European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 20th November 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:30 pm, 20th November 2001

We come now to matters extremely central to the debate about the whole Treaty of Nice and the legislation that is passing through your Lordships' House in relation to it. It has been argued by Ministers and their supporters that the issue we are about to address adds up to the whole purpose of the treaty; namely, that it is the key to the process of enlargement, which we on this side support very strongly, and that if anyone tampers with it, somehow that process will be held up.

There are two clauses in this group. I shall speak to a probing amendment that is concerned with the redistribution of voting weights in the Council which is covered by the article that we are considering. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke has tabled an amendment which takes a larger vista and considers the whole of the crucial protocol. With the leave of the Committee, I should like to make some comments in relation to that as well.

I start with the narrow point. We are dealing here with new procedures which will require 169 votes—a qualified majority—for a decision to be reached. There is a new weighted population factor—62 per cent of the total—in deciding whether such a decision by 169 votes, or at least two-thirds of the majority of the Council, is valid. This raises some interesting arithmetical questions. One of the propositions of Ministers all along, including at the time of their return from the exhausting process of the Treaty of Nice, which many found an unsatisfactory event, was that somehow in the battles for weightings of Council votes and so on, the United Kingdom had come out of the scrum somewhat better off than when it went in.

However, my noble friend Lord Tebbit observed the other day in this Chamber that, in fact, when one added up all the votes and looked forward to the enlarged Union—we read that the aim is that there should be a so-called "big bang" involving an extra 10 in 2004, so it is hoped, with Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, coming along behind—the number of votes left to the United Kingdom appeared to be a considerably smaller proportion—a shrunken proportion—of the total. Therefore, there are two circles to be squared—or squares to be circled—and it will be interesting to hear the views of Ministers on how that is to be done.

I move to the larger issue. Those of us who want to see enlargement move ahead might have hoped that the protocol would be the core of a treaty which might have gone through considerably more quickly. The present treaty has come up against the buffers—we hope they are temporary—of the Irish referendum. The reasons that that took place in the Republic of Ireland are associated not with enlargement or the protocol but with a mass of other issues which were hung on the treaty like decorations on a Christmas tree. That made it a treaty which many people—in particular those who want to see enlargement carried forward as quickly as possible—find unconstructive and undesirable.

Contrary to the assertions of Ministers, we believe that the Treaty of Nice is not the vital key. There are important mechanical keys to the enlargement process although they are by no means the main obstacles or issues. In so far as the enlargement arrangements give to the new applicant countries fewer seats in the European Parliament on a population-merit basis it will make life more difficult.

The Nice Council produced a timetable for enlargement negotiations and raised a number of issues. If we are concerned about enlargement, it would be better to concentrate on those issues rather than claiming that this protocol and these mechanics are the vital, determining factor for enlargement. Of course, they are not. The major issues lie in other areas and require the attention of all those who want to see enlargement go forward. It is a great pity if attention is distracted by the claim that the Treaty of Nice is the unlocking key. It sets back the enlargement cause.

The Nice Council identified a list of issues: transport, taxation, justice and home affairs, energy and, above all, the need for the applicant countries to comply with the full body of the acquis communautaire—I understand that there are 80,000 pages—and the insistence not only on compliance and the signing up to it but also on implementation and enforcement over areas so vast that no human mind can get hold of them. These are matters which have to be handled by a set of computer programs. We are dealing with complexities of such detail in 1,001 different areas that those who seek to negotiate them and sign up to the acquis lose all track of the underlying purpose: to become members of the European Union, a totally understandable and desirable aim.

Last week, I attended a conference in Budapest involving a number of Ministers from the leading applicant countries. The Treaty of Nice was not mentioned once. Concerns about enlargement, whether the timetable would be adhered to, and the problems involved, concentrated on quite different issues: the movement of labour, immigration questions and the common agricultural policy. Polish Ministers spoke. We must remember that there are more farms in Poland than in the whole of Germany and France added together. Concerns concentrated on security and the need to maintain the Atlantic dimension. In the centre and east of Europe one finds more determination that we should not undermine NATO to which Hungary and the Czech Republic have recently adhered and less satisfaction with the idea of autonomy, separate forces and so on. There were concerns—I noted them on visits to capitals of other applicant countries—that the complexity of the acquis is creating colossal problems. Some countries are being asked to adhere to standards which are not asked of existing members of the Union. That is one of the great issues. But when we look at enlargement, the protocol and the Government's arguments that this is essential and that the whole treaty coating and envelope are essential for enlargement, the biggest issue is none of those things: the biggest issue is the budget and who pays. Ten per cent of the EU budget is said to be set aside for financing enlargement. I have heard suggestions from Brussels that it could be as much as 25 per cent. Mr Stoiber, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, said recently in Berlin that if one wanted to remove obstacles one would have, first, to increase regional aid from 30 billion euros to 67 billion euros—I cannot work that out in dollars or pounds but the amount is more than doubled—and that for the process to move forward the financing of the common agricultural policy would have to increase from 34 billion euros to over 50 billion euros. He added, as have others, that for the applicant countries that is a moving target. People are considering ways in which the common agricultural policy can be reformed, as it must be. The constant difficulty of the applicant countries is not with the Treaty of Nice but with having to comply with a moving target.

That is the reality of the enlargement debate. It is not a question of the Treaty of Nice being pushed through, without even a pause in relation to the Irish referendum. We are heading towards a Europe which could have 25 members and nearly half a billion people by 2004 with three more countries to come. Many of those countries face colossal awkwardnesses and difficulties.