asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they favour the establishment of an agreement between the European Union and Slovenia and, if so, what steps they are taking to achieve this.
My Lords, we are strongly in favour of Slovenia concluding an association agreement with the European Union. The agreement has been initialled; but not yet signed, because of outstanding differences between Slovenia and Italy. We have encouraged both governments to resolve their difficulties so that the agreement can be signed without further delay.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Does she agree with me that Slovenia has done well in recent years to establish itself as a democratic and prosperous young nation? Further, does my noble friend not think it a pity that relations between Slovenia and the European Union should be held up on such a matter as property rights by one member state? Can my noble friend use her influence with her Italian colleagues in the European Union to try to get the matter resolved?
My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that Slovenia has done well. Indeed, she has become one of the most economically developed of the central and eastern European countries; she is politically stable; and she has a pluralist liberal democracy. We believe that Slovenia is entitled to look forward to the day when she will be a full member of the European Union. However, I also agree with my noble friend that it is tragic that Italy and Slovenia have not been able to resolve their bilateral property issue which is preventing this particular signature.I should stress that we have indeed encouraged a resolution of the issue, but the right is not all on one side. The Italians feel that this is a sensitive, domestic issue, but so do the Slovenians. We are trying our best behind the scenes to resolve the matter.
My Lords, will there be standard clauses in the agreement regarding human rights in Slovenia, and, if so, what enforcement mechanisms are written into those standard clauses in the event of default by the state concerned? I am not suggesting there is any reason for particular anxiety in the case of Slovenia. However, as I understand it, in all future association agreements there is provision for these clauses to be inserted.
My Lords, I am not sure because it would depend on the drafting date as to whether those clauses have been included in the association agreement. However, I will check that and write to the noble Lord. As he rightly says, I do not think there is any reason for anxiety over Slovenia's progress on human rights. I repeat, she is politically stable and has a pluralist liberal democracy. She is setting a good example to many of the countries around her.
My Lords, if the Italian Government's opposition to an association agreement continues, can the Minister comment on the implications for enlargement more generally, given the Government's commitment to unanimous voting in this area?
My Lords, it is important that this problem is kept within context. It is not a huge problem. It does not have anything to do with European membership per se. The problem is that the Slovenians have proposed some amendments to their property laws which the Italians do not like because those laws would not allow their citizens who have lived in Slovenia in the past to buy up property until they had fulfilled the new three years of continuous residence requirement. This matter ought to be capable of being resolved between the parties. Although right is not all on one side, as I have said, I do not believe that it is a matter of such import that it will result in more than hesitation.As to the wider question of enlargement and the requirement for unanimity on enlargement, I still believe, as a member of the Government, that it is important that we maintain that unanimity. The question how best to work for a resolution of the problem between Italy and the other 14 members who are in favour of this association agreement.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness give the House an undertaking that she will in due course provide particulars of the nature and extent of our involvement in the agreement referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell?
My Lords, certainly if there is something further that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, needs, he knows that he has only to ask. I always try to give him as much information as possible.