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EU Enlargement

4. Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): When he last met his colleagues from other member states of the European Union to discuss matters relating to enlargement. [64588]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ms Joyce Quin): Enlargement is a regular theme during my meetings with colleagues from other European Union member states. EU Foreign Ministers discussed enlargement issues at each of the General Affairs Councils during the Austrian presidency in 1998.

Dr. Godman: In view of the shenanigans in Strasbourg last week, the failure of the Commission to deal with fraud and the need to reform the common agricultural policy comprehensively, should not Ministers of member states agree to offer an honest and realistic assessment of the timetable for accession? Do not applicant states

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deserve that honesty? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of the special European Council in March to persuade her colleagues to be as honest as possible, because there is no chance of those countries coming into the EU within the next 10 years?

Ms Quin: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we have to be honest in our dealings with the applicant countries. I also believe that we must respect the timetables that the European Union has set itself for the reforms that it needs to conclude by March and the March deadline set by the European Parliament for action on fraud by the Commission.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the right hon. Lady recall the first sentence of the communique agreed at the Vienna summit:

In the light of that first sentence, does she think that her right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has cause to regret his claim that the Maastricht treaty represented a "high watermark of integration"? Will she confirm that we will now be faced with ever-increasing demands for greater European integration, which everyone who believes in national self-government should continually resist?

Ms Quin: When the hon. Gentleman asks questions in the House, he always seems keen to overlook the fact that the Maastricht treaty was concluded under the stewardship of a Conservative Government, as was the single market, which represented a big step forward. If he is against the single market, he will find few allies in the House. The Vienna conclusions to which he referred are worth while and show the areas of agreement between European countries, which are very much in the interests of the citizens of this country and of citizens throughout the EU.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): What progress has been made in discussions between the Government of Turkey and the European Commission on drawing up an understanding of what Turkey needs to do to fulfil conditions for an approach to membership of the EU?

Ms Quin: It is clear that Turkey would need to meet the criteria that all other countries need to meet if they are to become part of the European Union. Those include important economic criteria and important political criteria relating to democracy and human rights.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Does the Minister accept that, after enlargement, countries that come into the EU will take a substantial share of its structural funds? In those circumstances, does that not put additional pressure on us in the period up to 2006 to maximise the benefit that comes to the countries of the United Kingdom from those funds? Can she assure us that the Government are turning every stone to achieve that?

Ms Quin: Indeed; I believe that the Government have already negotiated with a good degree of success on the retention of structural funds, in particular the use of objective 1 funds, which are likely to go to additional areas in the UK. That is important. Also, we have to prepare adequately for enlargement and to recognise the

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financial responsibilities that all EU countries have to make that enlargement process a success. The long-term economic benefits of enlargement will be considerable.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will the Minister's Department audit ministerial visits to the principal applicant countries of the European Union, as compared with those of Ministers from our EU counterparts? Does she realise that the United Kingdom, both under this Government and the previous Administration, is insufficiently engaged in terms of ministerial visits to applicant countries in central Europe? The United Kingdom does not compare favourably when one considers the visits made by German Chancellors or French Prime Ministers and Presidents. I hope that that will change.

Ms Quin: I do not accept that there are insufficient ministerial contacts. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has visited several applicant countries in recent months. I assure my hon. Friend that we wish to ensure the best possible co-ordination of ministerial visits. [Interruption.] I am trying to give the House some information, which is difficult because it is, unfortunately, wasted on Conservative Members. Through the co-ordination committee that I chair, we seek to co-ordinate ministerial visits to make maximum use of our contacts, not only with existing European Union countries but, very importantly, with the applicant countries.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Can the right hon. Lady clarify whether candidate countries are to be required to join the economic and monetary union? Would that not erect further hurdles in their path? Can she confirm--I understand that she was at the relevant meeting--that the Foreign Secretary recently described the Government's approach to the euro as unsustainable?

Ms Quin: The right hon. and learned Gentleman's last point is not correct. On his earlier point, the candidate countries express great interest in belonging to the euro zone, but the conditions for them will be negotiated during the current accession negotiations. We are keen to ensure that their conclusion represents a good balance between the European Union's interests and those of the applicant countries.

Middle East Peace Process

5. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): If he will make a statement on the middle east peace process following the Wye agreement. [64589]

9. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): If he will make a statement on action by the British Government to support the middle east peace process. [64593]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): We believe that the Wye agreement offers the best way forward in the middle east peace process. We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Government of Israel to freeze progress on its implementation. Both sides should abide by the commitments that they entered into at Wye and refrain from unilateral acts that undermine it. Both the

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Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority would benefit from progress on the peace. Both should now demonstrate an equal commitment to it.

Dr. Iddon: Assuming that the Palestinians declare statehood on the intended date, what will the Government's reaction be?

Mr. Cook: I have just told the House that we would call on both sides to refrain from unilateral acts that would undermine the peace process. I fully understand the frustration in the Palestinian Authority about the fact that 4 May is the terminal date of the Oslo process. It was anticipated that the final stages would have been resolved by then. It remains the view of Britain that all options should be available through self-government decisions by the Palestinian people, not excluding the option of an independent state. However, we would hope that such progress could be achieved through the peace process and not by unilateral action.

Dr. Starkey: Since the Wye agreement was signed at the end of October, 251 Palestinian political prisoners have been detained by the Israeli Government. The Israelis have confiscated a further 3,000 acres of Palestinian land and accelerated the building of Jewish housing on it. What action are the British Government taking to represent to the Israelis that those activities must cease and that their unilateral suspension of the Wye agreement until after the Israeli general election in May is incredibly unhelpful, and not what one would expect of a state that has signed a binding agreement?

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, if the Israeli Government wish to make progress with the peace process, they must carry out the implementation of the peace agreement that they agreed at the Wye Plantation talks.

With reference to settlements, my hon. Friend helpfully highlights the other side of unilateral acts--in this case, by the Government of Israel. I repeat our appeal to both sides to cease unilateral actions so that we can make progress via the negotiating table.

To answer my hon. Friend's question about what the Government are doing, I can tell her that, with our European colleagues, we prepare quarterly reports on settlement activity. Those reports are widely available and should inform public debate. We repeat our appeal to the Government of Israel to desist from those unilateral steps that make it so much more difficult to take forward a negotiated agreement.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Given the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to an ethical foreign policy, does he agree that, in the light of Israeli obduracy, a continuing and monstrous injustice is being done to the Palestinians? Accordingly, does he not consider that it is about time we decoupled ourselves from the pointless, fatuous and ineffective middle east policy of the United States of America, to whose coat tails we continue to hang in that department; and that we should try to create a sensible, pragmatic, European policy that we can follow with pride and good sense?

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Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman addresses the House with his characteristic robustness and trenchancy. Of course, we shall continue to explore, with our European colleagues, what helpful initiatives can be taken by Europe.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Do not bother.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman tells me not to bother, but Europe is underpinning the peace process with funding. If it was not for Europe putting that money behind the peace process, the process would have crumbled long ago. It little befits him to say that we should not bother to keep the peace process in being.

On the efforts of the United States, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) should remember that the United States brokered the Wye Plantation agreement. That agreement provided a way forward, and Europe and America will now maintain pressure on both parties to ensure that they make progress in implementing that agreement.

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