HL Deb 01 December 1997 vol 583 cc1172-5

2.40 p.m.

Lord Sudeley asked Her Majesty's Government: What is the extent of their commitment towards Romania's membership of NATO.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, we and our NATO allies agreed at the Madrid Summit in July to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to begin accession negotiations with NATO. We expect those negotiations to conclude this month and for new members to accede to the alliance in 1999. The Madrid Summit also agreed to review the enlargement process in 1999. No commitment has been made to any country about future invitations to join NATO.

Lord Sudeley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply about Romania, which we let down at Yalta.

Does she agree that the Government's definite commitment to backing Romania over the second wave of entry is much to be desired, bearing in mind that during the last elections Romania passed the test of democracy with flying colours? There is civilian control of the military, most of the population of Romania supports NATO and the Romanian Government are pledged to increase their defence expenditure.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government do not recognise any special cases over future membership of NATO. but the Prime Minister said in another place on 9th July, after the Madrid Summit, that the applications of Romania and Slovenia were especially closely considered even though there was no consensus to invite them to join on that occasion. Both countries have indeed made remarkable progress. As the noble Lord said, Romania's Government deserve particular congratulation on the steps taken since they took office last November. The noble Lord is also right that the Government are fully aware of the commitment by the Romanian Government to NATO and the popular support in Romania for NATO membership. We are encouraging the Romanian Government to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the enhanced Partnership for Peace further to deepen Romania's ties with NATO.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's understanding that this is not the last enlargement of NATO and that after 1999 there will be further stages of enlargement to take in a number of other countries. among which Romania clearly has a very strong claim?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, there will be a review in 1999 so the door to future membership is certainly not closed. If Romania continues to make economic and political progress it will be an excellent candidate for any future enlargement. But enhancing the security of Europe as a whole will also be part of that decision. The credentials of individual countries are certainly part of the picture. It will also be a question of how the accession of individual countries affects the security of NATO as a whole.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have taken into consideration the financial consequences of a country like Romania, and other Eastern European countries, joining NATO at the same time as having to meet the costs involved in joining an enlarged Community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we all recognise that bringing new members into NATO will indeed incur costs, as my noble friend suggests. The forces of the countries joining NATO will need training in communications, in NATO methods and in the use of English. Their communications, air defences and military bases will also have to be brought up to NATO standards. NATO forces together have to be able to deliver on the alliance's guarantee of defence for the new members. NATO is currently analysing the costs involved in these objectives.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, will the noble Baroness comment on the recent statement by the Russian Federation that it wants the Baltic states and the northern Scandinavian countries to join its security pact? Does the noble Baroness agree that there is an even stronger case to accept the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—into the NATO organisation as quickly as possible, bearing in mind the recent steps of the Russian Federation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Madrid Summit communiqué recognised the progress achieved in a number of the Baltic states towards greater stability and co-operation. Of course, we are aware of a number of different moves around the Baltic states at the moment in relation to Russia. But at the time of the Madrid Summit we made it clear that in future no applicants would be excluded on the basis of their geographical location and that, of course, includes the Baltic states.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, given the disagreements between the United States and France on the question of the timing of the accession of Romania and Slovenia to NATO, do the Government envisage that that will cause future problems and delays for NATO expansion? Furthermore, what specific actions have the Government taken to reassure Romania of the United Kingdom's commitment to its future accession, given that the Government supported the American model of limited enlargement at the NATO Summit in Madrid in July?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government strongly support the open door policy which was outlined at Madrid. Indeed, the Madrid declaration did not prejudice future enlargement decisions, which will depend, as I said, not only on the credentials of the individual candidates, such as Romania—specifically mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech in another place—but also on the wider security background and the need to maintain NATO's effectiveness. As regards the future timetable, we have to wait until 1999, when the next review will take place. That will be the time for sorting out when future accessions can be accepted.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, as regards the answer which the noble Baroness gave to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, does she agree that the two absolute priorities for Romania, and indeed the other countries of the former Soviet Union, are, first, defence through NATO and, secondly, access to the European single market? Does the Minister further agree that access to that market need not necessarily involve membership of the Treaty of Rome with all the damaging bureaucracy which that inevitably brings?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords. I had imagined that I was answering questions about NATO and not about EU enlargement. However, should there be further access to either the EU or NATO, I am sure that those accessions will be dealt with on their merits and in the proper way.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, as Romania is so often bracketed with Bulgaria, what is the Government's view on Bulgaria's future membership? Will Bulgaria be included in the second wave?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be asking that question in due course and then I may have a full range of briefing with which to answer it. However, as I said, in 1999 there will be a review of those countries which wish to accede to NATO. Bulgaria will then have the opportunity of making any case that it wishes at that time.