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Eu Enlargement (Czech Republic)

Volume 400: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2003

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If he will make a statement on enlargement of the EU; and what progress is being made in respect of the Czech Republic's application to join the EU.[98790]

Following the conclusion of negotiations at the European Council in December, the existing EU members, the Czech Republic and nine other candidates will sign an accession treaty on 16 April. Subject to treaty ratification, the Czech Republic will accede on 1 May 2004. That is good news for the UK, the EU and the Czech Republic.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he share my concern that the nations seeking to join the EU were invited to the summit in Brussels last week to discuss Iraq, but were not allowed to participate? It seems to emerge that, after that meeting, President Chirac was threatening those nations wishing to join with a veto if they did not agree with his views on Iraq. Would not a better way of taking forward EU membership be whether they meet the criteria, rather than whether they agree with the President of France?

The Minister will be aware that coalition discussions in Austria have centred in large part around the issue of nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. Threats have been made by the far right, extremist Freedom party to block Czech membership of the European Union. Does he agree that it would be much more welcome for the Austrian Government to discuss issues of substance rather than accede to the extremist designs of Jörg Haider?

When negotiating with partners for the accession of the Czech Republic and other applicant countries, will my hon. Friend ensure that the rights of Roma people in those countries, which are not upheld at the moment, will be fundamental to conditions for accession to the EU? That will prevent us from ending up in a situation in which the problems of the Roma people are settled by them resettling in our country and other parts of the EU.

My hon. Friend raises a sensitive point. Since the end of communism, steady progress has been made on dealing with all the different minority questions in central and eastern Europe. The issue of the treatment of the Roma people figured largely in the assessment about new member states joining the European Union. My hon. Friend is right that we must keep a careful eye on the matter.