HC Deb 19 January 1999 vol 323 cc692-4
4. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

When he last met his colleagues from other member states of the European Union to discuss matters relating to enlargement.[64588]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

Enlargement is a regular theme during my meetings with colleagues from other European Union member states. EU Foreign Ministers discussed enlargement issues at each of the General Affairs Councils during the Austrian presidency in 1998.

Dr. Godman

In view of the shenanigans in Strasbourg last week, the failure of the Commission to deal with fraud and the need to reform the common agricultural policy comprehensively, should not Ministers of member states agree to offer an honest and realistic assessment of the timetable for accession? Do not applicant states deserve that honesty? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of the special European Council in March to persuade her colleagues to be as honest as possible, because there is no chance of those countries coming into the EU within the next 10 years?

Ms Quin

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we have to be honest in our dealings with the applicant countries. I also believe that we must respect the timetables that the European Union has set itself for the reforms that it needs to conclude by March and the March deadline set by the European Parliament for action on fraud by the Commission.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Does the right hon. Lady recall the first sentence of the communiqué agreed at the Vienna summit: European integration has gained new momentum"? In the light of that first sentence, does she think that her right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has cause to regret his claim that the Maastricht treaty represented a "high watermark of integration"? Will she confirm that we will now be faced with ever-increasing demands for greater European integration, which everyone who believes in national self-government should continually resist?

Ms Quin

When the hon. Gentleman asks questions in the House, he always seems keen to overlook the fact that the Maastricht treaty was concluded under the stewardship of a Conservative Government, as was the single market, which represented a big step forward. If he is against the single market, he will find few allies in the House. The Vienna conclusions to which he referred are worth while and show the areas of agreement between European countries, which are very much in the interests of the citizens of this country and of citizens throughout the EU.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

What progress has been made in discussions between the Government of Turkey and the European Commission on drawing up an understanding of what Turkey needs to do to fulfil conditions for an approach to membership of the EU?

Ms Quin

It is clear that Turkey would need to meet the criteria that all other countries need to meet if they are to become part of the European Union. Those include important economic criteria and important political criteria relating to democracy and human rights.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Minister accept that, after enlargement, countries that come into the EU will take a substantial share of its structural funds? In those circumstances, does that not put additional pressure on us in the period up to 2006 to maximise the benefit that comes to the countries of the United Kingdom from those funds? Can she assure us that the Government are turning every stone to achieve that?

Ms Quin

Indeed; I believe that the Government have already negotiated with a good degree of success on the retention of structural funds, in particular the use of objective 1 funds, which are likely to go to additional areas in the UK. That is important. Also, we have to prepare adequately for enlargement and to recognise the financial responsibilities that all EU countries have to make that enlargement process a success. The long-term economic benefits of enlargement will be considerable.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will the Minister's Department audit ministerial visits to the principal applicant countries of the European Union, as compared with those of Ministers from our EU counterparts? Does she realise that the United Kingdom, both under this Government and the previous Administration, is insufficiently engaged in terms of ministerial visits to applicant countries in central Europe? The United Kingdom does not compare favourably when one considers the visits made by German Chancellors or French Prime Ministers and Presidents. I hope that that will change.

Ms Quin

I do not accept that there are insufficient ministerial contacts. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has visited several applicant countries in recent months. I assure my hon. Friend that we wish to ensure the best possible co-ordination of ministerial visits. [Interruption.] I am trying to give the House some information, which is difficult because it is, unfortunately, wasted on Conservative Members. Through the co-ordination committee that I chair, we seek to co-ordinate ministerial visits to make maximum use of our contacts, not only with existing European Union countries but, very importantly, with the applicant countries.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Can the right hon. Lady clarify whether candidate countries are to be required to join the economic and monetary union? Would that not erect further hurdles in their path? Can she confirm—I understand that she was at the relevant meeting—that the Foreign Secretary recently described the Government's approach to the euro as unsustainable?

Ms Quin

The right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point is not correct. On his earlier point, the candidate countries express great interest in belonging to the euro zone, but the conditions for them will be negotiated during the current accession negotiations. We are keen to ensure that their conclusion represents a good balance between the European Union's interests and those of the applicant countries.

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