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28 Oct 2002 : Column 553—continued

The Prime Minister: I very much hope that we will see the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria not later than 2007. I know that both countries are making enormous efforts to ensure that that happens. When we reflect on Europe and the balance of advantages and disadvantages, there is no doubt that it is the prospect of membership of the European Union that has had a transforming effect on the countries that used to be under the control of the old Soviet Union. Indeed, even in parts of the Balkans that have troubled this nation and other European nations for 100 years or more, there are signs of change and improvement as a result of their hope that in due course, obviously over a long period, they will secure European Union membership.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Further to the Prime Minister's equivocal answer to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), will he give the House an absolute assurance that at Copenhagen he will not agree a rendezvous date for Turkish entry into the European Union unless a settlement on the Cyprus problem has also been reached by that time?

The Prime Minister: I will not give such an undertaking. Very difficult issues need to be resolved. We both want Turkey to be inside the European Union

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if we can possibly achieve that and we want a resolution of the Cyprus issue but, frankly, I do not think that that will be encouraged by my laying down ultimatums or adopting fixed positions at this point in time, in the light of a set of circumstances that is obviously changing.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his continuing to play a pivotal role in the enlargement process. He will know of the case of Catherine Meyer, which has been raised with him before. He will also know that last week at the Foreign Office an undertaking was given to Lady Meyer that he would raise her case with Chancellor Shröder. Was he able to do so and what action does he think Chancellor Shröder will take to improve the operation of the German courts?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, the issue to which he refers has been raised many times in the past few years. I should tell him that I have today written a letter to Chancellor Shröder about the subject. I am well aware of the concerns that he expresses and he will know that they are shared by many people.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Commissioner Fischler is entirely correct to say that the CAP should be reformed, but in my reading of the written presidency conclusions, there was nothing in terms to say that all parties would be committed to the process of reform of the CAP. The statements from the French and Germans indicated a postponement in that process until 2006. Where can I find a clear written statement that France, Germany and others will actively support and participate in all the discussions about CAP reform?

The Prime Minister: The short answer is that, certainly in relation to France, some countries may well not agree with common agricultural policy reform. It is their right not to do so. However, the fact is that, with regard to the attempt to ensure that that reform would not take place—or, in other words, that the discussion would end—their position on such reform was the same before the summit as it is afterwards. They are entitled to take whatever position they choose. What they were not entitled to do, in my view, was to say that the issue of CAP reform should be taken off the agenda. That is what was prevented at the summit and what is important.

Although I understand that it is sometimes difficult to follow such issues all the way through, I emphasise again that the basic part of the French-German agreement on limiting CAP expenditure was a step forward on what existed before the summit. [Interruption.] With the greatest respect, it was. Prior to the summit, there was no agreement that there should be any limit on CAP expenditure. There is now a limit on CAP expenditure, and—[Interruption.] The shadow Foreign has not understood, which is hardly surprising or, indeed, unusual.

As a matter of fact, there is already a financial perspective up to 2006, so we have already got a financial deal up to 2006. The question was what would happen after that. Before the summit, there was no agreement to limit CAP expenditure, but the demand of Germany—supported by Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries—was that there had to

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be a limit. What was unacceptable was that, in return for that limit, CAP reform bit the dust. That is not now going to happen. Of course, France will carry on arguing its position, but we are able to argue our position in the Agriculture Council where, unlike the Council of Ministers, the decision is taken by qualified majority voting.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's report on progress towards enlargement. This must be a historic moment for European peace and democracy. He also holds out the prospect of further progress on reform of the CAP. Does he agree that if, by the end of the negotiations in the Agriculture Council, the European Union is not able to grasp this unique opportunity radically to reform the CAP, that would be greatly to the EU's shame?

The Prime Minister: It would be. The other thing that means that CAP reform must happen in the end is the world trade round. Nothing is more important than making sure that the trade round succeeds. Europe will have to make an offer in the trade round and that offer will have to be about reform and about the reform of agricultural subsidies. That is why it is so important that we carry on the fight for that.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Prime Minister will be aware that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that, for the first six months of this year, the United Kingdom had the highest number of asylum seekers in the world, with the Federal Republic of Germany coming second. Is there any prospect of the Dublin convention being made to work by our EU partners? Following enlargement, will it not be even more difficult to control immigration in the wider EU, particularly if there is visa-free access to and from the Kaliningrad enclave, as the Russians propose?

The Prime Minister: It is correct to say that Britain and Germany have the highest number of asylum seekers in Europe, though countries of a similar size, such as France and Italy, use different ways to calculate the figures. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise this subject and the Dublin convention as a serious issue. I had lunch today with the Prime Minister of Greece, which takes over the presidency of the EU in the first six months of next year. We discussed the issue at length and we agreed that there had to be fundamental reform of the asylum system in Europe. Otherwise, in exactly the way that the hon. Gentleman indicates, the problems will intensify on enlargement. That is why it is important that we get the reform in place, and we will certainly support it. However, the position has changed in that there is now a common will across Europe that recognises that we all face the problem and that we must return integrity to the asylum system in Europe.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Notwithstanding the significant constitutional changes that there have been in Turkey over the past couple of years, notwithstanding Turkey's strategic importance to the EU, and notwithstanding most people's hope that Turkey will

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eventually join the EU, does it not have some way to go in terms of respecting human rights before its admission into the EU can be hastened along?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, certain criteria have to be met by any country that joins the EU. It is worth pointing out that Turkey has made progress, and the summit specifically welcomed that progress. Of course, Turkey has to abide by the same rules as any other member of the EU.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): Did the Council have any time to discuss the stability and growth pact? Presumably, the Prime Minister agrees that fiscal discipline is an important ingredient of currency stability, but that agreement is now being deliberately flouted by major members of the eurozone, in particular France and Germany, where, he tells us, he has good contacts. If that agreement is to be so flouted, does it make him more or less inclined to take Britain into the euro?

The Prime Minister: There are two issues. The first, which Britain has raised on many occasions, is the flexibility of the stability and growth pact, in particular the differences between borrowing for different reasons—for example, for investment or for consumption. That is why we have an attachment, born out of experience, to the rules set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. On the other hand, it is important that any changes in the stability and growth pact reinforce discipline within the eurozone and do not undermine it. It is for that very reason that the current discussions about the best way forward are taking place.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Mr. Putin would have been damned if he did not act and damned if he did. Is it not clear that extremist terrorist actions involving suicide bombers will be with us for the foreseeable future? Will the Prime Minister hold urgent discussions not only with our EU partners, but with other members of the Security Council and NATO, to co-ordinate best practice, advice and techniques for dealing with the more extreme forms of hostage taking?

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