"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the European Union.
"Earlier today, I published a White Paper on the prospects for the European Union covering the next six months, when the United Kingdom will hold the presidency. Copies are available in the Vote Office. Let me first comment on the current situation in the European Union, before coming to the priorities of our presidency itself.
"The European Union's historic success is centred on three major achievements. It has cemented peace on a continent whose history has been one of rivalry and bloody conflict. It has helped to heal the divisions of the Cold War, and to entrench liberal democratic institutions in countries emerging from dictatorship. It has created the world's largest international single market of 450 million consumers.
"All this has brought greater prosperity to businesses and citizens across Europe, while safeguarding the strong attachment to social justice that is common to all Europe's different economic models. The United Kingdom has benefited greatly from this unique collaboration between nations. Yet the EU must adapt to survive and to prosper in a world quite changed from when it was founded some 50 years ago. It needs, first, better to respond to the sense among European citizens that the EU is remote from the concerns of their daily lives. That was brought into sharp relief by the "No" votes on the EU constitution in two of its founder members.
"Compounding that sense of unease with the EU is the fact that Europe's economies face greatly increased global competition. Soon 50 per cent of all manufacturing exports will come from developing countries. China's overseas trade is doubling every three years. China and India are producing four million graduates a year competing with European firms in the highest-skilled sectors. The EU must deal with such competition by becoming more dynamic and investing more in training and innovation. It has also to tackle more effectively new threats to our security—from terrorism, proliferation and international crime—and respond to the moral and political imperative of improving living standards and well-being in the world's poorest nations.
"Europe's nations are now beginning an important debate on meeting those challenges. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in Brussels last week, in our presidency the United Kingdom will seek to conduct this debate in an open, inclusive way, giving our own views strongly but being respectful of the views of others.
"Alongside the wider questions of the EU's future direction and priorities, there is much specific business to be done in our presidency. Let me take four key areas of the agenda in turn: first, future financing. As the House is well aware, two weeks ago the European Council could not reach agreement on the EU's next Financial Perspective, its revenue-raising and spending plans for 2007–13. For five member states, including the United Kingdom, the proposals then on the table were unacceptable; others also had problems with them. Discussions on future financing will continue under the UK's presidency. Any new Financial Perspective must at the very least set out a process that leads to a more rational budget, shaping the second half of that perspective up to 2013. We recognise our responsibilities in our EU presidency, and we will work hard to reach agreement on future financing by the end of the year.
"Second is economic reform. At issue here is not a choice of prosperity or social justice, but rather what combination of policies can best deliver prosperity and social justice in today's European Union. In that context, we will continue to work for more effective European regulation. The EU will launch in October a major new programme to reduce the volume and complexity of EU legislation, in order to ease the burden on business. We will be looking to improve the policy-making process with better consultation and impact assessments.
"Meanwhile, we will pursue discussions on the services directive. We will continue to work on financial services, and on resolving the difficulties over the Working Time Directive in a way which preserves the freedom of individuals to work the hours that they choose, and maintains the Government's ability to deliver high-quality health and public services. We will also pursue discussions on the review of the EU's sustainable development strategy.
"The third area is external relations. Over the next six months, we will chair EU summits with India, China, Russia, Ukraine and Canada, and host a summit jointly with Spain marking the 10th anniversary of the Euromed process. We will pursue EU work on key foreign policy issues such as the Middle East peace process, Iran, and EU support for Iraq. The United Kingdom will represent the EU at the United Nations millennium review summit in September, and follow up Europe's welcome new commitments on increasing aid and on developing a stronger action plan on Africa. We will also be pursuing progress on climate change.
"Freer and fairer world trade offers major benefits, not least to Africa. In the presidency, with the European Commission, we will be steering preparations within the EU for this December's meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong. Linked to that objective, we will also aim to conclude the discussions on modernising the EU's sugar regime, an important part of the continuing reform of the common agricultural policy.
"The fourth area of our work for the presidency is continuing the EU's commitments on enlargement. Bulgaria and Romania signed a joint accession treaty with the EU on
"Last December, the EU agreed to open accession negotiations with Turkey on
"The EU also stands ready to open negotiations with Croatia, provided that it co-operates fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We strongly support the membership aspirations of Croatia and the other countries of the western Balkans, but they must, like all EU applicants, meet the necessary requirements.
"This White Paper sets out the responsibilities involved in holding the EU presidency and a calendar of the main meetings. At least 12 informal meetings of EU Ministers and many other conferences, meetings and events will be taking place throughout the UK. Today's White Paper, like those before it, is aimed at providing information and material for public and parliamentary debate on EU issues. The House will, as usual, have regular opportunities throughout our Presidency to discuss the European Union and the Government's position".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am sure that he will understand that, as the White Paper is a 27-page detailed document with a five-page glossary necessary to explain all its jargon, one has not had as much time as one would like to study it. Indeed, we have had only an hour or so.
It is nothing personal about the Minister—I have to give him my view—but the White Paper is not welcome to us, because it is riddled with fallacies. I regard it as deeply disappointing at a time of golden opportunity and vast importance for the future of Europe. Of course there are bound to be things in it on which we very much want progress, such as the services directive and the financial services directive. Until that comes about, the EU is very far from completing the single market that we want. We welcome the enlargement process going forward as it should; I totally support the words that the Minister and the Foreign Secretary uttered about the accession of Turkey. However, the period is so long that the EU will be a changed and transformed body by the time that Turkey joins.
The flawed thinking begins in the Foreign Secretary's introduction, in which he starts by talking about the EU "levering up" Africa's living standards. Everyone knows that the main impulses for prosperity are internal to each country. The IMF warned us this very morning on the basis of detailed studies that aid does not boost growth. That is not the way forward at all. The Foreign Secretary goes on to assert that "Europe can deliver prosperity". The EU has delivered many things, some of which are valuable, but at the moment it is certainly not delivering prosperity. Instead it has delivered 20 million people unemployed and virtual economic stagnation, at least in large parts of it, although not all—certainly not Spain, the United Kingdom or Ireland.
I turn to the detail of the White Paper. It talks about future financing, which of course means paying for the EU's activities and whether we lose our rebate. Frankly, I am still not clear what the Government will give on that front and in exchange for what. I would have thought that a more vigorous approach in the White Paper would be to start by analysing all the activities of the EU that are recognised as overcentralised, and asking which could be unravelled, repatriated and decentralised. The White Paper talks of "better" regulation but not less or much less regulation, as it should do. Many of us know that, in the world of bureaucracy, "better" often means "worse".
The White Paper speaks of strengthening the partnership with the United States, but the partnership is in very poor shape. Many EU attitudes and policies have made it worse. It talks of ratification of the constitution and states,
"that the ratification process in different member states could be adapted . . . according to member states' circumstances".
Surely we know our own circumstances. That may be a decision of the EU Council overall, but cannot we have a firm line on whether we are to go to a referendum or drop the whole thing?
On page 9, we come to the Lisbon process, which was going to transform the EU economy. Of course it is a complete fallacy to think that a central initiative from on high can transform what goes on inside our separate nation states. The Lisbon process has been refocused countless times. Why does the White Paper think that it will be any better in future when the whole approach is obviously wrong?
The working time directive gets a mention but, as it is a direct attack on workers' freedoms, why is not more vigorously resisted? The stability and growth pact has been reformed to the point of meaninglessness, but the White Paper feebly says that it hopes to see it made effective, which it can never be. The White Paper speaks of education and lifelong learning, which are immensely valuable. However, why do they have to be settled at the remote EU level? What do nutrition and health foods have to do with the Union?
The reform of the common agricultural policy is mentioned and on the agenda, but there is miserably little—virtually nothing at all—on the common fisheries policy. Paragraph 57 on development overseas is unintelligible jargon. It does not seem to be grasped in the White Paper that EU aid programmes have been repeatedly assessed as weak and ineffective, and that major overhaul is needed with repatriation of a large part of them.
On the external side, there is a weak mention of "pressure on Zimbabwe", with no specifics at all. We all know what that means. There is mention of "strengthening cooperation with NATO", but why was it ever weakened? On Iran, the drafters do not seem to be aware of what is happening there and why we need to work closely with Russia to grapple with the new Iran, under its new and fierce leader. On China, a "review is promised" of the ill-conceived idea to lift the arms embargo. What should be promised is that the whole idea should be dropped for the time being, before it increases tensions in Asia.
In his speech to the European Parliament, the Prime Minister said that we should go forward, not by trading insults or presenting the issue as for or against Europe and that there was time for a reality check. I would say to him, "Well, join the club". Many of us have argued that for a long time. If, as the Foreign Secretary stated at the end of the Statement that Britain's aim for Europe was,
"shaping its future direction in our interests and those of the European Union as a whole", all that I can say is that infinitely more vigour and creativity is required in the whole approach if we are to achieve any of those aims in Europe's interests—or in our own.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the White Paper and the Government Statement—which is rather a different tone from that of my colleague on the Conservative Front Bench. Indeed, we also welcome the different tone that the British Government are now adopting towards the future of the European Union as a whole. We welcomed the Prime Minister's speech to the European Parliament and I am aware, from the members of the European Parliament's external relations committee, who I met this morning, that it received a good welcome across the different political groups within the European Parliament.
We on these Benches hope that the Government will manage to maintain that tone throughout the presidency. I particularly like the phrase,
"giving our own views strongly but fully respectful of the views of others".
That is not something that some members of the current Government have found it easy to maintain throughout the past eight years. There is a tendency, not just for this Government, but for all British Governments, when addressing members of other governments within the European Union, to adopt the tone that one usually adopts on attacking the Opposition in the House of Commons—"you are wrong and we are right and we are now going to tell you why we are right". I trust that this presidency will manage to listen and to persuade rather more.
In particular, I personally welcome the presidency logo. The first occasion that the image of flying birds was used to express a diverse European Union was, as the Minister may know, in a report to the Dutch Government by Helen and William Wallace some years ago. I regret that the British Government decided that swans were more appropriate than geese. Our research into that suggested that geese share the leadership of the gaggle more effectively than swans. But, never mind—I look forward to the presidency tie.
In both the Statement and the White Paper we regret that there is insufficient reference to using the presidency as an opportunity to educate the domestic public. This Government's greatest failure over the past eight years has been their failure to make an intelligent and persuasive case for closer European co-operation at home. We very much hope that in the short six months, the second half of the year, that the British Government have, Ministers will make the case for more constructive co-operation, not only on the continent, but around Britain in different British cities.
We strongly support the Government's view on future financing that the Community budget should support future issues—research and development and external relations—much more than agreements of the dim and distant past, when only President Chirac was in government.
We support the Lisbon agenda for economic reform. I was surprised to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about that, because it is precisely an attempt not to decide everything in Brussels, but to have governments moving together without centralised regulation towards an agreed agenda for economic reform.
We also strongly support the Government's efforts to get away from the arguments that we hear too often in Paris, Luxembourg and sometimes in Brussels that the choice is between a single European social model and Anglo-Saxon, free-market capitalism. There is no single European social model. We do not recognise that the British economy represents free-market capitalism similar to that of the United States and we trust that Ministers will continue to argue that we have a diversity of socio-economic models across an EU 25 and that we all need to learn from each other.
Perhaps I may make one point regarding European security and defence policy, which is loosely and briefly covered in this paper. I am struck by the positive role that the British Government are playing in strengthening European security and defence policy and how little they tell their Parliament or domestic public about it. I met some officials from the Swedish ministry of defence last weekend, who told me how useful the British Government were being in contributing to the development of a Nordic battle group. Why do the Government not tell us that? Why do they not tell us about the useful contribution that we are making in so many ways?
Lastly, we strongly support the pursuit of enlargement with conditions as the only way forward for the western Balkans and the pursuit of negotiations with Turkey. But we also support yesterday's comments by Commissioner Olli Rehn that we must think about neighbourhood policy, how much further enlargement might go and reopen the debate about privileged partnerships with the countries of the western former Soviet Union as well as looking at how much further the Euro-Mediterranean partnership can go.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their immediate response to a document which we have all read over the past hours, rather than a longer period. None the less, it should be possible to deal with the substantive issues that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, will not be surprised to hear that I cannot agree with a significant proportion of his comments. Equally, my position is a good deal closer to that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.
Perhaps I may start by making a general point about the style of the work. It would, of course, be quite possible in any White Paper or, indeed, in any presentation that was made by the Government to pick every issue on which we had a scintilla of difference with any other member of the European Union and to present the work of the next six months as being a catalogue through with we would work and with which we would have every disagreement aired, wherever that went, and with the greatest possible vitality. I suspect that that will happen in discussions and private forums as we try to persuade people of our position. But the presidency, surely, cannot be successful if that was the approach we took as a public demeanour in respect of all of our work.
That is why the Prime Minister was quite right in his comments, when he said that it would not be useful for us all to start by trading insults—I paraphrased that by showing every possible area of disagreement—but, rather, engaging in an open and frank discussion. If one thing is plain to us all, it is that an open and frank discussion is now vital across Europe, not least because the people of Europe have told us in two referenda and opinion polling that that is precisely what they demand of us—and they are entitled to have a positive response.
I turn to some of the points that the two noble Lords made. First, I entirely understand the point that aid is not the answer to growth in Africa. Critically, aid provides a stable basis whereby countries are not using the whole of their national wealth, or significant parts of it, to repay longstanding debts and to make it impossible for them to emerge into a world in which they can trade. Trade will do far more than aid, but if we cannot get off that basic platform of despair, there is no point in talking about the rest. That is why the G8 nations and the EU have come to that view, some with a good deal of persuasion.
I take the point, in part, that Europe has not delivered prosperity and that there are 20 million people unemployed, which is a devastating number of people to be without work. That is true, but as we look across the economies of the enlarged Europe, it is also true that many of those economies were scarcely economies in any realistic sense and did not operate in any realistic way. The economies of Europe before the accession countries came in began to create the kinds of wealth that will reduce unemployment and increase prosperity and there is every reason to believe that they will continue to do so. But that means being a dynamic economy, not one rooted in the past. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made that point very effectively.
I do not think that we are in an ambiguous position on the rebate. We will insist on retaining our rebate. That is just a simple matter of fact, stated as simply as that. Any discussion about the future must plainly take account of the common agricultural policy and of the other ways in which the European Union economy is, in effect, mismanaged. Those are bound to be considerations. We will retain our rebate unless there is something equivalent in worth to the British people. We are already the second largest net contributor, despite the rebate.
On better regulations, I think that they must mean reductions in regulations. I accept that point. I think the House knows that I am a temperamental deregulator. It must mean that and that is what I understand it to mean in the text.
Relations with the United States are absolutely vital. Work started in the EU/US summit in Washington on
I know that the House has ventilated the issue of a referendum on many occasions. There will be a referendum if a constitution is proposed and we have to decide on it. But it plainly will not be the constitution that was proposed. That is not conceivable. The idea of putting in front of the people of the United Kingdom a document that has already been rejected and cannot be resurrected would strike them as bizarre, not just because of the waste of money but because they would wonder what on earth they were being asked to vote on. It would make no sense.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on the Lisbon process. I say, with respect, to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the intention is to have a great deal of devolution. But in a single market for labour, there needs to be some degree of co-ordination. I shall choose a brief example. If qualifications are to be portable, people will want to know that someone who arrives from another country with a qualification in the area of new technology is as capable of doing the job as somebody who attained their qualification in the United Kingdom. These kinds of improvements are sensible because we all need to operate that part of the market sensibly.
On nutrition and health foods, noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have repeatedly asked the Government to ensure that good labelling tells us what we are taking and whether it is any good for us. Well, that needs some work, and that work has to be done. I have agreed with noble Lords when they have made that point.
We have discussed NATO and full commitment on a number of occasions.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, must be right. There is a persuasive case to be made for Europe and we should be out making it. We should try to get it argued in rational terms. We have certainly got to focus people on the budget of the future, rather than on that of the past. We must dissuade people from seeing social models as being identical across Europe, rather than richly textured. We must argue that. We must say positive things about the security and defence roles, and we must argue the case for enlargement so that people are not scared of those who are coming in, so long as they meet the conditions to which we are all committed.
On the other matters raised by the noble Lord, I am not sure that I am an expert. I know little about the habits of swans and geese, and I intend that that shall remain the case.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we were to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, based as it is on pessimism, there would be no hope for the European project and everything would be doomed? Is it not better, therefore, to have a sensible appraisal of where the European Union stands today, rather than follow the advice that we have heard? Is it not time to renew the idealism that marked the Europe of old when it started on its course as the European Union?
Does my noble friend agree that the negotiations on Turkey are enormously difficult? They have already met with hostility in France and Holland. How does he suggest that the arrangements outlined in the White Paper can be advanced? Finally, on the service directive and the working time directive, is it not right that we should be able to concentrate on those two issues with absolute optimism?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those questions. I share the view that optimism is very unlikely to create the circumstances for an effective and successful presidency. I think that, too often in this country, we set up false arguments about the nature of the European project and what can be achieved. In some ways, it probably strikes others in Europe as curious that we accuse them of setting up false dichotomies—for example, between a totally free market and some version of a social Europe—and say that those terms of debate are not realistic. We are inclined to have that debate in a rather false way ourselves and it is not helpful to frame it in those terms.
The EU agreed in December to begin talks on Turkish membership on
I am also optimistic on the working time directive. There is no reason why people should not have the choice to work as they choose and to engage in overtime if they so choose, so long as we can protect fundamental services, not least in medicine.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has now created even more confusion than existed previously over the Government's position on the constitution? He has introduced a new concept—that the old one is no use, although the presidency statement says that countries will be encouraged to go forward in their own national ways with the ratification process, and there is no point in asking us, the British, to express our views on the constitution because it is bound to be a different one when it arrives.
Is the Minister aware that President Chirac has the advantage of knowing the views of the French people on the constitution? How will the Prime Minister know the views of the British people on the constitution unless we have a referendum on it as it now stands? Will he divine that from a consultation on the sofa in No. 10 from which even the Cabinet let alone the British people are excluded? Or is he going to ask the British people?
Is the Minister further aware that President Chirac has promised the French people a referendum on the question of the admission of any future members to the European Union? Will the Government follow suit, or are we to conclude that France is a more democratic and open country than this one?
My Lords, I shall make no commitments to further referenda on any of the matters the noble Lord has raised. Those are not issues which I think delineate between the quality of French democracy and the United Kingdom's democracy. I have never heard it said that our Parliament is not able to consider fundamental matters and to do so in accordance with democratic practice in this country.
I turn to the point about the constitution. I hope I have cast no further confusion on it. The Government's position has been very straightforward. If there is a constitution on which a decision has to be taken, the people of the United Kingdom will vote in a referendum on that and they will determine the matter. But we are currently in a position where the specific wording has been rejected by two founder members.
I can confirm, as I am sure the House knows, that other nations have already decided that they will not have referenda on the same basis of that constitution because it would mean little. The Danes cancelled their constitutional referendum planned for
My Lords, in recent days the Government seem to have modified their views on the common agricultural policy from saying "may be reducing generally" to "redirecting payments mainly to the new accession states". Yesterday the Prime Minister used the words "get rid" of the common agricultural policy. Which is it?
My Lords, I preface my answer by saying that we already make substantial contributions to the accession states. I made the point that we are the second largest net contributor to the budget—aside from the rebate. The common agricultural policy and a number of the other financial institutions which deal with the movement of funds from the centre to the developing areas in Europe must be overhauled—root and branch. That is absolutely plain.
When we look at the aid questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, we see what must strike most people as an utterly bizarre phenomenon—that we are prepared to pay many hundreds of times more for the sustenance of each cow in Europe than we are prepared to do to try to sustain the life of each child in Africa. These are fundamental changes. The provisions have to be overhauled root and branch. The Prime Minister also made it clear in his statement to the European Parliament that some attention would have to be paid to the agricultural sector in Europe. How could it be otherwise? It is an important sector.
My Lords, I thought that the Minister described with absolute clarity the position over the constitution. I cannot imagine anything more likely to enrage the British public than spending tens of millions of pounds on a referendum on something which we are all aware is no longer on the table.
Perhaps I may turn to more specific points raised. The noble Lord may not be able to answer these questions. If not, I should be very happy to receive a letter from him. We have touched on the question of Turkey's accession. In October, will the British Government be arguing strongly for a negotiating mandate with full membership for Turkey and not about some sort of privileged relationship for Turkey with the European Union?
Secondly, paragraph 46 of the White Paper touches on the ACP countries and on the modifications announced on
Lastly, I return to the question of the common agricultural policy. I think that we would all agree that spending 40 per cent of the EU budget, as put forward by the constituent countries, on an industry that supports 5 per cent of the population and 2 per cent of the production is not sustainable within the European Union and is certainly not sustainable in terms of the WTO negotiating mandate. What is the strength of the Government's commitment to ensure that, whatever else happens in these negotiations, they do not step back from forcing our European partners to confront the appalling state of the common agricultural policy and its impact on less developed countries?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her questions and the points that are obviously intrinsic to those questions. The intention, as I understand it, is to conduct discussions with Turkey on the basis of full membership. I know that there is a good deal of work still to be done on how that negotiation will take place. As we have the presidency we will obviously need to listen to what partners in the EU are saying. That is where we have started from and, as I understand it, we have not moved from that.
On the second question about the sugar regime, I was able, together with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, to have a discussion two weeks ago with the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr Patterson, on the likely impact of the regime on Jamaica's economy. I know that this will be a problem across the Caribbean. The reality is that sugar is a large part of the economies of many places and that fundamental changes that sweep aside all the arrangements could be devastating if alternatives are not in place.
For those reasons our intention is to negotiate to ensure that the reform described in the White Paper is timely—what we have called in this House before asymmetry—and that there are acceptable transitional arrangements which allow African, Caribbean and the Pacific group of countries to adjust to the reform. We want to make sure that there is a rise in other exports; that there is a rise in tourism; and that there is diversification in those economies. We are working with them as partners to identify what those economic activities might be and how we may help them to the maximum extent.
I do not believe that we will be stepping back on the common agricultural policy. It cannot be sustained. The truth of the matter is that the common agricultural policy is among the most fundamental reforms we are asking people to discuss. In a way it has for me, and I believe for others, a slightly emblematic quality. If we cannot get reform on something so manifestly absurd, what prospects would there be for reform elsewhere? We must make that achievement.
My Lords, these documents take some time to prepare and I had assumed that the drafts for this document were circulating some time before the referendums were held in France and in Holland. I could not help wondering how different this document is and whether it does not in some part reinforce the impression among the public that it is business as usual, notwithstanding the French and the Dutch referendums—leaving out, of course, the foreword by the Foreign Secretary and the addendum of the Prime Minister's speech to the European Parliament.
On the referendum issue, is there not really some agreement between my noble friend Lord Tebbit and the Minister? Although people hold different views on the matter, no one is in much doubt what the answer would have been. That is why it is important that, in this presidency, instead of giving the impression of business as usual, the Government recognise that the constitution was rejected—it was rejected in France and in Holland and it would have been rejected undoubtedly and probably most decisively if we had had a referendum in this country—and that a new direction is needed. It is absolutely essential, albeit given the short notice the Government had having just taken over the presidency, that they reflect that in their presidency.
My Lords, one of the things that the Prime Minister said in his speech in Europe last week was that if one thing is plain about Europe, it is that it is not business as usual. As noble Lords will see, he used that phrase. The reforms are bound to be fundamental. In a way, that brings us to the difference between the two Front Benches: the question of how you get a discussion that is respectful of other views but in which you are trying to bring other people toward you. Either you have a pretty unsavoury assault on their position before you start or you try to use the arts of persuasion to bring as many people to your position as possible. What use would an attempt at reform be if all we did was antagonise people on week one so that discussion ran into the sand thereafter? That is why our approach is right.
It is reasonable enough for the noble Lord to say that the outcome of a referendum might well have been the same as elsewhere. That is always a matter of speculation, and I am just speculating, but during the course of this presidency, if we are to achieve the kind of discussion and reform that we really want, there will be fundamentally different things for the people of the United Kingdom to consider at the end of the presidency than there are at its beginning. Otherwise, Europe will continue to be in many of the dilemmas that it is in today.
My Lords, although I appreciate that it is not within the Government's power at this stage to influence, six months seems a ludicrously short period of time for which to hold the presidency given the many initiatives, which I welcome, about which my noble friend spoke.
I especially welcome what he said about enlargement. Perhaps I can press him further about those countries on the eastern borders of what will be the EU once Romania and Bulgaria join—countries such as Georgia and Moldova. I wonder whether, under the British presidency, we could not make a more positive gesture towards those countries in both closer relationships with the EU and more support for their political and social development. Those countries fear that, given the results of the referenda in France and the Netherlands, their opportunity to get closer to the EU has been somewhat stalled. A positive gesture under the British presidency would be enormously helpful to those countries and the EU.
My Lords, I think that there will be a continued effort to try to stabilise relationships and talk positively with the neighbour countries. There is bound to be a pretty rigorous debate in Europe in the coming period, not just the next six months, about how far Europe goes or what Europe is. That is a moot point. I am not sure that the Eurovision Song Contest is a guide to that, but that seems to extend further and further east.
We have a very big task in relation to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey; we have a large task in relation to Croatia. I should like to think that we will perform all of those thoroughly while ensuring that we continue to talk to neighbours beyond them. Overreach and trying to do things too rapidly may do a disservice to the negotiations that we have promised. That is not a negative comment; but we must achieve the right balance.
My Lords, during the next presidency, will we press the EU to look further afield with regard to trade, especially free-trade agreements with friendly countries in south-east Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore, to counterbalance the growing status of China?
My Lords, discussions on trade with countries such as Singapore continue all the time. I know that my honourable friend Ian Pearson is engaged on them from day to day. But I am bound to say that when we consider the emergence of some countries—China is as good an example as the noble Lord could have chosen, although he could have chosen India or, increasingly, Brazil—we see the development of giants in the world economy. It is probably just good sense to ensure that we work closely with them, not only because we want trade with them to develop but because it gives us access to raise some of the human rights issues that people in a proper relationship should raise with one another.
My Lords, arising from paragraph 75, which sets out the presidency's major responsibility for bringing to fruition the,
"long-term strategy for EU/Africa relations, in the light of the Millennium Review Summit", the communiqué from the summit made it clear that it is not just a question of advocating more aid, as was inferred by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, but a challenging agenda for the countries of Africa. Will the Government find an appropriate means to keep relevant committees and the House as a whole informed of progress on that major strategic review—perhaps in October?
My Lords, we most certainly will; I am happy to confirm that we can do that. My noble friend is right to emphasise the importance of paragraph 75. The aid elements in it are important, but he is right to say that it goes much further than that. I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has written to Mr Barroso welcoming the agreement on the ODA and GNI targets and pressing him to advance his proposals for a strategy on Africa, which he will do by October. We now need to build momentum around those matters. I want to keep the House fully and thoroughly involved in that discussion.