HC Deb 08 July 2003 vol 408 cc879-81
1. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

What steps the Government are taking to support the EU member-designate countries which will join on 1 May 2004. [123865]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

The Government remain committed to ensuring that the 10 countries joining the EU on 1 May next year are ready to do so. The UK has provided bilateral assistance to the candidates worth over £350 million since 1989. On the practical side, there are more than 50 UK civil servants working full-time on twinning projects in the candidate countries.

Keith Vaz

While I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on their excellent work in pushing forward the enlargement process, will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will give every possible assistance to the member-designate countries that have received early-warning letters from the EU Commission to ensure that the outstanding obstacles are dealt with? Does he agree that it would be most embarrassing and disappointing if the EU's first act on 1 May 2004 were to take infraction proceedings against one of its new members?

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend is right. Equally, however, all candidate countries must conform to EU norms. From May next year, they will be full members of the EU. Just as any existing EU member state can receive such infraction letters, other states must stand ready for them. As I said, we are working as one of the lead countries in ensuring that the incoming member states are ready to be full and active members of the EU as of May next year.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

In warmly welcoming the incoming member states, will the Minister confirm that he has deprecated the bellicose remarks of the French President at the time of the Iraq war, and of the French Defence Minister when she visited Warsaw? Will he stress to the member-designate states that we believe in a deeper rather than a wider—I am sorry, I mean a wider rather than a deeper Europe?

Mr. MacShane

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to draw attention to remarks that were certainly unfortunate. I hope, therefore, that he will join me in not deprecating but condemning the fact that the Conservative MEPs Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan have been in Estonia campaigning for a no vote, and that Lady Thatcher has sent a letter to the Estonians calling on them to vote no to Europe. I hope that the Conservative party will now dissociate itself from Lady Thatcher and withdraw the Whip from those MEPs. Conservative Front-Bench Members cannot say that they are in favour of enlargement when they send their agents and propaganda to campaign for a no vote to isolate Britain further from Europe and get countries that want to join the EU to—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call Mr. Knight.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

Given the presumption among some hon. Members that public opinion is against Europe and the euro, will my hon. Friend comment on public opinion in member-designate countries, as expressed in the referendums that have taken place so far?

Mr. MacShane

There have been open referendums and solid votes in favour of joining the EU. It is quite remarkable that the countries that have freed themselves from the Soviet yoke should be voting yes to the EU, when the Opposition are actively planning to renegotiate in advance of a withdrawal from the EU. I call on the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the shadow Foreign Secretary, to condemn Lady Thatcher and to withdraw the Whip from the Tory MEPs campaigning for a no vote in Estonia.

Bob Russell (Colchester)

Are the Government satisfied with the protection of the human rights of the Roma minorities, especially in Slovakia and the Czech Republic? Given that those countries are due to become members of the EU within the year, will he have words with his colleagues in the Home Office to stop them deporting citizens of those countries—and of others, such as Poland—who are residing in this country at the moment?

Mr. MacShane

The hon. Gentleman has raised this very serious issue in other debates and we respect his concern. Our embassies and Departments such as the Department for International Development, as well as the Foreign Office, have been raising the issue. It is a serious matter. We believe that laws are in place to protect all minorities in Europe adequately, but the Roma are a special case. We will have to have special regard to ensuring that they have the same rights and enjoy the same human freedoms as all other EU citizens.

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