HC Deb 01 May 2001 vol 367 cc745-8
9. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

When he next plans to meet representatives of the Government of Belgium to discuss their plans for the enlargement of the EU. [158616]

13. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

If he will make statement on the development of the agenda for the forthcoming Belgian presidency of the European Council with regard to enlargement. [158620]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

The Belgian Foreign Minister will be in London next month for talks on the forthcoming Belgian presidency.

We are pleased with the new momentum in the enlargement process under the Swedish presidency. I warmly welcome the commitment of the Belgian Prime Minister in Budapest that enlargement will remain at the top of the agenda during the Belgian presidency.

Britain is widely recognised throughout the candidate countries as a champion of their membership. That is why we are keen to ratify the treaty of Nice. We would be able to do so more quickly if the official Opposition also agreed to ratify a treaty without which enlargement cannot happen.

Mr. Paterson

Enlargement cannot happen without effective, radical reform of the common agricultural policy. It was a humiliating indictment of the Foreign Secretary that that issue was not even discussed at Nice. When he meets the Belgians next month, what are the chances of his persuading them seriously to discuss radical reform of the CAP and its completion during their presidency?

Mr. Cook

As you, Mr. Speaker, will recall, we have been up and down this red herring so many times that I weary the House by repeating it. The fact of the matter is that we did carry through a reform of the CAP in Berlin—a much more far-reaching reform than was ever secured by Opposition Members—which has saved every British household £94 a year on its food bill. Yes, we would like to go further—of course, we would, but that does not require a treaty change; it requires the policy change that the EU will be obliged to face up to when we consider the next financial setting.

The hon. Gentleman has to come clean. He is, I understand, a leading member of the British-Czech and Slovak group. Next time he meets those who come from the Czech Republic or from Slovakia, he will have to be honest with them about whether he will stand in the way of a treaty that is essential to their membership of the EU, and it would be helpful to them if he were to tell the House now. Will he or will he not back the treaty that they want to be passed?

Mr. Waterson

Is there not a real danger that, with the integrationist agenda of the Belgian Government, enlargement will take second place under their presidency? Is not that concern added to by the latest plans of the German Chancellor for a European Government? Is not it as plain as a pikestaff to everyone except the Government that an enlarged Europe needs more flexibility, not closer political integration?

Mr. Cook

On the views of the Prime Minister of Belgium, I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Prime Minister said in Budapest—that enlargement will be at the top of our agenda. I would rather listen to what the Prime Minister of Belgium says about his priorities than to the hon. Gentleman.

On the paper from the SPD, which was endorsed by Chancellor Schröder, if the hon. Gentleman ever gets round to reading it, he will find much in it with which he agrees, such as the commitment to combat the creeping transfer of competencies to the EU, or the need to repatriate the competencies that are better exercised by national Governments. Of course, there are some things in it with which neither he nor I would agree, but we cannot call for a wide-ranging Europe-wide debate and then insist that everything said in it is something that we agree with.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Does the Secretary of State agree that enlargement of the EU will genuinely be impossible without the endorsement of the Nice treaty? The Conservative party simultaneously tries to argue against the Nice treaty and to support enlargement, but is not the reality that Conservative Members know that they will not have to resolve that contradiction because they will not be in government for the foreseeable future?

Mr. Cook

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend's comment about the centrality of the treaty of Nice to enlargement. Indeed, the Foreign Minister of Poland, Mr. Bartoszewski, and I wrote a joint article that was published here and in Poland. It says: The treaty is a precondition for enlargement—unless it is ratified, enlargement cannot happen. Those are not just my views; they are the views of the Foreign Minister of Poland. I am sure that, when the time comes, many Polish communities around Britain will weigh those words carefully at the ballot box.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

When the Government come to consider the five economic tests on whether to join the single currency, is my right hon. Friend able to tell the House whether the effect of enlargement on the euro area and, in particular, on the value of the single currency will be taken into account?

Mr. Cook

Of course, all factors will be taken into account. However, I do not anticipate any of the current candidates being within the eurozone in the time scale that his question requires.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Is the Foreign Secretary seriously suggesting that there needs to be no further reform of the CAP for enlargement to take place? Is not the truth of the matter that it would break the bank if enlargement proceeded on the current basis? When will he debate proper reform of the CAP, and when will he announce how much extra it will cost to bring in the new member states? When will he reform the CAP to provide better animal welfare than we have seen in recent months in this country?

Mr. Cook

The right hon. Gentleman really should brush up on the history of the recent negotiations. If he does, he will find that the decision that we took at Berlin on the current financial perspective is explicit. Within it, sufficient room is provided for enlargement to go ahead. Before he shakes his head, when he claims that we cannot afford enlargement, he should remember that he supports all the forces of reaction on the continent that want to oppose it. The money is there and we should not pretend that it is not.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has repeatedly said in the Chamber that Turkey's membership of the EU is conditional on the improvement of human rights in that country? Will he comment on the fact that 20 hunger strikers have died in the past few weeks, that hundreds of other prisoners are on hunger strike and that Turkish MPs, such as Leyla Zana, are serving 15 years in prison for using a few words of the Kurdish language? Will he encourage the EU presidency to be tough on these issues so as to help people in the Turkish Government and the Turkish prison service who are attempting to improve the situation?

Mr. Cook

I have no problem at all in saying to my hon. Friend that political reform, improvement in human rights and respect for ethnic minorities are conditions of Turkey proceeding with its application for membership of the European Union. Indeed, we explicitly agreed at Helsinki that negotiations would start only once Turkey had met the criteria on human rights and the treatment of ethnic minorities. I agree with my hon. Friend that Turkey has a long way to go, but those who are most active on human rights in Turkey also tend to be the very people who most want Turkey to continue with its integration in the European structures. They see that as the strongest lever for reform, and I do not suggest that we should take it away from those who are trying to improve human rights in Turkey.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

When the right hon. Gentleman discusses enlargement, will he agree that the alienation of so many in the EU has much to do with the remoteness of its institutions and its lack of accountability? Does he not agree that the way to reinvigorate the relationship and make enlargement easier is not by further centralisation but by enhancing the role of democratically elected and accountable national Parliaments?

Mr. Cook

I am very pleased to have the hon. Gentleman's support for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's proposals for an institutional link with national Parliaments, which would provide a second Chamber in the European Parliament. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to supporting my right hon. Friend's proposal. As I asked the hon. Gentleman last month—we still have had no reply—whether the Conservative party is really to pose as a supporter of enlargement, why can it not tell us that it will support the treaty of Nice, which is essential for enlargement to proceed?