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Council focused on the measures needed to address the growth crisis in Europe and complete the Single Market.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.
This Council focused on the measures needed to address the growth crisis in Europe and complete the Single Market.
It also reached important conclusions on Somalia, Serbia and Syria.
Let me take each in turn.
Growth and Jobs
First, growth and jobs.
This was the first European Council for some months not completely overshadowed by the air of crisis surrounding the Eurozone.
The problems in the Eurozone are far from resolved and we need continued and determined action to deal with them.
But the biggest challenge for Europe’s long term future is to secure sustainable growth and jobs.
Ahead of this Council - Britain, along with 11 other EU Member States, set out in a letter our action plan for growth and jobs in Europe.
This was an unprecedented alliance involving countries from all across Europe, representing over half the EU population and a quarter of a billion people.
It included our traditional partners on this agenda in Northern Europe - but it also included countries like Poland, one of the largest in the EU and countries like Spain and Italy in the South, who previously hadn’t prioritised this agenda.
Mr Speaker, over the past year, we have frequently succeeded in inserting references to the Single Market and competitiveness into Council conclusions.
And the Commission’s proposals have begun to reflect that.
But what was encouraging at this Council, was that an EU growth agenda - based around free trade, deregulation and completing the Single Market - received stronger and broader political support from Heads of State and Government than ever before.
A whole series of concrete commitments to actions and dates by which those actions need to be taken were inserted into the final communique.
Now it is vital that these commitments are fulfilled.
The reason why Britain so strongly insists on the completion of the Single Market is because of its huge potential for growth and jobs at home.
The Single Market is the biggest marketplace in the world, with 500 million consumers generating 12 trillion euros every year.
Removing barriers to trade in products has had a huge impact.
And with one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Europe, Britain has benefitted from that.
But the benefit can be even greater if the Single Market is completed in other areas where Britain has also great strengths.
The first of these is services.
Full implementation of the services directive could add 2.8 per cent to EU GDP within 10 years.
And Britain would stand to be one of the prime beneficiaries. Because from financial services to legal services to accountancy - Britain has some of the leading companies in the world.
The Council also agreed to complete the Digital Single Market by 2015.
This could boost EU GDP by as much as 110 billion euros every year.
And, again, this will particularly help Britain with our strengths in digital technology and all forms of creative content including film, television, and online media.
The Council agreed a specific deadline to complete the Single Market in energy by 2014.
This could add 0.8 per cent to EU GDP and create 5 million jobs.
Again, many of these of jobs will be in Britain, because we are a major producer and exporter of energy with the most liberalised market in Europe.
The Council agreed there will be a special focus on trade - including trade deals with fast growing parts of the world - at the next Council in June.
Completing all open bi-lateral trade deals could add 90 billion euros to the EU economy. And a deal with the US would be bigger than all the others put together.
Britain is one of the most open trading nations in Europe and that’s why trade deals have a particular importance for us.
On deregulation, for the first time we got a specific commitment to analyse the costs of regulation sector by sector and a repetition of our call for a moratorium on new regulations for those businesses with less than 10 employees.
Taken together, these measures represent a clear and specific plan for growth and jobs both in Europe - and here at home.
We must now ensure that Europe sticks to it.
Somalia, Serbia and Syria
Turning to wider international issues.
On Somalia, the Council welcomed the conference held in London last month and the important conclusions that we reached, cracking down on piracy and terrorism and supporting a Somali-led process for a new representative and accountable government.
On Serbia, Britain has always been a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union, from Eastern Europe to the countries of the Western Balkans.
This policy has clearly demonstrated success in embedding support for democracy and human rights across the continent.
So I was particularly pleased that the Council granted Serbia candidate status.
I have no doubt this decision would not have been possible without the courageous leadership of President Tadic.
It was he who secured the arrest of Ratko Mladic closing one of the darkest chapters in Serbian history.
And it was he who took the brave decision to engage in a dialogue with the Kosovans.
There is more work to be done but if Serbia continues on its present path there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to start EU accession negotiations before too long.
It is also right to mention the leadership of the Kosovan Prime Minster Hashim Thaci. He too has been prepared to enter into constructive dialogue with Serbia.
That decision has rightly been rewarded by the European Commission starting the process which can lead to a new contract between the European Union and Kosovo.
This is the first important milestone on the long road for Kosovo to join the European Union.
Let me turn to the grave situation in Syria.
I know the whole House will join me in welcoming the safe return of British photographer Paul Conroy who escaped from Baba Amr last week.
I spoke to him this morning and he described vividly the barbarity he had witnessed.
The history of Homs is being written in the blood of its citizens.
Britain is playing a leading role in helping to forge an international coalition to do three things.
First, to make sure there is humanitarian assistance for those who are suffering.
Second, to hold those responsible for this appalling slaughter to account.
And third, to bring about the political transition which will put a stop to the killing.
We must pursue all three at the same time.
On humanitarian assistance Britain has already provided an extra £2 million to agencies operating on the ground to help deliver emergency medical supplies and basic food rations for over 20,000 people.
But the real problem is getting that aid into the affected areas.
Now that the Syrian government has occupied Baba Amr it has a duty to allow humanitarian access to alleviate the suffering it has caused.
We urgently need greater international pressure to get aid in to everyone who needs it.
Britain will be working this week to secure a UNSC resolution which demands an end to violence and immediate humanitarian access.
The longer access is denied, the more the world will believe that the Syrian regime is determined to cover up the extent of the horror it has brought to bear on Babr Amr.
Second, we’re working to make sure those responsible for crimes are held to account.
The European Council agreed that there must be a day of reckoning for those who are responsible.
Britain and its European partners are working together to help document the evidence of these atrocities.
International justice has a long reach and a long memory.
Third, we are working for a political transition to bring the violence to an end.
The European Council was clear that President Assad should step aside for the sake of the Syrian people and supported the efforts of Kofi Annan to work for a peaceful process of political transition.
Syria’s tragedy is that those who are clinging to Assad for the sake of stability are in fact helping to ensure the complete opposite.
Far from being a force for stability, Assad’s continued presence makes a future of all out civil war ever more likely.
What can still save Syria is for those who are still supporting and accommodating Assad’s criminal clique to come to their senses and turn their back on the regime.
It is still possible that Syria’s national institutions can be saved and play their part in opening a path to an inclusive, peaceful and decent transition.
We will deploy every tool we can - sanctions, aid, the pressure of diplomacy, reaching out to the opposition in Syria and beyond.
We will work with anyone who is ready to build a stable, inclusive, non-sectarian, open and democratic Syria for all Syrians.
That is the choice that is still open to those in authority in Syria.
Now is the time for them to make that choice, before it is too late.
Finally, Mr Speaker, on Friday morning 25 Member States signed the intergovernmental agreement on the Fiscal Compact.
This binds countries in the Eurozone to a budget deficit of no more than 0.5 per cent.
And it involves countries giving up the power to write their own budget if they go beyond it.
Britain is not signing this Treaty.
Britain is not in the euro. And it’s not going to join the euro.
So it’s right that we are not involved.
But it is important that we continue to ensure that vital issues such as the Single Market are discussed by all 27 members.
That’s exactly what happened at this Council.
Far from not being included in the vital discussion that affects our national interests, Britain helped to set the agenda at this European Council and helped ensure its success.
And I commend this Statement to the House.