HL Deb 14 October 1998 vol 593 cc914-5

2.57 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What attitude they are taking to the reinstatement of Malta's application to join the European Union.

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

My Lords, we welcome Malta's decision to reactivate its application to join the European Union. On 5th October the General Affairs Council asked the Commission to update its 1993 opinion on Malta's ability to take on the obligations of European Union membership. The EU will decide on opening accession negotiations on the basis of the Commission's recommendations.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is she aware that the population of Airedale is rather larger than the population of Malta? Also, the population of Kosovo, which we were told two nights ago is too small to be independent, is five times that of Malta. Does the Minister accept that, with Cyprus and Malta, we are into the question of micro-states coming into the European Union with their own commissioner and judge in a way that, institutionally, will be hard to make compatible with federal states such as the United Kingdom is becoming? Are not the Government considering pausing before they reactivate Malta's application?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope I made clear that the Government welcome the reactivated application that Malta put forward. Of course, the questions involved in the accession of a country of some 370,000 individuals pose specific problems. However, those problems will be dealt with during the course of the discussions and negotiations in relation to Malta's accession in the light of the opinion that will come forward from the Commission. The Treaty of Amsterdam, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, envisages some institutional adjustments before enlargement and the Cardiff European Council agreed that, after the Amsterdam ratification programme was completed, an early decision would be needed on issues such as the one raised by the noble Lord.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not much more important that not only Malta but all the eastern European countries get the earliest access to the European Community so that it is diluted and becomes much more a trade-friendly area rather than a rigid, inward-looking, self-satisfied, protectionist bloc?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is aware that the Government support the enlargement of the European Union for the best possible reasons which may not be entirely aligned with the reasons put forward by the noble Earl. Accession negotiations are continuing with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus. They were launched during our presidency, on 31st March. The initial phase, the screening phase, is making good progress. Member states are currently considering the negotiating mandates and the 5th October GAC concluded that substantive negotiations should begin on 10th November. I hope that that is a useful update for the noble Earl.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, where will the enlargement process end? What is the Minister's vision of where the lines will be drawn?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I think we have quite enough on our plates at the moment involving negotiations with the countries I have just mentioned, not to mention the ones going through the pre-accession process which was also launched in London in March this year.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, just out of interest, what will the Minister say to the Scots if the Maltese have a European commissioner and a judge?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord is brave to raise the question of representation in Scotland, given the party that he represents. I am sure that Scotland will continue to be as delighted with its arrangements in the future as I am sure the majority of the Scots are at present.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does the Minister agree that any enlargement is dependent upon reform of the common agricultural policy, and, if so, can she tell us how the reform of that policy is progressing?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the reform of the common agricultural policy is a particularly important priority for Her Majesty's Government. The Commission's ideas involving significant price cuts are a step in the right direction but we believe that a more radical strategy is needed if the EU is to meet the coming challenges and, of course, the challenges posed by enlargement.