Cardiff European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 11th June 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 5:48 pm, 11th June 1998

I would dearly like to see the NATO options, as I am sure would the hon. and learned Gentleman. Alas, I have not seen them. Clearly, several steps could be taken. I hope that we will have a proper opportunity to discuss the matter and that the Foreign Secretary will come to the House to make a statement on it. We can then have an informed discussion. I hope that we will be told a little more about how he intends to proceed.

Let consider how the achievements of the presidency match up to its promises and examine the key areas, the themes set out by the Prime Minister six months ago. First, there is economic reform. Has a single job been created as a result of action taken by the UK presidency? Has even one of the 18 million people unemployed across the European Union benefited from the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary? Unemployment in the UK is 6.4 per cent. That is still too high, but in Germany it stands at 11.4 per cent., in Belgium and France at 11.9 per cent., in Italy at 12 per cent. and in Spain at 19.6 per cent.

Even the Minister without Portfolio, speaking in Florence on one of his many forays into the Foreign Secretary's territory, recognised that job creation is the most difficult of all the issues that Europe faces. How can Labour speak with any authority on the subject when it embraces the job-destroying social chapter of the Maastricht treaty and when one of its close socialist allies in France sees the answer to the crippling unemployment from which it suffers in a 35-hour week?

What of the cost and waste of the Common Agricultural Policy which continue to grow year by year? Those were the words used by the Prime Minister when he launched the UK presidency in December. Not a word passed the Foreign Secretary's lips this evening about the CAP. There is no progress to report on the CAP, but the Foreign Secretary promised that its reform would be one of the key themes of the presidency. He said: We need a reformed CAP which gives a better deal all round—fair prices for consumers, flexibility for farmers, protection for the environment. We all agree, but the CAP collapsed after the first meeting and member states have so far failed to find a common position to negotiate. Even the Foreign Secretary could not bring himself to claim that as one of the achievements of his presidency. CAP reform is buried in the small print of the half-term report.

What of enlargement? Labour's general election manifesto called it "a high priority". The Foreign Secretary said that getting it off to a good start was the step that will have the biggest impact on the shape of the European Union into the next century. I agree. We regard enlargement of the European Union as the historic mission of our generation, but what evidence is there of progress?

The Prime Minister of Finland said that enlargement is looking more problematic than it did a year ago. The truth is that we are going backwards, not forwards, in terms of progress on enlargement. Relations between the European Union and Turkey are at an all-time low. The Foreign Secretary completely failed in his efforts to persuade Turkey to attend the annual European Union-Turkey association meeting, yet he says that he is not disappointed. One shudders to imagine what would have to happen before he confessed himself discouraged.

The Cardiff summit will not be first European Union summit over which the Prime Minister has presided. He presided over the summit on economic and monetary union at the beginning of May, to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred. The Prime Minister's performance there did not receive rave notices. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg concluded that the summit proceedings were "absolutely shameful". The Italian Prime Minister, an ally in the Party of European Socialists, said that the Prime Minister was ill prepared for the negotiations".

The Austrian Chancellor, another ally in the Party of European Socialists, said that there were people much more experienced than he who said they had never seen anything like it. He added: We have now learnt how not to organise a summit. That is the reality of the performance of the UK presidency, not the fantasy world into which the Foreign Secretary took us in his speech.

Nowhere has the gap between the Government's rhetoric and reality been greater than in the humiliation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the Euro X committee only a few days ago.