BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 17.02.02

Interview: INTERVIEW WITH PETER HAIN, Europe Minister.

Will the British Government support proposals for further integration in Europe?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Peter Hain, it's a familiar story in a way this, isn't it? What we're seeing is our colleagues in Europe, our partners in Europe, many of them anyway, want to go further than we do, we argue against it. Perhaps we ought to be more co-operative, I mean just to take an example, Germany and the Belgians want a sort of Europe tax that would pay for the doings of the European Union. Might be quite sensible, stop a lot of squabbling and all that, wouldn't it? PETER HAIN: No I don't agree John but your report made very clear that we're not isolated on this matter. Germany and Belgium, Belgium in a way are isolated, in wanting ever more greater federalism and some kind of federal super state. Italy doesn't want it, the Prime Minister and I accompanied him, was talking to the Italian government, Prime Minister Berlusconi in Rome on Friday. They don't want that, Spain doesn't want it, many other countries including Sweden and Denmark don't want it. So there is a healthy debate about how we can have a Europe which has got twenty-five members, which it's likely to have after the enlargement of the European Union in a coupe of years, how we can manage that more efficiently and some things need to be done at the centre, such as the fight against terrorism. We agreed extra security measures, which you can't do on your own, there's no point Britain standing aside and saying, we can fight terrorism on our own, we can only do it by co-operating with other countries in Europe and we're doing that very very effectively and without the European Union we couldn't have put in place these extra security measures which defend our own livelihoods and our own freedoms. HUMPHRYS: But I mean, given the sorts of problems that inevitably this kind of expansion is going to bring with it, perhaps a Europe-wide tax of some sort might not be a bad idea, as I say, it would sort out all the squabbles there always are about who pays what for, how much for what, and all the rest of it. HAIN: I don't agree and I don't think there's majority support in the European Union for that, and since you take on my point about enlargement, I found travelling to Poland, to, rather to Czech Republic talking to the Polish ministers, to Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and so on, and talking to others recently, to the Latvian Foreign Minister and also to the Romanians, that I found that actually there's more interest in those countries like Britain, preserving their national identity and their nation states, after all they've just become independent, most of them, from the Soviet Bloc and they are very jealous of their nationality and their nationhood as we are. And I think there's now a debate, a healthy debate as there will be in the convention of Europe where I'm representing the government, which really says that we ought to put the nation state at the heart of Europe, inter governmentalism as being the driving force, rather than electing a commission president and having the European Commission and the European Parliament as the strategic driving force of Europe. That's the position of our government. HUMPHRYS: But what they do want, what our partners do want, I'd have thought what we wanted, was to make Europe more effective, to work better, given these various problems. So surely, in that sense removing the veto on...that we have at the moment on certain areas. Maybe that, but I mean imagine, twenty-five countries, each one of them able to veto certain things, be chaos won't it? HAIN: Well that's why we've agreed qualified majority voting as indeed the Tories did, David Heathcoat-Amory was a supporter of that government..... HUMPHRYS: ...but we still have veto on some things don't we? HAIN: .... Yes we do. Taxation's one, that's absolutely right. Social Security is another. So is committing our troops to an armed operation of some kind, so is Foreign Policy. These are all ultimately matters for national veto. But we can't agree common environmental standards to protect our air, to clean up our beaches, to ensure our water's purer without common majority voting, so we don't need a veto in those areas, but on some key issues, vital to our national rights and our national independence, including taxation policy, we have a veto and we intend to keep it. HUMPHRYS: And all the vetoes that we have will remain, is that what you're saying? HAIN: Well, on justice and home affairs, in response to September 11th for example, more qualified majority voting was brought in, because it was easier to deal with quickly, with security measures, a common arrest warrant for example, to arrest people wherever they are in Europe, rather than complicated extradition arrangements, to do it without having the veto remaining and stopping that. So where it's sensible we'll consider it on its merits, but there are some very strong red lines for us, taxation, social security, foreign policy, defence, these matters should be subject to that the veto should remain. So we should just approach this on a common sense basis, not on some kind of fanatical basis, pro-Europe, or anti-Europe. HUMPHRYS: Would it make common sense to have some sort of constitution for Europe. People like Mr Heathcoat-Amory say that it would sanctify a federal structure, which I imagine you would describe as a bit of yabooing, the sort of thing that you perhaps wouldn't want to get involved in, but it could be very popular, it could be very sensible, couldn't it, it might connect the people of Europe with the institution of Europe in a more effective way. HAIN: Well there is a need to make that connection more effectively and I agreed with what some of the points made in your report and if we were talking about a European constitution that enshrines certain values of the sort that Pierre Moscovici the French Europe Minister was talking about earlier, freedom, solidarity and so on... HUMPHRYS: ...fundamental rights then? HAIN: Well let's look at that in terms of enshrining basic principles and clarifying what is an enormously complicated set of Treaties that no ordinary member of the public frankly, no Europe minister can fully get to grips with. They run into millions of words. So if there's a desire as I think there may be, to have a set of principles enshrined, call it a constitution if you like, that lay out exactly what the European Union does, where our rights are, where the opportunities for advance are, that's one thing. If it's a blue-print for a federal super state centralising all power in Brussels, that's quite another, we wouldn't accept that. HUMPHRYS: So where would this Charter of Fundamental Rights fit in then? Again, Mr Amory says it would be a betrayal to make it legally binding. Our own Robin Cook, former Foreign Secretary of course, said it's a political declaration and that's the way it should stay. But Heather Grabbe, whom you say in that film, says you...there is a thinking in Downing Street now and in the Foreign Office that maybe there is something in it, maybe we ought to agree to it. What do you say to that? HAIN: Well it depends what it actually means... HUMPHRYS: How, what do you take it to mean? HAIN: Well, I'm about to tell you John. If it meant that we would have it as an alternative to the Convention on Human Rights and therefore, if it was some kind of rival to that, then you'd have to be very careful about that. If it could be enforceable in British courts, we would find that extremely difficult. If, on the other hand, it were a set of principles put in a new treaty or not, as the case may be, with very clear delimitations and restrictions around it, well I think we can have a common sense look at that, because it would be an advantage in basic values of rights and solidarity and dignity being stated so clearly in the treaty. Because I think there is, as we saw in the Irish Referendum, when they rejected ratification of the Treaty of Nice, allowing for enlargement, we saw the No campaign running on the slogan "if you don't know, vote no" and there is a gulf between the citizens of Europe, the led of Europe and the leaders and the institutions of Europe which must be closed in all our interests. HUMPHRYS: What Mr Moscovici would like, and many others of course, is to see the existing, the Charter, made legally binding. You're saying no to that are you? Or... HAIN: I'm saying let's find out what that means. If it means by legally binding that it runs right across the European convention on human rights and it runs right across the European Court, well, then that's not something that we would go down the road on. If it means that it would be able to be enforced in British Courts, that's something we would object to, so I think we need a common sense discussion as to exactly what peer means and what others mean and I think we should go into this debate, so I am representing the government with confidence, because if you look at what we've done under this Labour government, we've actually won argument after argument in Europe for no federal super state but a Europe based on Europe of nations for economic reform, an important agenda there, for having a peace-keeping capability so that we can take action in the Balkans and so on. These have been British agendas and I think the British agenda will win out in the convention about building our kind of Europe, a Europe that delivers better security for people, more jobs, better rights, a cleaner environment. HUMPHRYS: Peter Hain, thanks very much indeed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.