HC Deb 08 February 1994 vol 237 cc135-6
9. Mr. Jack Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions the Council of Ministers of the Western European Union has had regarding the probable increase in membership of the assembly of the Western European Union; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

There have been no discussions on the matter in the WEU Council of Ministers.

Mr. Thompson

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Council of Ministers, in its wisdom, created a level of associate membership of the Western European Union. Currently, Turkey, Iceland and Norway are applying for membership at that level. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the criteria laid down for associate membership are appropriate when one considers the possibility that countries of the former Soviet bloc in central and eastern Europe will apply to join the WEU? Would they be appropriate if a situation such as that in Bosnia arose in any of those countries?

Mr. Rifkind

We consider the criteria to be appropriate. Full membership is relevant to those who are also members of the European Union. Those countries that have sought associate membership either do not seek full membership or have not yet become members of the European Union. Therefore, the status of associate member meets that criterion.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is an overwhelming need to get the countries of central Europe on side where the future of European security is involved? Does he agree that one of the best ways, as the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) said, is proper association with the WEU? It can lead to all kinds of good works in the future.

Mr. Rifkind

It is appropriate that we seek to develop links not only with the countries of central Europe but with the countries of eastern Europe such as the Ukraine and the Baltic republics. I believe that, within the framework of the partnership for peace proposals, it will be possible to see the development of links with not only NATO but the WEU.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister accept that many parliamentarians in eastern European countries believe that the Western European Union can be used as a guarantee of their security? Does not he think it reasonable to ensure that a more realistic assessment is conveyed to those states?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is correct—article 5 of the Brussels treaty gives total and unqualified commitments to the security of member states. Therefore, it is important that in any consideration of extending that membership, the full implications are taken into account.

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