Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 22 October 2002
[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]
Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement Between the European Communities and their Member States, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) Order 2002
The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I should inform the Committee that a similar instrument relating to the Republic of Croatia that the Committee was to consider has been withdrawn by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and will not now be considered.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement Between the European Communities and their Member States, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) Order 2002.
It is a key United Kingdom interest that the people of the western Balkans should be able to put violence and instability behind them and join the democratic European mainstream. The past few years have seen great changes in the region. Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have taken important steps to reject the politics of nationalism and embrace the vision of a European future. Tudjman is dead. Milosevic stands trial for war crimes in The Hague. Last year's crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been overcome. Recent elections have been broadly peaceful and judged to meet international standards.
The EU is a key player in the long-term normalisation of the region and its new strategic role in the Balkans has been crucial to those recent breakthroughs. The agreement that we debate today is an example of the contracts that the EU is making with the countries of the region, and these contracts are central to EU strategy. The EU's stabilisation and association process in the Balkans acknowledges that the region's countries have a real chance to join the European Union.
The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of that strategy, which will bring the countries of south-eastern Europe closer to the EU, offering the perspective of EU membership. However, it does not do so unconditionally. Accession negotiations can start only once the criteria of the Copenhagen European Council and the treaty of Amsterdam have been met, and regional co-operation satisfactorily established. The EU offers help to clear those obstacles along the path to Europe, therefore offering a powerful incentive for change and an
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important means of building peace and stability in the region.
The EU aid programme for the region, known as CARDS, is specifically designed to support that process, notably through an emphasis on institution building. It has been allocated nearly €5 billion for 2000 to 2006. The crucial contractual elements in that process are the stabilisation and association agreements, or SAAs, that the countries conclude with the European Union. The first to have been signed, with Macedonia, is before us today, but all the region's states will be able to agree SAAs if they meet the criteria.
Macedonia is emerging from a difficult period. The EU, with other international actors, played a key role in bringing about a peaceful settlement of last year's conflict. It is to be hoped that the successful elections on 15 September have marked a clear decision by all parties to move forward. I pay tribute to the British election monitors who took part in that election process.
The SAA is Macedonia's road to European integration. The agreement recognises Macedonia as a ''potential candidate'' for the European Union and sets out the stages by which Macedonia can progress towards eventual membership via a closer partnership with the European Union. The SAA promotes regional co-operation and will open up regional economic opportunities. It also includes a free trade area, to be established after 10 years, and requires Macedonia to adopt European standards on a range of single market issues, which should help to build up the administrative capacity in the country. The free trade area builds on the trade preferences that Macedonia and other countries in the region already enjoy, providing 95 per cent. duty free access; the most generous access of any Community regime.
Following last year's ethnic violence in Macedonia, the provisions providing support for democratic, economic and institutional reforms will be key in ensuring that Macedonia remains on the course of peace that it has chosen and is ultimately able to join the Union. Macedonia's recent ethnic and political turmoil has underlined the need for continuing reform in the field of law and order. The provisions for co-operation in justice and home affairs in the SAA therefore will receive particular prominence.
Implementation of the SAA by Macedonia will be a central and continuing requirement of the European Union. The formation of the new Government in Skopje provides the opportunity to take the necessary steps for that. Implementation will reinforce public administration reform and good governance, for which the Department for International Development and the European Commission are working to provide support.
As you indicated, Mr. O'Hara, I had hoped to be able to present the SAA between the European Union and Croatia for the House's endorsement today. However, if the promise to be a ''potential candidate'' of the EU is to be meaningful, it is essential to maintain the political criteria, which include full co-operation with the European Union
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and the international community. As hon. Members may be aware, the Croatian Government have failed to hand over General Janko Bobetko to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY. General Bobetko has been indicted for war crimes, and co-operation with ICTY is an SAA requirement for Croatia. The EU has warned Croatia that it must co-operate with ICTY in The Hague if it wants to pursue its European vocation. Given that Croatia is not respecting its obligations in that regard, the Government have decided that it would not be appropriate to put the SAA before the House today.
Nevertheless, the United Kingdom remains a staunch supporter of Croatia's European Union aspirations. We hope that it moves swiftly to comply with the indictment against General Bobetko, thereby fulfilling its international obligations. Once the issue is resolved, we will continue the process of ratifying Croatia's SAA.
The Government believe that the EU's role as a source of stability is vital for the future peace of the western Balkans. The SAA process is an important building block for that. The Macedonian SAA will serve as a strong political message of EU support for the wider region and should act as a catalyst for other states.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): May I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair this morning, Mr. O'Hara? I thank the Under-Secretary for moving and comprehensively explaining the order.
It is a sign of the progress of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that it is now ready sign a stabilisation and association agreement with the European Union. I am delighted that we have reached that stage. Only last year, it seemed possible that Macedonia would be ripped apart by the ethnic strife that has caused so much destruction in the former Yugoslavia. That has now been averted, and I pay tribute to the role of British troops and election observers in helping to restore stability to the country.
I hope that the agreement will be a pillar of support for the Macedonian Government. In the past, Ministers with responsibility for Europe and their representatives have not always appeared fully wholehearted in their support for the Macedonian Government. However, Macedonian territorial integrity is essential for the establishment of permanent stability in the Balkans.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary several questions about the agreement. The framework agreement is referred to in paragraph 6. Will he tell us how much of that agreement has been passed into law and implemented, and what remains to be passed into law and implemented? What is his assessment of the importance of the stabilisation and association agreement's success to those parts of the framework agreement that have yet to come into force?
Macedonia's justice system is an area of importance for obvious reasons. Article 68 calls for the approximation of laws, and there are deadlines for
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competition standards and certificates and intellectual property law. How confident is the Under-Secretary that Macedonia will be able to fulfil those undertakings, and how confident is he that it is fulfilling them already?
Articles 74 and 75 are of special interest. Will the Under-Secretary explain how Britain's co-operation in the field of justice will lead to higher standards and capabilities in the Macedonian legal system? What programmes do the Government have in place? I should like to ask the same questions about border control, asylum and migration. What joint programmes are in place, or will be put in place as a result of the agreement, to deal with human trafficking? If he wants to write to me about one or two of those points, I will be happy to receive a letter from him.
I should like to draw attention to the joint declaration on article 34, which abolishes the Macedonian fee for customs clearance purposes on imported goods. Is the Under-Secretary confident that Macedonia's budget will be able to sustain the loss of that revenue? Will he tell us what effect the agreement will have on NATO's Operation Amber Fox? Does the agreement have any bearing on the proposed deployment of European forces under the auspices of the European security and defence policy?
The stabilisation and association agreement is the first step on the road to EU membership. It is hoped that in Macedonia, as elsewhere, the prospect of EU membership will act as a spur to the establishment of political stability and an incentive for the enduring good governance, including democracy and the rule of law, which is necessary for successful accession to the European Union. I hope that that first step on the road is successful, and that in future Macedonia will overcome the remaining obstacles to eventual EU membership. I am confident that that is something to which we can all look forward.