Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson , Hamilton 5:45 pm, 4th March 1993

I intend to finish my speech shortly, so, however tempting it may be to have a generalised debate, I shall resist the temptation. I see that my speech has already outlasted three different occupants of the Chair, and that serves as a reminder for me.

The debate on the institutions of the European Community is not simply about remote organisations loosely referred to as, and sometimes seen as, "Brussels". The institutions, their strengths, their representativeness, their openness and their closeness to the people of Europe will determine, by and large, whether the successful system of western European co-operation, from which this generation has benefited so much, will be sustained and will survive the new pressures facing Europe and the world.

The Foreign Secretary was right when he told the Financial Times that we needed a British blueprint for European Community reform, and that this country has been too negative and reactive, and not nearly constructive and positive enough, in what we say and do. The right hon. Gentleman was also right to say that as a result we are constantly being shifted by foreigners". He is correct, even if his awakening to that fact is belated. The drawing up of that blueprint, that vision—the definition of British interests in Europe—must not be the business simply of the committee combining Foreign Office and Cabinet personnel that the Financial Times tells us has been set up. That task, which is so crucial to the future of this country, must include other political parties, and the House and its Committees.

One of the clearest and most depressing failures of the British role in Europe—here, we are markedly different from other partner states—is the Government's unwillingness to reach a national consensus at least on the objectives of Britain in Europe. We must look positively not only at what can be achieved at the European level—the whole of the European level—but at what the price of failure would be.

Today we face economic turmoil unprecedented in modern times, with soaring unemployment, deepening recession, destructive economic competition and beggar-my-neighbour attitudes all combining to leave the whip hand with the bankers and speculators. We also face a growing political crisis, which derives partly from the recessionary pressures, with political instability, vicious nationalism and pernicious forms of racism on the march. Those are formidable and immediate dangers for our continent. If we are ever tempted to ignore those perils and problems, we risk something quite horrible happening.

We must not underestimate what is happening in our continent and to our people today. That is why it is crucial that the creation and reinforcement of robust, democratic, popular institutions for European unity should remain the collective objective of all who care about the future of our continent.