European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:39 am on 12th November 1982.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Overseas Development) 9:39 am, 12th November 1982

It has been customary for the House to have a regular opportunity to debate the developments in the European Community. The Government welcome this opportunity to continue that tradition. As the House is aware, the debate today is on the report that has been presented to the House dealing with developments in the Community in the period from January to June 1982. Most of my remarks will refer to that period, although it is natural that the debate may extend to more recent developments.

The period that the report covers is one of particular significance, especially in political co-operation, because during that period improvements in the machinery for political co-operation introduced during the British presidency were used to very good effect in a way that I am sure the whole House will welcome.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of this was the Community's response to the Falklands crisis. On the day of that crisis, a statement was issued by the Belgian presidency on behalf of the whole Community and of the Foreign Ministers of the Ten condemning the Argentine invasion. On 10 April, the Commission itself repeated that condemnation and thereafter the Community unanimously imposed a ban on Argentine imports and a total arms embargo. It would be difficult to exaggerate the diplomatic significance of that unprecedented response by the Community in those crucial early days of the crisis, and I am sure that the whole House will agree that it made a significant contribution to Britain's negotiating and diplomatic position in the early stages of the crisis. Nor do I believe that that initiative was seriously damaged by the subsequent decision of Italy and Ireland not to reaffirm support for the import bans, as both countries emphasised their determination not to undermine the actions of the Community, a statement which was appreciated by the Community as a whole and certainly by the United Kingdom.

Further important evidence of the value of political cooperation and of British membership of the EEC was seen last week when the United Nations voted on the Falklands issue. With the single exception of Greece, the Community as a whole abstained on the Argentine resolution, at a time when some of our other allies felt unable to do so. That, too, showed the importance of Britain's membership of the Community in terms of the diplomatic initiatives that are occasionally required.

Political co-operation was shown in other spheres, too. For example, the Community issued a co-ordinated response condemning the imposition of martial law in Poland and subsequently agreed on certain economic measures against the Soviet Union as well as on the provision of humanitarian aid which was greatly welcomed by the people of Poland. Clearly, therefore, there have been important developments in political cooperation and I am sure that the House will welcome them.

During the period covered by the report, certain more serious and harmful matters arose from the point of the view of the United Kingdom. I refer particularly to the meeting of the Agriculture Council in May this year at which, contrary to the wishes of the United Kingdom and without unanimity having been achieved, the council voted to increase agricultural prices. The United Kingdom has made no secret of its serious concern about the developments that occurred at that time. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has left our partners in no doubt about the British view that if any member State considers that important interests are at stake discussion must continue until unanimous agreement is reached.

As the House will recall, at a meeting some time after that decision by the Agriculture Council, not only the United Kingdom but two other member States agreed without any reservation, and two more agreed with only minimal reservations, on the need for what is known as the Luxembourg compromise to continue as the basis on which Community decisions are reached. It is important and useful to remember that when that compromise was first reached in 1966 France was the only member State which sought to ensure that there was unanimity in such decisions. On this occasion, five member States—half the Community—took a position similar to that of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the House will welcome and support that.

At the time when those decisions were taken, a decision was also taken on the United Kingdom refunds for 1982. We may take some satisfaction from the fact that during the three years since the Government came to office there have been some £2,000 million worth of refunds to the United Kingdom as a result of the successful negotiations carried out by my right hon. Friends in a way that has been of substantial benefit to this country and which compares most favourably with the Labour Government's attempts to ensure a proper determination of Britain's contributions to the budget. The sums that have already been received in refunds are quite dramatic and have already made an important contribution towards ameliorating some of the difficulties that have arisen in regard to the Community budget.