Monday 18 March 2002
[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]
[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 14117/01 and Addenda 1-13 relating to the European Commission Strategy Paper on enlargement and reports on progress by applicants; EU Document No. 5745/02 relating to the common financial framework 2004-2006 for accession negotiations; EU Document No. 5638/02 relating to agricultural issues relating to enlargement; and EU Document No. COM (01) 437, Commission Communication on the impact of enlargement on regions bordering candidate countriescommunity action for border regions.]
The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): I have not previous had the privilege of appearing before you in Committee, Mr. Illsley, but I look forward to the experience.The Government have been a champion of enlargement, as, to be fair, were our predecessors. Negotiations began under our presidency in 1998. When the Prime Minister spoke in Warsaw in October 2000, he was the first European leader to call for enlargement in 2004, and for candidate countries to take part in the next intergovernmental conference. We played a key role in keeping the European Union on track to achieve those objectives, because we believe in the reunification of the continent of Europe after half a century of division at the beginning of the previous centurymore wars were fought in our continent over the previous two centuries or so than in any other part in the world.
Enlargement is about spreading the zone of stability and security, including in the fight against terrorism. We can compare what happened to Milosevic's Yugoslavia, which turned its back on the European Union and on European values, with Slovenia, which opted for European Union membership and stands as a democratic model for the region. Enlargement also derives from hard-headed economic self-interest. It is estimated to boost British gross domestic product by about £1.75 billion a year; it will bring an estimated 300,000 new jobs to the 15 member states, and about 2 million to candidate states; and it will encourage investment and trade opportunities in the world's largest single market of nearly 500 million citizens, which is larger than the two biggest economies in the world, Japan and America, combined.
We are on track to complete negotiations with the first candidates this year, which will include up to 10 new member states. The Commission will not make recommendations on which countries should join until its next annual report this autumn. Progress is encouraging: of the 29 chapters that need to be closed
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in the negotiations before accession can happen, Slovenia has closed 26, and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus have closed 24; other countries follow behind with 22, 23 and 20. Bulgaria has closed 14 and Romania ninethey are not expected to be part of the first wave.
The Commission has published a strategy paper, which confirms that enlargement is affordable. In January, it set out why and how it is affordable in its proposals on finance, which fall within the overall budget ceilings set at the Berlin Council in 1999. The Commission's financing paper and the paper on the agriculture chapter set out detailed proposals on how money might be spent. We can support much in those proposals. The bulk of the money rightly lies in regional funds, and the focus of common agricultural money is on rural development in support of restructuring, rather than on handing out subsidies, which has been the traditional method of the common agricultural policy.
We can also support assistance in the decommissioning of non-upgradable nuclear plants, which will be important for northern Cyprus in the event of a settlement. Although the remaining negotiations will be difficult, they are manageable, and we are on track to end negotiations with the first candidates this year by the time of the Copenhagen Council, under the Danish presidency, in December. We are committed to seeing the process through. We owe it to the candidate countriesall of which are our friends and with some of which we have had close relationships over centuriesnot to move the goalposts after 12 years of painful reform. Their accession must be secured.
By allowing and enabling the candidate countries to join the European Union, we are doing a favour not only to them but to ourselves. Enlargement will increase jobs and trading opportunities for our companies and enhance our security and stability. We will also be able to encourage strong environmental standards. Air and water pollution know no national boundaries. By applying the high environmental standards in the European Union to the other countries joining us, we will protect our own environment as well.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I echo the Minister's words in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr Illsley.
Following the Irish voters' rejection of the Nice treaty, is there a plan B for the accession of the states that propose to join the European Union? Will it be possible to incorporate the voting weight changes for the Council of Ministers and the seat number changes in the European Parliament in a new accession treaty without reopening the whole controversial subject, particularly if the Irish voters reject the Nice treaty a second time?
Peter Hain: That is a legitimate concern among Conservative Members and, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, a particular concern for the Government. Every member state, including Ireland, must ratify the Nice treaty before it can come into
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force. I know of no plan B. The only future lies in ratification by every member state, which will allow enlargement to take place on time and enable the countries that complete their negotiations by the end of this year to take part in the intergovernmental conference in 2004 and the European elections. That must still be the objective.
The Irish Government have asked for time to reflect. They have set up a consultative forum to take views from the Irish people on what extra safeguards might be offered to enable them to feel more certain about voting for ratification of the Nice treaty than they were last time, when they rejected it.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the United Kingdom has been a leading country in giving practical assistance to the candidate nations. We have been involved in 80 to 90 different projects, most of which deal with institution building in the civil service in those countries. Is he able to assess the effectiveness of the projects, particularly those aimed at tackling endemic corruption, which is highlighted in the reports on progress as a worrying issue and must be addressed before accession?
Peter Hain: We have bilateral projects in 13 countries and experts involved in more than 100 twinning projects. At the end of last year, I travelled to Hungary and the Czech Republic and met some of the officials and experts that we had provided to the authorities in those countries to give the advice that they need on improving their judiciary and tackling corruption. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer to the problem of corruption, and I am glad that he raised the matter, because it has been endemic in many of the countries. Joining the European Union would lever up their standards and improve their governance. They want to come into Europe, but to do so they must meet common standards, whether in respect of financial transparency, good practice in government or strong judicial authorities.
In all those areas, our experts have been working in situ, on matters from advising courts to improving border safeguardsfor us and our colleagues in the European Union, having proper border safeguards is terribly important. Britain has played a leading role. We have given support in that way and in direct funding to the applicantnow the candidatecountries amounting to, I think, £350 million, because we believe that it is not only in their interests but in ours for them to join. To the extent that Britain can help provide the expertise and technical assistance to enable them to meet the conditions and requirements of European Union membership, we are glad to do so.
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): In his commentary on the Commission's regular report on enlargement, the Minister helpfully picks up on the point that implementation of the acquis communautaire is very poor in several applicant countries, which have managed to incorporate it in their legal statutes but failed to implement it. That is very serious. Given that the acquis communautaire
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runs to 85,000 pages, does he not think it wholly unfair to impose on small countries with weak administrative systems the burden not only of bringing it into their statutes but of implementing it on a very accelerated time scale? How will he satisfy himself that that monstrous volume of legislation will be properly implemented in time for accession?
Peter Hain: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I want to answer him directly, but I put it to him, in a spirit of friendship rather than in an adversarial way, that he and his constituents would expect the candidate countries to meet the standards that apply across the rest of the European Union when they join it. Our citizens taking part in a single market joined by those candidate countries will want to know that those standards apply, whether they are business people trading in those countries or are crossing borders travelling into them.
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point that the acquis is a pretty heavy load to bear. However, the candidates will be obliged, by the terms of their accession treaties, to fulfil their obligations under the acquis like any other member state, including Britain. Monitoring and implementation of the acquis does not end with the conclusion of the negotiations, but is an ongoing process to which all member states are subject. That will be the case, for example, in financial services and agriculture. After enlargement, the candidates will participate in the existing European Union peer review processes, for example in justice and home affairs and the various procedures relating to economic reform.
The acquis is a considerable burden, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want any member state to join on the basis of weakened accession standards. That would not be to its benefit and certainly not to ours.