HC Deb 12 December 2000 vol 359 cc470-1
5. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

What recent contacts he has had with his opposite numbers in Eastern Europe on the subject of EU enlargement. [141964]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz)

Last Thursday, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary met Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers from all the candidate countries for European Union membership at the meeting of the European conference in Nice. I have met all the applicants Ministers for Europe in the past 12 Months. As my hon. Friend will know and as the Foreign Secretary has just said, the Government are a champion of enlargement.

Ms Keeble

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What discussions is he having with other Ministers on protecting national interests and dealing with some of the problems of enlargement, particularly the financial costs of extending regional and agricultural aid programmes to new members?

Mr. Vaz

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that negotiations are going well. The first six countries that applied to join the European Union have completed negotiations and, on average, have closed 29 chapters of the 31 chapters of the acquis. The so-called Helsinki six have opened on average a total of between 9 and 13 chapters. The negotiations are going very well, and, as the Foreign Secretary has just said, they will be improved enormously by the spirit for enlargement demonstrated at the Nice summit. We shall continue to work with all the applicant countries to achieve that.

Indeed, just before Nice, I and two ministerial colleagues went to visit Bratislava. We are the first country to have had such bilateral visits. I want more such visits to take place, not only between Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers, but between Members of Parliament from Westminster and from the applicant countries.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Given the crucial importance of enlargement, what arrangements does the hon. Gentleman envisage for reform of the common agricultural policy—without which the process cannot enduringly take place? When will that reform be made?

Mr. Vaz

As the House will know, the Government are highly committed to reform of the common agricultural policy. That point has been made consistently.

Mr. Maude

Not at Nice.

Mr. Vaz

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, because he signed the Maastricht treaty, it was not on the agenda at Nice because we do not need a treaty change to reform the CAP. He will know that that was not one of the points that needed to be put on the agenda. We shall continue to push forward to ensure that there is CAP reform, and we shall do so with the same spirit of encouragement and enthusiasm that we have always shown.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will my hon. Friend the Minister, when he next meets the ambassadors of the Czech, Slovak and Polish Governments, say that if they read the comments of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) in Hansard, they may be reassured that the spirit of Neville Chamberlain—who spoke of a far-away country of which we know little—is alive. In contrast, the Government recognise our moral obligation to allow expansion of the European Union to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. That obligation was won by brave pilots who fought above this place in 1940, and whom Winston Churchill referred to as "the few". Therefore, although enlargement is an economic, commercial and political issue, above all else it is a moral issue, and it needs to be addressed.

Mr. Vaz

I am sure that the whole House will have been moved by my hon. Friend's Churchillian tones. He is absolutely right—not only will I remind the ambassadors for those three applicant countries, but I will remind the ambassadors for all applicant countries. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his frequent visits to the applicant countries. This kind of bilateral relationship is extremely important because the applicant countries know, as the Foreign Secretary has just said, who is the friend of enlargement. They also know that the Conservative party would block enlargement.

Forward to