HC Deb 02 February 1994 vol 236 cc874-5
3. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made towards the enlargement of the European Community.

Mr. Hurd

The accession negotiations with Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden are going well. Some difficult issues remain, including agriculture and regional policy, but we are committed to the target of March 1994 for completing negotiations.

Mrs. Lait

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) about the volatility of the states in the old Soviet empire, does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner the applicants for European Union membership from central Europe join, the better for democracy? Does my right hon. Friend believe that Poland, Hungary and the Czech republics should join before they are economically ready to do so?

Mr. Hurd

It would not be sensible to encourage countries in central and eastern Europe to join before they are economically ready to do so, as that would lead to tears, but there are plenty of things that we can do meanwhile. For example, Britain and Italy have launched a joint initiative to associate those countries with the work of the European Union on the two pillars of security and foreign policy and home affairs. Even more important than that is the need to liberalise trade with them. We are pressing hard and there has been some progress. Imports into the European Union from the Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, the Czechs and Slovaks, rose by 44 per cent. between 1990 and 1992, but there are still too many restrictions and there is scope for more liberalisation of our market towards the east even before those countries achieve full membership.

Mr. Jim Marshall

In the light of the Foreign Secretary's reply to the specific point about eastern Europe, as the Western European Union is the defence component of the European Union and the European pillar of NATO, will he give a guarantee that, specifically in the case of the Visegrad countries, the Soviet Union will not be able to exercise a veto over their entry into the European Union as it appears to be doing over their entry into NATO?

Mr. Hurd

There is no Russsian veto in either case.

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