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European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)

Volume 930: debated on Friday 29 April 1977

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during May. The monthly forecast for May was deposited on 22nd April.

At present three meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for May. Foreign Ministers will meet on 3rd and possibly also on 31st May, although this is less likely because it clashes with the ministerial meeting of the Conference on International Economic Co-operation in Paris. Agriculture Ministers will meet on 16th and 17th May. There will also be a meeting of the Standing Committee on Employment on 5th May.

At the Foreign Affairs Council on 3rd May Ministers will discuss relations with Cyprus, Malta and with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, renewal of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Multi-Fibre Arrangement participation by the Community in the International Sugar Agreement, fisheries matters and the Community's position for the ministerial meeting of the Conference on International Economic Co-operation from 30th May to 1st June.

The agenda for the meeting of Agriculture Ministers on 16th and 17th May has yet to be decided, but it is expected to include consideration of revisions of the common fisheries policy.

The Standing Committee on Employment will consider a paper on employment prospects to 1980, the review of the European Social Fund, and a Commission communication on co-ordination of the Community's financial instruments.

I thank the Minister for his statement. I should like to ask him three factual questions. There was no mention of Greece in the statement. How are those negotiations going and how soon is a conclusion likely to be reached? Secondly, there is much disquiet and anxiety at home and abroad about the delay in reaching a common agreement inside the EEC on our stand in the Multi-Fibre Arrangement negotiations. The Minister mentioned that this subject would come up on 3rd May. Does he expect that the Community will at last give a mandate to our negotiators? Finally, can the Minister yet indicate when the Council of Ministers is likely to consider and decide the date for the first round of direct elections to the European Parliament?

There was an extensive review of the progress of the Greek application for membership of the EEC at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers. It is fair to say that things are progressing steadily and that from all sides there is a positive commitment to seeing this application through to successful fruition—and that certainly goes for the British Government.

Since I answered a Question in the House on the Multi-Fibre Arrangements the mandate and, particularly, the issue of cumulative disruption have been discussed at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 5th April. No agreement was reached and discussions will continue in Brussels on 3rd May. The meeting on 18th April was postponed, but we and our partners will be ready for a meeting with the Textiles Committee on Geneva next month.

We are assembling a review of progress on direct elections in individual countries, but there have been General Elections in many of the countries involved and they have interrupted timetables slightly. However, there is a general commitment to see this matter through as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that the situation in Cyprus is now serious, since on 30th June the status quo arrangements with Britain will run out and there is no extension of the association agreement? Does he realise that since no financial co-operation agreement has yet been signed, Cyprus is alone in the Mediterranean in this position? There has been much speculation that this has been done because some countries in the EEC—not Britain—believe that, by refusing a mandate to allow the Commission to renegotiate the agreement, they will put pressure on the Greek negotiators at the talks to be held with the Turks. Will the Minister ensure that the mandate for the Commission to get on with the negotiations will be forthcoming on 3rd May?

I have not yet come across the kind of crude pressure to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I know that his long-standing commitment to Cyprus is second to none. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is concern about achieving a successful conclusion to the negotiations. I had a meeting two days ago in Strasbourg with the Cypriot Foreign Minister when we talked about the situation. We are determined to get on with the job and to achieve a satisfactory position by 3rd July.

Has the possibility of the use of Culham as the centre for European nuclear fusion research been finally lost, or is it still open?

My hon. Friend knows well that it is our commitment to see Culham used for that purpose. We intend to continue to pursue that objective in the Community whatever may be the most effective manner.

Is there any chance that at the next meeting of the Agriculture Ministers my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take as his text the Early-Day Motion tabled this week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and numerous colleagues, to the effect that the British people and a large number of hon. Members despair of anything good coming out of the common agricultural policy in any way to combat the rising tide of food prices, and that that despair should be reflected in a forthright statement by my right hon. Friend to the effect that we want a total change in the Community's agricultural policy?

It is no secret that throughout the House there is great concern about the whole range of imperfections, as they are seen to be, in the common agricultural policy. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food needs no text: his commitment is there for all to see.

I revert to the Foreign Ministers' meeting and the question of Greek membership of the Community. I welcome the Minister's reiteration of this country's positive commitment to Greek membership. In view of the Community's strange fondness for deadlines, in the discussions that have taken place has a deadline or target date been set for Greek accession?

No target date has been set in those specific terms. What is clearly present is a steady programme of work. The next step is to reach the stage at which there can be a thorough review of all the progress and implications. We hope to reach that stage as rapidly as possible.