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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure we all hope that it will not be a further seven years. I believe that the British Government got the accession negotiations with Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia off to a good start on 31st March last year. The initial phase of negotiations--that is the screening of the acquis--is going well. Substantive negotiations with the countries I have just mentioned on the first seven chapters of the acquis began on 10th November. We support the German presidency's aim of opening negotiations on the next eight chapters and bringing the total of 15 to some conclusion by the end of that presidency at the Cologne Council in June. So 15 of the 31 chapters will, we hope, be dealt with during that period. I believe that that is reasonably good progress.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the Government have carried out any objective research as to whether it is in the interests of the central and eastern European countries to have full membership of the EU? For example, have they
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that it is for the central European states themselves to judge what is in their interests. They have so judged, some as far back as seven years ago. They have been pursuing their desire to join the European Union. That is true not only of the countries to which I referred in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It applies also to Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, which are now part of the enlargement process. Preparation for their membership continues. I believe that those countries, like ourselves, have assessed that enlargement will lead to greater stability, freedom and democracy throughout Europe and to the creation of the largest single market for trade and investment in the world.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the interests of the applicant countries are better served by their own counsel on the question of membership of the EU rather than by the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson? Can my noble friend comment on whether the present budgetary provision based on a percentage of GDP is likely to be sufficient to accommodate the interests of the applicant members, even though we hope that the common agricultural policy and expenditure thereon will be severely limited?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I had hoped that what I said would be seen to accord with the remarks of my noble friend, although perhaps I said it rather more politely. It is for these countries to decide for themselves. In December the Vienna European Council welcomed progress made on the "pre-ins"--the countries not involved in active negotiations at the moment--but agreed with the Commission's recommendation that the Union was not yet able to begin substantive negotiations with those countries. There will be a review at the end of 1999. As to the other issues raised by my noble friend, we are making progress and hope to have further reports by the end of March.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in respect of Latvia, with under 5 per cent. inflation, 95 per cent. of the privatisation programme completed, and 40,000 of the ethnic minorities undergoing voluntary language training, it is high time for us to push for that country to start negotiations? Will the Minister suggest to her colleague in another place, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, that when he next speaks to the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr. Primakov, he extracts from him an assurance that the Russian Federation will cease to exert pressure on Latvia and that if he fails to receive such an assurance he will put down the receiver?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given that the timing of the accession of central and eastern European applicants greatly depends on the readiness of the EU institutions, can the Minister inform the House what steps the Government and their European partners have taken to bring about institutional reform?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, a great deal is happening on institutional reform. We are committed to looking at all of these issues. The three main tranches of such reform are the common agricultural policy, the structural and cohesion funds and the stabilisation of expenditure. Those matters are being looked at under the auspices of Agenda 2000. We hope to have reports by the end of March, which is only weeks away, with final regulations being adopted before the European Parliament elections in June. I believe that we are making good progress on all three fronts.
Lord Judd: My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for her reply, does she agree that if poverty eradication is an objective it is, to say the least, disappointing that the Commission's Agenda 2000 and the financial perspectives for the years 2000 to 2006, far from targeting the poorest countries of the world, target middle income countries? Will this issue be addressed in the negotiations and the needs of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, be reasserted? Further, can my noble friend assure the House that in these negotiations the Commission's preoccupation with free trade
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the questions raised by Agenda 2000 are largely matters of internal reform. My noble friend is concerned about the position of the European Union in regard to aid. I remind my noble friend that the European Union wants to rationalise and simplify aid instruments in order more effectively to encourage economic growth and to reduce the dependency culture. It is enormously important that there is sustainable development in the programme that we put forward and that the ACP countries can expect more advanced notice of the resources that they will receive to help them in turn with forward planning. My noble friend is worried about the free trade areas. The free trade areas will be introduced after a roll-over period of five years under the World Trade Organisation waiver. But I stress to my noble friend that impact assessment reports on the free trade areas are currently being studied by the European Union.
Baroness Young: My Lords, while I welcome the observations of the Minister about trade in the post-Lome negotiations, can she enlarge on what role she sees private enterprise playing in this development?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the European Union position in the Lome discussions is concerned with industrial development and ways in which ACP countries' trade can be encouraged. The questions involve not only industrial development but structural reform programmes. There is also concentration upon the contribution that the private sector can make to development in those countries. Based on my own experience, I believe that Her Majesty's Government have made a very great effort in regard to private sector investment in the countries of the Caribbean.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not a fact that the Secretary of State for International Development has raised very serious doubts about whether the British aid contribution, a third of which is administered by the European Union, is properly directed? Does my noble friend agree that much of that money goes to relatively rich countries while poorer countries, particularly those in Africa, do not get the support that they need and deserve if we are to bring them properly into the world community?
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