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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Before she leaves the subject of agriculture will she respond to a question that I asked about the statement made on behalf of the Prime Minister that was reported in the press today to the effect that agricultural subsidies would be redirected to environmental development and tourism? Is that specifically a British initiative or an EU one, as that was not too clear in the reports?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I confirm that the rural development component of the common agricultural policy which will extend to the new member states includes provisions for funding environmental development and tourism. That is not a unilateral policy but one common to the EU as a whole.

As I said, negotiations on agricultural liberalisation will add to the pressure for further reform of the common agricultural policy. We expect a further round of reforms to be agreed before the Berlin financial perspective ends in 2006. This might help the

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enlargement process. But there is no reason why an absence of further reform should delay enlargement assuming sensible transitional arrangements can be devised.

The committee's report contains an excellent account of the history and progress of this round of enlargement. As outlined by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, in opening this debate, noble Lords will be aware that the accession process was launched on 30th March 1998 under the UK presidency. Accession negotiations with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia then opened on 31st March 1998. Twenty-three of the 31 chapters for negotiation have been opened and the latest one, the environment, at today's accession conference in Brussels. The Portuguese presidency expects to finish opening the eight remaining chapters during its tenure in the first half of next year.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, rightly concentrated on the need for openness and honesty in the implementation of the process. I can assure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government are firmly committed to promoting both those elements.

Noble Lords will be aware that there is no formal timetable for negotiation. It is difficult to set a timetable for completion of negotiations at this stage. I very much welcomed the comments made about that issue. Indeed, to set a timetable might risk raising false hopes oreven demotivating the applicants. After further progress in negotiations we should be prepared to consider a target for their conclusion. It is true that applicants use their own target dates such as 2002 and 2003 to motivate the reform process at home. Although they are ambitious we hope that the applicants will come close to understanding the realities that face them and also come close to meeting them. The faster the applicants prepare themselves for accession and the implementation of the acquis communautaire, the faster they can join. The coincidence of the EU's own proposed target dates for institutional reform in about 2002, which the Government support, is a welcome one.

At this stage it is realistic for both sides in the negotiations to be working towards their own readiness in anticipation of what we hope will be a swift enlargement process. There is widespread agreement among member states that differentiation should be a hallmark of negotiations in future. It is important that each applicant should be considered on its own merits.

It is logical to expect some countries to make progress faster than others, but it is important that all applicants keep moving towards membership, reforming their economies and raising their administrative standards. Both the European Union and the applicant states themselves recognise the vital importance of ensuring strong, external borders after accession. That will require substantial preparation and, in some cases, major investment. The European Union has made this a priority area for pre-accession aid under the European Union's PHARE programme.

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I agree with noble Lords and in particular with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who raised the issue, that this is an area in which we need to remain vigilant.

The Commission's annual progress reports on the candidate countries published in October showed that they have all made progress in the last year. All 12 countries which are or which will soon be in negotiation meet the Copenhagen political criteria. Indeed, it is on that basis that they are negotiating to join the EU. There has also been real progress towards meeting the challenging Copenhagen economic criteria. I agree wholeheartedly with all noble Lords who outlined the benefits which flow from such accession. I accept entirely that it is an important consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the issue of Russia, Ukraine and the other countries. There are historic economic links between the people of these countries with several of the countries in the accession process. Clearly, these are areas that will be discussed in the accession negotiations. I can assure the noble Baroness that we shall be pressing for imaginative solutions to these issues to help ensure that enlargement does not have a divisive effect on the region as a whole.

I turn to Turkey, which was a subject raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Biffen. It is clear that denying candidate status to Turkey in Helsinki while inviting others to open accession negotiations would severely damage EU-Turkey relations. By offering the prospect of membership we give Turkey a clear incentive to act on human rights; we help to improve Greece-Turkey relations; and we provide support for a political settlement in Cyprus. I feel sure that noble Lords will agree that these are all laudable aims.

As regards Cyprus in particular, the EU's objective is accession following a political settlement on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal Cyprus. Settlement is not for us a pre-condition of accession, but clearly it would be easier for a reunited Cyprus to join the EU. We are working hard for a settlement. We warmly welcomed the acceptance by the parties of the invitation of the United Nations Secretary General to settlement talks in New York on 3rd December.

Enlargement is not just about the applicant countries preparing to join the European Union. It is also about member states preparing to receive them. We took the first step at the Berlin Summit in March which agreed policy reforms of the common agricultural policy financing arrangements and of structural spending. The task is now institutional reform. We want EU institutions that are effective, transparent, democratic and ready to face the challenge of enlargement. If they are to become so, there is clearly a need for more change. That is why we embrace the opportunity provided by the intergovernmental conference. To block progress now as some may suggest--or, one would almost believe, is

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wanted by the noble Lord, Lord Shore--could only hold back both the reform process and enlargement itself.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness giving way. I find her brief extraordinarily unrealistic. Having listened to the debate I cannot really believe that she feels her reply is adequate. I put to the noble Baroness that it is no good misrepresenting my position. I would very much like enlargement--that is to say, bringing in the countries of eastern and central Europe. I would welcome that even more than my noble friend because I believe that their presence within the European Union would put an end to the Franco-German nightmare of a really integrated single European state.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly had no intention of misrepresenting the views of the noble Lords. I say very clearly that I believe what we are doing is realistic as regards enlargement. It is essential for the peace and stability of Europe. It is right and well ordered.

I say straight away that being positive does not mean that we are starry eyed. We will defend Britain's interests as every other member state will defend its own. But we are quite clear that Britain's interests are best served by successful enlargement backed up by an effective and transparent institutional structure.

I take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. I am confident that the heads of government will agree at Helsinki that the necessary institutional changes will be in place in time for decisions on accession to be taken from 2002. That means not only concluding the intergovernmental conference in time but ensuring that national ratification procedures are complete. I welcome the support of the noble Lord for a focused IGC delivering practical measures to pave the way for enlargement. It came as a delight to my ears to hear that the Loyal Opposition were acknowledging that.

Too wide an agenda for the IGC would be a mistake. That would risk a delay to the end of the IGC and possibly to enlargement itself. So the focus remains clear. I confirm also to noble Lords that the Government's White Paper on the IGC will set out their approach in general and will address the key issues in the IGC in detail. I invite noble Lords to recall that the protocol agreed at the Amsterdam European Council meeting made a clear link between the number of commissioners and the weight of votes in the Council. We stand by that.

There is much that can be done to reform the institutions without changing the treaty. Enlargement is a political imperative. That is why the Government have championed it in Europe and will continue to do so. The European Council meeting this weekend will once again demonstrate our commitment to developing a European Union that embraces the whole of Europe.

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I commend the committee on its report--I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Government are able to agree with so much of what it says--and for its broad support for enlargement. I assure noble Lords that the Government will continue to press for rapid and successful enlargement of the European Union, which will benefit all its members, both present and future. Once again, I express my appreciation to all those who took part in the preparation of the report and to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I can certainly say that the debate has shown the House at its best.

9 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, this has been a fascinating and far-reaching debate. I am grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. However, despite some reservations, I do not see this as a matter of the coming home of a poisoned chalice, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. It is not only a matter of promoting peace in Europe; the objective is to establish long-term stability. Clearly, there will be many challenges ahead and the need for further reforms.

Several speakers pointed out that many of the applicant countries will find it difficult to implement the acquis communautaire. However, I am extremely heartened by the words of the Minister when she said that the Government are committed to flexibility in the transitional period.

I also welcome the point made very clearly by the Minister that this is not only a matter of the applicant countries meeting the challenges of the acquis communautaire, but that it also concerns the readiness for enlargement both of applicant countries and the nations of the European Union. Getting enlargement right will be one of the greatest challenges to face the Continent of Europe. To that end, I wish the Prime Minister and the Government all the best in Helsinki this coming weekend.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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