Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



Dr Starkey

  40. Can I just pick up a further point. Mr Maples talked about groups of countries. Were you saying, Minister, that countries will be viewed individually and not as groups, so that whether an individual Baltic state, for example, meets the criteria would decide whether it is ready for entry or not, not whether the rest of them have also caught up?
  (Mr Vaz) Dr Starkey raises really the crucial question, that is put to all Ministers, and I am sure to this Committee, by those who have given evidence to the Committee, and that is, when are we going to join, and are we going to join with our "friends", because, within the sub-group of the 12 applicants in negotiations, obviously there are groups that you can see that are identifiable, such as the Baltic states and the V4, etc. We are not getting into any kind of bidding process, and we are not in a position to choose and decide; it really is up to the countries themselves to complete their negotiations, to open and close their chapters, in the way that is appropriate, and to fulfil that obligation. There are some who believe in the `big bang' principle, and that is that they all come in together, there are others who believe they should be done in groups, and there are some, even, who believe that there can be no enlargement without one or two particular countries joining. Our position is very clear, and it was set out by the Prime Minister in Warsaw, on 6 October last year, and that is, we want to see applicants joining as soon as possible, that we would like to see them participate in the next European elections, that we would like them to be round the table at the time of the IGC, which is due for 2004. But it all depends on their ability to negotiate, to open and close the chapters; and, frankly, some countries are making astonishingly good progress, as you must have found, others are not being as successful as they ought to be.

Mr Rowlands

  41. Perhaps we can pursue it. Successful enlargement is a major policy objective, and we have got the Luxembourg Six, were the first group; which of these six, at the moment, you are saying some of them have been moving at an astonishingly fast pace, others have had problems, which of these six do you consider now to be a problem?
  (Mr Vaz) None of them are a problem, in the sense that Mr Rowlands means. What we have is what you have got, which is the bare facts, and that is that Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia are all on to 29, have opened 29 chapters. Using that same list, and I do not know whether you have that list in front of you, or would you like me to read it out, Cyprus provisionally has closed 17, Hungary 15, Poland 14, Estonia 17, the Czech Republic 13 and Slovenia 15. As far as the Helsinki Six are concerned, because, although we do speak in terms of a Luxembourg Six and a Helsinki Six, to all intents and purposes, there is no reason why a member of the Helsinki Six club, if we can call it that, cannot catch up with the others on the regatta principle, and, looking at those countries, in this order, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta, 19 for Latvia, 17 for Lithuania, 17 for Slovakia, 9 for Romania, 12 for Bulgaria, 16 for Malta, have been opened. Latvia has closed provisionally 9, Lithuania 8, Slovakia 10, Romania 6, Bulgaria 8 and Malta 12. If it is helpful to the Committee, what I could do is, as I have promised in the past, provide you with a grid of the up-to-date opening and closing of chapters.


  42. What, every month, or so?
  (Mr Vaz) I have actually found it very interesting myself, and it is provided for me on a monthly basis. I am not wanting to set a great precedent that everything that I get on a monthly basis the Foreign Affairs Select Committee should get, but I think that this grid is interesting, and it is useful.

  Chairman: I accept, that grid would certainly be of value to the Committee.

Mr Rowlands

  43. And, looking down the list of the first Luxembourg Six and those that have opened and closed, what strikes one about all six is that there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten dozen chapters, key chapters, which none of them have closed: freedom of movement of persons, freedom of rights services, freedom of movement of capital, transport, taxation, regional policy, JHA, budget; in other words, some of the thorniest issues are still, seemingly, from this chart, utterly unresolved. Tell me, if we are pursuing a successful objective of enlargement, how do you see, and how does the Government see, this process of cracking these dozen, or so, chapters, which, quite clearly, are really the thorniest questions, and seem to apply to all six as being unresolved?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Rowlands has got the nub of the problem, that, certainly, I have heard, when I have been to the applicant countries, and that is, why they want to open more chapters, in fact, open all the chapters, is because—

  44. It is the closing of the chapters; those 12 I read out to you, none of them are closed?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed. Mr Rowlands is absolutely right. It is because the most difficult ones remain at the end, because people like to be seen to be making progress on the easy ones, because, look at statistics; and, as I have just done, as Mr Rowlands has correctly said, for example, Cyprus, 17 out of 29, and that sounds good, but the most difficult ones are to be closed. And he is right that what we have said to the Presidency, in particular, and to Commissioner Verhaugen, certainly at the times that I have met him, is that we need to make progress on the difficult chapters. Oddly enough, Mr Rowlands and Chairman, this is exactly what the applicants want; they do not want the most difficult ones left to the end, because they feel that that might be an excuse for not proceeding to complete the process, and what we would be urging the Union to do, and what we have been saying to the Commissioner, is that he should make progress on some of these difficult chapters, for example, Poland and agriculture.

  45. Yes, and that is really my follow-up point, that, if you look at these dozen and it appears that all six have moved broadly similarly together, in terms of progress, that is because we have not hit the hardest, toughest nuts to crack in this situation. And if, for example, you could see, in agriculture, one or two of these six closing the chapter quite quickly, but there would be the Polish agriculture question, which would be a major one. So how are we going to address it, politically and technically; or what is your advice to the Commission? I realise that the Commission is doing the job, but, as there is an objective to guide this enlargement through, what is the Government's approach to cracking this thing?
  (Mr Vaz) The Government's approach, and, happily, it is also the approach of the Presidency, because Sweden does understand the necessity to make enormous progress on this, is to try to deal with these difficult chapters as quickly as possible; that is why the road map that was established sets out the chapters to be negotiated during the next three Presidencies. But I think that the difficulty that we have had, Mr Rowlands, just to point this out to the Committee, is that, as well as going through this process, a lot of our time, 330 hours of our time, was devoted last year to the IGC, which took an enormous amount of time and effort, which is a major change that obviously was occurring, and, of course, preparations for and conclusions of the Nice Treaty. That is not an excuse, because, as a champion of enlargement, the United Kingdom has always been pressing for more and more to be done. The Swedes are cognisant of this, and we hope to be pressing them as much as we possibly can, and I hope, by the time we get to Gothenburg, we will have even more progress being made on the difficult ones, not just the easy ones.

  46. If I can put just one final question. So simple-minded people like myself, if we have benchmarks, rough and ready benchmarks, and given that the Swedish Presidency has said they really want to get on with it, you say we want to get on with it, of these 12 remaining difficult chapters, in a rough and ready way, what will be a successful outcome, at the end of the Swedish Presidency, in relation to these dozen, and in relation to the countries concerned?
  (Mr Vaz) A successful conclusion for the United Kingdom, and I will ask Mr Featherstone to comment on the Swedish Presidency's view on this, on the technical side, as far as we are concerned, what we want to see is substantial progress being made. What the applicants do not want is warm words from the EU 15, "We want you in as soon as possible;" they are not going to come in until these chapters are closed. And so a successful approach—and it is difficult; the difficulty is just to pick out a figure and say, "If you reach 20 then we'll be happy." I think it is wrong to do that, because there are a lot of negotiations that need to be conducted. But I would like to see substantial progress being made, in terms of what is outstanding, and that means, personally, I would like to see, in order to justify that this is being done, this is not Government policy, I would like to see half of what is remaining concluded by the end of the Swedish Presidency.

  47. By all six?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, but that is a personal view, it is not a policy view. And I am now going to ask Mr Featherstone to tell us what the technical view is, from Stockholm.
  (Mr Featherstone) Thank you. I think it is quite difficult to give a very clear answer to your question, because a number of the countries have already closed some of the chapters which are designated by the Commission road map for completion during the Swedish Presidency. But they have suggested about seven chapters which should be closed, including some quite difficult ones, such as free movement of persons, free movement of capital, environment, and the Swedes have already indicated that, in some ways, they would like to exceed their quota, so closing some chapters which at the moment are suggested for the Belgian or Spanish Presidencies. So I think the answer is that, if each country could close another half-dozen more than they have already closed, they would be doing quite well and the Swedish Presidency would have taken the process forward. But it does vary a bit, from country to country, because some of the countries have already closed chapters which were allocated for the Swedish Presidency.
  (Mr Vaz) And, if I may just add, the difficulty of talking about figures, precise figures, is that, if you set a precise figure and you do not meet that target, the effect on public opinion in the applicant countries is quite serious. It is astonishing how closely this issue is being followed in the applicant countries, and the slightest slippage, the slightest words of criticism, in any EU document, about any applicant, gets an enormous amount of coverage in those countries and causes public opinion to waver.

  48. I have got another question, Chairman. The burden of the questions was, do we expect a widening of progress between these six; at the moment, they have all been similarly moving together, but, in the course of this next batch, do we expect political problems arising because some countries are going to fall behind rather more than they have done to date?
  (Mr Vaz) I think the problem is, now, for the first time, we have, as the Committee knows, a piece of paper which has the number of votes that each country is going to have at the European Council, as a result of Nice. And, therefore, anything that differentiates between any of the Luxembourg Six is going to cause difficulties in any of those countries, and we do not wish to do that, because there are specific reasons why progress cannot be made, for example, on one or two of the chapters. And what we do not want to do, as a friend of enlargement, as a champion of enlargement, is to cause any difficulties for any of these countries.

Dr Godman

  49. On the question of chapters, and Poland in particular, and Poland's accession, that country's early accession, I see that two of the chapters that are still open are agriculture and fisheries. And I just wondered, in light of President Chirac's determination not to return to the issue of the comprehensive reform of the Common Agricultural Policy until at least 2006, how does that affect Poland's application; has the Polish Government recently made any approaches to the Foreign Office concerning the failure of the European Union to reform the CAP?
  (Mr Vaz) Poland does not need to make representations to us about the failure to reform the CAP.

  50. Not even on a bilateral basis?
  (Mr Vaz) No; because we know that we need to reform the CAP. Mr Godman is right, this is one of the issues that just has to be tackled. But what we do not wish to do is to put reform of the CAP in such a way that it prevents and blocks a country like Poland from joining because we have not reformed it; it is uppermost in our mind that this is an area that does need to be reformed. As we have said in the past, because some have suggested that we should have had a reform of the CAP in the Nice Treaty, you do not need treaty change in order to reform the Common Agricultural Policy; and what we are doing, in the Agricultural Council, what Mr Brown is doing there, the Agriculture Minister, and his Ministers, is to keep pushing forward the issue of reform. But that will not stop Poland joining, and we are not saying to Poland and the other countries, "Do not join until we reform the CAP," because, as you have said, this is something that might not happen within the time that is available.

  51. Presumably, President Chirac's view is shared by, say, the Governments of the Irish Republic, for one, and Germany, for another; so what you are saying is that, in the absence of the reform of the CAP, Poland is likely to enter the European Union?
  (Mr Vaz) We want all the countries to enter the European Union. But when you say the failure; this Government has been quite robust, over the last four years—

  52. No, I said the failure of the European Union?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed; well, I would agree. It has been a collective failure to do more to reform the CAP; that will not prevent Poland joining, or any other country.

  53. But might it not come in as a second-class member then, if it has not got the rights and privileges that the existing Member States have, vis-a"-vis the CAP?
  (Mr Vaz) That is a matter for negotiation; and whatever Poland negotiates, in respect of agriculture, Mr Godman is right, this is important for Poland, will be a matter for Poland and the European Union. But what we will not do is say to Poland, "You can't come in until we reform the CAP."

  54. So, in terms of agriculture, we might see, as I have suggested to you before, a two-class system, in relation to agriculture?
  (Mr Vaz) No, I would not say that; but what we are keen to do is to reform the CAP. What we are not keen to do, as I said, when I first appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee, is to give carte blanche transitions. We know that all applicants get transition periods, we did, when we joined, but I am not saying this is one of the areas in which it can be done, because we are not at that part of these negotiations.

  55. Another chapter that is still open, where Poland is concerned, relates to the fisheries, but can I ask you to clarify what you said in a Written Answer to me, on 5 February, this is Column 406W. I asked a question concerning Poland and Estonia, in relation to their fishing fleets and the CF, were are on to the CFP now, and what you said, amongst other things, was that "All candidates will be expected to apply the Common Fisheries Policy, in full, upon accession, and access to fishery resources within EU waters will be based on the principle of relative stability, which allocates national quotas according to historic catch levels." Can you confirm then that Poland has no recent history of fishing in what are now all of the European Union waters?
  (Mr Vaz) I know that Mr Godman is something of an expert on fishing.

  56. No, I am not claiming to be, I am an observer, not an expert.
  (Mr Vaz) Right; a serious observer of these issues. And I cannot claim to be an expert on Polish fishing, but I am going to ask Mr Featherstone if he can enlighten us on the history of Polish fishing.
  (Mr Featherstone) I am afraid I do not know the answer to your question. If your question was asking whether the Polish fleet fishes in—


  57. It is an important point of detail. If you do not know the answer, could you reply to Dr Godman, to the Committee, through Dr Godman?
  (Mr Vaz) No, we do not know the answer, and I think what is best is, it is an important but a technical point, but it is important, and I will write to the Committee about it.

Sir David Madel

  58. Could I just clarify what you have said, Minister, about the CAP. We are not saying to Poland, "You cannot join until we have reformed the CAP," but are we saying to Poland, "You can't join, as a country, until you have reformed your own domestic agriculture"?
  (Mr Vaz) The reform agenda is very important for all the applicant countries, and we have made it quite clear, the Commission has made it quite clear, in the road map proposals and the assessment of the way in which the applications are being made, that there has to be reform; so they know that. And both in this area and in other areas, Sir David, you cannot just join on the basis of what you have got, you really do have to put into effect a thorough reform of what is happening. What we are not saying, as I said to Mr Godman, is that Poland cannot join until this matter is sorted out. As you know, Sir David, from your experience of these matters, as I have said, transitional arrangements can be entered into. I am not saying that we are going to have a transitional arrangement in Poland's case on agriculture, this is still a matter for negotiation.

  59. But we are looking for reform within Poland of its own agriculture system?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed; we look for reform on this issue and other issues constantly, because it has to be updated, it has to be reformed, it has to be modernised.

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