European Union Reform

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3 July 2007.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham 2:30, 3 July 2007

If he will make a statement on institutional reform of the European Union.

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the then Prime Minister's post-European Council statement to the House on 25 June. The June European Council agreed a detailed mandate for EU institutional reform. An intergovernmental conference will now be convened under the Portuguese presidency to draft a new treaty. We want to see the IGC concluded promptly. The EU needs to complete institutional reform in order to focus on such issues as climate change, which matter immensely to people right across the European Union.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Hammersmith and Fulham

May I take the Foreign Secretary back to a commitment given by his predecessor but one after the French and Dutch votes two years ago? Kate Hoey asked him:

"Will he assure me that one matter that he would certainly submit to a referendum is the creation of a Foreign Minister and a European President?"

The then Foreign Secretary replied:

"Those points are central to the European constitutional treaty, and of course I see no prospect of their being brought into force, save through the vehicle of a constitutional treaty."—[ Hansard, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1001.]

The new treaty does indeed include both a Foreign Minister and a President. According to the Government, that would make it a constitution, so why is there no referendum?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The first thing to say is that it is enormously in this country's interest to have a president of the European Council—not a President of Europe, but a president of the European Council—who can replace the six-monthly rotating presidency, which is not just tiresome, but inefficient. Secondly, it is in our interest to ensure that we have a lead representative on foreign policy issues answering on a unanimous basis to the 27 member-state Governments of the European Union. The two issues that the hon. Gentleman raises are good for Britain. That is the first point. Secondly, we do not propose to have a referendum on the reform treaty precisely because it is not a constitution.

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and happy birthday. I, too, welcome the new Foreign Secretary to his post. I am sure the Foreign Affairs Committee looks forward to questioning him on these matters over the coming months. Given that the Portuguese presidency of the European Union intends to hold an intergovernmental conference relatively soon and is talking about a process from this month until 18 October, can my right hon. Friend tell us how the House will be able to subject the process to proper scrutiny before the intergovernmental conference?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Ultimately it will be a matter for the Leader of the House. I am keen that we have extensive investigation and scrutiny of the mandate and then of the reform treaty when it finally comes forward as a treaty, including in front of my hon. Friend's Select Committee. The Government are determined to play their full part in that. I cannot give him the details today, but I understand the point that he makes.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

As the EU accounts have been rejected by the auditors for the past 12 years, and as our net contribution to the EU budget this year will be nearly £5 billion, why did the European summit not tackle at all, judging by the published conclusions, the urgent issue of financial reform?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

Financial reform is an important issue for the European Union. I know that the previous occupants of Her Majesty's Treasury pursued serious work in that area. No doubt that will continue, but it was not the focus of the European Council, because the European Council was focused on the institutional issues that we are discussing in this question.

R

Ever the weasel Mr Milliband !!! As usual you never answered the question ,did you?

Submitted by Robert Horner

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post and I am sure that he will be looking forward to the intricacies and labyrinths of European institutional debate. As he manoeuvres himself along those labyrinths, will he draw a clear distinction for the British public between the fundamental rights charter of the European Union and the human rights articles of the Council of Europe, enabling him to make it clear that no transfer of power to European institutions arises from the draft treaty in June, and that the Council of Europe provisions are as strong today in defending human rights in Britain as they have ever been?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Manoeuvring along labyrinths is an enticing prospect—thickets come to mind. He makes an important point about the legal wording that we now have in respect of the charter of fundamental rights, and he is also right to draw the distinction between that and the Council of Europe.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

In welcoming the entire ministerial team to their responsibilities, I draw attention to the IGC mandate and its call for an enhanced role for national Parliaments, which I hope that everyone very much welcomes. The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that shared sovereignty in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on many issues is with the EU. What enhanced role does he see for the Parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in relation to the EU?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

We intend to ensure that the devolved arrangements that have been established are made to work in the way that was prescribed in the legislation of the late 1990s.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern PPS (Mr Pat McFadden, Minister of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, and I wish you, Mr. Speaker, a happy birthday, and many more of them.

As my right hon. Friend said, many of the reforms that were hammered out at the recent conference were aimed at making the EU easier to manage now that there are 27 member states. What is his assessment of the effectiveness of the reforms in addressing that particular point, which was rightly the focus of the discussions?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a good treaty for Britain. It is good that we end the rotating presidency, it is good that the Commission's numbers are reformed, and it is good that we have a new voting system, which is a 45 per cent. increase—

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I look forward to a question from the hon. Gentleman, when I will be happy to volley back at full blast.

It is good that national security is definitively and for the first time set out as a national competence, and it is good that the symbols, flags and anthems, which distracted attention from the discussion of the European constitutional treaty as previously put forward, are done away with, so that we can focus on what, in the end, will make the EU useful to this country—jobs, climate and energy, the issues that matter to ordinary people.

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

I join in warmly congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his elevation. There are many bipartisan issues in foreign policy on which we look forward to working with him, and more than that, there are many very difficult issues, not least in the middle east, on which we wish him every success.

On Europe, however, the right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has said:

"This text is, in fact, a rerun of a great part of the substance of the constitutional treaty"; and

"the public is being led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly."

Why does the Foreign Secretary think he said that?

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

I warmly reciprocate the right hon. Gentleman's kind words. He will certainly find me very keen to co-operate in areas where a bipartisan approach is good for the country. I would not seek to read Giscard d'Estaing's mind, but one does not need to do so to see the difference between the constitutional treaty and the reformed treaty. I have here the published conclusions of the European Council. Clause 1 of the IGC mandate clearly states:

"The constitutional concept, which consisted in repealing all existing treaties and replacing them by a single text called "Constitution", is abandoned"— not reformed, not amended, but abandoned. The constitutional treaty has been abandoned. That is not just my view, nor is it just the view of our Prime Minister—it is the view of the 27 Heads of Government who signed the document.

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

Could the reason why the former French President said that be that it is true? Is it not clear that

"the new EU treaty preserves the substance of the constitutional treaty"?

Those are not my words, but those of the German Foreign Minister. Did the Prime Minister not say that Ministers had to honour their manifesto and that this was an issue of trust between him and the public? Would it not be a splendid start to the Foreign Secretary's time in office if he were to tell the Prime Minister that if there is no referendum on the revived EU constitution, he will never be able to use the words "honour" and "trust" with any credibility again?

R

I`m surprised that MR Haig did not mention other leading members of state who openly admit that this is the EU constitution in all but name,neither did he mention that the politicians that signed up to this are terrified if British voters are allowed to have their say through a referendum.

Submitted by Robert Horner

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman's memory has deserted him. When he first entered this House, he worked with 11 other members of the current shadow Cabinet and 22 current Conservative Front Benchers to vote against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty, which involved a smaller transfer of power. Mr. Lidington is a new member of the Opposition Front-Bench team, and it is incumbent on me to mention his distinguished record, working with Douglas Hurd to ensure that the Maastricht treaty was piloted through this House before 1992. He entered this House in 1992, and he voted against a referendum on a motion that I can read out, if hon. Members are interested. His membership of the Conservative Front-Bench team should mean that the Conservative party, instead of being a dying sect, returns to being a mainstream, sensible political party.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Foreign Secretary to his post. There is no need for a referendum on an amending treaty. Will he assure the House that the IGC will not be an end to this Government's commitment to the reform agenda in Europe? We should push the process forward to ensure the more efficient use of the European institutions and the greater enlargement of the EU.

R

Mr Vaz , As a member of the law profession you are well aware as anybody in the EU, Ministers,Presidents etc, that this is the defunct Eu constitution with just a couple of bits taken out. The EU treaty contains 90% of the old EU...

Submitted by Robert Horner Continue reading

Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Foreign Secretary

My right hon. Friend speaks with the authority of a former Minister for Europe who has been through the European labyrinth that my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson has described. He is right, because in the end the European Union must prove its worth by delivering for the people who elect us to this House and to other Parliaments around Europe. It adds value when it focuses on the things that need to be done at a European level. Those things should be done efficiently, which is what this Government are determined to advocate.

R

Delivering for the people ????
Now lets see....OHH yes . Over 10 years with the accounts not being signed off and about to sign off GM crops as safe, against the wishes of the people just to name 2 things .
Very Democratic Mr Milliband ? Or is your vision of democracy differant than the voters of this country? Looks like it !!!!

Submitted by Robert Horner