Adjournment debate on Euro Area

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) on securing this debate, and I thank all participants. It has been enlightening. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) on his election—I am surprised that anyone would dare challenge him—and am delighted that he has been returned in place as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee.
 
As previous speakers have said, the UK’s relationship with the euro area and further euro area integration raise important challenges. That is particularly the case in the context of the situation in Greece. By not joining the euro, the UK retained the economic flexibility to adjust to shocks. This Government cannot be clearer: we are committed to keeping the pound and staying out of the euro area. Under protocol 15 of the treaties, the UK has a permanent opt-out from the euro area, so we are
 
“under no obligation to adopt the euro”.
 
That said, it seems likely that the euro area—I stress “the euro area”—will need further integration to stabilise its economy. That is the premise of the recent five presidents report. Our position is simple: the EU must be flexible enough to meet the interests of both those inside the euro area and those outside it. The single currency is not for everybody, but the single market is, so it must work for all of us. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made it clear that, as the euro area integrates, we will need to reconcile the integrity of the EU as a collection of 28 member states with the integration of the euro area as a currency union of 19 economies. Our interests as a euro-out must be protected.
 
The immediate outlook for the euro area is improving. Its first-quarter growth was 0.4%, the fastest rate of quarterly growth since 2011. Nevertheless, the outlook for growth remains sluggish, which should be of concern to us all. The lesson from our own experience in the United Kingdom is that what is needed to embed recovery is a mutually reinforcing mix of active monetary policy to stimulate demand, maintain price stability and support the flow of credit to the economy, clear commitments to medium-term fiscal discipline that provide a firm anchor for market confidence and a focus on growth-enhancing structural reforms to rebalance and strengthen the economy. We therefore welcome the European Central Bank’s recent actions to stimulate the economy and tackle the potentially damaging threat of deflation. However, as the latest forecasts show, ECB action alone is not sufficient to change materially the euro area’s growth trajectory. Structural reforms are crucial to support the effectiveness of the ECB’s action.
 
The Chancellor has long made clear his view that there is a remorseless logic meaning that the euro area, like any currency area, needs closer economic and fiscal integration to secure its future. The recently published five presidents report is part of an ongoing process to identify next steps to better governance in the euro area.
 
Dr Lewis: Is it our Chancellor’s view that there should develop in the eurozone a single state with a single Government?
 
Mr Gauke: The logic of the position—this point was made by numerous right hon. and hon. Members before the formation of the euro—is that if there is a currency union, certain other things flow from it. Indeed, we are seeing the consequences of that. In a way, it is the background to the five presidents report. It is part of an ongoing process to identify the next steps to better governance in the euro area. There is a clear appetite for reform demonstrated by the process, which echoes the conversations that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have had in their bilateral discussions. The Government have submitted two written contributions to the five presidents’ process. We note the report’s proposals and have set out its content and implications in an explanatory memorandum. Therefore the Government do not currently plan to issue a further formal response. However, although the report’s focus is on the euro area, many issues it covers affect the interests of all member states. The UK will therefore remain fully engaged in discussions in this area.
 
So far, other member states have expressed a range of views on the report’s proposals. It is worth nothing that these reviews have been mixed. As I said, it is in our interests that the euro is a successful, strong currency area, so we do not want to stand in the way of the euro area resolving its difficulties. However, we will not let integration of the euro area jeopardise the integrity of the single market or in any way disadvantage the UK. The Government are pushing for further reform to improve the single market, focusing on the digital single market; further liberalisation of sector-specific services; and better regulation for small and medium-sized enterprises.
 
In return for supporting the euro area’s efforts to stabilise its economy, we want a settlement between the UK and the euro area that protects the single market, that is stable and fair and that lasts. This is in the interests of everyone—it is the basis for stable and sustainable governance of a reformed and prosperous EU—and is one of the UK’s important objectives in its renegotiation with the EU.
 
It has been 40 years since the British people last had a say on our EU membership. The organisation has changed vastly since then and it is time that we addressed this matter. The British public are clear that they are not happy with the status quo. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is determined to address those concerns. He has already talked about four areas where he wants change: sovereignty, competitiveness, immigration and fairness. For example, ever-closer union—a theme that runs through the five presidents report, to some extent—may be right for others, but it is not right for Britain, and change should include increasing economic competitiveness to create jobs and growth for hard-working families, and reforming welfare to reduce the incentives that have led to mass immigration from Europe. Those things are important to us. These reforms will improve fairness, which cuts to the heart of today’s debate: protecting Britain’s interests outside the euro. They will also improve the EU’s effectiveness as a whole. We want a dynamic, competitive, outward-focused Europe, delivering prosperity and security for the benefit of every country in the EU, with the UK playing its role.
 
Sir William Cash: In a nutshell, on current account transactions, the UK runs a deficit with the other 27 member states of well over £60 billion a year. Germany, on the other hand, runs a surplus in the same year. How on earth can we continue on that basis?
 
Mr Gauke: In the time available, I will not attempt to address that point in great detail. I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me.
 
A key part of the UK’s response to the five presidents’ process was the need to focus reforms, as well as the work of the institutions that the presidents represent, on the important priorities of delivering jobs, growth and stability to the European economy. Working alongside national Parliaments to drive competitiveness and streamline costly processes should be at the heart of the EU’s mission. That will be the foundation of public support and legitimacy for the EU.
 
Efforts to improve competitiveness go hand in hand with improving our own productivity. We support the euro area in sorting out its own problems so it can function more effectively. We will not allow further integration of the euro area to jeopardise the integrity of the single market, or in any way disadvantage euro-out countries like the UK.
 

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David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
 
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2018
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