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European Council, Stockholm

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:55 pm on 26th March 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Jay of Paddington Baroness Jay of Paddington President of the Council, Privy Council Office 3:55 pm, 26th March 2001

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their broad welcome of the Statement and the outcome of the Stockholm summit. First, on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches--in this case I believe that I speak also for my colleagues in the other place where Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe had a very distinguished career before he came to this place--we very much value the sympathy that has been expressed and wish the condolences of everybody in this House to be conveyed to Lord Cocks's family. The noble Baroness spoke about Lord Cocks's reputation in this House for freedom of expression, which I am sure we all support. I know from talking to many of those involved in his actions as Government Chief Whip in another place that tightness of discipline was perhaps another characteristic for which he was well known and admired throughout the parliamentary process. We shall all miss him very much.

I turn to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the outcome of the Stockholm summit. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to his opposition to the formation of a common European foreign policy and the steps that might have been perceived to have been taken to that end at Stockholm. I remind the noble Lord that it was the explicit concern of the Swedish presidency to concentrate on what it described as the "three Es"--employment, enlargement and environment--and this summit was devoted specifically to employment as a very clear follow-up to the Lisbon summit of the previous year. In that respect I should like to put down a marker in case there should ever again be a procedural question about informal summits. It had been said in advance in connection with the Lisbon summit that the work being done on employment in the EU would be responsive to annual assessments by the European Council. This meeting was the first of the assessments, and I believe that another is already planned in Barcelona next spring. I should be amazed if there was not a government Statement forthcoming on that process.

Before I turn to the emphasis of the summit on employment and prosperity, as the Lisbon process had set out, perhaps I may mention briefly the major foreign policy issues which have been raised--Macedonia and Kyoto, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred. In reply to the noble Baroness, my briefing on this matter and the conversations that I have had over the weekend and this morning about the outcome of the Stockholm summit did not refer to the Kyoto process, and I am not aware that it was included in the agenda either formally or informally. I suspect that, as the Gothenburg summit in June includes the environment as one of the issues, it might be raised at that time. If I learn any more I shall write to the noble Baroness.

As to Macedonia, I can go little further than the words of the Statement, except that the Government support with extreme urgency the democratic process in that part of the world. That is relevant to the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Albanian members of the coalition government in Albania are supportive of the action taken against the Albanian nationals within Macedonian borders. As I understand it, the three main parties in Kosovo are supportive of this, although naturally that perhaps does not go quite as far as condemnation of the activity of Albanian nationals that the noble Baroness suggested. But they are very much in support of what is happening in general in Macedonia in the democratic process.

On the broad issues regarding the main themes of the Lisbon summit--trade, prosperity and employment--the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was perhaps slightly sceptical about whether there had been any precise outcomes. Perhaps I may repeat those outcomes mentioned in the Statement and reinforce some of the others. Since last year, 2.5 million new jobs have been created in the European Union. That is one of the achieved targets of the Lisbon agenda. Internet access has doubled within the year. That again is an achieved Lisbon goal. The spreading in the EU of information and communications technology--another very important part of the underpinning of the drive to improve skills across the European Union--has increased so far that last year for the first time as a proportion of GDP it outstripped that of the US. The agreement on common standards of protection against discrimination in the employment markets on the grounds of race, religion, disability, age and sexual orientation have been agreed. It has now been put into practice.

Therefore, there were specific outcomes. The Lisbon process is being taken forward in a way which is described as open co-ordination. The UK Government are certainly very supportive of that method. The attempts to introduce greater regulation to achieve either the social agenda or the goals on employability and employment and improving the skills base have proceeded much more to our liking through the open co-ordination process. We welcome that in terms of EU processes.

I was asked about the situation on financial services--the so-called Lamfalussi agreement. The Council endorsed the recommendations to achieve a target by 2003 of a single securities market. Progress in the financial services was very much part of our agenda on the broader economic issue. Clearly, if those arrangements are put in place and there is greater and more consistent access to capital markets and it is easier for British firms to raise capital for investment, it is likely that that will lead directly to creating more jobs and better growth as well as better choice and lower costs to consumers. That in turn will be very much part of the Lisbon long-term process.

The noble Baroness asked whether the European Parliament was concerned about the terms for the Lamfalussi deal. The European Parliament believes that these proposals are consistent with the institutional arrangements set out in the treaty. It is prepared to consider the deal within the broad terms of the treaty arrangements because it sees the desire to complete as soon as possible the single market in financial services as a legitimate target.

I confirm that on the "open sky" policy there are issues of safety and reducing the blockages on air traffic lanes and air traffic arrangements within Europe and the reduction in costs to which that will lead. Safety was specifically discussed.

The Prime Minister had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Aznar at the summit. Gibraltar and Gibraltar airport were on the agenda. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will realise from the Statement, the European Council agreed a position which did not exclude Gibraltar from the single sky policy. That was the concern that we had at the beginning. Indeed, the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Aznar are determined to try to resolve the matter in a bilateral way within the context of the general EU agreement.

On foot and mouth disease, I cannot really improve on the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, when he underlined the fact that the European Union agreed with the position which the UK Government and others are taking to combat this terrible problem. Sympathy was expressed to the farmers in every country. I can confirm that there will be another Statement tomorrow afternoon by my noble friend Lady Hayman, repeating a Statement by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the question of the Dutch and vaccinations. It was decided at Stockholm that the EU generally agreed that slaughter was the preferred policy and that vaccination could be contemplated only as a temporary part of containment strategy. The Dutch will be going ahead with vaccinations. They will include animals within a two-kilometre range of any outbreak, although the animals may need to be culled even if they have been vaccinated within two months. The Dutch are going ahead on that basis, but the general agreement was that this was not the best policy to pursue at this stage.