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NATO Enlargement (Baltic States)

5. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): What recent discussions his Department has had with (a) Estonia, (b) Latvia and (c) Lithuania about the political aspects of proposed NATO enlargement. [54372]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We have had frequent discussions with all three Baltic states. We have made clear the importance that we attach to the political, as well as the military, responsibilities of NATO membership.

Mr. Marsden: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I recently visited Estonia and Latvia with the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as I had the chance to see for myself, those countries have made great strides in reintegrating themselves into the new Europe?

Given that the NATO meeting in Reykjavik today is considering the whole issue of enlargement and applications for enlargement, will the Department continue to stress to those Governments the importance of the political dimension in the responsibility of NATO membership? In particular, will it emphasise the need to reassure and to give equal access to citizenship for Russian minorities in the countries concerned, so that we are able to reassure those minorities that membership of NATO will be a force for stability and integration in their countries?

Mr. Bradshaw: Of course. We are very pleased with the progress that the Baltic states have made in integrating and improving the human rights of their minorities, especially the Russian minority. It is particularly pleasing that Latvia is in the process of changing its electoral law to remove the language barrier that might have discriminated against its Russian minority. That shows one of the political benefits—not only for NATO, but for the countries concerned—in countries aspiring to and, eventually we hope, joining NATO.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): If the three Baltic nations specified in the question are admitted to NATO—we would welcome that—will they join the genuinely transatlantic alliance that constitutes NATO now, or the European pillar of a defence community that was proposed two weeks ago by the chairman of the EU Military Committee, General Hagglund? Does the Minister agree with the general that

while the US-NATO

How can that divisive proposal be reconciled with the Foreign Secretary's words in Washington last week? He said:

Mr. Bradshaw: Those nations will join NATO, which is and will remain the cornerstone of our strategic defence. The right hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Hagglund out of context. He was making the point, with which we agree, that the European Union is developing the capability to manage crises in its backyard, as the United States has pressed us to do for a long time.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): My hon. Friend knows that the Foreign Minister of Estonia will visit the United

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Kingdom next month. Will he discuss the matters that we are considering with that Minister? Will he join me in congratulating Estonia on its victory last year in the Eurovision song contest and its forthcoming hosting of the event?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am happy to congratulate any country that enjoys a victory in that contest. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether it is a blessing.

Of course the Foreign Minister of Estonia will be warmly welcomed. Estonia has made great strides towards democracy and probably leads all the Baltic countries in its preparedness for NATO accession.

Mr. Ancram: The Minister cannot brush aside General Hagglund's remarks so easily. The general said:

he meant a defence community—

I understand that Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs envoy, saw his speech in advance. Is not that yet another element in a creeping agenda to undermine NATO and create a separate European defence policy, decoupled from that of the United States? How can the remarks be reconciled with the Prime Minister's insistence in 1999 that the European defence project would reinforce, not oppose NATO? It is time that the Government came clean. Do they agree with the European view on defence or not?

Mr. Bradshaw: It is time that the Opposition ended the infantile anti-Europeanism that drives their agenda. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there is no conflict or contradiction between the role of NATO, the cornerstone of our strategic defence, and the European security and defence policy, which will be responsible for Petersberg tasks.

EU Enlargement

6. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): What measures his Department is taking to help United Kingdom businesses prepare for EU enlargement. [54373]

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): We are working hard with Trade Partners UK to help more than 15,000 British companies take advantage of the enormous opportunities in what will be the largest single market in the industrialised world. On 12 June we will brief British business journalists about them.

Rosemary McKenna: My right hon. Friend knows the importance of commercial assistance to UK companies that are trying to set up in the pre-accession countries if we are to be truly competitive and increase employment in the UK. He will know of the serious anxieties that have been expressed through our embassies and consuls about the available resources. What steps has he taken or can he take to improve matters?

Peter Hain: A third of our diplomats abroad are commercial officials, responsible for driving Britain's trade strategy and helping businesses. There are enormous opportunities in the countries that want to join the

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European Union. Ten are on target to do that and to complete their negotiations by the end of the year. That should be a wake-up call to all British business to go out and take advantage of those opportunities. Britain is perceived as a champion of European enlargement, the best friend of candidate countries. Our businesses would find an open door. They would be welcomed through it to great opportunities of which they could take advantage.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Before EU enlargement proceeds, some unfinished business needs to be tackled about people in the EU who are currently disfranchised. The Minister realises that I am referring to people in Gibraltar who have repeatedly been promised the opportunity to vote in European elections. Despite the Government's—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question is not about Gibraltar.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Does the Minister recall that the last time I aggravated Ministers on the question of European Union enlargement, it was to ask why no Labour Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had visited the principal accession countries? Has the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—as distinct from a junior Minister—visited Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic or any of the other accession countries? If not, why not, and when is she going? What is more, will he kick the backside of Britain's commerce and industry, particularly the financial sector, which have been unbelievably tardy in their approach to central Europe, and still believe that it consists of far away countries of which we know little? The Germans, French, Swedes and others are engaged in this process but we are not. The British Government have been tardy on this, and so have commerce and industry.

Peter Hain: I know that my hon. Friend is really on my side on this matter, and on other matters of Government policy. I acknowledge his interest in central Europe, and his long association with it. I have been to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus—half the candidate countries—and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is due to visit many of them in the next few weeks. Every time we go, we assist British business, as do our officials who are in post in those countries all year round. Moreover, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will listen carefully to my hon. Friend's strictures.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): In preparing UK businesses for enlargement—which the Minister knows is an objective that the Conservatives prize—will he ensure that British businesses are not discriminated against? That applies particularly to British farmers, as our large farmers might be discriminated against in favour of smaller European farmers.

Peter Hain: One of our driving objectives in reforming Europe is to get a sensible agricultural policy, which we certainly do not have at present. The common agricultural policy needs radical reform, and enlargement will increase

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the pressure for that to happen. Indeed, I do not think that the CAP as it is structured will bear the weight of enlargement.

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