Enlargement

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Dr. Palmer: Following the Minister's earlier helpful reply, will he consider the position in Latvia, where there seems to be systematic suppression of the Russian minority? In June 2001, it became illegal to employ anyone who could not do their work using the Latvian language, effectively forcing Russian speakers into unemployment. It also became illegal to express disrespect for the state language--whatever that might mean--and for people to spell their own name in any form other than the approved Latvian form. If someone's name was ''Hain'', they would have to find the Latvian equivalent or break the law. Do such requirements meet European standards? As recently as March last year, candidates who had fulfilled the stringent language requirements to stand for municipal election were confronted after successful election with a demand for further tests in Latvian proficiency.

Peter Hain: I shall not speculate on what ''Hain'' might become in Latvian, Estonian or any other language.

We must monitor such matters and ensure that human rights, good governance and democratic practice apply throughout candidate countries. I can add little to what I said about Estonia--the situation will be monitored.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): The Minister may have responded to this question already, but my colleagues tell me that they could not understand his answer, so perhaps he will not mind returning to it. Can he tell us the exact basis of the accession negotiations and whether final ratification of the Nice treaty is required? It is still a non-treaty because the Irish have not assented to it. Is it, as he said in the House, an absolute prerequisite for enlargement, or could the accession negotiations be conducted without ratification by the Irish? If the Irish fail to ratify, will there be no enlargement?

Peter Hain: If the Irish fail to assent to the Nice treaty, it cannot be ratified and cannot come into force. I do not want to speculate on what we might have to do in that event. I hope that with proper assurances Ireland will ratify it in due course and in its own time, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees. The Conservative party opposed the Nice treaty, but its official policy was apparently to support enlargement, and I believe that that is his view. It is not in anyone's interest to stall the Nice treaty or stop it in its tracks because it provides the best way of achieving enlargement.

Mr. Johnson: But not the only way.

Peter Hain: No. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that that is a blinding revelation--perhaps it will be an exclusive in The Spectator. It might be possible to consider enlargement by individual accession treaty, having settled the voting, the Council of Ministers, the number of parliamentarians and so on, but it would be a hugely complex exercise. Instead, the Nice treaty, which for some odd reason he wants to sabotage, settles those matters in one go and the subsequent accession treaties are straightforward.

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Mr. Hopkins: If Turkey is serious about applying for membership of the European Union, would it not be appropriate in the first instance to ask it to withdraw from its occupation of northern Cyprus? That should be a basic prerequisite for a successful application. A firmer approach is required than that of the European Union, which is saying simply that a settlement is highly desirable. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the support among Turkish Cypriots for reunification and that it is the Turkish Government who are preventing that? It is a matter for Turkey above all.

Peter Hain: I am indeed aware of the views of the residents of northern Cyprus to which my hon. Friend referred. They see enormous economic advantages in being in the European Union. That can happen only if there is a settlement between the Government of Cyprus and the Administration of Mr. Denktash that creates a bizonal, bicommunal structure that enables Cyprus to move forward and to join the European Union as a united island. That is our objective. It is not a question of merely saying that it is desirable. It is highly desirable.

We would prefer not to have to consider bringing in a divided island, for various self-evident reasons. However, the decision has been made that no veto can be exercised by Ankara or the northern Cypriot community against Cyprus's accession, even on a divided basis, to the European Union. That has encouraged resumption of negotiations between Mr. Denktash representing the northern Cypriots and President Clerides of the Republic of Cyprus. Those negotiations have been taking place for a couple of months and started in an encouraging spirit. There have been difficulties along the way, but that is inevitable with a dispute that has run so deeply and bitterly, and for so long. I hope that everyone understands that the clock is ticking and that it is in the interests of Mr. Denktash and his community in the north of Cyprus, as well as of Turkey and Greece, to achieve a settlement, and for Cyprus to join as a united island with everyone's interests properly safeguarded.

Mr. Spring: The Minister will be aware that structural funds, on average and in theory, are available to the poorer regions of Europe at a rate of about 75 per cent. below the EU average. We have touched on the bread-and-butter issues, including reform of the common agricultural policy, on a number of occasions this afternoon. Enlargement is obviously another issue that must be grappled with. How will the structural funds be dealt with as a result of the accession process? Given the EU budgetary position, existing member states whose regions have benefited from those funds are unlikely to be able to continue enjoying them.

Peter Hain: As a Member of Parliament representing a part of Wales that is in receipt of objective 1 funding, I am very interested in the subject, as are my constituents. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the existing structural funds settlement runs out in 2006, and will have to be renegotiated. Even without

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enlargement, there is no certainty that existing patterns of structural funds support will remain in place.

The objective of structural funding is to lever up the infrastructure and competitiveness of some parts of Europe—including, sadly, Cornwall, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, west Wales and the valleys—to the European average; otherwise, they would remain 75 per cent. below it. There is no pleasure in receiving structural funds. Indeed, the contrary is true. We all want prosperity in our communities, and that applies in Spain and elsewhere. We want at least the European average, and more if possible. Our aim would be to get rid of structural funds from Britain. We would not need them because we would be richer and more prosperous as a result of the investment.

As a result of enlargement, and with no additional funding being put in place, virtually all the candidate countries, in whole or in part, are likely to apply and presumably qualify for some form of structural funds support. As a result, structural funding will become spread out. How that will affect us, and what the transitional arrangements might be, has still to be decided. A number of other countries—including Spain, which has depended heavily on structural funds—are quite keen on the transition period being generous. We shall have to see how the negotiations progress. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that if transitional arrangements are agreed, Britain will be in there if the regions of other member states are to benefit from them.

Dr. Palmer: When I was in Hungary in 2000, talking to politicians about accession, one of the Opposition's major concerns was the lack of non-partisan supervision of public media. The explicit comment in the brief is that that is still the case. It states that the

    ''supervision of the public service media by the Presidiums of the Boards of Trustees''

is still not properly ensured, and that

    ''The three Presidiums continue to be composed of solely pro-government members.''

That could lead to growing political pressure on the public service media. I know that the European Commission has expressed concern about that. Does the Minister agree that, as part of the accession process, it would be cause for continuing concern?

Peter Hain: Again, I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I commend him for his diligence in reading all the relevant material and on his knowledge of the problems, which is valuable. I assure him that there must be non-partisan supervision before Hungary can join. That needs to be settled now. From a British point of view, and particularly following that intervention, we shall certainly keep a close watch on the situation.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: As part of the scrutiny for their economic preparedness, I presume that the external tariffs of the applicant countries have been considered. Is the Minister aware that six of the applicant countries have an average lower external tariff than the European Union does now, so on the face of it they will raise their external tariffs when they

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join the EU? Is not that contrary to World Trade Organisation rules? It is certainly contrary to their spirit. If accession to the EU raises tariffs against third countries, it will undermine the WTO's general aim of encouraging global free trade. Is he aware of the figures, and if so, will he comment on them?

Peter Hain: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that nothing that is done by way of enlargement—in this respect or any other—will contravene WTO criteria.

Mr. Hopkins: The European Scrutiny Committee set out several questions that it wanted us to consider, and paragraph 5.21 of its submission mentions two. It refers implicitly to what might happen to job opportunities if the borders of the existing EU are opened and people from poorer countries with high unemployment come to seek work. It also refers to the impact of cheap imports on home producers, particularly in agriculture. The EU must tackle those two highly sensitive issues. Would it not be useful to link them by buying more cheap food from applicant countries so that their citizens do not have such a great need to search for employment in the existing EU? One could pursue that suggestion at greater length, but it seems rather obvious.

 
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