HL Deb 06 May 1999 vol 600 cc787-90

3.22 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking, together with other European Union member states, to provide support to Romania and Bulgaria to offset the continuing damage to their economies and societies caused by the conflict in former Yugoslavia.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Government are working actively with the governments of Romania and Bulgaria in consultation with the European Commission, European Union member states and the international financial institutions to support the economic reform efforts in those countries and to help them to deal with the additional impact of the Kosovo crisis.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, did the Minister note carefully the textual detail of the Blair doctrine speech of 22nd April in Chicago in which the Prime Minister said: We will need a new Marshall Plan for Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Serbia", adding, more weakly, We need a new framework for the security of the whole of the Balkans"? Does the Minister accept that progress towards economic recovery in Romania and Bulgaria is closely linked to consolidating weak democracies in those countries? If we are to take responsibility economically and politically for the whole of south-eastern Europe, a much greater effort needs to be given to looking after the interests of Romania and Bulgaria which have been affected adversely, first, by the Bosnian conflict, and now by the Kosovar conflict.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we recognise that the crisis will have an enormous and lingering impact on the economies of Bulgaria, Romania and neighbouring countries. There are the initial consequences of a large influx of refugees. There are also the effects of the contraction of regional trade, damage to the infrastructure, environmental damage and possible political instability. We are committed to ensuring that in the long term those matters are considered not just in terms of our own support for those countries but also within the European Union. We are also having conversations with the international financial institutions.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, after any essential short-term aid, is not trade the most helpful thing which the EU can offer these countries in the longer term; in other words, to open up its market to their products?

In that respect, is it not very misguided to expect Bulgaria, Romania and the other CEEC countries first to gain full membership of the EU, which would mean weighing down their economies with the 300,000 pages of EU social and labour legislation, known in the jargon as the acquis communautaire?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have been in extensive consultation with Romania and Bulgaria as regards the best means of assisting those countries in the long term. Since 1991, we have provided £30 million in terms of bilateral assistance to Romania. We have introduced a range of projects, including development management training centres and assistance for the decentralisation and reform of child welfare services. We are currently preparing a country strategy paper to enable Romania successfully to transfer to a pluralist democracy with well regulated markets.

As regards Bulgaria, we published earlier this year a country strategy paper in which we expressed a strong commitment to the reformist policies of the current government elected in 1997. We continue to work with both those countries to ensure that their economic and political priorities will enable them to join the EU at an appropriate time.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, first, so far as concerns the countries of central Europe, are there not provisions to gain access to European markets? Secondly, will the Minister indicate whether discussions are taking place within the Council and Commission to ensure that there is an uplift so far as concerns the PHARE programme in relation to the central European states? Are there any discussions concerning the TACIS programme?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, there are discussions in the context of the PHARE programme in terms of improving the amount given to those countries. We are concerned that countries seeking to enter the European Union have institutions which guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. In addition, we are looking at their economic and trade relationships.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that Romania and Bulgaria have a long way to go in the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities before they can comply with the standards and principles of the European Union? Will the noble Baroness consider the recently passed broadcasting Act in Bulgaria which is in conflict with the advice we gave that country at its own request?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I confirm that there have been concerns about the treatment of minorities, in particular in Romania. I shall have to look into the specific point on Bulgaria and come back to the noble Lord.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can the Minister answer the question on trade posed by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch? Is the noble Baroness aware that when Bulgaria asked for an increase in trade there was an argument over half-a-lorry-load of raspberry juice, and that when Hungary suggested that it produce more foie gras the French kicked up a fuss? EU trade relations and trade agreements make it more difficult for eastern Europe to trade in the produce which it finds easiest to produce. We should surely help those countries with trade not aid. The noble Baroness failed totally to answer the question about trade. She went on about democratic institutions—and all the rest of it. It was not good enough.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, I believe that everyone in this House should be concerned about democratic institutions. Secondly, we are addressing the long-term sustainability of those countries. I do not accept that in discussing these issues in the context of the European Union we are over-regulating. We are putting mechanisms in place to facilitate the recovery of those economies.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, are we monitoring the pollution levels in the Danube in Romania or Bulgaria to ensure that the bombing of petrochemical plants and refineries on the Yugoslav borders is not causing severe pollution? Will the Minister undertake to examine the position with regard to nuclear power stations in Bulgaria and Romania which take water from the Danube because if the water becomes polluted there will be serious problems in "iffy" nuclear power stations? Finally, will she confirm that the populations of Bulgaria and Romania have been forbidden to eat fish caught in the Danube?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, possible pollution of the Danube is being investigated. When further information is available, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord with it.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, are the Government aware that the blocking of the Danube by the destruction of bridges is causing great difficulties economically to all the countries of eastern Europe, including Romania and Bulgaria?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I said in answer to the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, we are concerned about the possible economic impact on all the surrounding countries. That is one of the reasons why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development hosted a meeting of a number of donor nations on 22nd April. They examined the way in which Britain and other concerned nations, as well as the international financial institutions, could put forward a long-term strategy to improve the position of those countries.