institutional change in the necessarily complicated structure of Europe will secure popular support. The Nice European Council set a pathway leading to the intergovernmental conference in 2004, in part so that the institutions could be improved. We are participating in those discussions.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

The Foreign Secretary's offer to go naked and the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) to love him in the morning are taking social liberalism a little too far.

On the Belgian presidency, will the Foreign Secretary raise again during the Council meetings the question of the takeover directive which was lost by a tied vote in the European Parliament after 12 years of negotiations? The directive is a crucial opening up of the single market. It is absurd that the Germans ratted on an agreement that their Ministers had entered into, and in those circumstances the very essence and effectiveness of the European Union needs to be seen in the way that we react to it. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will take a lead to ensure that the directive rapidly goes back on to the agenda and that this time the Germans hold to the agreements entered into by their Ministers.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is better qualified to speak about social liberalism than me.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the takeover directive. There is a warning there for people who believe that increasing democracy inside the EU means increasing the power of the European Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in a speech in Warsaw that we see the European Union as a union of nation states. It is thus important that the principal power should remain with the Council of Ministers.

Back to