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House of Commons

Tuesday 7 December 1999

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 14 December.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

EU Enlargement

1. Mr. Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough): If he will make a statement on Government policy on enlargement of the European Union. [99943]

5. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): If he will make a statement on enlargement issues to be discussed at the next intergovernmental conferences. [99947]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Britain is a leading advocate of enlargement within the European Union. At Helsinki, I am hopeful that we will secure our objective of opening negotiations with a further six countries. We will also seek an intergovernmental conference that will meet the target of preparing the European Union for enlargement by 2002. That will require it to be focused on essential reforms to the size of the Commission and the weight of votes in the Council.

Within the next few years, the European Union will have a total membership of more than 25 countries and will be a third larger again in population and consumers. It will be even more important for Britain to be respected as a constructive leading partner within Europe and to be remembered by the new members as an ally and friend of their membership.

Mr. Ennis: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party's threat to veto the outcome of the next intergovernmental conference is a threat to veto EU enlargement? Does he agree that that would threaten the future stability of central and eastern Europe, and work against the United Kingdom's national interests?

Mr. Cook: The national interests of Britain are my responsibility and concern, and I can think of nothing that

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would damage them more than if the countries of central and eastern Europe saw the Conservative party seeking to block enlargement. The hon. Member for Stratford- on-Avon (Mr. Maples) confirmed last week that, if the Opposition do not secure their eccentric vision of a pick and mix Europe at the forthcoming IGC, they will block it. By doing so, they would block the next round of enlargement, making enemies of every country in central and eastern Europe.

Miss McIntosh: As a member of the Conservative party, I passionately share the vision of an enlarged European Union. However, does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that one discussion to take place at the Helsinki summit will involve future arrangements for defence, particularly a rapid reaction force? Does he agree that that may send the wrong message to applicant countries from central and eastern Europe who have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation only this year? Might that not prejudice their applications to join the EU by 2002?

Mr. Cook: We have held discussions with the three applicant countries that are members of NATO--Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. All of them support what we propose, and we shall seek to ensure that there is provision for consultation with countries that currently have status within the Western European Union or NATO. That covers all the applicant countries. I know of no country that would share the hon. Lady's anxiety. On the contrary, all of them are keen to join a strong and secure EU that can play its part in the world, although that vision of the EU does not always appear to be shared by those on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): When so many of the countries to which my right hon. Friend refers are new to the principles of democracy, why do we not introduce criteria based on good governance, particularly in the way in which their Parliaments operate, when we consider whether to allow them into the European Union?

Mr. Cook: I refer my hon. Friend to the Copenhagen criteria, which lay out for countries seeking membership detailed requirements on democracy, freedom of the media, human rights and tolerance of ethnic community rights. Countries will not simply be required to meet those criteria when they join; many of them are already taking vigorous steps because of the stimulus of membership. Ethnic minority rights, for example, are being strengthened across central and eastern Europe as a result of the accession process. We shall continue to insist on those rights, but the best way in which to ensure that democracy takes firm root in those countries is to ensure that we advance their membership of a European Union of democratic nations.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): One matter that may be discussed at the intergovernmental conference is the removal of national vetoes on tax matters. Tax changes have always been thought to require a treaty change, but there are threats to use qualified majority voting under single market rules to enact the withholding

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tax directive. Is the Foreign Secretary confident that such action would be outside the terms of the treaty, and that EU tax legislation requires unanimity?

Mr. Cook: Yes.

Mr. Maples: There is some confusion over this matter as a result of the Commission's threat to use QMV. Will the Foreign Secretary commit the Government to obtaining a clear statement in the summit conclusions that tax directives cannot in any circumstances be implemented by QMV?

Mr. Cook: At Helsinki, we intend first to ensure that the eurobond market in the City of London is fully protected against any tax proposals. Secondly, we shall insist in the IGC that taxation must be resolved by unanimity. I note that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to tell us whether he will drop his own policy. If he sticks with it, I shall go to Helsinki as the only national representative whose Opposition are committed to stopping enlargement.

Madam Speaker: Mr. Barnes.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree--

Madam Speaker: Order. I called the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes).

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I am all for expansion of the European Union, but are there not some problems in that a number of the eastern European countries that will be seeking membership are emerging from being dominated by politburos? Should they not be entering systems where no vestiges of those operate, so that the Copenhagen principles can begin to be applied to the European Union? Are measures being taken to make the EU a democratic provision that democratic nations can join?

Mr. Cook: I agree with my hon. Friend. There is considerable room for taking forward transparency within the European Union. During the British presidency, we sought to do so and we continue to press for that agenda. In particular, we will continue to press for the publication of the way in which votes are cast within the Councils of Ministers.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What about the House of Lords?

Mr. Cook: I do not think that that comes within the scope of the intergovernmental conference, which will give us an opportunity to provide for more transparency in democracy and more effective institutions within the European Union.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): For those of us who have consistently argued in favour of enlargement since the 1980s--unlike Labour members--will the Foreign Secretary be good enough to comment on the fact that a precondition of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and indeed Hungary and Poland, entering into serious negotiations for the enlarged European Union is that they should be

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obliged to accept the whole of the acquis communautaire? That is regarded with great concern in those countries. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, far from being friends and allies in this matter, unless he and the Government are prepared to stand up for these people and allow them to make their own choices, it will be nothing more or less than blackmail, and that is not the act of a friend?

Mr. Cook: I can assure the House that the Governments of those countries all want to join the European Union as full members. To do so, they must accept the full acquis. I noted that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman made a speech this week in which he said that Conservative policy is that candidate countries should not be required to accept the full acquis. If, for instance, three of those countries had been given the option of opting out of the full acquis, they would not now be closing the unsafe nuclear reactors that they are obliged to close to meet environmental legislation. It would no more be in Britain's interests to allow a pick and mix approach by applicant countries than to allow it for present member states.

Madam Speaker: I now call the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner).

Mr. Gardiner: I apologise, Madam Speaker, for my premature expostulation.

Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that the enlargement of the European Union to include Cyprus and candidate status for Turkey will do a great deal to heal wounds and divisions in that part of the world and would, one hopes, bring peace to that part of Europe?

Mr. Cook: In that part of the world, it is perhaps rash to make quite such a generous prediction, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will work at Helsinki for Turkey to be declared a candidate country. Turkey has a long way to go to meet the Copenhagen criteria and cannot start negotiations until it does meet them, but we believe that it will encourage Turkey to do so and to make the extra effort required if we recognise it as a candidate country and give that encouragement to those who see Europe as the inspiration for the future of Turkey.

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