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General Affairs Council

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 31st March 2009.

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Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Labour, Warwick and Leamington 2:30 pm, 31st March 2009

What discussions he had in the most recent meeting of the General Affairs Council on the contribution of the European Council's European economic recovery plan to the development of employment in the environmental sector.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe)

At the General Affairs Council on 16 March 2009, I discussed the proposal to invest €5 billion of EU funds in a number of projects, including on carbon capture and storage and energy infrastructure, ahead of final agreement at the spring European Council.

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Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Labour, Warwick and Leamington

On Friday, I met representatives of several companies in my constituency, all of which are involved in environmental technologies with a wide range of potential applications. They seek in particular help with research and product development. Does the EU recovery plan contain anything for them?

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe)

The package outlined, in terms of carbon capture and storage and opportunities involving wind power, provides an exciting future in which businesses can grow. The environmental business sector is growing apace, at 5 per cent. each year. I suggest that my hon. Friend makes sure that his constituents are aware of what we are providing domestically through the Carbon Trust, the environmental transformation fund, the Technology Strategy Board and the various other ways in which we are supporting businesses to become low carbon and to make their good ideas reality. What is most important is where the EU adds value to what we do at national level. The €5 billion package will be helpful to boosting environmental technologies here and throughout the rest of Europe.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I imagine that the Minister has noticed the remarkable similarity between Questions 2, 8 and 17. Has the Government's competence so disintegrated that they cannot even adequately disguise an exercise in arranging questions for themselves to answer?

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe)

I am absolutely delighted that some Members, especially on the Labour Benches, are interested in what the EU has to offer that is additional to what we in this country can do alone. We are more interested in the substance than in the process.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The EU is to be commended on directing between 60 and 70 per cent. of its economic stimulus funding to proposals relating to the environment. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in her Department and more widely across Government to make sure that the G20 decisions and the Budget announcements show the same level of commitment as the EU has shown to environmentally sustainable projects? Here in the UK, environmental projects account for less than 10 per cent. of the total; if it were 50 per cent., we would be getting somewhere.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe)

The debate now is on how to green the economy as part of our way out of the recession facing us and other countries around the world. Six months ago, when I started this job, it was hard to conceive of reaching agreement on a package at EU level, but we did. I hope that the G20 will ensure that opportunities to use fiscal stimulus to stimulate low-carbon economies, which would be good for our planet and good for jobs and skills in future, are at the heart of its achievements.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

Given that the European economic recovery plan will not work if we cripple businesses with excessive red tape, can the Minister for Europe redeem herself from yesterday's incredible admission that she has not read the Lisbon treaty, and so does not know what Europe has to offer, by assuring us that the Government will work hard in the negotiations to protect the UK opt-out on the working time directive, which has as critical an effect on environmental employees as it does on many others across this country?

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Minister of State (Europe)

Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman asked me whether I had read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence. I answered honestly that I had read some, but not all, of it, but I have now done so. I have no doubt that he spends many nights and many hours—alone, I presume—poring over the Lisbon treaty to discover some hidden plot. This Government are working with our European partners to engage constructively and to ensure that we find a way out of the recession facing the world, which is a darned sight more than the Opposition are doing.

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