Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fifth Report


The Foreign Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. In Session 1998-99, we produced a substantial report on EU Enlargement containing important conclusions and recommendations,[7] to which the Government gave a largely positive response.[8] Since then, accession negotiations have continued and there have been further developments, not least the Nice European Council Summit and Inter-Governmental Conference held in December 2000. Accordingly, we decided to follow up our previous Report with written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office[9] and oral evidence from the Minister for Europe, Mr Keith Vaz.[10]

2. We have decided to publish the evidence we received at the earliest opportunity, together with this short Report, in the hope that it will help to inform debate in the House and more widely. We also hope by highlighting a number of issues in this Report to afford our successor Committee in the next Parliament an opportunity to produce a more substantial report should it so wish. In that context, we discuss in later paragraphs the following matters which in our judgment particularly merit further consideration:

  • the timetable for and process of enlargement, including problems caused by delays in the timetable; transitional arrangements and derogations for candidate countries (with particular regard to free movement of people, agriculture and the environment); the treatment of countries which are unlikely to join in the near future; and relationships across the new external borders of the EU

  • the EU's preparedness for enlargement, including agricultural support; and the budget in the light of the maintenance of unanimity for the next financial framework

  • the United Kingdom's preparedness for enlargement, including the financial costs; levels of diplomatic representation in the candidate countries; and bilateral assistance to the candidate countries

  • the particular problems concerning the candidacies of Turkey and Cyprus

  • the allocation of Council votes and of European Parliament seats after enlargement

  • the implications of enlargement for the European Security and Defence Policy and for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the issue of democratic oversight of these policies

  • the 2004 Inter-Governmental Conference, including the organisation of and procedures to be used in preparing for the IGC; the debate on the future of the EU; the establishment of a more precise delimitation of competencies between the EU and Member States; the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights; treaty simplification; the role of national parliaments; the power of the Commission; and the democratic legitimacy and transparency of the EU

The timetable for and process of enlargement

10. The timetable for and process of enlargement are likely to remain a matter of concern in two main areas: the order in which candidate countries join the EU, and the tendency to leave the most difficult negotiations to the end of the process.

11. The Luxembourg Six—Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia—were formally accepted as candidates for membership in December 1997. The decision to begin membership negotiations with the Helsinki Six—Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia—was taken in December 1999. The fact that a group of countries began negotiations at the same time should not mean that negotiations with all countries in the group will be concluded simultaneously. As Mr Vaz told us, "frankly, some countries are making astonishingly good progress, as you must have found, others are not being as successful as they ought to be."[11] In principle at least, there is no reason why negotiations with a member of the Helsinki Six should not be concluded before negotiations with a member of the Luxembourg Six. The Government agrees that "there is no reason why a member of the Helsinki Six club, if we can call it that, cannot catch up with the others on the regatta principle."[12]

12. Political considerations, however, make a strictly objective assessment of progress unlikely. The perception that a candidate country is faring badly in negotiations may affect its economy adversely.

13. This is a longstanding issue of concern to us, which we raised in our 1999 Report.[13] There is a danger that candidate countries which are in a position to join the EU are held back by other less successful countries perceived as more important by Member States. Conversely, there is a threat that candidate countries will be allowed to join the EU for political reasons before they are fully ready. Germany is keen for Poland to be among the next group of candidate countries to join the EU, perhaps regardless of its readiness—or the prior readiness of other candidates—to do so.

14. A second matter of concern was brought into stark relief by our oral evidence session with Mr Vaz.[14] Progress towards membership is measured in terms of the number of chapters of the acquis communautaire[15] opened and closed for negotiation between a candidate country and the EU. This numerical approach hides the fact that none of the candidates has yet resolved the thorniest issues: freedom of movement for persons, agriculture, competition policy, transport policy, taxation, environment and budget.[16] As Mr Vaz admitted, "Cyprus, 17 out of 29, and that sounds good, but the most difficult ones are to be closed ... we need to make progress on the difficult chapters."[17] If these nettles are not grasped in the near future, the danger is that negotiations will become bogged down at a late stage. Further, closing the chapters of the acquis is only the preliminary: a potentially lengthy process of ratification of each accession must then follow.

15. Timetables for accession have a tendency to slip, but the current likely date of accession of a first wave of new Member States—2004—is drawing close, increasing the need to look at the transitional arrangements which will be agreed as part of accession. As we mentioned in our 1999 Report,[18] there have been particular worries expressed—especially by Germany, in relation to Poland—about the effect on existing Member States of an immediate extension to new Member States of the free movement of labour. In March 2001 the European Commission produced a policy option paper on the free movement of workers in the context of enlargement.[19] A proposed 7-year transition period before workers from Poland have free access to EU labour markets is the same as that which applied to Spain, Portugal and Greece when they acceded. Poland, however, would like to see as short a transition period as possible. The question of transitional arrangements and derogations is likely to become more pressing in the course of the next Parliament.

16. Some candidate countries are less likely than others to join the EU in the near future. It is crucial that these countries are not forgotten, that the prospect of membership remains an encouragement to them to carry out the necessary reforms, and that, while they remain candidates, they are integrated as much as possible within European structures. Excessive or unjustified delays could damage the perception of the benefits of accession among public opinion in the candidate countries.

17. A final issue which stems from the process of enlargement is the relationship which the EU will have with the countries adjoining its new external borders. We have raised with Mr Vaz the issue of Kaliningrad,[20] which will become a Russian exclave in the EU following the accession of Poland and Lithuania. Environmental problems and organised crime in Kaliningrad are problems of particular concern.

The EU's preparedness for enlargement

18. It is not only the fault of candidate countries that some chapters of the acquis have not yet been closed in accession negotiations. Mr Vaz has described "a collective failure to do more to reform the CAP," which makes it particularly difficult for candidates with large agricultural sectors—notably Poland—to close accession negotiations on that chapter. In our 1999 Report we stated our belief that the CAP needed to be reformed.[21] The reforms agreed at Berlin may have paved the way for enlargement but further progress will be required to make enlargement a success.

19. Another issue which threatens to be a future problem is the successful Spanish campaign at Nice to preserve until 2007 unanimity on the allocation of structural and cohesion funds. One possible implication of this is that the United Kingdom and other net contributors may well have to bear most of the cost of enlargement, although this will be subject also to other developments. The scale of any such increase will depend on the terms of accession and the capacity of the new Member States to absorb subsidies. Nonetheless, it would surely be prudent for the Government to engage now in some forward planning.

The United Kingdom's preparedness for enlargement

20. In our 1999 Report, we stated our belief that "commitment to the process of enlargement" required "a commitment of resources to increasing relations with applicant states at all levels."[22] The Government has since developed action plans with most of the applicant countries to bring together and enhance the United Kingdom's practical support for reforms in the applicant states and to enable better co-ordination and targeting of the United Kingdom's pre-accession assistance.[23] We welcome recent outward ministerial visits to applicant countries, having recommended an increase in our 1999 Report.[24] These visits are detailed in the written evidence appended to this Report.[25]

21. We raised the issue of diplomatic representation in our 1999 Report.[26] In evidence Sir John Kerr, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, singled out Central and Eastern Europe as an area which required the commitment of substantially increased resources, particularly because ministries in these countries would, upon enlargement, be assisting those carrying substantial numbers of votes in the Council.[27] In its response to our 1999 Report,[28] the Government promised to continue to commit resources to applicant countries, including an increase in diplomatic representation. We recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office urgently examines whether the Government is committing sufficient resources to the region and states its conclusions and future plans in its response to this Report.

Turkey and Cyprus

22. In our 1999 Report, we drew attention to the different interpretations of the position of Cyprus with regard to EU membership. While the Government of the United Kingdom—which as a guarantor power is in a special relationship with Cyprus—maintains that the de facto division of the island need not be an obstacle to membership of the EU, the governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy have taken a more sceptical view. [29] Our view—later echoed in the Helsinki Declaration of December 1999—was that this should not prevent Cyprus from acceding to full membership,[30] although we recognised that there are real political and practical difficulties, not least in gaining access to and information from the North of the island.[31]

23. The Minister for Europe has confirmed that it remains the Government's view that the situation in Cyprus need not be a barrier to accession.[32] However, on seeking some elucidation of how, for example, freedom of movement across a divided island would work in practice we were surprised to learn from the Head of EU Department (External), Mr Simon Featherstone, that "collectively, within the EU, we have not discussed these hypothetical situations."[33] Our surprise is all the greater because we understand from the FCO's written evidence[34] that the chapter on freedom of movement has been opened in negotiations with the Cyprus government. Negotiations surely imply discussion. We recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the earliest possible steps to open discussions within the EU on how in practical terms the far from hypothetical problem of the accession of Cyprus while it is still politically divided should be overcome.

24. We also pursued with the Minister the question of whether Turkey has a veto over Cyprus's accession. The Government has previously accepted our view that neither Turkey nor any other third party has such a veto,[35] but when he appeared before us the Minister was unclear about whether the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus might effectively prohibit accession unless Turkey was also admitted as a full member.[36]

25. We subsequently received a note from the FCO which only partly clarifies this point. The provision in question, Article 50 of the 1960 constitution of Cyprus, is regarded by the British Government as "inoperative" in the present circumstances.[37] What is not clear from the note is whether the other guarantor powers, Greece and Turkey, as well as the European Commission and other Member States of the EU, share the British Government's interpretation of Article 50. We continue to conclude that Turkey should not have a veto over the accession of Cyprus, and recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office intensifies its efforts to secure EU-wide agreement to this position.

26. The position with regard to Turkey's candidacy has improved since our 1999 Report, but, as the Minister said, "Turkey has to improve its human rights record. It needs to do better before it reaches the first stage, it needs to meet the Copenhagen criteria, and, as far as the justice and home affairs agenda, it really does need to make that progress."[38] Other issues involving Turkey—as a member of NATO which is not a member of the EU—are discussed below.[39]

Allocation of Council Votes and of European Parliament Seats

27. In 1999 we expressed concern about proposed institutional reforms and urged the Government "to give greater consideration to the institutional structures which will be appropriate for a European Union of 25 or more Member States."[40] Much consideration was indeed given to these structures at Nice. In particular, "the negotiations on future numbers of seats in the [European Parliament] were lengthy, difficult and hard fought."[41] The outcome, perhaps inevitably, satisfied some participants and not others. Malta—comparable in population to Luxembourg—was disappointed to be allocated only 3 Council votes and 4 European Parliament seats, while "the Czech Republic and Hungary have both expressed some disappointment that they were allocated two fewer European Parliament seats than Belgium, Greece and Portugal," which have similar populations.[42] President Chirac's assertion that it is "legitimate that old member states, who have contributed so much, have more votes than those who are new and will bring problems"[43] surely cannot be supported.

28. We were told by the FCO that "The figures for the applicant countries are contained in a Declaration annexed to the Treaty and do not therefore have legal force. They do, however, represent a political commitment and, as such, will be a guide for the accession negotiations. Any applicant country that feels it has been unfairly treated is free to raise the matter during these negotiations."[44]

29. It appears from this that the aggrieved applicant countries still have everything to play for. It is therefore too soon to conclude that this particular area of controversy has been fully dealt with. We asked whether the Government intends to take any initiative in this matter.[45] We recommend that the Government clarifies whether it considers the number of Council votes and European Parliament seats for the applicant countries to have been settled finally or not.

The European Security and Defence Policy and the Common Foreign and Security Policy

30. The Treaty of Nice amends the Treaty on European Union by making explicit that the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) "shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework."[46] Most of the applicant states either already have or aspire to full membership of NATO.

31. However, the Treaty does not itself deal with the related question of the status of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) vis-à-vis NATO. Instead, this question is dealt with in a report attached to the Presidency Conclusions of the European Council (also held in Nice) while a Declaration annexed to the Final Act of the Conference calls for the ESDP conclusions of that report to be implemented "as soon as possible in 2001", i.e., without waiting for ratification of the Treaty of Nice.[47] It remains to be seen just how soon differing interpretations of the report's conclusions can be reconciled, and what the statement that EU-led military operations will take place only "where NATO as a whole is not engaged"[48] will mean in practice.

32. The Minister for Europe reminded us "how much we depend on NATO, how important it is for our defence policy, it is the corner-stone of our defence policy, and we will need NATO to do any of this, we will need their capabilities, we will need their assets, we will need their operational planning, we will need all of this, and we cannot do it without them."[49]

33. Among other things, this statement begged the question, which we duly put to the Minister, whether Turkey's status as a member of NATO which is not a member of the EU and its refusal to allow NATO facilities to be used for EU-led military operations might constitute an obstacle to implementation of the ESDP. The FCO stated in its memorandum that "Provision of NATO assets and capabilities for use in an EU-led operation would require a specific [North Atlantic Council] decision, which would be by consensus; so each Ally would have a veto."[50] Mr Vaz, on the other hand, "would not call it a veto ... It does not stop what we are doing."[51] The Minister's assertion provides little by way of reassurance. We recommend that the Department in its Response to this Report clarifies whether it considers that any single NATO member will have a veto over the provision of NATO assets and capabilities for an EU-led military operation.

34. We deal in paragraph 32 below with the problem of democratic oversight of these policies.

The 2004 Inter-Governmental Conference

35. The next Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) of the EU will be held in 2004. At Nice, it was agreed that candidate countries which have completed their accession negotiations should participate in the IGC and that other candidate countries should be invited as observers.[52] But the Declaration on the Future of the Union is less clear about how the preparations for the IGC should be conducted. It calls for "a deeper and wider debate about the future of the European Union", involving "all interested parties."[53]

36. The process of "deeper and wider debate" envisaged by the leaders gathered at Nice could be the convention process, which is only "one of many possibilities"[54] and of which the Minister for Europe is "not personally a great fan",[55] or it could be something else, such as the second chamber of the European Parliament which the Prime Minister called for in a speech in Warsaw last October.[56] That is for the Swedish and Belgian presidencies to sort out, but we note that the British Government will be bringing forward proposals of its own and that Ministers "would be happy to look at" anything this Committee—or, presumably, its successor—might want to say on preparations for the IGC.[57]

37. The agenda for the IGC will be set only after discussion of four areas set out in a Declaration annexed to the Treaty of Nice:[58]

  • how to establish and monitor a more precise delimitation of powers between the European Union and the Member States, reflecting the principle of subsidiarity;

  • the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, proclaimed in Nice, in accordance with the conclusions of the European Council in Cologne;

  • a simplification of the Treaties with a view to making them clearer and better understood without changing their meaning;

  • the role of national parliaments in the European architecture.[59]

42. The Declaration makes it clear that these issues are not necessarily the only areas to be discussed in the approach to the IGC. Two others which might be discussed as part of the "deeper and wider debate about the future of the EU" are the powers of the European Commission, and the democratic transparency and legitimacy of the EU. On the first of these, we were interested to be told by External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten that, far from being all-powerful, "the Commission run the back office."[60] We will be even more interested to see whether any of Mr Patten's colleagues seek to move their operations into the front office between now and the IGC.

43. The second of these issues—the democratic transparency and legitimacy of the EU—is perhaps best seen as the obverse of the first and applies across a range of policy areas, not least scrutiny of the ESDP and CFSP. National parliaments, their committees and inter-parliamentary organisations are already concerned about the lack of democratic accountability. While it is true that "The Government will be accountable to Parliament for decisions to deploy UK forces to EU-led operations",[61] as is also true of NATO operations, such accountability is retrospective. There is no accountability to the European Parliament, which has only a consultative role on the main aspects and basic choices of the CFSP.[62]

44. Enlargement is likely to exacerbate, rather than improve, this situation and it is crucial that initiatives such as the Prime Minister's proposal for a second chamber are considered with all due seriousness as part of the preparations for the IGC. We hope that as the EU accrues more responsibility for foreign and defence matters our successor Committee will examine carefully the problem of parliamentary oversight by other than national parliaments.


45. The Treaty of Nice has proved to be much more substantial than the United Kingdom Government and others initially envisaged. The 2004 IGC looks certain to be very much more substantial still, going to the very heart of the balance between the EU's governmental and parliamentary institutions and those of the member states. We conclude it is of the utmost importance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Government, keep this Committee, its successor Committee, and the House as a whole closely informed about all aspects of its policy towards the next IGC so that there can be greater understanding of the implications of the next IGC than there has been of some of those in the past.

7   Third Report, Session 1998-99, European Union Enlargement, HC 86, hereafter "1999 Report". Back

8   Cm. 4348. Back

9   Ev. pp. 1-33. Back

10   Ev. pp. 34-50. Back

11   Q40. Back

12   Q41. Back

13   1999 Report, paras. 71-72. Back

14   QQ43-48. Back

15   The acquis communautaire (often abbreviated to acquis) is the body of EU legislation agreed under the EU treaties which passes automatically into the law of Member States. Back

16   A table detailing progress made by each candidate country in respect of each chapter is at Ev. pp. 54-55. Back

17   Q44. Back

18   1999 Report, para. 78. Back

19 Back

20   QQ94-97. Back

21   1999 Report, para. 41. Back

22   ibid., para. 92. Back

23   See Appendix 3, p. 55. Back

24   1999 Report, para. 94. Back

25   Ev. p. 7. Back

26   1999 Report, paras. 90-95. Back

27   Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee on 23 June 1998: Public Expenditure Plans of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (HC745-iii (1997-98)), Q415. Back

28   Cm. 4348, p. 9. Back

29   1999 Report, para. 83. Back

30   ibid, para. 88. Back

31   ibid, para. 86. Back

32   Q80. Back

33   Q82. Back

34   Ev. p. 54. Back

35   1999 Report, para. 88 and Cm. 4348, p. 8. Back

36   QQ87-90. Back

37   Article 50 of the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus ... provides that the Greek Cypriot President and the Turkish Cypriot Vice-President of the Republic, separately and conjointly, shall have the right of final veto on any law or decision concerning foreign affairs except for laws or decisions on "the participation of the Republic in international organisations and acts of alliance in which ... Greece and ... Turkey both participate". (see Ev. p. 52). Back

38   Q62. Back

39   See para. 26. Back

40   1999 Report, para. 57. Back

41   Ev. p. 29. Back

42   ibid. Back

43   Economist, 16 December 2000. Back

44   ibid. Back

45   ibid. Back

46   Cm. 5090, p. 8. Back

47   ibid., p. 70. Back

48   Ev. p. 50. Back

49   Q111. Back

50   Ev. p. 32. Back

51   QQ145 & 146. Back

52   ibid., p. 79. Back

53   ibid., p. 78. Back

54   Ev. p. 32. Back

55   Q142. Back

56   Q147. Back

57   Q143. Back

58   Ev. p. 32. Back

59   Cm. 5090, pp. 78 & 79. Back

60   Fourth Report, Session 2000-01, Government Policy towards the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Wider Region following the Fall of Milosevic, HC 246, Q239. Back

61   Ev. p. 32. Back

62   ibid. Back

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