HC Deb 23 October 2000 vol 355 cc69-70W
Mr. Pound

To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of the informal European Council in Biarritz. [134323]

The Prime Minister

Together with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office I attended the Informal European Council in Biarritz on 13–14 October.

This informal European Council was asked to take stock of progress of the Inter-Governmental Conference on Treaty change. It was inevitably overshadowed by the violence in the Middle East. The European Council issued an appeal to both sides to end the violence and return to the Conference table. The Foreign Secretary, who had been in the Middle East, reported to his colleagues on his discussions in the region. Collectively, and individually, I and the Foreign Secretary and other European leaders were actively engaged behind the scenes at the European Council in trying to create the conditions in which the Sharm-el-Sheikh Summit could take place. The European Council asked Mr. Solana to return to the region and he represented the European Union at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Members of the European Council also held a meeting with President Kostunica of Serbia. The European Union played a prominent role in pressurising the Milosevic regime. Its defeat represents a significant victory for democracy, not only in Serbia but throughout the Balkans and for Europe as a whole. The purpose of Saturday's meeting between EU Heads of Government and President Kostunica was to reaffirm our support for Serbian democracy. The European Council decided to make available 200 million euros of emergency aid for Serbia on top of the measures which were announced at the General Affairs Council on 9 October.

As far as the Inter-Governmental Conference was concerned, this was not a Summit at which decisions were to be taken. Political progress was, however, made towards the agreement which we want to see reached at the Nice Summit in December. That Summit will pave the way to the enlargement which has long been the objective of successive British Governments.

On the detail of these negotiations, I made clear our support for the extension of majority voting in the areas where this will benefit Britain, for example by enhancing the efficiency of the Single Market as well as the economic reform which we have, with others, consistently sought, while making clear that these areas did not include tax or social security.

The European Council agreed that there was a role for enhanced co-operation in an enlarged European Union. In other words, there is scope for some member states moving ahead on certain policies faster than others but these so-called enhanced co-operations must be genuinely open to all and must not undermine the existing policies of the Union, especially the Single Market. If these conditions are satisfied, the Government believe that enhanced co-operation can be useful in advancing the British agenda, for example in co-operation in common foreign and security policy within the framework of agreed policies and in co-operation in the fight against international crime and terrorism.

In this negotiation, Britain has a significant interest in seeing a reweighting of votes so that the position of the larger member states, which has deteriorated in relative terms with successive enlargements, is improved. That is also a necessary outcome of the negotiation if we are to agree to a reduction in the size of the Commission. This issue is sometimes seen as one in which the larger member states and the small member states have opposing interests. We believe it should be possible to reach an agreement which meets the interests of all.

The Charter of Rights so ably negotiated by my noble and learned Friend, Lord Goldsmith, was discussed by the Heads of Government who agreed that it should be adopted at the Nice European Council as a purely political declaration. It creates no legal obligations. It also sets out in a clear way a range of rights, freedoms and principles recognised within the EU which the EU institutions—the primary addressees—should respect when going about their daily business. It only applies to member states to the limited extent that they are implementing Union-wide laws. It has no application where national governments are acting purely within their own areas of national competence.

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