European Council

Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 18th December 2006.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary 3:31 pm, 18th December 2006

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. As the House knows, it is customary for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make the statement, but I have been asked to convey his apologies as he is currently on an official visit to the middle east.

There were two main outcomes to the Council. The first, as expected, related to enlargement. The Council endorsed the agreement reached earlier in the week by Foreign Ministers on what action the European Union should take in response to Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara agreement protocol. There was also a wider discussion on enlargement strategy.

There had been widespread predictions that the discussion on Turkey at the General Affairs Council would be extremely divisive, would spill over into the European Council and might risk derailing the process of Turkish accession—the so-called train wreck scenario. But that was avoided. The UK, along with others, made a strong strategic case for Turkish membership—a case that I know is shared across the House—and the train remains very much on the track. Negotiations can move forward on 27 of the 35 chapters of the acquis and, for the first time in an EU of 25, there is positive language, which will be adopted by the Council in January, on resuming work "without delay" on a direct trade regulation to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. No one is in any doubt that Turkey must meet all the requirements and obligations of membership before joining the European Union. But as the House has consistently agreed, a European Union with Turkey as a member will be stronger, richer and more secure.

The conclusions of the European Council further stressed the strategic importance of enlargement more generally—in inspiring reform, driving prosperity and competitiveness, and strengthening the EU's weight in the world. Those conclusions reaffirmed that the EU should keep its commitments towards all the countries that are in the enlargement process, moving forward on the basis of strict conditionality at all stages of the negotiations and judging each country on its own merits.

The second focus of the Council was to make progress on the very practical issues that resonate with, and matter to, the people of Europe and where, through joint action, the European Union can make a positive difference on the ground. On climate change and energy, the Council built on progress made at the informal summit in Lahti. We agreed that the spring Council will discuss options for a global post-2012 agreement on climate change, consistent with the EU's objective of a maximum global temperature increase of 2° C above pre-industrial levels. We reiterated the need for a global carbon market and reaffirmed the crucial role and the long-term ambition of the EU emissions trading scheme.

The Council called for the priority measures in the Commission's action plan on energy efficiency to be implemented rapidly and endorsed the setting up of a network of energy security correspondents early next year. The spring 2007 European Council is due to adopt a prioritised action plan as part of an integrated approach for a secure, environmentally friendly and competitive energy policy for Europe. We also agreed that European energy and climate change policy will be discussed by the European Council on a regular basis in the future, beginning with an integrated debate on those issues at the spring 2007 meeting.

On Africa, we welcomed the progress report on the implementation of the EU strategy "The EU and Africa: Towards a Strategic Partnership" and called for the implementation of the priority actions for next year that are identified in that report. We also reaffirmed our commitment to working towards a joint EU-Africa strategy, which is to be adopted at the second EU-Africa summit in the latter half of 2007.

On the globalisation agenda, we asked the Commission to take a number of concrete steps to promote further innovation in Europe. They included presenting a comprehensive intellectual property rights strategy in the course of 2007, working up proposals for industry-led joint technology initiatives with a view to launching the most advanced ones next year, and, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, coming up with ways in which to improve the working methods and overall resources of the European standardisation bodies. We also agreed to do further work on the idea of a European institute of technology.

On justice and home affairs, the Council agreed to consider options for strengthening the framework for decision making in order to respond effectively to the current challenges in the areas of freedom, security and justice.

On migration, we agreed that we needed to strengthen our efforts on the global approach and to make sure that we addressed migration in a comprehensive manner. The Council agreed on the next steps that the EU should take in 2007, including detailed action in three areas with regard to illegal migration: first, strengthening and deepening international co-operation with third countries of origin and transit, for example by doing more to integrate migration issues into aid policies and working more effectively with third countries to combat human trafficking; secondly, strengthening co-operation among members states, for example by intensifying measures against illegal employment and developing identification technology at borders; and, thirdly, improving the management of the EU's external border, for example by finding sustainable and effective ways to enhance the capacity of Frontex. The Council also agreed to have a common European asylum system in place by the end of 2010, starting with a preliminary evaluation of its first phase next year.

The Council issued separate declarations on Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran and Africa issues. On the middle east peace process, the European Council set out how it would engage with a legitimate Palestinian Government who adopted a platform reflecting the Quartet principles.

The European Council quite rightly concentrated on areas—not least enlargement—in which the European Union can make a real difference to the lives of the people of Europe. The progress that we made at the Council, and, perhaps just as importantly, the dangers that we avoided, demonstrate again the benefit of having a UK Government with not just a clear strategy on Europe, but the strong influence, based on consistent and close engagement, to see that strategy through. I commend the outcome to the House.

B

Europe has got it wrong about the European Trading Scheme. Yes, it would be nice to have one, but the reality is not a success story. ETS is in very early stages and has seen a rise in emissions, with billions of subsidies going to the biggest polluters. Carbon offsets must be regulated and audited. They are currently no more than a guilt-saver. Also, why are short-haul flights still fuel-tax-free? Science demands that we have to keep to the targets. It also makes sense in terms of peak oil, so please get onto it and stop boasting about a trading scheme which doesn't work.

Submitted by Benjamin Samuel

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The focus of the summit, as the Foreign Secretary said, was enlargement, which has been the European Union's greatest achievement. We join in welcoming Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union. As she said, we have long supported Turkey's membership of the EU, so we have much agreement with her on that. However, does she still agree with us that, as she put it before the summit, the measures proposed, and indeed agreed, were "too harsh" on, and possibly "counter-productive" towards, Turkey? She obviously agrees that Turkey must work to resolve the dispute over access to its ports, but that is a challenge to overcome, not an opportunity to deny Turkey membership in the future. To resolve these matters, what will the Government and our European partners do not only to end the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots, but to ensure that there is movement over time towards Turkey's eventual recognition of the Republic of Cyprus and on other measures necessary to bring about Turkish membership?

A larger Europe should mean a more flexible Europe, not a less flexible one. It is thus right that proposals to abolish vetoes over criminal justice and to move that area from an intergovernmental pillar to full Community jurisdiction were not adopted. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that any such proposal in the future will be rejected by Britain? A Government spokesman apparently said at the summit:

"We are prepared to give up the veto on some security issues".

Will she say what those issues are?

Does the Foreign Secretary not agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that the use of the so-called gangplank clause would be of "constitutional importance" and, as the Committee said,

"it is vital that there should be no doubt or equivocation about the Government's position"?

[Interruption.] I use the Committee's form of words. Are the Government in fact willing to give up the veto on some of these issues? Does the right hon. Lady accept our view that that would be a serious mistake that would limit British sovereignty in a sensitive area?

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House why the employment chapter is being used to introduce EU legislation on migration? Should that not be done through immigration provisions or not at all? Why is the EU now extending its powers into Community integration, in paragraph 24 of the Council conclusions? Does not a common asylum policy run the risk of losing national control in that area?

Our view is that the EU should concentrate on where it can add value to its people's priorities, so we welcome what the Council agreed on climate change. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the EU does not need new powers here but must make better use of existing ones? Europe is not on track to meet its Kyoto target, so will the Government ensure that the revision of the EU trading scheme receives urgent attention?

On global poverty, the Council discussed the Africa strategy; it is right to make that a priority. But does the Foreign Secretary agree that many of the EU's policies—the common agricultural policy, trade barriers and so on—continue to make poverty in developing countries worse? Nevertheless, climate change and global poverty are real, tangible issues on which the European Union should be concentrating.

The Foreign Secretary, however, failed to mention one thing—the European constitution. It was on the agenda and a summit has been called of the 18 nations that have ratified it. Her predecessor, who is sitting next to her, Mr. Straw, said that

"it was hard to argue that the Constitution is not dead".

Photo of William Hague William Hague Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman nods. The Dutch Government have said that the constitution is dead. But some people are now arguing for its resuscitation, so will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that the Government have no plans to ratify the constitution and will not revive such plans? Her predecessor stated that the Government would not bring in any part of the constitution through the back door, so will the right hon. Lady guarantee that any new treaty that contains any significant part of the constitution or increases the EU's powers in any way would merit the promised referendum?

The European Union has the potential to be a great force for good in the world, but if it returns to the old ways of deeper integration, the constitution's failure will be repeated again and again. So is it not the Government's urgent task to lead that debate and convince our partners of the need for an open, flexible, modern European Union which all its nations need?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

First, to pick up on what the right hon. Gentleman said about Turkey, I recognise and much appreciate the common ground in the House on that issue. On the relationships between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus, he may be aware that one of the declarations—the presidential statement that accompanied the Council conclusions—has encouraged a return to the United Nations process to begin to resolve some of the issues. I sincerely hope that that will indeed be successful.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the need for greater flexibility as the European Union becomes larger, and I agree with that, but he also spoke about what he was reluctant to call the passerelle on justice and home affairs issues. I am not aware of the statement that he quoted from a Government spokesman. I simply repeat what we have said to him before: there is flexibility on this issue in existing treaties and we do not rule out, as a matter of principle, ever exercising such flexibility. Certainly there are no proposals at present to which we are particularly attracted, but given that that flexibility is in existing treaties, it would be a mistake automatically to rule out its use. We would discuss and consider issues on their merits and make a decision on that basis. I feel confident that this will be an ongoing exchange, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman yet again that no Labour Government have given up the principle of the veto—that was done under Lady Thatcher.

On asylum, we understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. We are anxious to preserve the right kind of flexibility on the issue, certainly in the United Kingdom, where we believe that that can be achieved. I share his view that the European Union should increasingly concentrate on areas where it adds value. He touched on the emissions trading scheme, and I hope that the House is aware that the United Kingdom is the only member state to have its proposals for the next round of the emissions trading scheme accepted. Everyone else was told that their proposals were not sufficiently stringent, so we are making progress and are heading in the right direction. I share his view that we must look at our wider policies, including the common agricultural policy, if we are to deal with global poverty, not least through trade.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman says that the constitutional treaty is dead, but in my first debate on the subject as Foreign Secretary, we had an interesting theological discussion in which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who happily is present this afternoon, defined the treaty, theologically and very accurately, as being in limbo, on the grounds that that was the place for the unborn. That is certainly incontestable. As to bringing things back, whether through the front or back door, there is no suggestion that we would do any such thing, but we will see what proposals are put forward.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

May I also welcome the statement? The Foreign Secretary referred to keeping commitments to all the countries involved in the enlargement process. Was there a detailed discussion of the situation in the Balkans, in light of the forthcoming election in Serbia and the negotiations about the final status of Kosovo, and does the European Union still have as firm a commitment as it did to enlargement to include south-east Europe?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

First, I should say that on this occasion there was no particularly detailed discussion of the issues surrounding Serbia's potential moves towards the European Union, as there has been a lot of detailed discussion of the subject on previous occasions, and nothing has changed. There was not that detailed discussion, but it is still our firm intention to keep open the door for future enlargement, not least because we believe that that will be a strong driver towards reform. Again, I think that that is common ground, shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

This was hardly the most spectacular of summits, but in its own way, I suppose that that may be regarded as a triumph. In this country, there will be a broad welcome of the intention to focus early attention on climate change, and to consider ways of achieving greater co-operation and co-ordination on migration. There is also support on both sides of the House for the reaffirmation of the enlargement process as regards Turkey. It was right for the summit to emphasise that all applicants must meet the tough entry requirements in full, but is the Foreign Secretary confident that the new impact assessments will not simply provide the opponents of enlargement with a new method of blocking Turkey?

On the middle east, we welcome the Council's recognition of the deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the occupied territories, and of the extension of the temporary international mechanism for a further three months. Will she clarify what funding the British Government and their EU partners have pledged in support of that extension? On the wider peace process, how will the Prime Minister's latest efforts in the region be linked to the new European initiative agreed at the summit, and what other British input will there be? Finally, given the approach of the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome, can we expect, sometime soon, an updated White Paper on the necessary reform of Europe's institutions to cope with current and future enlargement?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

First, may I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome on some of the issues? One must always view such matters with caution, but I am reasonably confident that having rigorous requirements that are properly monitored will not necessarily prove to be just a stumbling block and an obstacle to any future enlargement, whether in respect of Turkey or any other applicant state. There was a discussion on precisely that issue. The overwhelming majority of the member states have ruled out—at least three times so far, in my experience—the idea that we should introduce some kind of new conditionality. There is a clear recognition among member states, just as there is across the House, of the value of applications in driving reform.

On the extension of the temporary international mechanism, I am not carrying in my head the latest figures, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman both that the European Union as a whole has put more money than last year into helping the Palestinian people through the present crisis, and that the UK is the largest donor to that overall EU funding. If we obtain information in the near future about what the extension will mean, I will let him know.

With regard to the Prime Minister's present visit, the House is aware that he is hoping to communicate support and concern for moves towards the middle east peace process and towards the road map, and to hear from those on the ground what the latest position is and what, if anything, the UK or the EU can do to help.

On the notion of an updated White Paper, I have not given thought to that. I will consider it. I am not giving an undertaking at this time.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

My right hon. Friend mentioned enlargement. She is aware that next year we will see the presidencies of Germany and of Portugal, followed by the presidency of France. Would it not be appropriate during their presidencies to seek a deeper integration of the present Union in relation to promotion of the Lisbon agenda and the services directive, so that we are in a better position to face the global challenges of India and China?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend, who I know has long taken a great interest in these matters, makes an interesting point. With regard to the Lisbon agenda, progress is certainly being made. It is the intention that all the countries of the European Union will work more closely together and seek areas where we can co-operate, and at the same time look for areas where we can be genuinely effective and genuinely add value, as opposed to merely duplicating what is happening elsewhere, as is sometimes the risk.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I have just returned from a visit to Berlin with the European Scrutiny Committee. Would the Foreign Secretary endorse the idea, which we heard there quite a lot, that the acquis is inviolable? Would she rule out in principle the idea that Westminster legislation should be passed in the House to override the European Communities Act 1972 as and when required, and to require the judiciary to give effect to it?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

That was a slightly convoluted sentence, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It was a very simple sentence.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

Yes, but experience leads me to conclude that if I do not entirely understand what he is asking, I should not run the risk of agreeing with him.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

May I join others in congratulating my right hon. Friend on pursuing the enlargement agenda and making sure that the train carrying Turkey is kept firmly on track, despite efforts by others to derail the process? In respect of the justice and home affairs agenda, can she confirm that notwithstanding the retention of our veto, which I welcome, we will continue to co-operate with our EU partners and our agencies will work with their agencies in order to deal with those who wish to traffic people or drugs or behave in a manner that could help terrorists?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is entirely right. The House will always be extremely cautious about any movement on the veto in such a sensitive area. I agree with the point made by Mr. Hague. One of the reasons why I have always approached the matter with considerable caution is that there are some very difficult issues of cross-border crime, people trafficking, narcotics and so on, on which we need stronger and deeper co-operation. If we ever came to the conclusion that that required some change, we should not rule it out.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I thank the right hon. Lady for an advance copy of the statement, which suggests that on justice and home affairs the Council agreed to consider options for strengthening the framework for decision making in order to respond effectively to the current challenges in the area of freedom, security and justice. That is likely to mean a far more uniform and unified approach across Europe to sharing police information and intelligence. Given that Scotland has a separate legal system, eight separate police forces and the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, all under the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, how does the right hon. Lady envisage that that strengthened framework will embrace each of those in that regard?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

Of course there are different legal systems and jurisdictions throughout the EU, but when it comes to the need to share information in order to combat security risks or cross-border crime, in most jurisdictions, most police forces and other security forces are only too happy to co-operate.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the United Kingdom would never support any suggestion of a modification of our rights, particularly the right to strike for UK citizens?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I am just wondering what my hon. Friend has in mind, but certainly I have seen no such proposal, nor have I seen one that I would support.

Photo of Richard Spring Richard Spring Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Given the welcome remarks of the right hon. Lady regarding enlargement, would she be good enough to elaborate on any discussions on Ukraine, given its huge geopolitical significance and the fact that so much of the energy supplies are routed through Ukraine to the rest of Europe?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There was not detailed discussion about Ukraine, but the point was made clearly and firmly on a number of occasions, not least by some of the newer member states, that this is a country that they would also wish to see on the path ultimately to membership of the European Union—some considerable distance away, no doubt, but that point was made.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Next year, Britain will celebrate two great acts of union—that with Scotland and that within the European Union. May I invite my right hon. Friend to take off her sober Foreign Secretary garb and, now and then, return to Margaret the great campaigner and campaign against some of the rancid rabble on the Opposition Benches who reject both the EU and the Act of Union with Scotland?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The hon. Gentleman makes a habit of this. He did it the last time that I called him. I did him a favour this time and called him thinking that he had learned the lesson. He is running the risk of not being called.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether in the margins of the Council— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I heard the remark made by Mr. MacShane. He has been long enough in the House. Of course, he can raise political matters, but he is questioning a Minister on her responsibility. If he cannot learn that, I will not be long in teaching him.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether in the margins of the Council either she or the Prime Minister talked to their counterparts from Germany and France, or indeed their counterparts from any NATO country, as to their willingness to deploy more troops into the Helmand province so as to reinforce British forces when under attack? If she or he did, what was the response? If they did not, perhaps they should have done.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There are considerable and detailed ongoing discussions about the issue, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. It is not just a matter of personnel, although that is an area where there is an interest, it is also a matter of equipment and the role that people can play. Those discussions continue, not only with those two colleague states but also with others.

C

I thought that this was rather a vague reply. Many of us would like to know why it is always the British that man the barricades first.

Christine Deas MBE

Submitted by Christine Deas Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

May I tell the Secretary of State that I am uncomfortable about the cosy consensus between the three Front-Bench spokesmen on Turkey? Indeed, I noted that the shadow Foreign Secretary said that our conditions as regards Turkey were over-harsh. There are still some people who are alarmed about the prospect of enlarging the EU to include Turkey, which would mean that we would have common borders with Iraq, Iran, Syria and a number of other friendly states, and who believe that this really is not the most sensible or strategic approach to our collective security, nor in the best interests of Turkey or the EU.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I say to my hon. Friend, with affection as well as respect, that he is never comfortable with any cosy consensus, whatever it may be about. I take his point entirely. However, it would be a huge strategic error for the European Union not to hold out the prospect of membership to Turkey and not to take Turkey into membership. We have already talked about cross-border terrorism, people trafficking, narcotics and so on. Those are all issues where we have a lot of common interest and where Turkey can do a great deal to help and support us, as it can as a conduit for energy and on security matters. I am mindful of the fact that across the middle east people are watching to see whether the EU will stand by its word in being prepared to take in a country such as Turkey. People are also watching the process of reform that the prospect of EU membership is bringing about in Turkey, not least to see whether it is a model for them. I would be reluctant to lose any of those advantages.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister (Energy), Trade & Industry

Does the Foreign Secretary agree with what Mr. Barroso said about relations with Russia this morning in Strasbourg in the equivalent debate there—that is, that the Union must avoid the twin risks of business as usual on the one hand and outright confrontation on the other, but must instead always stick to its basic principles, including those of human rights? If so, does she further agree that those principles should also apply to our relations with other countries—for example, Saudi Arabia?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

Who can query the notion that whether dealing with Russia or with other countries, we should always bear in mind those principles, as indeed we do?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

When the Council met, what discussions took place about the humanitarian crisis facing people who have migrated from west Africa to the Canary islands, many of whom have perished in the sea on that perilous journey, and about the increasing militarisation of the Mediterranean, which has resulted in the loss of many lives of people trying to cross from north Africa to Europe? Does she accept that we need a much more human and humanitarian approach to migration and asylum? Can she assure the House that any common asylum policy agreed will be based entirely on the 1951 Geneva convention and will not become a system of cherry-picking skilled people who happen to be asylum seekers from those who have different skills or no particular skills suited to an industrial society?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There was a certain amount—if not a massive amount—of discussion about migration and asylum, which is recognised as a common problem and, in many cases, a very serious one. A common approach to asylum will be developed over a considerable period of time. I share my hon. Friend's concern about the humanitarian aspects of the problem, as does everyone, but I take the view—which I suspect that he might, on this occasion, share—that one of the best ways to tackle the issue is through tackling global poverty and the trade barriers that create the circumstances that drive people to consider leaving their homeland.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

The Foreign Secretary might agree that it was a very quiet summit. Why would that be so? What has happened to the rhetoric about bringing the Union closer to its citizens? Has it been abandoned in the light of the French and Dutch referendums?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

No. Indeed, the view expressed by our Prime Minister at the Hampton Court summit during the British presidency—that one of the best ways to bring Europe closer to its citizens is for Europe to devote itself to things that its citizens actually care about—is widely welcomed and is an approach that people are increasingly trying to follow. As for why it was such a quiet Council, perhaps it was because people were leaving space for a train wreck that did not happen.

Photo of David Borrow David Borrow Labour, South Ribble

It has been suggested that the question of enlargement be linked to a resolution of the difficulties over the EU constitution. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong for any of the accession countries, whether Turkey, Croatia or Macedonia, to be refused membership, having reached all the criteria required of them, on the basis that the EU has been unable to resolve its constitutional difficulties?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have not only resisted any attempt to put in new criteria for membership but rejected, on every occasion when it has been raised, any attempt to suggest that there is an automatic link between future enlargement and institutional reform.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

In the declaration on the middle east peace process, the European Council noted the importance of a ceasefire in Gaza. Was there any discussion about reports that American Government agencies have been channelling funds to one of the parties in Gaza with the precise objective of undermining that ceasefire?

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

May I press the Foreign Secretary a little bit further on Afghanistan, which was the subject of a separate declaration of the Council? Did we know or were we warned about the withdrawal of French troops in advance, and if so what was our response?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I am afraid that that is not something that I have had time to familiarise myself with since the Council finished.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Assistant Chief Whip (Commons)

What discussions were held on the future status of Kosovo, particularly considering the current stance of both Russia and China?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There was no discussion really about the future status of Kosovo, but that was partly because there had been much discussion previously about Serbia and its potential application, as I said to my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, and in that context there was also much discussion about Kosovo. So the issue has been extensively aired lately and, consequently, it was not raised at the European Council.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

May I seek further clarification from the Minister on the question of the common asylum policy, which is to be introduced by 2010? Given that we have already lost powers to deport many criminals that we would wish to deport, is there anything in that policy, or anything that the Government would accede to, that would force us to accept people that the British Government would not wish to accept?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that that is a potential danger. A range of issues will have to be considered, and that is one of the reasons why we think that the timetable for this policy may be a little ambitious, although obviously we shall work on that basis. We strongly take the view that we have to maintain the flexibility for different nation states to handle this issue in a way that is best suited to their particular needs, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we are mindful of the sort of danger that he has identified.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Does the Secretary of State endorse the comments made by Mr. Peter Mandelson this morning that the French Government's proposals for trade restrictions on countries that do not implement the Kyoto protocol are foolish and counter-productive? If she does agree with that, how do the British Government propose to reconcile global trade and environment rules?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There is already a mechanism for taking into account environmental issues and concerns alongside the work of the World Trade Organisation with the multilateral environment agreements, so this is not a new issue. I was not familiar with the fact that the French Government have made such a proposal and would wish to study exactly what has been said, but certainly I take the view that we should be easing trade restrictions rather than tightening them.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

While I agree with the former Foreign Secretary that the constitutional treaty is probably dead, does the present Foreign Secretary agree with me that, nevertheless, treaty changes are needed in the foreseeable future so that the European Union continues to function effectively?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

Certainly, there are some issues that will have to be considered because the Union has already made a decision that we shall look again at, for example, the numbers in the Commission once Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union. As to whether changes are needed, that is obviously exactly the kind of issue on which the Germans will be taking soundings in the early part of their presidency to see whether there is a process that they can recommend as to how we might consider these matters in the future.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham

The German Government have said that central Asia will be one of their priorities for their presidency starting on 1 January and their G8 presidency. I ask the right hon. Lady to ensure that there is no relaxation of Britain's position on civil and human rights in central Asia during the German presidency. What effort is she making, perhaps with the Minister for Europe, to persuade others, including the German Government, to keep up pressure on the Uzbek and Turkmen regimes in particular, and to maintain the EU sanctions regime against Uzbekistan?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

We do not envisage relaxation of our stance on civil and humanitarian rights, nor have I read into what the German Government have said that that is their idea either.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Chancellor Merkel has suggested not just that a revised version of the constitution be driven forward, but that she wishes to use the German presidency to drive all member states to join the eurozone. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to Mrs. Merkel that we have no intention of joining the eurozone, and that if the Germans want to reduce their unemployment they would do well to withdraw from the eurozone and reduce their interest rates?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I shall not venture to advise Chancellor Merkel on the policy that the German Government should pursue. Although she has made it clear that she would prefer to be able to move forward on the constitutional treaty, she has also made it clear that the main thrust of the German presidency's approach will be to establish whether there is a consensus and, if so, what it is, and that she is under no illusions that decisions can be made under the German presidency.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

The French are alleged to have withdrawn their special forces from Helmand province. Given the pressure that our forces are under, that seems completely at variance with the statement made by the Defence Secretary after the Riga summit. If, as the Foreign Secretary indicated, she has not familiarised herself with that position, when will she do so, and when will she make representations to the French?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

Let me gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, not the Secretary of State for Defence. To some extent, this is a question for my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

In relation to Turkey's application to join the EU, will my right hon. Friend say what discussions took place about the continuing involvement of the military in Turkish politics and about Turkey's human rights record, particularly with reference to the enclave people of the Karpas, who continue to suffer appalling oppression.

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

People are mindful that those are among the reforms and changes that we would wish to see in Turkey. My hon. Friend will know, I am sure, that Turkey has made some progress in the right direction on such issues, but there is a general view that much more progress would be desirable, which is another reason for Turkey to maintain its move towards the standards required for EU membership.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

The Foreign Secretary referred to EU policy towards Africa. I am sure that she will agree that removing trade barriers is one of the most important things that the EU can do. What progress was made, if any, to ensure that the EU takes a more flexible approach to the Doha World Trade Organisation negotiations?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

There was not much discussion of the Doha round at the European Council. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Pascal Lamy has recently taken steps to reactivate those talks. I strongly share the view expressed that it is important that the talks have a successful outcome and that the EU should play whatever role is necessary to help to secure that.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Given that the problems with the Doha round have been due, to a considerable extent, to the EU's inflexibility on modifying the common agricultural policy—and particularly the stance taken by the President of France—now that the Foreign Secretary has announced that the next EU-Africa summit will be in the latter half of next year, after the next French presidential elections, can she reassure me that the UK Government will press colleagues in the EU for further changes to the CAP, so that progress can be made at the EU-Africa summit to facilitate the Doha round?

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Hugh Bayly should not have lost this opportunity to ask who was responsible for the unacceptable delay in the
EU payments to farmers, and without any compensation for their increased overdrafts and/or other associated costs.
Bruce Shaxson.

Submitted by Bruce Shaxson

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I find myself slightly torn. While I entirely share my hon. Friend's point of view, both as to what is a desirable outcome and the fact that the EU must contribute to it, I say with some slight regret—as this is not easy for us to overcome—that the EU has not been the major stumbling block in the Doha round negotiations. The major reforms of the CAP that we negotiated in 2003 made a huge difference to the stance that the EU was able to take. Unfortunately, until now the failure of others to move has been the stumbling block. I share his underlying view that those stumbling blocks should be removed and that progress should be made.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Given the Foreign Secretary's enthusiasm for Turkish membership of the EU and the experience of the miscalculation over the number of migrants from eastern Europe, do Her Majesty's Government have any projections about the number of Turkish immigrants expected to come to this country if Turkey accedes?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I am afraid that we are rather a long way from an agreement for Turkey to join the European Union. As for miscalculations, I have pointed out to the House previously that the Government made no calculation; we commissioned a piece of research that turned out not to be as accurate as perhaps one might wish.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Further to the question from David Howarth, may I ask whether there was any discussion of EU relations with the Russian Federation? Was there any discussion of Amnesty International's recent report on the widespread use of torture in Russian jails and police cells? Was there any discussion of the murder of 21 journalists in Russia since President Putin came to power? And was there any discussion of the fact that at present, following the undermining of property rights in Russia, many people are finding it difficult to invest in the energy market that we so desperately need for Europe?

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"following the undermining of property rights in Russia, many people are finding it difficult to invest in the energy market that we so desperately need for Europe" From EU Observer: even if the winter of 2007 passes uneventfully, experts at the IEA and leading think-tanks, such as CEPS [Centre for European Policy Studies], are beginning to convince EU policymakers that Russia itself is heading for a major gas supply shortfall...

Submitted by I J Continue reading

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend has made a number of points in expressing his concern—which I know many will share—about various events in Russia. No, there was not an extensive discussion about Russia; that was not a major item on the agenda.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge

I apologise for missing the beginning of the Minister's statement.

Further to the question from Ms Stuart, can the Secretary of State confirm that the situation in Afghanistan is not like that in Iraq, that great progress is being made in terms of both reconstruction and peacekeeping, and that the EU, like Britain, remains firmly committed in the long term to solving Afghanistan's problems?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Foreign Secretary

I can certainly confirm that there has been substantial progress. One always says that with great trepidation, fearing that someone will come along and describe all the problems that still exist, but the hon. Gentleman is right: a great deal of excellent work has been done in Afghanistan, and we need to continue that work.