Select Committee on European Communities Report


Letter from Doug Henderson MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  I am writing to inform you that the draft principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and general conditions of the Accession Partnerships were agreed by COREPER yesterday. They will be taken as an A point at the Agriculture Council on Monday 16 March.

  I am aware that the 10 draft texts have not yet been cleared by the House of Lords Sub-Committee A. As you know, the Luxembourg European Council mandate was to agree the Accession Partnerships by15 March, and I made this clear to you, both in my reply of 25 February to your letter of 12 February, and in my appearance before your Committee on 3 March.

  I regret the short time which has been available for scrutiny of these texts. We have made every effort to accommodate the normal scrutiny procedures, but, as I am sure you will agree, this is an exceptional case.

  Under the circumstances, I hope you understand that we must proceed with the plan I set out above. Therefore, we shall lift the UK's parliamentary scrutiny reserve to permit adoption of the Accession Partnerships.

12 March 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Doug Henderson MP, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  On 17 March Sub-Committee A scrutinised the 10 explanatory memoranda submitted by you on25 February about the draft Council Decision (EC) on the principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and conditions of the Accession Partnership (AP) for each country. This letter deals only with the document about Slovakia.

  The AP identifies priority actions required for Slovakia as including the fields of political reform (eg hold free and fair elections in 1998, adopt legislation on minority language use, take steps to ensure respect for the Constitution and the rights of the opposition). These priorities seem well justified. It seems curious to us that the reduction of pre-accession aid is seen as the sanction to be applied where "principles of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights or the protection of minorities" are violated. We should be interested to know what consideration has been given to other sanctions which might be more appropriately applied to a country with a poor record on human rights.

  Although this letter queries the appropriateness of the sanction we should not have wished to maintain the scrutiny reserve. The reserve is, of course, no longer applicable as you felt obliged to give political agreement to the APs at an earlier Council.

26 March 1998

Letter from Doug Henderson, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Many thanks for your letter of 26 March about scrutiny of the Accession Partnerships explanatory memoranda.

  Obviously, we are concerned that democracy and human rights are fully respected in Slovakia. The Luxembourg European Council restated the importance of the Copenhagen political criteria. This is reflected in the Accession Partnership for Slovakia, which highlights the need to honour the priorities you mentioned, including holding free and fair elections this year. This is clearly within the gift of the Slovak Government.

  We would, however, expect action to be taken, within the Accession Partnership framework where any objective is not met for reasons within the applicant's control. Withholding funds is the only sanction possible under the Partnerships. Outside that framework, the EU could exert political pressure through the mechanisms of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. There would also be scope to bring pressure to bear within the Accession Process.

  In addition, the relevant provisions of the European Agreement (Articles 6 and 117) would allow the EU to take "appropriate measures" if it considered that Slovakia had failed to "respect the democratic principles and human rights established by the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe".

  The international community has also been monitoring closely recent developments in Slovakia. The OSCE is already making plans for election monitoring later this year. The EU's voice has been making itself heard through Presidency, Council, Commission and Parliamentary channels. The same message is being played to the Slovak Government to address its democratic shortcomings on bilateral visits.

  I know your Committee takes a particular interest in the enlargement process and the raft of issues it raises. I am pleased to be able to send for your information copies of the complete Accession Partnerships which were adopted at the end of March.

9 April 1998

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