HC Deb 16 May 2000 vol 350 cc145-6
13. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What proposals he has to improve the UK's relations with Slovenia. [120882]

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

The relationship between the United Kingdom and Slovenia is excellent. We maintain a close dialogue over Slovenia's applications for European Union and NATO membership, and warmly welcome the constructive role that Slovenia is playing in south-east Europe.

Mr. Flynn

As a signatory to the Council of Europe's charter on minority languages, will my hon. Friend commend the exemplary action of Slovenia in its treatment of those linguistic minorities within its border, which, regrettably, has not been reciprocated to the Slovene minorities in Austria or Italy? Italy has long delayed introducing measures that would assist the Slovene minorities there. In the Carinthia province of Austria, the Governor, a certain Jorg Haïder, has recently introduced measures that are damaging to the bilingual Slovene schools.

Mr. Vaz

I welcome the action taken by Slovenia to protect minorities. My hon. Friend raises with me for the first time the position of Slovene speakers in Austria, and I will pass on that information.

We want Slovenia to be part of the European Union as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that it has opened 25 of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire and has closed 11 chapters. Therefore, there are good prospects that Slovenia will join as soon as possible, and we encourage that. Of course, there will be tough negotiations ahead, but I hope that Slovenia will bring to the EU the issues to which my hon. Friend referred. It will certainly bring to it a country that has a diverse number of minority groups which live together extremely well.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the United Kingdom encourages Slovenia in those endeavours, in respect not only of the European Union, but of NATO? What steps are being taken through Partnership for Peace and other NATO organisations to assist Slovenia to play a bigger role?

Mr. Vaz

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very constructive comments. I am glad to know that he fully supports Slovenia's entry into the European Union and NATO. We have made our position on NATO clear: it is that all aspirants are part of the action plan that has been set out by NATO. I can give no guarantees here about who will join NATO. That is a matter for NATO at its next invitation meeting, at its next major summit. However, the fact is that we want to make sure that Slovenia is part of the Europeanisation process that will bring it into the European Union and ensure that it is part of NATO's security arrangements. That will be a beacon of hope to other countries in the region, especially the Balkans.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

Does the Minister realise that it is a bit patronising for him to talk about the Europeanising of Slovenia, which happens already to be a European nation? Given that one of Slovenia's principal aims is membership of the European Union, as well as membership of NATO, is not the best contribution that the Government can make to improving relations with Slovenia to reject out of hand the ideas propounded last week by Mr. Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, about the creation of a single European super-state? What countries such as Slovenia want is the creation of a modern, flexible European Union of the sort that would also appeal to the British public—in particular, by tackling the common agricultural policy, which is the major obstacle to the early enlargement of the European Union.

Mr. Vaz

I need no lessons in being patronising from the right hon. Gentleman, who could give seminars on how to be patronising.

The fact is that Slovenia wants to be a first-class member of the European Union—it does not want two classes of membership, it wants to be a full member. What the Conservative party and the right hon. Gentleman suggest is that there should be a two-tier Europe. Slovenia is not interested in that. It wants to be a full member, participating absolutely fully in what the European Union does.

We have made our position on Mr. Fischer's speech absolutely clear. It was a speech that he made personally, in his own capacity, and he did not state the policy of the German Government. Our position on this matter is also absolutely clear. We believe that Europe is a nation of nation states. Slovenia wants to be part of that.

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