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Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I thank the Minister for setting out what is in clause 1. Of course, we endorse both the sentiments behind it and what is in the clause, but I remind the Committee of the Copenhagen criteria that were set 10 years ago for the accession process. The criteria demanded that, before a state could be considered for membership of the EU, it must possess the following attributes. An applicant must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. An applicant must have a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressures in the single market of the EU. An applicant must be able to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Lastly, the applicant must create the

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conditions for its integration through the adjustment of its administrative structures, so that European Community legislation transposed into national legislation can be implemented effectively through appropriate administrative and judicial structures.

I agree with the Minister. He said that the moves have had in many instances a salutary effect on internal reforms in the accession countries. Equally, it has been a very heavy load for some of those countries, with the 85,000 pages of the acquis communautaire. I pay tribute to the officials in the accession countries for their hard work and dedication to bringing this historic moment about.

Sir Alan, I hope that you will allow me the indulgence of saying a few words about each of the accession countries, because this is an extremely important moment. Each of the accession countries has something special to offer our European partners. In Britain, perhaps too little is known about them but I hope that, as a result of what we are doing today and the accession process, many millions of Britons will take the opportunity to experience the beauties of central and eastern Europe and to get to know about the political systems there.

1.45 pm

Malta is well known to us. It is a cherished and valuable member of the Commonwealth. We remember it for its bravery in the second world war and it is a considerable economic success story. The Baltic states have their own rich heritage. Estonia is famous for its beauty. What has characterised Estonia above all is its clear commitment to liberal economics. It has reduced taxation and is having to reimpose tariffs and subsidies—[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) finds this so amusing. I am trying to record for the purposes of the Committee how pleased we are, and to pay tribute to what those countries have done.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Spring: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who was being extremely discourteous.

The result has been excellent economic growth. Latvia has one of the great cities, Riga. It celebrated its 800th anniversary last year. I hope that it will celebrate its 801st in the EU. Lithuania has a rich history and we welcome it into the EU. It has long fought for independence. It has a unique culture and it will act as a gateway and bridge to Russia, as will all the Baltic states.

Perhaps more than any other country, Poland suffered grievously in the previous century. It is now free from communist subjugation. The fall of the Berlin wall opened up the whole process; in effect, it began to crumble in Gdansk. I was lucky enough to visit Poland last year. Again, Poland will play an important part in the European Union and help us to open links with countries such as Belarus and Ukraine.

The Czech Republic lies at the heart of Europe. Prague is perhaps the most famous European city between Vienna and St. Petersburg. Again, it has a rich

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history. The country stood up for freedom strongly during the communist era. Similarly, the British people will, I am sure, be more aware of Slovakia. We pay tribute to what has happened there and to the harmonious relationships that have been built between the Slovakian majority and Hungarian minority.

Hungary's national spirit was fiercest in the resistance against communist tyranny. It now has a sturdy democracy and a growing economy. Budapest is recognised now as one of the great cities of Europe.

Slovenia is an exemplar in a troubled part of the world. Alone of the former Yugoslav republics, it has avoided the horrors of civil strife. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not want sedentary discussion going on and disturbing the debate. Nothing is out of order. If anything occurs that is out of order, I will rule it so. The clause deals with the accession of certain countries to the European Union. It seems therefore perfectly in order that some discussion should take place about those countries. However, I expressed the hope to some hon. Members before the debate that it should not be a slavish repetition of the Second Reading debate.

Mr. Spring: Thank you, Sir Alan.

On Cyprus, the whole Committee will recognise that this is something of a bittersweet moment because the special representative of the United Kingdom, Lord Hannay, has just been withdrawn, according to this morning's newspapers. I salute his efforts and those of Kofi Annan, but Cyprus is not joining as a united country. We regret the collapse of the negotiations process and what happened at the end of March. Our position has always been clear: we support a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal structure for a united island.I hope that, despite that terrific setback—as the Minister said, we saw a great outpouring and a total lack of rancour between the two groups on the island when they were allowed to meet in a limited way—it will be possible for the process to move on. The Republic of Cyprus has prospered, but that has not been true of Turkish north Cyprus. It is important that some arrangement be entered into that will result in prosperity for all parts of the island.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): In paying tribute to the emerging countries, does the hon. Gentleman agree that they prize their independence, and that it is important that, as we go forward, we do not become an embattled Europe but bear in mind the whole world when talking about free trade?

Mr. Spring: I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. Free trade and flexibility must be key elements in making the European Union enduring and successful in the years to come.

I greatly applaud the measures taken by the Republic of Cyprus in respect of Turkish north Cyprus. It made several suggestions on 30 April, including greater freedom of movement of goods for citizens living in the Turkish part of the island, and of persons and vehicles. It also made suggestions concerning employment rights,

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medical care and participation in international events. I hope that, despite the setback, there can be a coming together.

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman referred to Lord Hannay's withdrawal, but his mandate has simply come to its natural end. He is a superb servant of the Foreign Office and the Crown. He is well into his retirement and has given immense energy and time to trying to bring the people of Cyprus together. I simply want to place on the record, in front of the Committee of the whole House, all our thanks for the magnificent work that he has done. I hope that the spirit of Hannay will allow a united Cyprus to join the EU before next May.

Mr. Spring: I am very grateful to the Minister for those comments—obviously, what I read in one of this morning's newspapers was not entirely accurate. However, the fact is that Lord Hannay's tenure is coming to an end, and I am very happy to endorse the Minister's comments. Indeed, I did say that Lord Hannay has played an important part—[Interruption.] Perhaps the newspaper report originated from a rogue element—I do not know. I salute Lord Hannay and all those who have tried to bring about reconciliation. Cyprus is an island with which we have strong historical links, and there are Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities here in the United Kingdom that enrich our own national life. It seems tragic that at this moment in history, as the 10 accession countries are joining, one of them should not be united.

I am grateful to you, Sir Alan, for allowing me to make those comments about the accession countries, which have different histories, cultures and traditions. We very much welcome their joining the European Union, and that applies in the context of clause 1 of the Bill.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I shall speak very briefly, and I do not of course wish to repeat everything that was said on Second Reading. I want to begin by congratulating the Minister for Europe on all the work that he and his Department have done in respect of enlargement. He has been assiduous in visiting all the enlargement countries. Indeed, he has just come back from Poland, and his visit perhaps overshadowed even that of our own Prime Minister and President Bush, so well did the Polish receive him. We have reunited the continent of Europe, and reunited the Minister for Europe with members of his own family in Poland.

I am very pleased that the Minister has launched a campaign in this country—I understand that it is supported by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats—to inform people about the enlargement process. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) is absolutely right: people do not know enough about the enlargement process, and the work that the Minister is doing in taking the message to the people of this country will help us enormously.

It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for West Suffolk. I am grateful to him for repeating the names of all the applicant countries. Of course, the Conservatives' position has changed. At the time of the Nice treaty, they were in favour—as was the hon. Gentleman—of a referendum on Nice, thereby seeking to block the enlargement process. I was therefore

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delighted that, when the Conservative party called for a Division when this matter was debated on Second Reading, they voted in favour of enlargement; indeed, nobody voted against it. That unanimity is a bit late in coming, but we welcome such support.

All that we did not hear from the hon. Gentleman was an analysis of the voting during the Eurovision song contest, but perhaps that will come when he discusses clause 2. However, it is important that we pay tribute to these countries, which have worked extremely hard. The timetable set by our Prime Minister and others is being realised—perhaps sooner than many of us anticipated.

I want to raise one final point with the Minister, relating to his letter to me of 4 June. Page 2, paragraph 3 of that letter deals with early-warning letters sent by the Commission to the applicant countries—an issue that he mentioned in his speech. In considering this part of the Bill on Second Reading, I raised with the Minister the issue of countries such as Poland, which have received early-warning letters. I sought an assurance from him that their receiving such letters did not bar them from acceding to the European Union in May 2004, and he wrote to me giving that assurance. However, I am worried about paragraph 3 of that letter, in which he says that if the early-warning letters and the report that will be published in November show that some countries have not reached the necessary standard, those countries, if no safeguards are already agreed in the negotiations, will face the prospect of infraction proceedings as soon as they join.

That would be a terrible end to a very long process. Many of these countries have worked hard for a number of years in order to join the European Union. To say to those countries that, once they join, infraction proceedings may be started against them if there are no safeguards, is surely the wrong message to send. At this stage, we should be making sure that they meet the established criteria. I want the Government to do as much as they possibly can to help the applicant countries to achieve the benchmarks set by the Commission. We should not leave that task to the Commission. As the Minister has said, we have good relations with many of these countries. Why do we not give them whatever support they need to make sure that they resolve the problems described in the early-warning letters?

The prospect of infraction proceedings against those countries is awful, and I hope that we can ensure that we meet the criteria in a proper and effective way. If that means giving them more resources, we should do so. I know that the Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others have launched various action plans with the applicant countries, but if they need more support perhaps we should arrange the secondment of some of our civil servants. Indeed, we should help them in any way that we can, because there are still several months to go before they sign the treaty and accede.

I support the Bill and I hope that the clause will go through unamended.

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