EU: Recent Developments — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:42 am on 16th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy) 11:42 am, 16th February 2012

My noble friend puts forward one of the many challenges that we have to address. I will not go into the full details at this stage, but he is right; there are several areas where the challenges are very great for the whole of Europe, including this country, from the rising power of the great emerging markets. We have to face the fact that, as I began by saying, the world's pattern of wealth and competitiveness has changed radically over the past five years. I am not sure that many people in the media or, dare I say, some of our great policy thinkers have always grasped this fact.

The changes that we are making provide solid foundations for doing business and a platform for trade, investment and development, which in turn will be the prosperity, or perhaps I should say in a more realistic tone the survival and maintenance, of our existing standards. Trade within the Commonwealth totals more than $3 trillion annually. Our European membership is very valuable in promoting trade interests and access to new markets such as these.

The UK continues to play a strong role in achieving collective European action on many foreign policy issues, when appropriate and effective, in order to advance our shared interests and values. We drove concerted action forward at the EU level in response to Libya. The EU was actively engaged since the early stages of the conflict and we secured a UN resolution and assembled a multinational coalition force faster than at any time in history. Today, we are playing a prominent role in the EU response to the continuing violence in Syria. Some 11 rounds of EU sanctions have already been agreed and we hope to agree further measures on 27 February at the Foreign Affairs Council.

We have been at the forefront of action on Iran where, along with France, we led the EU in agreeing an unprecedented package of sanctions. The UK continues to be a strong supporter of European Union enlargement, which helps to create stability, security and prosperity. Enlargement brings significant benefits for the United Kingdom. An enlarged market obviously expands the opportunities for trade and investment. We want European nations to succeed not just as an economic force but as an association of countries with the political will, when they wish to mobilise it, and the values and the voice to use their collective weight to make a difference in the world.

Looking ahead to the March European Council, the UK will focus on ensuring that EU initiatives and projects deliver growth and jobs as agreed at the January Council. The UK plays an important role in these and other issues of significance for the Union as a whole. We are driving forward the single market, we are improving competitiveness across Europe and we are leading decisive foreign policy action when collective action works. European eurozone members are often our closest allies on some of these issues. Britain is part of the European Union not by default but by choice. It does reflect our national interest to be part of a single market on our doorstep and we have no intention whatever of walking away.

We want Europe to be a success, and not just for parochial reasons. We are going through a fundamental rebalancing of global power, a point I have just made to my noble friend, as economic weight shifts from west to east and from north to south; some of us have been pointing this out for two decades. Political power is diffusing from the G7 to the G20 and beyond, and from global groupings of states to regional groupings such as the Arab League, the African Union, ASEAN and many others.