HC Deb 14 May 2002 vol 385 cc633-5
5. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

What recent discussions his Department has had with (a) Estonia, (b) Latvia and (c) Lithuania about the political aspects of proposed NATO enlargement. [54372]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

We have had frequent discussions with all three Baltic states. We have made clear the importance that we attach to the political, as well as the military, responsibilities of NATO membership.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I recently visited Estonia and Latvia with the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as I had the chance to see for myself, those countries have made great strides in reintegrating themselves into the new Europe?

Given that the NATO meeting in Reykjavik today is considering the whole issue of enlargement and applications for enlargement, will the Department continue to stress to those Governments the importance of the political dimension in the responsibility of NATO membership? In particular, will it emphasise the need to reassure and to give equal access to citizenship for Russian minorities in the countries concerned, so that we are able to reassure those minorities that membership of NATO will be a force for stability and integration in their countries?

Mr. Bradshaw

Of course. We are very pleased with the progress that the Baltic states have made in integrating and improving the human rights of their minorities, especially the Russian minority. It is particularly pleasing that Latvia is in the process of changing its electoral law to remove the language barrier that might have discriminated against its Russian minority. That shows one of the political benefits—not only for NATO, but for the countries concerned—in countries aspiring to and, eventually we hope, joining NATO.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

If the three Baltic nations specified in the question are admitted to NATO—we would welcome that—will they join the genuinely transatlantic alliance that constitutes NATO now, or the European pillar of a defence community that was proposed two weeks ago by the chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Hägglund? Does the Minister agree with the general that the new EU-NATO would also take part in long-term peacekeeping operations and humanitarian missions", while the US-NATO would be responsible for … worldwide crisis management missions as well as rooting out terrorism at the source"? How can that divisive proposal be reconciled with the Foreign Secretary's words in Washington last week? He said: NATO is the principal instrument for sustaining the means for European military collaboration with the US".

Mr. Bradshaw

Those nations will join NATO, which is and will remain the cornerstone of our strategic defence. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Hägglund out of context. He was making the point, with which we agree, that the European Union is developing the capability to manage crises in its backyard, as the United States has pressed us to do for a long time.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

My hon. Friend knows that the Foreign Minister of Estonia will visit the United Kingdom next month. Will he discuss the matters that we are considering with that Minister? Will he join me in congratulating Estonia on its victory last year in the Eurovision song contest and its forthcoming hosting of the event?

Mr. Bradshaw

I am happy to congratulate any country that enjoys a victory in that contest. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether it is a blessing.

Of course the Foreign Minister of Estonia will be warmly welcomed. Estonia has made great strides towards democracy and probably leads all the Baltic countries in its preparedness for NATO accession.

Mr. Ancram

The Minister cannot brush aside General Hägglund's remarks so easily. The general said: It would be appropriate to build this community"— he meant a defence community— … on two mutually supporting pillars: a European and a North American pillar. I understand that Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs envoy, saw his speech in advance. Is not that yet another element in a creeping agenda to undermine NATO and create a separate European defence policy, decoupled from that of the United States? How can the remarks be reconciled with the Prime Minister's insistence in 1999 that the European defence project would reinforce, not oppose NATO? It is time that the Government came clean. Do they agree with the European view on defence or not?

Mr. Bradshaw

It is time that the Opposition ended the infantile anti-Europeanism that drives their agenda. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is no conflict or contradiction between the role of NATO, the cornerstone of our strategic defence, and the European security and defence policy, which will be responsible for Petersberg tasks.