HC Deb 08 June 1995 vol 261 cc287-9W
Mr. Alan Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the meeting held in Messina, Sicily on 2 and 3 June.

Mr. David Davis

The meeting was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Messina conference which paved the way for the foundation of the EEC. The Italian Foreign Minster hosted a working lunch which was attended by Foreign Ministers of all 15 member states, the President of the European Commission and the president of the European Parliament.

The first meeting of the study group, which will prepare for the 1996 inter-governmental conference, took place on 3 June in Taormina, near Messina. The group consists of the personal representatives of the Foreign Ministers of the EU. I am the representative. During this short initial meeting the group considered its timetable and agreed the following schedule of meetings:

  • 13–14 June (venue: Luxembourg)
  • 30 June and 1 July (Spain)
  • 10–11 July (Strasbourg)
  • 24–25 July (Brussels)
  • 4–5 September (Brussels)
  • 11–12 September (Brussels)
  • 25–26 September (Brussels)
  • 3–4 October (Luxembourg)
  • 16–17 October (Brussels)
  • 23–24 October (Brussels)
  • 6–7 November (Brussels)
  • 13–14 November (Brussels)
  • 21–22 November (Brussels)
  • 5–6 December (Brussels)

The group also considered the scope of its work on the basis of a paper circulated by its chairman, Carlos Westendorp, Spanish Minister for Europe. It was agreed that until the end of July the group should take a first look at the EU's institutions; citizenship; justice and home affairs issues; the common foreign and security policy and defence; and the procedural issues such as legislative instruments and budgetary procedures.

The chairman stressed that the study group's task was not to negotiate. Its purpose was to present a range of options to Heads of Government to assist them in determining the scope of the inter-governmental conference.

Members of the group agreed that the IGC next year would be designed to develop the EU, especially to prepare the way for further enlargement. The study group would consider the challenges facing the EU, which included the need to make it more relevant and comprehensible.

In making my initial address to the study group, I stressed that the Union faced major challenges in the coming years. The challenges included enlargement to the countries of central and eastern Europe, improving European competitiveness, making Europe relevant and acceptable to its people and developing a more effective common foreign and security policy.

I emphasised that none of these goals required greater centralisation. On the contrary, there should be a greater role for national parliaments and a reinforcement of subsidiarity and deregulation. I said that the UK would oppose extension of qualified majority voting. Seeking to out-vote states when their vital national interests were at stake would be likely to create more problems that it solved and could build up resentment.

I pointed out that there was no need for a massive overhaul of the basic Maastricht structure, which provided the necessary framework for further enlargement. A major overhaul would bewilder and alienate the European public.

Finally, I emphasised the importance of carrying the people of Europe along in any decisions reached later in the inter-governmental conference. The European Union should be built for the benefit of Europe's citizens, not its politicians.

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