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European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Association Agreement) (Georgia) Order 2015

Volume 759: debated on Thursday 26 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Association Agreement) (Georgia) Order 2015.

Relevant document: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I shall also speak to the EU definition of treaties association agreement orders for Moldova and Ukraine.

Today we are considering three draft orders that relate to association agreements between the European Union, the European Atomic Energy Community and their member states, and three countries: namely, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The purpose of these draft orders is to declare the agreements to be EU treaties, as defined under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972. The draft orders we debate today are a necessary step towards UK ratification of these agreements.

Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have all chosen to pursue closer ties with the European Union. These countries have decided of their own free will to sign association agreements in order to support their own reform programmes and to seek closer political association and economic integration with the European Union. We fully support the sovereign choices of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and strongly believe that no third country should have a veto over their decisions.

These association agreements, with their deep and comprehensive free trade areas, are wide ranging. They provide strong mechanisms through which to deliver security, democracy and prosperity. They commit Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to deep and meaningful reforms, to align more closely their legislation to EU norms, focusing on support to core reforms, including economic recovery and growth, good governance, improved respect for rule of law, and human rights. They will allow for the closer integration of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with the EU and will promote increased prosperity and stability in the European neighbourhood. That is not only in the interests of those three countries, but is clearly in the interest of the EU, including the United Kingdom.

The ratification of these three agreements is not an end in itself. They form part of a process to drive forward continuous reform in all three countries. The European Commission will prepare annual progress reports to reflect each country’s strengths and highlight areas for improvement. The scope and nature of the agreements are similar. That is why we are considering the draft orders together today. However, we should bear in mind that each country faces different pressures and has its own distinct priorities for its relationship with the EU.

The first order before us today, which I formally moved, relates to Georgia. Georgia has watched closely as events have unfolded in Ukraine. Both the Georgian Government and public have drawn parallels with the 2008 conflict with Russia. The Georgian Government are extremely concerned about the situation in Ukraine and its implications for their country, and have lobbied EU member states actively to ratify Georgia’s association agreement.

We remain clear, however, about the importance of Georgia continuing with reforms and fulfilling its commitments for signature of its agreement. Strengthened respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law are part of the process of moving closer to the EU. While not without setbacks, Georgia’s progress in the areas of democratisation and economic reform over the last 10 years has been impressive. The agreement will further help to encourage Georgia to drive forward with genuine commitment and energy the reforms necessary for the country’s long-term security and prosperity.

The European path has widespread support across Georgian society and the country’s main political parties. Since Georgia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, which witnessed the first peaceful transfer of power in Georgia—a rarity in the former Soviet space—the Georgian coalition Government have remained committed to and have continued on the pro-EU trajectory set by the previous Government.

The wider south Caucasus region is of strategic importance to the UK and the EU. Continued stability in this region is also essential for the UK’s prosperity and energy security goals. It is therefore strongly in our interests that Georgia continues along its EU path. Since the brief Russia-Georgia war in 2008, the EU has played an important role in conflict resolution through the EU special representative for the south Caucasus and EU monitoring mission that provides an effective monitoring presence along the administrative boundary lines between Georgia and its breakaway regions. Closer political association and greater economic integration into the EU is the most effective way to promote reform and modernisation in Georgia, as well as contributing to conflict resolution.

I turn to the order relating to Moldova. Moldova’s parliamentary elections of 30 November 2014 illustrate Moldova’s continued commitment to democracy. A new coalition Government were appointed by the Moldovan Parliament on 18 February. We hope that they will govern in an inclusive and accountable manner and make early progress with the implementation of Moldova’s association agreement. It will be important to maintain, even speed up, the progress that Moldova has made since 2009 in administrative reform, independence of the judiciary, combating discrimination, and ensuring that democratic processes and respect for human rights are more deeply embedded in Moldovan society and more able to resist pressure from destabilising outside forces.

The protracted conflict in Transnistria remains unresolved, largely because of the malign role of Russia. Despite attempts by the European institutions, EU member states and the Government of Moldova, the de facto authorities in Tiraspol refused to engage meaningfully in negotiations over the association agreement. Nevertheless, an increasing share—now more than half—of Transnistrian exports go to the EU. Many businesses in the Transnistria breakaway region have a strong interest in positive relations with Chisinau and the EU, and could provide a positive influence for change.

Before I progress to the order which relates to Ukraine, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I update it on the latest situation there, before saying more about the Ukraine association agreement. This is not a debate about the situation in Ukraine, but I appreciate that this is a moving picture, and Ministers have a duty to inform the House.

As the Committee will know, an agreement on a ceasefire was reached in Minsk on 12 February. It includes provisions embodied in an original ceasefire agreement also agreed in Minsk in September 2014. These measures include the withdrawal of heavy weapons to agreed distances from the line of contact, and the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine. The 12 February agreement also envisages fresh elections under Ukrainian law in the breakaway, separatist-held areas and for constitutional reform to bring a more decentralised system of government in Ukraine.

The Minsk agreements were endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2202 on 17 February. This underlines the need for all signatory parties to implement their obligations. This resolution will allow the Security Council to monitor that closely.

There must be a particular focus on ensuring that Russia and the separatists honour their commitments. In the weeks that preceded the Minsk agreement of 12 February, Russia stepped up military support to the separatists. It transferred heavy weaponry and maintains hundreds of regular soldiers, including special forces, in Ukraine. Even after the ceasefire came into effect on 15 February, separatist and Russian forces continued to mount attacks on Ukrainian positions, including in the town of Debaltseve, an important road and rail hub, which finally fell on 18 February.

The consequences of Russia’s actions in Ukraine have been devastating. Since fighting started, we have seen more than 5,000 dead, tens of thousands injured and more than 1.5 million people forced to take refuge elsewhere. It is Russia, through its support for the separatists, which is responsible for this and Russia which must be held to account. As the Prime Minister made clear at the European Council on 12 February, Europe must send a clear message to President Putin that until Russia changes its behaviour, sanctions will remain in place. Russia must recognise that Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity should be respected and that Ukraine should be allowed to make its own sovereign decisions. The association agreement is just such a sovereign decision.

For Ukraine, the association agreement represents a very clear public commitment, by both the EU and Ukraine, to a deep relationship and close co-operation and to the continuation of much needed deep-rooted reforms. Although the provisional application of the deep and comprehensive free trade area has been postponed to 1 January 2016, the provisional application of important areas such as the rule of law and the fight against crime and corruption came into force on 1 November 2014.

The proposal to delay, at the request of President Poroshenko, the provisional application of the deep and comprehensive free trade area of the association agreement until 1 January 2016 was done in the spirit of peacebuilding, giving Ukraine and Russia time to discuss their economic relationship. The proposal offered a pragmatic solution to address Russia’s stated concerns about the deep and comprehensive free trade area, while leaving the text unchanged. In the mean time, the EU will continue the application of autonomous trade measures for the benefit of Ukraine until the end of 2015, granting Ukrainian exporters continued preferential access to EU markets without waiting for the trade provisions under the association agreement to enter into force.

These association agreements will be supported by continuing financial and technical support from the European Union on strengthening the rule of law, advancing judicial reforms, fighting corruption, ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and strengthening democratic institutions. The EU provides funding to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova under the European Neighbourhood Instrument. The Commission currently plans to allocate at the minimum €2.1 billion and, depending on the pace of reform, could allocate up to €2.6 billion to support Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine between 2014 and 2020. This is a significant increase on the previous period for all three countries.

In conclusion, we firmly believe that the implementation of the association agreements will bring mutual benefits to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, and to the EU. We should all be clear, however, that this will not happen overnight. It is a complex region—we have all noticed that and debated it. There are no easy solutions to the crisis in Ukraine. Georgia and Moldova both have protracted conflicts and disputed territories within their borders. The association agreements have the potential to have a positive impact in the region and on these conflicts as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine become more economically successful and politically stable. But we, along with the EU and other partners, will need to stay closely involved to ensure that these agreements fulfil that potential and bring maximum benefits to the region, which is in all our interests. I commend the draft orders to the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, all of us will be grateful to my noble friend for her presentation of these orders. As outlined, the association agreements are intended to deepen political and economic relations between these states and other parties.

Neither Georgia, Moldova nor Ukraine is a member of the European Union; however, all three are members of the Council of Europe and its 47 states’ affiliation. By the Council of Europe, the three states are already held to account for meeting obligations. This occurs through its Parliament, through monitoring mechanisms—for example, CPT, ECRI and FCNM—and at the Court in Strasbourg.

Clearly, we want to avoid double handling or reinventing the wheel unnecessarily. This would occur if a branch of the European Union or some other improvised European process should try to set up its own rule of law mechanism for monitoring and deployment—not least if such should be attempted in connection with the association agreements that we are considering.

Can my noble friend assure us that such double handling is not envisaged and will not occur; and that, instead, today’s association agreements can therefore progress constructively and creatively, and be facilitated by Council of Europe structures that are already in place?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her clear explanation of the orders, and I am sure that we are all grateful to her for bringing us up to date on the situation in Ukraine. I should say at the outset that I support the orders and the fact that the European Union has entered into these association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

These countries have two things in common: first, they are victims of territorial disputes and, secondly, all have sought a European and westward-looking future. Ukraine is, of course, in the forefront of the news today, and the dispute over Crimea and part of eastern Ukraine sadly seems likely to be added to the list of frozen conflicts, joining those in South Ossetia, Abkhazia in Georgia, and Transnistria in Moldova.

I have just come back from the meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where discussion about the situation in Ukraine dominated proceedings. However, deep concerns were also expressed about Russia’s intentions in respect of Moldova and Georgia—and the Baltic states, which are outside the area we are discussing. We must do everything we can to anticipate Russian intentions towards these states and not allow the dissident parts to provide the excuse for Russia to undermine the rest of the country seeking a different, European and democratic future. We have already seen Armenia turn its face against an association agreement.

This afternoon is not the place to go into these situations in detail but, while I entirely agree that Russia should not have a veto over the future of any sovereign state, it is important that the position of the European Union and our Government is clear—namely, that although the agreements are a welcome step to inclusion of these countries in Europe, there can be no question of accession to the European Union while these territorial disputes exist. Unless we make that clear, we stand the risk of dashing the hopes of many citizens in those countries, and that can lead only to disillusionment with the European Union and the West in general.

Nevertheless, we should adopt the agreements with enthusiasm and offer as much assistance and economic help as possible to buttress the sometimes fragile democracies that exist in these countries. The agreements are with each of the three countries and the Governments of those countries do not recognise the independence of or the occupation of part of their respective states. It may be an academic point, but the agreements make no reference to these facts. My noble friend referred to businesses in Transnistria; are we quite satisfied that the benefits of these agreements cannot be claimed by businesses— which are no doubt very inventive as to where goods are produced and subsequently exported from—which are in fact based in these disputed territories? If that is considered to be too fanciful, are we in any circumstances under the agreements able to differentiate between the three sovereign states and their Governments and the areas over which they have no control and are in dispute?

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend the Minister for her helpful introduction and explanation of the situation. I spent many years making EU law, but perhaps not so much time implementing it, and therefore I am not familiar with this process. Before moving on to other things, perhaps I could ask about the draft Explanatory Memorandum. It explains that one of the effects of the order, declaring that the agreement is to be regarded as an EU treaty under the ECA 1972, is that certain rights and obligations under the agreement automatically become law in the United Kingdom and then subordinate legislation can be made to give effect to the provisions of the agreement. I am not clear which rights and obligations automatically become law. It may be that the noble Baroness can take me aside at some point and explain how all this works, and that will clear my confusion.

My more general point is to strongly welcome these association agreements. I agree with everything the noble Baroness has said about the prospect of not only greater prosperity for the citizens of these three countries, but also greater security for the European Union, and I agree that the prospect of better energy security is a factor in that discussion.

I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about the role of the Council of Europe. It is important that the roles of the EU and the Council of Europe should be complementary. It is fair to say that the EU has much greater resources than the Council of Europe; we know that the Council is always stretched for money, partly because its member states do not give it enough. They should not trip over each other. At one point there was a tendency for the EU to sort of push aside the Council of Europe, which is not a clever idea. The EU needs to come in as a complementary body, and of course it has another role to play in terms of the economic and trade relationship. However, for the rule of law, fighting corruption and an independent judiciary, obviously we have the whole Strasbourg package—aquis, if you like—and that is essentially what the EU wants to implement. There should not be any institutional jealousy between the two organisations. Sometimes during my time as a Member of the European Parliament, there was evidence of a bit of that. After all, the EU pinched the flag of the Council of Europe. However, it is important that the two should work together so as to add value to each other.

I welcome what the Minister said about the provisions on the rule of law and the fight against corruption which have been in force since last November. I should like to stress the importance of that. If we look at the history of countries acceding to the EU, although I know that this is not about accession, it is arguable that not enough was done in these areas before they were admitted to the European Union and there have been continuing problems in the existing member states. More must be done. We really need to front-load this issue. You cannot have a flourishing economy or property rights without an independent judiciary. It is almost more important even than democracy, in a sense. Certainly, some drew that conclusion from the western Balkans. You cannot have economic reform, as I say, without a strong independent judicial system.

I agree with the Minister that, while we must not overstate it, these association agreements have the potential to have a beneficial effect on the prospect of dealing with the conflicts because the people in the breakaway regions would be able to see the benefits of participating in a deep relationship with the EU and would want a slice of the action. But the association agreements of themselves are not going to solve the conflicts.

I welcome what the Minister had to say in going slightly outside the scope of these orders to update us on the situation as regards Ukraine. In that context, I am extremely shocked to read today that the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr Anastasiades, on a visit to Moscow, has formalised an agreement for Russian warships to use Cypriot military bases and has also spoken against EU policy on Ukraine. We know that there is press commentary on the difficulty of keeping together a common EU policy on sanctions and the prospect of tightening sanctions on Russia. There were worries about Greece. There have been worries about Hungary, of course, which I mentioned in the House the other day. Mr Orban hosted President Putin the other day. I personally find this the most extraordinary disloyalty by EU member states towards a common EU policy on Russia. I hope that some very candid words are being shared around the European Council table with some of our member states.

I know we have just a short procedure here so I will not go on. These association agreements are extremely welcome. Perhaps from smaller acorns big things will grow. One day, perhaps, one or more of these countries will be eligible to join the European Union. This is not the time and there is no guarantee of that. Personally, I hope that it might be possible for at least some of them and this at least leaves the door open. But as the Minister said, it is their sovereign choice what relationship they want with the EU. All parties in the UK have always supported the process of enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy, because it is not just for benefit of those countries; it is for our security.

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words. I was in Georgia last July, just after the association agreement was signed, and I cannot underestimate the euphoria that there was, but of course I was among Ministers and people negotiating the agreement. The Georgian Orthodox Church is not exactly of the same mind and I think it may lead them all downhill.

I note from the Explanatory Memorandum that the impact is very modest on the UK economy. The figure of £0.6 million is quoted. Perhaps the Minister could reassure me that this really is the bottom end of the range and that Georgia, if the situation remains stable, can expect a gradual improvement. I would also like to be reassured that there has been no further development on the Russian front in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is not a stable Government—there has already been a change of Minister since we were there—but I am very pleased to read in press reports of the solidarity there is between Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. They were, for example, at the celebration of the centenary events of the Maidan in Kiev. The Georgian President was invited, and I know that there has been a lot of exchange. I do not think that these association agreements need disturb the Russians unduly. We have moved on from last year and must all expect greater prosperity to follow from them.

I was on the European Union Committee which produced the report on Ukraine and Russia recently. I very much hope the Government will respond to it swiftly, because it will give more of us an urgent opportunity to discuss the situation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the measured and moderate way in which she spoke about these agreements. She will recall that, in a previous life, she appointed me as one of our delegates to the Council of Europe. Since that time, I have managed to become the chairman of the sub-committee on the application of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, where I am privileged to have a Georgian as my vice-chair. I want to take up the point that has been made about not getting too much crossover between the legitimate job of the European Court of Human Rights and that of the European Commission and its annual report.

I speak from long experience of the European Parliament, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, does. The Commission loves to stray well beyond its remit into giving its opinion on many things in the world and is likely to do so. Through the Committee of Ministers mechanism at the Council of Europe, we should be able to ensure that there is some sort of balance and that we do not get into a position where they are both looking at the same thing. There is quite a clear job to do, and I am sure that resources are scarce. I spent 10 years on the liaison committee between the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. There was constant jealousy in the Council of Europe at our budget-raising powers and the fact that the Parliament could raise its own budget, whereas the Council of Europe of course had to negotiate its. None the less, no one has doubted that the European Court of Human Rights has not only the competence but the skill to give the requisite opinions and judgments on human rights issues. We need to be careful that those two are not mixed up.

One common factor of course with all three agreements is that they relate to the scenes of frozen conflicts—Ukraine is, sadly, now in that category of frozen conflict. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, made the point that areas of frozen conflict could leak into the association agreements. I have to tell your Lordships that they can. I was in Moldova, not recently but not that long ago, and it was quite clear that it is part of Moldovan policy to try and bring Transnistria back into the body and that anything that can be done to pursue that aim is done, including encouraging it to export through Moldova itself. So we have to be careful there. We also have to be careful of the integration between Moldova and Romania. There are certain people in Bucharest who see Moldova as being little different from Wales, in terms of it being a country on the fringe that has self-government but which is basically still part of us. We need to keep an eye on that.

We also have to be careful about how the agreement is implemented. The beginning of the recent crisis in Ukraine spun out of the botched way in which the European Union handled the association agreement. That is how it is to my mind, although I know that that is not a universal view. We did not handle it as cleverly as we could have. We have ended up with a president in exile, although I notice that within the past few days, former President Yanukovych has made statements to the effect that he is thinking about going back, so we need to be careful about how we implement this. I am not saying that we should not sign and implement the association agreement, but we should not use it to antagonise—that is the danger.

I do not know whether the Minister met the Georgians who were here a few days ago, but it was quite clear that part of Georgian foreign policy, not unnaturally, is to try and use favourable reflections from Britain and western Europe in its constant battle against Russia and the countries that surround it. Georgia is a rather special case because it neighbours Turkey. The others are very much more in the heart of Europe.

My final point is that if we are going to have peace on this frontier in the end, we need a comprehensive agreement and settlement with Russia. There are too many potential conflicts: look at Latvia and the Russian population there. My own priority, for what it is worth, is that the Baltic states are covered by Article 5, and we must make sure that they stay at the top of our list before we take on any other commitments that we cannot honour. That is crucial. We should not get ourselves into a position where we are giving guarantees or understandings that we know in our own heart we cannot honour. I think that, more or less, we have gone as far as we can. I agree with the President of the European Commission that the time is not right for the extension of Community membership. We have probably bitten off more than we can chew; we certainly do not have the capacity for any more.

Historically, Britain has always been in favour of extending Community membership. One group of people has said that as good members of the European movement—which I am, too—we want to extend the benefits of Europe across Europe. But there is another school of thought, among the anti-European group, which has said that the more we can get in, the nearer we can bring it to collapse. That group also has a point. We have now got to a tipping point where we need to concentrate on integrating the European Union and its near abroad, in a sensible manner, to the not-so near abroad beyond it, whose countries are certainly not candidates for membership in anyone’s cognisance at the moment. These orders are part of that process.

I welcome the orders and I hope that they will be implemented and monitored with the moderation that the Minister’s speech has indicated. I look forward to us giving them our support.

My Lords, I start by thanking the Minister for her clear explanation of the orders. I do not intend to say very much on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. We support the orders and are happy to do so today. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. There is a degree of expertise in the Committee that will make this debate look important when it is considered by others outside Parliament.

My first point is one that the Minister mentioned. The countries involved in these association agreements have to have free choice as to whether to reach such agreements, but the opposite is also true. No country should be forced to enter into such an association agreement, but on the other hand, nor should any free and sovereign state be pressured into not doing so, whether by force of arms or by other forms of intimidation. We are therefore content that the countries that we are talking about today are in the position that they find themselves in with regard to these association agreements.

Of course, as the Minister said, our debate takes place against the background of the unfolding situation in Ukraine, and I thank her for keeping us up to date with the position there. The House has debated the extremely critical situation in Ukraine many times in various forms, and will undoubtedly do so again. I hope it does so soon, not least so that the report that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned—The EU and Russia: Before and Beyond the Crisis in Ukraine, published by the European Union Committee, on which he sat and which received a lot of media publicity earlier this week—can be debated, too.

Today’s Motions are not a reason for holding another debate on Ukraine this afternoon, although the comments that have been made about Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have been extremely helpful, for me at least, in setting the background to where we are. The other two countries, Moldova and Georgia, as has been made clear, have considerable difficulties of their own. They have parallels, but their situations are of course different from the critical one we all face in Ukraine at present.

On Ukraine, we all hope that the ceasefire agreed in Minsk a fortnight ago now on 12 February, which was due to begin on 15 February, 11 days ago, can be properly implemented. Can the Minister comment on today’s reports, which have not necessarily been confirmed, that both the pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian army may be starting to withdraw heavy weapons? Apparently, as of 1 pm, Ukrainian military forces had suffered no fatalities in the previous 48 hours, although several soldiers have apparently been wounded in that time span. A buffer zone of at least 50 kilometres has to be created and monitored by the OSCE, so I was particularly interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, had to say about his recent meeting at the OSCE. Can the Minister comment on those matters?

Some have claimed—the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, came close to it—that the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine has been something of a provocation, at least in part, in terms of the proxy war in eastern Ukraine. The argument goes—the noble Lord put it moderately and well—that the EU, in negotiating such an agreement, sort of poked the bear with a stick, which is one way of putting it, and that signing such an agreement was an act of recklessness by the EU. We do not agree with that analysis. When the House of Commons debated these matters last December, there was a general consensus that this was not the case. The EU association agreement with Ukraine was not rushed in any way. It was not a surprise or a provocation. As I understand it, it had been under discussion for seven years and, interestingly, had been supported by the previous pro-Russian leadership of Ukraine under the last president, to whom the noble Lord referred.

The whole point of such agreements is to give a country access to the European market in exchange for reforms that encourage a democratic, honest and legally robust framework for that country’s future. The point of these agreements is to give access to European markets in exchange for reforms. Given Ukraine’s economic and corruption problems, reforms in the direction of transparency, the rule of law and proper democratic accountability are of great importance. That is the path the present Ukrainian Government want to pursue, but they will of course need considerable help.

On Georgia and Moldova, a similar argument applies. It has been good to hear the expertise of noble Lords on those two countries as well. If they want to pursue these agreements, and if we are clear about the governance and economic reforms required, they must be free to do so. The reforms required as part of these agreements are not always easy for new democracies but they are very much in their interests and in ours, too, of course. I ask the Minister a question that I believe was asked in the other place a fortnight ago when these orders were taken through: what assistance are we and the rest of the European Union offering countries as part of these association agreements to help them reach the goals that are needed on governance, transparency, honest accounting and anti-corruption measures?

We cannot have a situation where Russia tries to exercise a veto over the actions of its neighbours, whoever they may be, or to threaten consequences similar to those that have been visited upon Ukraine. It is on that basis that we support these orders.

My Lords, I am grateful for the support that all noble Lords have given to this order and, I hope, by implication to the other two orders that have been debated with it. In particular, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, about the demonstration of experience and expertise by Peers, whether they be members of the Council of Europe or have served as Members of the European Parliament, or indeed have been long-term Members of this House and have participated in our Select Committee work. It is important that this House is able to demonstrate that sort of expertise.

It is important that we heard from the Opposition their strong support for this process whereby sovereign countries are able to make their own decisions about where their future may lie, and to do so in a constructive way. All those three countries need to pursue these objectives in a constructive manner. I agree with every single word uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, today, and I will address the two questions that he posed.

The people of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have made a clear choice for a future closely aligned with the EU. I will tackle head-on the questions that were put about whether or not the EU botched, as my noble friend Lord Balfe put it—rather inelegantly, perhaps—the negotiations over the association agreement with Ukraine. It is not the EU that has caused this crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, negotiations with Ukraine started as long ago as 2007 and Yanukovych was certainly part of them, with support from the Ukraine Government of which he was the head. It was really only when at the beginning of last year Russia woke up to the fact that the implications of this might be something that it did not like—as other noble Lords have pointed out, Russia appears to have the view that it still has the right to control countries that are in fact sovereign but which perhaps used to be within its remit—that Yanukovych seemed to take a different point of view and we entered into the period of Euromaidan and the demonstrations by the people of Ukraine, who said, “We want this association agreement. We want a closer association with the EU. That is where our future lies, and you as the leader of our Government should take notice of us”. It was his failure to take notice of the will of the people, of an elected Government, that meant that he fled the country and has not yet returned. Whether he seeks to return is a matter for him. I am not too sure quite what the Kiev Government would think of that but that is his decision.

Therefore, I am clear that Ukraine has taken a decision that is right for a sovereign Government to take and that the EU has taken a measured course. Indeed, in opening I made it clear that President Poroshenko has asked us to delay the implementation of the deep and comprehensive free trade areas specifically, so that negotiations can continue and so that Russia can become more accustomed to what the implications might be for it—to try to allay suspicions. Overall, with regard to Georgia and Moldova, I will say also that the ambition with their agreements is the same as that for Ukraine. They are aiming to deepen their political and economic relations with the EU and to integrate them gradually into the largest single market in the world.

Several noble Lords raised the question of integration with the EU: how, when, should they, or should they not? It is quite right, as my noble friend Lord Balfe said, that there was at one time a particularly large expansion in the number of accession countries to the EU. According to the EU treaties, any European state which respects the EU’s values and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union—that is a matter of fact in the treaties. However, I say now, as I have said in the past, that the UK Government support the Eastern Partnership countries—at the moment, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine; we just referred to the association agreements with the latter three—as possible EU countries in the future. The stress is on “the future”, because, as other noble Lords have pointed out, it is important that those three countries meet the necessary criteria. Other noble Lords here have painted a picture of life in those countries that shows that they have a long way to go before they have an independent judiciary, human rights, and a way of tackling corruption, which they need before they can come into the category of accession countries. I am aware that there is no current consensus on the potential candidacy of those countries among the member states. However, it is right that those countries should be able to look at the European treaties and consider that they can work towards that. It is up to them whether they reach the standards, and up to the current members as to whether they will then welcome them into the EU.

The association agreements we have considered today are of course not ends in themselves—that is something that my noble friend Lady Ludford referred to and which I will come to in a moment. Much work needs to be done on domestic reforms across all three countries, and the EU is providing assistance on strengthening the rule of law, advancing judicial reforms, fighting corruption, ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and strengthening democratic institutions. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that we play a prominent role in that and will continue to do so. In opening I gave some information about the amount of money—significant sums of euros—that will be going to those countries to assist them in the future. We will have a role, certainly, in giving advice on the humanitarian issues through DfID. I will certainly contribute my views on human rights to many; for example, at the meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva next week. We will all as Ministers and officials play an important part in ensuring that those three countries are aware of and can work towards the standards they need to achieve if they are properly to implement the association agreements and ultimately work towards membership of the European Union if that is what their Governments continue to wish to do.

Therefore, all that will take time and money—I refer to questions from noble Lords and my noble friends with regard to that. One of the main points was put very clearly: that we must be sure that we have complementarity between the work of the European Union and that of the Council of Europe. My noble friend, whom I reappointed to the Council of Europe, is sitting here. One of the things that must impress us all is that when the delegations go to the Council of Europe, it is the Members of this House who keep it going, do the work and the chairing and who are the rapporteurs. I am certainly very proud of that.

I assure my noble friends Lord Balfe, Lady Ludford and Lord Dundee that there is a complementarity and not a crossover. As my noble friend Lady Ludford said, it is not a competition. It is important that there is no double-handling, as my noble friend Lord Dundee said, and that we do not want to reinvent the wheel. The association agreements can proceed constructively and do something that the Council of Europe cannot, which is important. They give hope of a closer political and economic future for these countries, which only the European Union can provide. That complementarity must be key to the successful progress of these countries when they apply the benefits, as I hope they will be, of these association agreements.

Looking forward again, both my noble friends Lord Bowness and Lord Balfe raised the issue of frozen conflicts—Georgia and Moldova, and now of course the question about what happens with the eastern areas of Ukraine. The three association agreements extend to all sovereign lands, even if one does not have control over parts of one’s sovereign territory. The agreements extend to areas of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine that are currently outwith the effective control of the sovereign Governments of those three countries, although the provisions of the agreements will not of course in practice apply to those territories until such time as the Governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine can secure compliance with their requirements.

The provisions for the deep and comprehensive free trade areas require the Governments of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to transpose and enforce EU standards in a number of sectors, including phytosanitary standards. That is important, otherwise trade will simply not be trusted by other partners. However, effective enforcement is not currently possible in the breakaway regions. Moldovan companies currently export to the EU using a system of autonomous trade preferences, to which Transnistrian companies also have access. The EU has extended the system of autonomous trade preferences to Moldova as a whole until the end of 2015, ensuring that those Transnistrian businesses will not immediately lose their current access to the single market. In answer to the question asked by my noble friend, the EU will need to reflect on how to handle this issue after the end of 2015. He raised a crucial point. At the same time, it should give the Transnistrians food for thought, given that over half of Transnistrian exports now go to the EU.

My noble friend Lady Ludford asked specifically about the procedural aspect, referring in particular to the Explanatory Memorandum, and which obligations are implemented and how. The European Communities Act 1972 provides the mechanism for implementing in UK law our obligations under an EU treaty, which is what the agreements become under these orders. That is the way in which the provisions of the agreement are given direct effect in UK law. Not every provision in the agreement would need to be the subject of legislation, but where we need legislation, which some parts may do, the order gives provision to that effect in UK law. This is about providing that kind of consistency.

My noble friend Lady Ludford also raised the important point about our view of the position of other EU member states with regard to sanctions and to the issue of Russian influence. EU member states have various degrees of economic and political interaction with Russia. We have seen that because of the energy aspect, let alone because of anything else. Despite this, the EU has developed a package of robust sanctions. As far as I am aware from the discussions that have been happening as recently as yesterday, the unanimity on that still holds and there is a determination about that. However, my noble friend is right to say that we need to be watchful and to show that the EU remains united. Russia needs to understand that, particularly before we reach the European Council on 20 March, when one would expect the current sanctions to be rolled over. If there are any breaches of the ceasefire, that would of course be taken into consideration and we should be ready for further sanctions at that point. The impact on Russia should be clear.

My noble friend referred in particular to the matter of Cyprus. Perhaps it might be helpful at this stage if I say that I can see that on Tuesday 10 March, our noble friend Lord Sharkey has an Oral Question specifically on this subject. We will be looking at the implications of what Cyprus has decided to do.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to his expertise and knowledge of Georgia. I am delighted to hear that he went there last July and was able to witness the welcome given to the signing of the association agreement. He raised the question of whether the impact on the UK economy might be rather modest. I hope that the impact assessment brought out the fact that while one does not want to overestimate the benefits—one is erring on the conservative side, if I may be excused for using that word—as these association agreements are implemented and reforms to the political and business sectors are put in place, the flow of trade may be such that companies themselves, not the Government, will benefit considerably. That is the point. This country benefits not only from what we can see tangibly from the point of view of our own taxation system, it also benefits from the export capability of our companies and the part that that plays in our current jobs-led recovery.

The noble Earl went on to ask about developments in the relationship between Georgia and Russia. He is right to say that there have been worrying developments in both territories since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and indeed we have referred to that on the Floor of the House. On 24 November 2014, Russia and Abkhazia agreed a treaty to set up a strategic partnership which aims to deepen the region’s integration into Russia’s military, social and economic areas. President Putin signed a law ratifying the treaty on 4 February this year. Russia has also drafted what it calls a treaty of alliance and integration with South Ossetia which will probably be signed in March. The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, passed this so-called treaty to President Putin for signature on 24 February.

We expressed our concern to Russia about its signature to the so-called treaty with Abkhazia and the proposed similar one with South Ossetia. The UK continues to be concerned about reports of borderisation—the physical construction of barbed wire fences along the South Ossetian administrative boundary line—and we continue to support the work of the EU monitoring mission and welcome its new increased mandate for two years. We believe that the mission is a key component of the EU’s commitment to stability and conflict resolution in Georgia. It is the only international monitoring mission in Georgia and it plays an invaluable role in reducing the risk of further conflict.

I should refer briefly to the fact that other noble Lords have referred to the work of the OSCE. I consider it to be a most valuable organisation, and it is clear that its role in the monitoring of the ceasefire in Ukraine is going to be important ultimately in its observation of the boundaries. Earlier this week, I was very pleased to have the opportunity, as I believe my noble friend Lord Bowness also did along with other colleagues, to meet the Secretary General of the OSCE, and I was able to discuss these matters with him. I recognise and pay tribute to the work that is being done by that organisation.

Paying attention to all the contributions of noble Lords, I can also refer to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, raised the report that we received only at lunchtime today about the heavy weapons that are reported as being withdrawn at the moment. I have seen the same reports and I am aware that the Government in Kiev have said that they are withdrawing their own heavy weapons. Further, the separatists are saying that they will be withdrawing their heavy weapons. I have to say, with regard to the claim of the separatists, that I have no verification of that. Frankly, until the OSCE or other monitoring bodies are able to get in, we will not have it. But if those statements are not only words but deeds, then there is hope for Ukraine. That is the message I would like to leave with the Committee with regard to all three of these association agreements. They will all bring benefits to the three states—the benefits of democratic, judicial and governance reforms—which will make sure that these three countries should have a more prosperous and safer future than they do, without, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made clear, the malign interference by Russia, which should recognise that sovereign states have the right to make their own sovereign decisions.

All this will be judged over time. These association agreements do not take practical effect immediately; they do so in terms of legality, provided that the House as a whole signifies its agreement to these agreements. There is much work to be done. I know that here we have shown our support for the determination of these three countries to find a peaceful and constructive future, and I know that as parliamentarians we will continue to work towards that end. In that spirit, I commend the first order, which relates to Georgia.

Motion agreed.