EU Reflections Group

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:16 pm on 7th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East 2:16 pm, 7th June 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the main items in his briefing instructions to the Minister of State as the United Kingdom representative for the start of the EU reflections group proceedings this month. [25435]

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The Prime Minister set out the Government's approach to the intergovernmental conference in his speech in Leiden, and in the House on 1 March. That is the basis on which the Minister of State will operate in the study group. The study group is designed to prepare options for the conference; the start of the IGC itself is at least seven months away.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that a normal enthusiasm for the European Union does not reduce our ability to look after our own vital national interests? Quite the reverse, it enhances that ability. In that context, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Minister of State will be as enthusiastic as he is about our membership, and will not be like Mr. Bretherton at the original Messina conference?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

We want to make a success of British membership of the European Union, and that means that in preparing for the IGC there are certain specific things that we aim to achieve and to persuade others to achieve, and certain other things that we say that we shall not do, and would not accept if others put them forward. That is the line that my hon. Friend has begun to set out in the reflections group, and it will continue through the IGC.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that under the existing treaty of union signed at Maastricht the obligation to change or even to review the existing treaty is extremely limited? Can he tell us where any obligation to change is listed, if it is listed at all? Anything wider than that on the wide topic that has been the subject of many documents is not an obligation under the existing treaty. Indeed, it is outwith the terms, so is it not therefore optional for all members of the Union?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

No member state can be compelled to accept any change in the Maastricht treaty. That treaty foreshadowed certain subjects that would need to be considered again, but it did not impose an obligation on any member state to accept any change.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Does my right hon. Friend think that there is any real point in proceeding with the meetings of the reflections group at this stage, when the Chancellor of the Federal German Republic has made it clear that he will not agree with any decisions coming out of the IGC until after our general election, when he fervently hopes that the Labour party will be in power and will give him everything that he wants?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Despite the blandishments of the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke in Bonn recently, I have the rather strong impression that that is not the Federal Chancellor's view. However, the British people will make the decision. We are entirely relaxed about the timing of the IGC. As the Prime Minister said in the speech that I have already mentioned, the Maastricht treaty has been in force for little more than 18 months, and it is rather soon to reconsider it all. The treaty says that the review should start in 1996, so that will have to happen, but it does not lay down when the review should end.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

Did the Foreign Secretary see the discussion paper from the Fresh Start group, which claims a membership of 50 Tory Members? Did he note its recommendation that his objective at the forthcoming IGC should be to create a crisis with the other members? Would the Foreign Secretary like to express his personal opinion on those of his colleagues who want a crisis with those nations to whom we sell most of our exports? [HoN. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is true. The markets provided by those countries are the cause of most of the inward investment in Britain. Will he therefore tell them that the crisis that they want with Europe would also be a crisis within British industry?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The hon. Gentleman is creating in his question a crisis where no crisis exists. The paper to which he referred is still in my pending tray. We are not aiming for a crisis. We aim for steady progress towards the kind of European Union with which the Government and the British people are at ease—a Europe of nations dedicated to opening markets, to free trade and to the institutions of Europe on the whole doing less, and doing it better.