I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of European affairs.
It is a great pleasure to have the honour of opening the first European affairs debate of this new Parliament. These debates not only provide the House with the opportunity to consider developments in the European Union in general but, more immediately, allow the House to give its thoughts on the forthcoming meeting of the European Council. In the past these debates have been held so shortly before the European Council meeting-sometimes only hours before, or the day before, or two days before-that the House has had no real chance to ensure that its thinking is in any way absorbed by the Government in their approach. We believe, in the new Government, that we can do better than that. This debate is taking place two weeks ahead of the European Council meeting, and before the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on
The new Government will bring a fresh approach to Britain's involvement in the EU. I said in opposition-to some scepticism on the Labour Benches, it has to be said-that we would be active and activist, positive and energetic, from day one. We have been exactly that. The Prime Minister's first visits to foreign capitals were to Paris and Berlin, where he had highly successful meetings with President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel. My ministerial team has been extremely busy. The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend Mr Browne, attended the EU-Latin American and Caribbean meeting a fortnight ago in Madrid, and the EU-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Madrid. I was able to meet many of my European counterparts at the Latin American meeting. I was in Sarajevo yesterday for the EU-western Balkans meeting, which I shall come to later. In the next seven days I intend to visit my counterparts in Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Rome. The Minister for Europe attended the informal ministerial meeting on the eastern partnership in Poland last week, and has met in Brussels Members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. We said that we would be active from day one, and we have indeed been so.
This Government strongly believe that the European Union has a crucial role in enabling the countries of Europe to work together to face the vast challenges of this century: the maintenance of our global competitiveness, the problem of climate change, the grim facts of global poverty, and the need for the nations of Europe to use their collective weight in the world to deal with foreign policy issues. All are better dealt with if the nations of Europe can bring together common solutions-and above all, the right solutions.
We will, where necessary, be more robust in defending Britain's national interests than the previous Government were. We will not repeat their wretched handling of the negotiations on the current financial perspective, which saw them accept a cut of £7 billion in our rebate while obtaining nothing of substance in return.
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