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 Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party 2:30 pm, 31st March 2009

What discussions he had in the recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on the effect on consumers of the European Council's European economic recovery plan.

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

The overriding aim of the European economic recovery plan is to stimulate demand and boost consumer confidence across the EU. The €5 billion package discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council and agreed at the spring European Council on 19 and 20 March focuses particularly on improving energy and broadband infrastructure. It will deliver cheaper, greener energy and better internet access, particularly to consumers living in rural areas.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party

My right hon. Friend's answer has confirmed that making sure that consumers get back into the marketplace is central to the European economic recovery plan. That, of course, means jobs here in Britain. Does she believe that Britain's influence and ability to make sure that we get those jobs would be increased or decreased if we had a Government who were withdrawing to the fascist wing of the European process?

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

We can be proud that the UK Government have more friends and allies in Europe in 2009 than we inherited in 1997. What is important is that we can come together across Europe, at this crucial time for our citizens, to focus on the issues that matter—rather than on internal institutional navel-gazing, which the Conservative party likes to do. The Conservatives' decision to remove themselves from their alliance with the European People's party is a bad one; it is bad for politics and it is bad for—

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

Does the right hon. Lady agree that spending yet more taxpayers' money in this way is unlikely to do anything good for consumers, as it all has to be paid for? Will she instead look at the continuing blizzard of high-cost, job-destroying regulations that are pouring out of Brussels? The European Scrutiny Committee has to look at more than 1,000 such regulations a year. Will she ask for at least a moratorium on such regulation, at least for the duration of the recession, in the interests of employment and consumers alike?

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

I would have to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that investing in carbon capture and storage and renewables is a bad thing to do. There is a time when regulation is right. We need to look at how we better regulate the banks and the way that they work. Over the past few years, we have seen some huge reductions in regulation in the European Union, and there is a target to reduce the number by another 25 per cent. by 2012. That has been greatly influenced by the better regulation unit that we set up here in the UK, which has found favour in other member states, and certainly within the Commission. I look forward to less red tape, but where we need it, it has to be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Is the right hon. Lady confident that enough is being done to address the problems of the countries of eastern Europe that 20 years ago were members of the Warsaw pact, and which now see their hopes collapsing around them and their economies in shreds?

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

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. We need to be clear that some, not all, countries in eastern Europe are facing difficulties at this time. I agree with the Prime Minister, who said in a speech only the other week that it is important that we ensure within the European Union family that none of the members is left behind. That is why the G20 is important, but also important is what happens afterwards to ensure that Europe comes out of this recession stronger and better able to equip itself for the future.

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