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16 Dec 2002 : Column 537—continued

European Council (Copenhagen)

3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the European Council that took place in Copenhagen on 12 and 13 December. Negotiations were successfully concluded to admit to membership 10 countries from eastern and central Europe, and Cyprus and Malta. We hope that Romania and Bulgaria will be ready to follow in 2007.

Today, we take it for granted that the 10 countries are all democratic nations living by the same values as the rest of Europe, but for anyone who remembers the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Prague spring of 1968 or the imposition of military rule in Poland in 1981, the transformation of those countries from tyranny to democracy and now to full European Union membership is a huge achievement of which Europe and Britain can be justly proud.

We have long been the champions of European enlargement. The negotiations for membership began during the British presidency of the EU in 1998, and I should like to pay tribute particularly to the Danish presidency and the Commission, which brought the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Details of the final package are annexed to the conclusions of the meeting. Membership will bring immediate economic benefits to the candidates. It will create a single market of 450 million people. Our trade has increased nearly 10 times as fast with those new countries as with the rest of the world, and 14,000 UK firms now export to east and central Europe. Membership of the EU will boost the gross domestic product of those countries by nearly 1.5 per cent., and our own by up to nearly #2 billion.

The new member states are countries that have only recently rediscovered their national identity. They, like us, will want the further integration of the Union to be firmly rooted in the democratic accountability of the nation state. They shall be our allies in developing a European Union on those lines.

For some time, Turkey has been knocking on the door of the European Union. The response of the Union has rightly been to encourage a closer economic and political relationship, but to say that full membership would be possible only when Turkey met the necessary human rights criteria.

In the past year, Turkey has made enormous strides by abolishing the death penalty and adopting a range of human rights laws. The new Turkish Government have promised a detailed legislative timetable to accelerate that progress. I believe that it is massively in our interests to see Turkey as a modern democratic partner in Europe. For that reason, I have been urging our partners to offer Turkey a date to open negotiations for membership, provided that the so-called Copenhagen criteria are met. I am pleased to report to the House that that was achieved in Copenhagen.

The Commission will report on Turkey's progress and if, in December 2004, on a recommendation from the Commission, the European Council decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, accession negotiations with Turkey will open without delay. That

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agreement has contributed to a better climate on the long-standing Cyprus dispute. The Secretary-General of the United Nations and his special representative, Mr. De Soto, have been tireless in their efforts, as has our own special representative, Lord Hannay. A settlement remains within reach. I urge all parties to continue their efforts to find a comprehensive settlement, which would allow a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union, as set out in the conclusions of the European Council.

We were also able to resolve differences between Turkey and Greece that have delayed the agreement between the European Union and NATO necessary to allow the implementation of a European security and defence policy. We have now established the essential linkage with NATO, which means that where NATO is not involved the European Union can undertake peacekeeping operations using NATO planning, with the option of using NATO headquarters and NATO assets as well. As a result, the European Union stands ready to take over the military operation in Macedonia, in consultation with NATO, and to lead a military operation in Bosnia following SFOR.

The European Council issued a declaration on the middle east in advance of the Quartet ministerial meeting in Washington. The Quartet brings together the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, and its meeting on 20 December will take us a further step forward. In the short term, progress on the Israeli side will be limited by the general election campaign in Israel. However, I believe that we should use the intervening period to maximise the chances of successful implementation of the road map once a new Israeli Government are in place.

That means continuing to do what we can to secure an end to violence, and to reverse the deteriorating humanitarian situation. It also means ensuring that Palestinian reform is effective. To that end, I can announce today that I am inviting leading Palestinians to come to Britain in January for a conference, along with members of the Quartet and other countries from the region closely involved in supporting the reform effort. The participants will discuss progress on reform and consider how the international community can help. It is in the interests of Palestinians and Israelis that the reform efforts succeed, so that we can make a reality of President Bush's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

The European Council also issued a declaration on Iraq, giving its full and unequivocal support for Security Council resolution 1441 and urging Iraq to seize this final opportunity to comply with its international obligations.

Finally, we speak against the background of serious problems confronting our fishing industry. In the past 30 years, cod stocks in the North sea have fallen from 250,000 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes. If fishing continues at the present rate there is a risk of there being no viable cod fishing industry left. That is why the European Commission has suggested a reduction in fishing of 80 per cent., to enable the cod stock to recover to its absolute minimum viable level. Scientists believe that the safe minimum is 150,000 tonnes.

We share the objective of enabling fish stocks to recover, but we believe that much more moderate measures could deliver recovery while maintaining a

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viable industry. I have talked extensively both with the President of the Commission at Copenhagen and with Commissioner Fischler previously. Fisheries Ministers are now meeting in Brussels to reach agreement on the issue.

The UK fishing industry has benefited over the past year from #36 million of funding to support adjustment through decommissioning. This includes the Scottish Executive's action to help preserve fish stocks and ensure the industry's long-term viability with a #27 million aid package. If there are further cuts arising from the ongoing negotiations in Brussels, the UK Government and the Scottish Executive stand ready to help the fishing communities affected. I will meet leaders of the industry in the new year, and financial assistance will be made available if necessary, but the priority for now must be to get a fair deal for our fishing industry.

The summit was a remarkable achievement. It redefines the future shape of Europe. It describes a future in which Europe is reunited, a Europe of proud and sovereign nation states, working together economically, socially and politically in their common interest. The prospect of Turkey's membership has even more dramatic implications. A nation that borders the Arab world, that is Muslim, that is none the less striking out on a path leading to liberal democracy, is set in time to join the traditional nations of Europe.

The implications for the future of Europe are profound. In time, all these new countries will be part of the European economy, part of monetary union, part of European defence, part of the European political system. For us in Britain, the implications are equally profound. It is our job to be part of the new Europe that is developing, to be a leading power within it and to understand the degree to which our national interest is bound up with it. Isolation from Europe in this new world is absolute folly. That is why we shall continue to fight for our interests, but recognise that they are best served inside the European Union, not on its margins.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in welcoming the conference that he has apparently announced today for leading Palestinian reformers, involving representatives of the EU, the UN, Russia and the United States. We will await more details on that before dealing with it in detail ourselves.

This historic summit is a tribute to the long, hard and sometimes lonely battles fought by successive British Governments to extend the benefits of EU membership to the former communist states of central and eastern Europe. Like the Prime Minister, I, too, congratulate the Danish presidency and in particular Prime Minister Rasmussen, who has been a diligent and honest broker for a working settlement on enlargement. However, I think that I speak for many on both sides of the House, as well as for millions elsewhere in Europe, when I express my regret at how long enlargement has taken. As the Prime Minister knows, for all British Governments it is 13 years since the Berlin wall came down: 13 years of excluding central and eastern European countries from western European markets, all because Brussels insisted on full compliance with social legislation. Only now has the EU lived up to its obligations; as I have said, it was successive British Governments who tried to lead the way. Enlargement

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may be the European Union's finest hour, but its delay reveals the vested interests in parts of the EU with which we have become all too familiar.

The Copenhagen summit showed a side to the Franco-German axis with which the Prime Minister is also becoming all too familiar. Back in October in Brussels, he was outflanked by France and Germany when they delayed common agricultural policy reform—a move that will greatly increase the cost of EU membership to accession states and to existing member states alike. Last week in Copenhagen, he was again outflanked—[Interruption.]

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