European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 24th March 2005.

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Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Leader of the Liberal Democrats 1:08 pm, 24th March 2005

I, too, thank the Prime Minister for his statement on the summit. On the issue of the liberalisation of the services market and the services directive, which is important because of its 70 per cent. contribution to European gross domestic product—so reform is clearly in Britain's interests—will the Prime Minister confirm that further steps towards liberalisation would increase standards, lower costs and help generate jobs? He said:

"The directive, inevitably and rightly, will be amended as it goes through its legislative process."

Why would it be right to envisage a watering down of the services directive, since that would reduce the benefits of liberalisation? He must find it a little embarrassing in the historical context that Mrs. Thatcher was much firmer in pushing through the liberalisation of the single market than he has been on this issue. Will he be emboldened in his future endeavours?

On the UK rebate, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that that will always come back to the argument that France would have to accept fundamental reform of the CAP before it could make progress by being critical and carping about the UK rebate? Given the domestic referendum concerns of the President of France, which we all recognise, does the Prime Minister hold out much prospect of being able to be a little more persuasive with him than was obviously the case in the past two or three days?

The Prime Minister did not mention the ongoing troop commitment in Iraq in his statement, but it is unlikely that some discussion of it did not take place, certainly at the margins, with some of his opposite numbers in the EU. Given that several of the allies have either withdrawn their troops or have indicated a willingness or a timetable to withdraw them, did he discuss those matters with any of his counterparts at the summit? In that context, will he take account of yesterday's all-party Defence Committee report, which acknowledges an ongoing British presence in Iraq, perhaps even at present levels, into the next calendar year? Will not withdrawal of further European Union countries maintain that position or indeed require our troop numbers to be increased? Did he discuss those matters with any of his opposite numbers?