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Gordon Brown's Speech On EU Council (23 June 2008)

PM's speech on EU Council - 23 June 2008

The Prime Minister has delivered an oral statement to Parliament on the EU Council meeting that took place in Brussels on 19 and 20 June.

The PM said that rising oil and food prices and the credit crunch were high on the agenda at the summit. The Lisbon Treaty and Zimbabwe were also discussed.

The PM said:

"Our national interest remains a strong Britain in a strong European Union, and we will continue to focus on an outward looking European agenda that tackles in an effective way the issues that affect us all: the global financial crisis, the rising cost of food and fuel, combating climate change and supporting people in the poorest countries in the world."

On rising prices, Mr Brown said that there was a "shared European view" on the importance of reducing dependence on oil and increasing energy efficiency. The Council had welcomed news of the international summit on oil which the PM attended in Jeddah on Sunday, he said.

The Council agreed to implement measures on food tabled at the Rome summit earlier this month, boosting agricultural production, pushing for a global trade deal based on the Doha framework and undertaking a review of the production and impact of biofuels.

Mr Brown said that the UK and other EU countries were proceeding with their own ratification programmes for the Lisbon Treaty. Irish leader Brian Cowen pledged to report further to the Council in October following Ireland's rejection of the Treaty in a referendum on

On Zimbabwe, the PM said the EU would not recognise the "fraudulent election rigging" and the "violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal". The European Union was ready to help with the reconstruction of Zimbabwe "once democracy has been restored", he said.

***

FULL STATEMENT

The Prime Minister has delivered an oral statement to Parliament on the EU Council meeting that took place in Brussels on 19 and 20 June.

Statement on EU Council, 23 June 2008

[check against delivery]

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the European Council held in Brussels that I attended with my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary on the 19th and 20th of June.

The main business of the Council on Thursday and Friday evening was to focus on the economic challenges ahead:

The triple challenge of rising oil prices, rising food prices and, because of the credit crunch, the rising cost of money;

* And in the wake of the US downturn, measures to keep the European economy moving forward.

* Important conclusions were also reached on the Irish referendum, on climate change, on the millennium development goals, and on the European response to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

On Thursday evening in the discussion on the Irish Referendum vote the Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, offered to the Council meeting in October a report on the next stage for Ireland.

The Council agreed that other Member States should continue with their ratification process, and I was able to report for the UK that - as with 18 other countries - the Lisbon Treaty had completed its Parliamentary process and that the bill had received Royal Assent on Thursday. Once we have received the judgment in an ongoing legal case we will move to ratification.

Mr Speaker, this time last year the price of oil was around $65 dollars a barrel, at the last EU council in march it stood at $107 dollars, and at the June Council the oil price had risen further still to more than $135 dollars a barrel.

The global challenge that we face is a rising demand for oil - particularly from China and the other emerging economies now and into the future - which has so far been only partly met by an increase in supply, driving up fuel bills for families across the whole of Europe.

Governments are taking action domestically to help, but we know that these are ultimately global problems requiring global solutions. The shared European view is that we must take action to reduce our dependence upon oil and to improve our energy efficiency.

Mr Speaker, the new technology of carbon capture and storage will help us continue to use coal, oil and gas in a way that avoids harmful carbon emissions. So earlier this year we reiterated our commitment to move forward with up to 12 commercial scale carbon capture and storage plants in place by 2015, and last week - accepting UK arguments about the importance and urgency of this - the Council called on the Commission to bring forward an incentive mechanism to achieve this goal.

Transport will account for two-thirds of future increases in oil demand so improving fuel efficiency and exploring alternatives to petrol and diesel is essential. To incentivise innovation among car manufacturers, the UK will continue to push for a definitive commitment to an EU-wide car emissions target of 100 grams per kilometre by 2020 - down from 160 grams, and a 40 per cent reduction on levels today ---- saving the typical British family around £500 a year in fuel costs.

At Britain's urging, the Council also agreed to explore the scope to accelerate the introduction of commercially viable electric vehicles - and the infrastructure that their widespread use would require - in the EU. Generating the electricity needed for electric cars is significantly less carbon intensive than using oil. And with almost all major car manufacturers - including UK-based ones - now close to developing commercially viable hybrid and electric vehicles, they have the potential not only to reduce our oil dependency and carbon emissions but to create thousands of jobs in Britain's automotive industry as well.

Mr Speaker, all of these measures will help to meet our overall EU target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 - or by 30 per cent as part of a wider international agreement. But these decisions are made in the context of a dialogue between oil producers and consumers where both commit to greater transparency and a better balance between supply and demand.

The council welcomed Saudi Arabia's high-level meeting between oil producing and consuming states that I attended in Jeddah this weekend, and I am today writing to all European leaders informing them of the results of the Jeddah process, which will lead to a follow-up summit in London later this year.

Mr Speaker, I can tell the house today that the Jeddah summit discussed measures to deliver a more sustainable global oil price, reduce the risks and uncertainties that can increase prices, and ensure greater investment in new oil production as well as in energy efficiency and alternatives to oil.

I proposed that Britain and other oil consumers should open up our markets to new investment from oil producers in all forms of energy including renewables and nuclear - providing oil producers with a long term future in non oil energy. And in return, oil producers should be open to increasing funding and expertise in oil exploration and development through cooperation with external investors - providing increased oil supply in the medium term while growing economies adjust to a less oil-intense long-term future.

I turn now to the related problem, also discussed by the council, of high global food prices and the need to do more to combat price inflation.

Mr Speaker, the prices of rice and wheat are now double what they were only a year ago. Higher food prices cause concern to many of us here at home, but in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family's spending, they can be even more devastating.

So to tackle rising prices both here and overseas and to help boost agricultural production, the council agreed to implement the conclusions of the Rome food summit earlier this month.

The EU also agreed to assess the evidence on the indirect impacts of biofuels. The UK's Gallagher Review of the indirect impacts of biofuels - due to report shortly - will be part of this process.

We committed to work towards a successful outcome to the Doha trade round - where eliminating trade-distorting subsidies and import restrictions could increase global GDP by as much as 300 billion dollars a year by 2015.

This is something I have discussed with president bush, President Lula, Chancellor Merkel, President Barroso and other world leaders, as well as with trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, In recent days, and I believe that - while we are at the 11th hour - a deal is within our grasp.

The EU must also take tough action on elements of the Common Agricultural Policy that raise the cost of food for consumers across Europe. Removing incentives for taking arable land out of production, for example, could reduce EU cereal prices by up to 5 per cent - and the Council agreed to re-examine the issues of fair competition and sustainable agriculture.

Mr Speaker, as part of this year of action on the millennium development goals and ahead of the G8 in July and the United Nations meeting in September, the European Council signed up to an 'Agenda for Action' that reaffirms EU aid targets and sets specific milestones to be achieved by 2010:

On education, increased EU investment of 4.3 billion euros to recruit 6 million more teachers globally;

* And on health, an extra 8 billion euros to help save another 4 million children's lives and to provide for 75 million more bednets in Africa ---- and I will be pushing the G8 in July to ensure we have the 120 million nets we need so that every child and family in the world is able to sleep safe at night.

* The Commission has also agreed to establish pioneering 'Millennium Development Goal Contracts' linking EU spending on aid to specific outcomes by developing countries. And I am pleased to announce a British contribution of £200 million pounds to be channelled through this new mechanism.

Mr Speaker, the Council also discussed the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. In recent weeks under Robert Mugabe's increasingly desperate and criminal regime, Zimbabwe has seen at least 84 killings, 2700 beatings, the displacement of 34,000 people and the arrest and detention of opposition leaders including Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai.

In the face of this unacceptable situation, the European council reiterated its readiness to take further measures against those responsible for the violence. We will seek to impose travel and financial sanctions on those in the inner circle of the criminal cabal running the regime.

The House knows that since the Council met last week the situation has deteriorated further still. As a number of African presidents and prime ministers have already stated, the regime has made it impossible to hold free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and state-sponsored terror and intimidation has put the opposition in an untenable position. Our thoughts are with the people of Zimbabwe, who are facing an unprecedented level of violence and intimidation from the regime.

Mr Speaker, the world is of one view: that the status quo cannot continue. The African Union commission has called for violence to end. The current government -- with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation -- is a regime that should not be recognised by anyone.

The UN Security Council will meet today, and the foreign secretary will make a detailed statement in a few minutes after discussions he, I and the minister for Africa have held with African leaders today.

SADC and the African Union leadership should meet to discuss the emergency --and we understand that there are plans for SADC to meet very soon and we support the plans for that happening quickly.

We urge that SADC's observers' evaluations of the seriousness of the situation on the ground be made public.

We urge that UN and the African union work together with SADC to send envoys and a mission to Zimbabwe to discuss the situation on the ground and the way forward.

And we believe the UN envoy should be allowed to return.

The international community must send a powerful and united message: that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal. And we are ready to offer help to the reconstruction of Zimbabwe once democracy has been restored.

Mr Speaker, the Council also expressed its ongoing concern about the humanitarian situation in Burma in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis and called for a return to democracy and the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners.

And we made clear our continued determination to play a leading role in ensuring peace and stability in Kosovo.

So Mr Speaker, our national interest remains a strong Britain in a strong European Union, and we will continue to focus on an outward looking European agenda that tackles in an effective way the issues that affect us all: the global financial crisis, the rising cost of food and fuel, combating climate change and supporting people in the poorest countries in the world.

That is what the Council did at its June meeting;

That is what this Government will be doing in the run-up to the French Presidency in July;

And I commend this statement to the House.

ENDS

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