Mr. Speaker, I will, with permission, report to the House on the meeting of the European Council in Paris, which I attended with my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on 12 and 13 March.
The Council's decisions and discussions were focused mainly on European aspects of such issues as economic development, the problem of unemployment, energy, the future of the common agricultural policy and the proper use of the Community's resources.
As regards unemployment and social policy, it is the Council's view that quite apart from the beneficial effects that would result from faster economic growth, specific measures are also needed to reduce unemployment. Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs were asked to work closely with trade unions and employers in further co-ordinated action in such matters as youth employment and training schemes, limitation of overtime, vocational training for women, social measures to assist workers in industries in difficulty such as iron and steel, earlier retirement and work-sharing. They were asked to report on these matters to the next Council meeting.
On energy supplies and use, the Council adopted the objective of a reduction in 1979 Community oil consumption of about 25 million tonnes, that is, about 5 per cent. below present forecasts, by such methods as encouraging conservation, making the best use of hydrocarbon and coal reserves and strengthening production of electricity from nuclear sources whenever conditions permit.
Arising from a report by the Commission, I asked that Finance Ministers should examine the proposition that economic convergence between member States would be strengthened if their net contributions to the budget were more closely related to some objective criteria. In this connection, Heads of Government have asked Ministers of Finance to examine in depth how all the policies of the Community, taken as a whole, could be developed to make a greater contribu- tion to achieving economic convergence and to make a report to the next Council.
These discussions on energy, employment and the social situation in the Community led me to put forward the view that the Community needed to make a reassessment of its own social and economic priorities, and that there was room for considerable improvement in the way the Community allocates its expenditure, especially as this expenditure will, within the next few years, reach the limit of the resources available to the Community. This called for speedy action to reduce wasteful and unnecessary expenditure on accumulating food surpluses through agricultural aid, which can then be disposed of only at considerable loss and which disturb our trade relations with other countries.
I urged the Community, in the interest of a healthy development, to correct its priorities and, while ensuring a healthy agriculture, to devote more attention and resources to the acute problems that have shown themselves in parts of European industry and in the social decline of the centres of some European cities.
The subsequent discussion on the common agricultural policy was the most realistic that I have taken part in. Heads of Government showed a welcome recognition that the existence of surpluses and the costs involved could not be justified. It was agreed that the existence of these market imbalances in agriculture required, in the wording used at such meetings,
a prices policy appropriate to this situation ".