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European Enlargement

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 20 December 2000

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6.13 p.m.

rose to call attention to the sections on political criteria in the progress reports from the European Commission of 8th November on the candidates for enlargement; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the House has had many opportunities to talk about Europe, but I believe that I am right in saying that this is the first occasion upon which either your Lordships or another place have debated specifically the political criteria for accession.

The Nice summit removed all the remaining institutional obstacles to enlargement. As the Prime Minister said in another place on 11th December:
"It is extraordinary to think that, a few years ago, those countries in central and eastern Europe were still under the communist yoke of the old Soviet bloc. Today, there is the real prospect of uniting western and eastern Europe for the first time in generations".
—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; col. 349.] I congratulate the Government on this achievement and also on opening up a debate on the Foreign Office website, to which any member of the public can contribute, on Nice, generally, and on enlargement in particular.

At Copenhagen seven years ago, member states agreed on enlargement in principle, and laid down the political criteria which had to be satisfied before accession. The applicant would have to achieve,
"stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities".
Since 1997, the Commission has submitted annual reports to the Council on the progress achieved by each country, and these are the basis for the Council's further negotiations with candidates. At Luxembourg in 1997 the European Council decided to bring Turkey into the enlargement process and outlined a specific European strategy for Turkey. Then, last year, the Helsinki summit concluded that all the 13 candidates, except Turkey, had fulfilled the political criteria. At the General Affairs Council on 20th November this year:
"The President noted delegations' attachment to the Helsinki timetable, i.e. 1 January 2003 as the date for welcoming the new Member States".
The first question that I have for the Minister is this. Should we conclude that continuing to examine the candidate countries' adherence to the Copenhagen criteria is merely a formality, because they have already sat the examination and passed, and that the first wave are to be admitted in three years' time whatever their record on human rights during that period? The Commission did launch a "Dialogue on Europe" last March, but will it make any difference what is said about the political criteria, when they had allegedly been satisfied by all the candidates before the dialogue had even started?

It is entirely right that the former communist states of eastern Europe should be brought into alignment with our standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We should take the once-and-for-all opportunity afforded by enlargement of looking closely at their approach to these standards. But we have no idea whether the Commission is doing this job properly on our behalf. I suspect that it is just going through the motions, now that the matter is res judicata. I appreciate that the European Parliament has the last word on the subject, and I hope that my noble friend Lady Nicholson will say more about its powers in that regard. But when the time comes, it would be very difficult for the Parliament to impose any delay because of non-compliance with the political criteria when the candidates have all been told that they passed the test in 1999.

If adherence to the criteria is still relevant to the final decision on a candidate's accession, there ought to be far greater transparency in the formulation of the Commission's reports, so that member states and their citizens could evaluate the process for themselves. Mr Keith Vaz, the Minister for Europe, said that, together with the information provided by the member states themselves, the material the Commission had from a range of NGOs and the monitoring of news sources, it had enough information to form a judgment on the extent to which any candidate was meeting its commitments against the Copenhagen criteria. But no one outside the Commission knows what sources have been consulted. The Director-General, Mr Landaburu wrote to me saying that the Commissioner,
"shares your opinion that all documentary information relevant to candidate countries' compliance with EU human rights conditions should be readily and easily available for consultation by any individual within the member states of the European Union, as well as the people of candidate countries".
Will the Government now ensure that that is done, and that the website, which deals with the Commission's reports on enlargement, is expanded to include references to all the documents that it has used in the compilation of such reports?

The countries due to enter in 2003 are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. In the case of the Czech Republic, there are serious reservations, both about the process by which the Commission assessed their compliance with Copenhagen, and their actual eligibility. Although reference is made to the treatment of the Roma, the author of the report is satisfied that the fulfilment of most of the measures on the Government's 1997 Action Plan was an adequate response.

The Commission report notes that Roma children make up 70 per cent of those sent to special schools for those with learning difficulties; that Roma unemployment is between 70 per cent and 90 per cent; that health and housing conditions are much worse among the Roma than for the population in general; that district court judgments continue to display prejudice against the Roma; and that the inter-Ministerial Roma Commission has no budget, no executive power and very few permanent staff. The long term strategic action plan lists tasks for various ministries but, again, it has no budget. The Government launched an anti-racist programme in December with a budget of a mere £175,000, but we are not told of any specific results that have been achieved.

We have no idea whether the Enlargement Directorate consulted the report of the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities about Roma and Sinti. That was a detailed and thorough piece of work and the ODIHR has a contact point for Roma and Sinti issues whose activities included just the other day a seminar in Prague on Roma political participation.

The OSCE Copenhagen Document—not to be confused with the Copenhagen criteria—requires participating states to take the necessary measures to prevent discrimination against individuals, particularly in respect of education, on the grounds of belonging to a national minority. We need a joined-up Europe in which the various institutions work together. There is no sign of this happening or of links being created between the OSCE and the Commission with regard to the political criteria.

The same is true of the Council of Europe. It has important responsibilities with regard to human rights, the treatment of minorities and fighting racism. The Czech Republic has signed up to the Framework Convention on National Minorities which requires the parties to,
"create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them".
How this is to be achieved was spelt out in the OSCE's Lund Recommendations, and in the Report on Constructive National Arrangements for Minorities by UN Special Rapporteur, Asbjorn Eide. Yet the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently expressed its concern about the lack of provisions outlawing discrimination in the Czech Republic in education, health and social services, the prisons and in private interactions between citizens. It states that the courts have no ability to prevent and punish racial crimes.

One reason that the European Union may wish to play down the human rights abuses against the Roma in the Czech Republic and other eastern European countries is that it wishes to portray all Roma asylum seekers coming to these countries, including Britain, as economic migrants. There were 1,790 applications for asylum from citizens of the Czech Republic in 1999 and they were unsympathetically received by immigration officers, egged on by the tabloid press. If we had asked the Czech Republic to comply with its freely accepted obligations to minorities before we gave it the Copenhagen seal of approval, it would have weakened the argument for almost blanket refusal of these refugees.

I now turn to the far more difficult problem of Turkey, where I agree with the Commission's latest report that the situation on the ground has hardly improved over the past year, contrary to what was said at Question Time by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with whom I normally find myself in agreement. The treatment of the Kurds is the most glaring instance of Turkey's lack of political will to adhere to European principles of human rights. They do not even accept that the Kurds are a minority, or allow them to use their own language; to have mother tongue education; to broadcast in Kurdish; or to have any degree whatever of self-government. For 15 years they used ferocious military power to contain a Kurdish rebellion in the south east, forcibly removing an estimated 3 million people from their homes and demolishing 3,000 villages and hamlets.

The Accession Partnership document, on which I understand—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—there were no consultations with the Parliament, does not mention Kurds or even use the term "minority", and it does not require the Turks to implement the full range of the OSCE's Copenhagen Document of 1993. It is equally short on substance when it comes to freedom of expression, calling on Turkey to,
address … the situation of those persons in prison sentenced for expressing non-violent opinions".
Yet the Turks have been deaf to the pleas of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on behalf of Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak, who are serving sentences of 15 years' imprisonment for advocating a political solution to the conflict in the south east. My friend and that of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, Sanar Yurdatapan, is in prison today because of his advocacy of free speech and the blind writer Yagmurdereli is serving a prison sentence of 30 years which does not expire until 2020.

The document calls on Turkey to,
"strengthen opportunities for legal redress against all violations of human rights".
What matters is not the mechanisms that exist on paper but how they work in practice. A woman who was strung up naked and sexually abused and whose two year-old son was given electric shocks in front of her did file a complaint but it was summarily rejected by the public prosecutor who took no statement from the complainant and refused to look at the medical reports. Amnesty International said that this case illustrated the scale of the impunity still experienced by victims of torture in Turkey today. So the approach of the Commission is too legalistic. It relies on the courts which are shown to be ineffective in this and in many other cases. One measure of the actual scale of the problem is the number of cases brought against Turkey at the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. The Kurdish Human Rights Project, of which I have the honour to be President, has recorded 25 judgments against Turkey, and in 20 of them the Court found a violation of Article 13, the right to an effective remedy. In 1999 alone, 18 judgments were recorded against Turkey and no fewer than 655 new cases were registered against them.

Will the Minister tell us what measures are open to the Commission to secure,
"respect for and protection of minorities"?
How can progress on the ground, as opposed to plans and declarations, be measured? Will the Government promote closer links between the Enlargement Directorate and appropriate institutions of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, particularly ODIHR and its contact point on the Roma and Sinti, and the High Commissioner for National Minorities? Will they try to secure greater transparency in the process of looking at applicant states' compliance with the political criteria? Could there be a senior official in the Enlargement Directorate to liase with NGOs and could that be a two-way process with feedback from the Enlargement Directorate to the NGOs instead of it being all one way?

Since your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities has already reported on enlargement in general, perhaps it could now examine the ways in which the Commission assesses compliance with the political criteria. I am glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, the committee's chairman, is present. Do we still have any leverage with the 12 states which have now entered the negotiations, or have we thrown away the bargaining power we had with them by deeming them to have satisfied the Copenhagen criteria? If so, it is all the more vital that the peoples of the European Union do not allow the Commission and the Council to repeat the same mistake with Turkey. There is already a strong lobby in favour of admitting Turkey as soon as possible, regardless of its political eligibility, and of beginning negotiations without insisting on strict performance of the criteria, or interpreting them in as lenient a way as possible for that purpose.

I hope that this debate will serve to underline the importance of respect for human rights in an enlarged Europe, the need for much greater transparency in the process of examining those seeking to join and the concern felt by people throughout the Union that political imperatives are in danger of overriding those considerations. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.28 p.m.

My Lords, 1 congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on introducing the debate. It is a wide-ranging subject and he has chosen to address two specific areas, the Roma and Turkey. I echo his comments.

The reports on the countries we are discussing distinguish between political criteria, economic criteria and the ability to assume the obligations of membership. These distinctions are to some extent artificial, as I shall demonstrate. I want to refer to the obligations of membership which also concern civil society although they do not come under the strict heading of political criteria. However, noble Lords will no doubt forgive me if I trespass in that area.

I begin by congratulating the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, on the initiative he took during the United Kingdom presidency. I refer to the second half of 1998. At that time the TUC, of which I was then an official, asked the Government whether they would use the presidency to initiate a conference of social partners including all the countries of eastern Europe, all the candidate countries, to look at the transposition arrangements for the acquis communautaire. That raises the problems and dilemmas of leverage, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

The outcome of the initiative by Robin Cook was the convening of a successful conference in Warsaw in March 1999 of trade unions and employers from 30 countries. Most had never attended such a meeting at international level or, in some cases, even at national level. The European Commission facilitated the arrangements for the meeting. Although the Commission is often criticised in this Chamber for various sins of omission or commission, it is indispensable in the developments about which we speak, including these somewhat comprehensive reports on the countries.

At the end of the Warsaw Conference an agreed communiqué set out the broad principle that the social partners should be involved in the transposition of the acquis—in other words, the implementation in each accession country of all the accumulated law and practice of the EU. It is a major undertaking. It includes the rights of part-time workers. In the social field we have an impressive list of matters which would be covered by the transposition of the acquis. The European TUC had a hand in pushing forward the issue of racial discrimination. We held a conference in Poznan on the treatment of immigrants, raising the rights of the Roma people. That issue has, rightly, moved up the agenda.

Why do I say that the involvement of the social partners in the transposition is of such key importance? In my experience, there are several powerful reasons. First, in the absence of such involvement, those at the receiving end will be unable to digest the mountains of paper in the acquis. That will send the wrong signal to the civil society: that laws and arrangements providing a major part of the framework of that society can be parachuted in (if I may mix my metaphors) as if from Mount Sinai.

It is clear that although the candidate countries vary enormously, they all have in common the fact that until 10 years ago anyone who was anyone in public life was a member of the Communist Party. Whatever else democratic centralism meant, it did not mean that there was a lot of scope for grassroots involvement in the development of social partnership.

Is the situation today in most of these countries in that regard overwhelmingly different? Of course it is different and it is better. But let me dwell on this point because it is not a rhetorical question. The answer is that there is still a long way to go. That should not get in the way of enlargement. On balance, Nice marked a good step forward by setting dates in 2002, 2004 and so on. But one does not change to a different culture by magic. There are the day-to-day problems of practice and culture.

Perhaps I may say tongue in cheek that we in Britain are conscious of the high regard in which we are held by less fortunate parts of the world. Even if that is the image we have of ourselves, this country does not have an ideal way of dealing with industrial change. I mention Vauxhall and Coates Viyella from two different sectors to illustrate the point. The problem in eastern Europe is compounded by the fact that the economy of those countries starts at 25 per cent to 40 per cent of the EU average level.

Given that the acquis is not the same as the Maastrict guidelines on economic performance, that economic disparity means that there is a mountain to climb by mountaineers who are not too well equipped to climb it. One specific problem is the challenge of the representative capacity of trade unions and employers. Not all of the trade union and employer structures from the old regime were consigned to the scrap heap of history. Indeed, in Poland and Hungary in different ways the contrary is the case, and not for bad reasons. There cannot overnight be a representative TUC and CBI, but we have to nurture the green shoots as best we can.

I concentrate on the transposition of directives in the social field. However, one could adduce the same principle to the economic and industrial spheres. We have made great progress in the European Union in the past two years through what might be called "voluntary intergovermentalism" in the follow-up to the Amsterdam Treaty. Even such a paragon as Britain has found the process of economic education of enormous value, in particular the employment pact and employment guidelines as regards employability, and so on. How much more valuable that process will be for countries with no experience of involvement in such exercises.

An additional consideration should commend itself to governments and social partners alike. We hear the argument that the acquis is felt to be too detailed and inflexible. One answer must be to give as much scope as possible to the role of framework agreements at national level. We in Britain, for example, would have been more likely to have reached an accommodation on the issue of working time if we had gone down the framework route rather than that of a detailed directive. Moreover, there are wider advantages in what I call "learning by doing". There is no better way to become familiar with an issue than to become involved in the process of drawing up an agreement on it—building up a network of people who are familiar with the issue and the practical constraints on how to handle it.

At the time of the Warsaw Conference, the commissioner, Padraig Flynn, said that the response to the challenge has to be home grown and that we must understand that the European social dialogue is built on widely different national systems and practices. There is no one model that could be imposed. Each national system in the EU has contributed to the social dialogue at EU level.

I return to the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of drawing a line between transposition of the acquis and what might be regarded as interference in the internal affairs of an applicant state. Is this a new imperialism? I have heard that argument put forward. The noble Lord used the word "leverage", and rightly. There is leverage at this stage. People in the economic and social sphere are considering jumping some hoops to be part of the club. There is no gainsaying the fact that we are establishing European benchmarks which not everyone in Poland or Latvia will like—any more than we do in Britain or France. But there is an overwhelming case for setting benchmarks for minimum standards. The change in the number for qualified majority voting after Nice will also be borne in mind as we approach 2004. That will concentrate minds in all parts of Europe with much of the negotiating process to be completed by 2002.

Do we have any extra resource or leverage to help? The TUC has been involved in training programmes in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and elsewhere. We are aware that there is also a challenge for the multinationals to play a role. They are the main vehicle not just for direct investment, but for the transfer of technology and other aspects at the softer end of know-how into those countries.

It would be useful if the Government asked in the European institutions what the multinationals are doing to monitor and report on how the applicant countries are finding the extension of the issues covered by the acquis on a voluntary basis until they become member states and how the transfer of know-how is developing. Multinationals are often the only employers with experience of the western system, which is unknown in many parts of eastern Europe.

As Padraig Flynn pointed out in Warsaw,
"the social acquis … will allow structural change to be a process, not a battlefield".
He added that it must be integral to the accession agenda. Implementation needs to be carried out on the ground, in the workplace. The EU is looking for support from the mainstream PHARE funds. Funding from that programme, which has been developed over the years, is accession-driven, in line with the priorities of each country's accession partnership. Help with preparing for participation is also available from the structural funds, including the European Social Fund.

On the key question of social partnership involvement in the transposition of the acquis, I shall quote one example from the report on Hungary and one from the report on Poland. The report on Hungary states, on page 53:
"Social dialogue is not accorded the requisite importance and this situation needs to be addressed. The new structures need to be used in a way that permits effective social dialogue. There is a need to actively promote sound developments in social dialogue within the country. The lack of effective consultations at national level is harmful to social dialogue".
The report on Poland states, on page 57:
"Social dialogue requires considerable further effort if it is to be developed so that it facilitates the implementation of the acquis at local level. This will also entail the reinforcement of the Government's administrative capacity".
As part of the enlargement exercise, perhaps we could have a progress report on the sort of information being put together in the light of the Warsaw declaration. Perhaps the second anniversary of that declaration, in March 2001, would be an appropriate time for that. Will the British Government follow up their important initiative of two years ago by putting that in hand, even though the progress report may turn out to be a "progress and difficulties of progress" report? We need to walk the tightrope between too much interference in internal affairs and making sure that the European benchmarks do the job that they were intended to do.

6.43 p.m.

My Lords, I have the honour in the European Parliament to serve as vice-president of the committee for foreign affairs, human rights and common defence and security policy. Our task incorporates enlargement. In my work there, I have been nominated as rapporteur for Romania—one of the applicant countries. I therefore work closely with all Members of the European Parliament, with Commissioner Verheugen and his team and with the Council of Ministers, meeting regularly with different Foreign Ministers of the applicant countries as well as of the members states. I can say categorically that the European Union is determined that no new division of Europe should be allowed.

Freedom in Europe was achieved only when the rule of law and human rights—two pillars of all our essential freedoms—were firmly in place. The year that is now ending has marked the 10th anniversary of German reunification. The European Union, which has been enlarging from its inception to its present enlargement, faces its largest challenge yet. Now we number 350 million citizens. In future we shall be an additional 170 million, enlarging froml5 countries to at least 27, and shortly thereafter to 28. Subsequently, we aim for 700 million citizens and a possible 35 or 36 countries. The enlargement project is irreversible. It is not a question of whether we enlarge, but how and when. The Union's commitment to enlargement is irrefutable, profound, reflective and courageous. It is not an easy task. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the opportunity to talk about the challenge of enlargement, with special reference to the political criteria, which are the most important ones.

The link between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament, on enlargement as on all other matters, is secure and close. How does it work? In the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, we have regular reports on enlargement from the Commissioner and from the Council. The presidency Foreign Minister comes regularly to the committee, as does Commissioner Verheugen. I have complete confidence in Commissioner Verheugen, in Mr Landa burn, his director-general and—taking as my key example Romania, where I have worked hard this year—in Ambassador Fokion Fotiadis, who is the Commissioner on duty for us all in Romania.

We have a window of opportunity with Romania, with a new government just elected and now taking power. The new Prime Minister, Adrian Nastase, his team of Ministers and President lliescu are fully committed to the Copenhagen criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has summarised the Copenhagen criteria. I shall enlarge a little on that. The main priority areas identified for each state relate to its ability as a candidate to take on the obligations of meeting the Copenhagen criteria. They state that membership requires that the candidate state has achieved a stability of institutions, guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and the protection of minorities. The existence of a functioning market economy, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union, are also essential, as is the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. I must say clearly that failure to meet the Copenhagen criteria would, without doubt, cause candidate countries to drop out of the accession process. That is the precise reason why Turkey is not in the accession process in terms of opening chapters of the acquis communautaire. Turkey has not yet fulfilled the political criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right. The Copenhagen political criteria are the stand and fall dimension of enlargement. However, we must and will succeed in enlargement. Therein lies the dilemma: I; ow to succeed in the vital, the superordinate goal of enlargement without sacrificing the community of values that makes up the European Union.

Why is enlargement so important? It is important because together—the Union, with Romania and the other applicant countries—we shall succeed in transforming lives that have been hallmarked by corruption, instability, poverty of aspiration and inadequacy of even the basic necessities of life. Together, we shall have transformed those lives into lives of peace and security so that every child can have a future that is worthy of its aspirations.

I turn briefly to Romania. The Commission deepened the accession process with Romania following Helsinki in December 1999. Romania is the poorest of all the 12 candidate countries. Forty-four per cent of her population subsists on a European Union poverty minimum of 4 dollars 30 cents a day. Year-on-year inflation ran at 43 per cent last month—the highest in the region and well above the initial 27 per cent planned. The lei currency now stands at some 25,500 lei per US dollar, compared to approximately 200 lei in 1991.

Let us not think that opening up the accession process is an easy path to immediate prosperity for citizens of the applicant countries; it is not. It is a tough, difficult and arduous road. I pay tribute to the citizens of the candidate countries, such as Romania, where, despite the privations of entering a freer market economy and a freer world, 80 per cent of her citizens wish to join the Union immediately.

Today, we are examining whether the political criteria still reign supreme in the eyes of the European Union, given the imperative of succeeding in the enlargement process. I can prove that that is still the case. I quote from the 1999 Commission regular report on Romania's progress towards accession, which concluded that:
"Romania still fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria although this position will need to be re-examined if the authorities do not continue to give priority to dealing with the crisis in their childcare institutions. The Commission will monitor closely recent decisions by the government to provide the necessary budgetary resources and to carry out a structural reform, which puts childcare in Romania on a secure and decent basis, and in full respect of human rights".
In a word, the Union concluded that institutionalised children's access to decent living conditions and basic healthcare is a human rights issue.

Human rights are at the heart of the Copenhagen criteria. As rapporteur, therefore, I, too, took that issue as my priority. In my regular report on Romania, which went through plenary session in the European Parliament on 4th October this year, I declared that,
"although there have been improvements, the problem of children in institutions continues to be a great cause for concern and a human rights problem which affects the accession procedure".
Indeed, in its regular report which went through the plenary session of Parliament and was published on 8th November this year, the Commission stated that its 1999 composite paper reaffirmed the principles that I have just outlined with regard to institutionalised children's access to human rights. It stated that that issue was identified as a priority in the 1999 accession partnership.

The Commission report of 2000 then discusses over several pages the work that took place subsequently in Romania as a result of the 1999 Commission report's important highlighting of a critical human rights problem within the Copenhagen criteria. At a meeting of the Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy Committee later in November, Mr Verheugen declared that the subject of children in institutions, orphans, street children and abandoned children was a matter that he personally had dealt with thoroughly throughout the whole year.

I can confirm that that is so. I can tell the House that I, the Commissioner and our Commission ambassador to Romania, Mr Fotiadis, have worked hand in glove together with the Government of Romania to tackle this key imperative of children's rights, with the full support of the European Parliament.

I am delighted to say that the Romanian Government have risen to the challenge. The new Government and new Prime Minister have already agreed that they will support solemnly and unequivocally the full protection of the rights of all Romanian children. They will place their health and welfare at the head of the Government's programme of work for the people of Romania. Finally, they wish their Government to work in close partnership with the European Union on child-related and all other accession processes.

Without accession, I do not believe that we would have been able to open the window of opportunity to Romania to fulfil willingly and without any hesitation her human rights commitments to her children. The closed window of the communist era and the concatenation of Ceausescu and communism have left a scar deep in the hearts and minds of the Romanian people that is difficult to eradicate. Indeed, as we look further to the east towards Russia, we see the traumas and tragedies again on an even larger scale.

We cannot stop the accession process at 27 or even, eventually, at 35 member states. We must incorporate Russia. That is the task. Do we have the right to keep to ourselves the values of the European Union and the Community? We do not. The world of tomorrow demands that we enlarge the Union. There, the tripartite bond between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers will stand us in good stead in the future.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his very good luck. He won two ballots for today's business, first. for the topical Question, and, now, for tonight's debate. He should place some of his money with Camelot for tonight's draw, but perhaps that would be pushing his luck too far.

The noble Lord has been most perceptive in raising this issue. The progress reports, mentioned in the title of the debate, on the candidates for enlargement offer us an opportunity to consider a whole range of social, legislative and economic aspects of the countries concerned. Like most other noble Lords, I shall concentrate on human rights and the treatment of ethnic minorities.

I have only had time to look at two of the reports—those on the Czech Republic and Turkey—so I shall be following along some of the same lines as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Of course, the Czech Republic is in the first wave while Turkey is still some distance away.

The issue in the Czech Republic which concerns me, as others, is the situation of the Roma. That is very similar to that in many central and eastern European countries. The attitude of Czechs to the Roma in their midst was brought home forcefully to me on a visit to Prague about six years ago when the daughter of two very fair-minded and cultured friends revealed a degree of racist hate against gypsies which surprised me, considering that her parents had been persecuted first as Jews and then by the communists, although they had originally been communists and held important posts in the first post-war government.

The problem is now recognised by the Czech government and the progress report stated that the Czech inter-ministerial Roma commission reported recently that the vast majority of the measures in the 1997 action plan to improve the situation of the Roma had been fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the report says on page 26:
"As regards the overall situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic, further efforts are needed, in particular to combat anti-Roma prejudice and to strengthen the protection provided by the police and the courts. Estimated Roma unemployment remains very high at 70–90%. Health and housing conditions are still much worse in the Roma community than amongst the general population. Attitudes at local level are largely unaltered, as illustrated by some recent district court judgements. The inter-Ministerial Roma Commission still has no budget to implement policies, no executive power and few permanent staff. The longterm strategic action programme essentially comprises a list of tasks for individual ministries, but contains no overall budgetary provisions".
The situation of the Roma and Sinti in the OSCE area was also described in some detail in the April report of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, who is Max Van Den Stoel, and also in the subsequent report of the seminar of the Roma in Bratislava in June this year. Both of those reports make quite moving and fascinating reading but they show what a long way there is to go.

But they also give examples of good practice. Sadly, those are too few and far between. For example, a really successful project is the Gandhi Secondary School in Hungary. It is aptly named because, of course, the Roma originate from India. It is dedicated to Roma children alone but brings them up to a good pre-university standard which is equal to or better than normal secondary schools as well as educating them about their own cultural heritage.

What is useful about this report that we have been discussing is that, while the Czech Republic is still a candidate for EU membership, it gives a critical commentary on progress with suggestions for improvement. What is not clear is whether there are set goals by which to assess progress, failing which admission might be postponed or denied. We understand now that there is no chance of that. But I should value my noble friend's comments on whether, perhaps, we should not require the achievement of definite stated goals in, for example, progress with the Roma community.

Of course, we cannot expect perfection. For that, we should first need to remove the beam from our own eye which is very much there. One only has to look at the Macpherson report. But surely evidence of steady progress must be a minimum requirement and progress which has developed, I suggest, a momentum of its own, so that it cannot be reversed. Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am concerned that the inevitable timetable has been set out and that depends on economic criteria which overrule everything else. But once inside the EU, perhaps efforts to improve the situation of the Roma will slow down or stop. That is our worry.

Turkey is much further from fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria in terms of democratic institutions, the rule of law and the tolerance of national minorities as well as in a number of economic areas. The report on Turkey, while praising it on progress in several directions, still presents a formidable list of areas where much more progress is needed.

There is no time to go into those in detail but they include, for example, the need in the political sphere to end procedures by the chief public prosecutor to dissolve two legitimate parties—the pro-Kurdish Hadep Party and the moderate Islamist party, Fazilet. Both of those parties have been reborn after their predecessors were banned. The report lists several areas where the judicial system also needs to be much improved.

In the field of human rights, there is a great deal amiss, which is reported; for example, Turkey's non-accession to important human rights documents—the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 6, which abolishes the death penalty, although we acknowledge that the death penalty has not been used by Turkey since 1984, including the case of Abdullah Ocalan. Secondly, it has not signed the convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination or the Council of Europe's convention relating to the protection of national minorities.

The situation regarding torture arid ill-treatment is reported to be potentially unchanged since previous reports and that is despite several reports on torture by a committee of the Turkish grand national assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, there is a climate of impunity for law enforcement officials in torture cases.

As those who have read the Guardian this morning will know, the situation in prisons in Turkey is in crisis. There is gross overcrowding in Turkish prisons with 72,500 in custody, of which some 12,000 are political prisoners, according to Kurdish sources.

I understand that legislation has been drawn up to offer amnesty to quite a high proportion of prisoners but we do not yet know which prisoners are to be released. There is now—and this is one of the causes of the trouble—a prison rebuilding programme. Human rights associations fear that the new system will isolate prisoners with no opportunity to socialise. That can, in itself, be a form of inhuman treatment which may already, I suggest, be being used in some cases in preference to physical torture.

Abdullah Ocalan, at his trial, after five months isolation, which still continues one and a half years later, was a pale shadow of his former militant and competent self. There were suggestions that drugs had also been used on him. Of course, that is much easier if someone is being held in isolation.

The current attack on prisons should cause great concern. Apparently, according to credible human rights organisations, the security forces carried out armed assaults on at least 13 prisons in the early hours of yesterday morning. Excessive, disproportionate force and live ammunition have been used and approximately 17 prisoners and one prison guard have died. As my noble friend is aware, the Kurdish human rights project has written to my honourable friend Peter Hain about that, asking for the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture to make an immediate visit to look at the situation in Turkish prisons.

The assaults were undertaken to break a long, nonviolent hunger strike against the new F-type isolation cells and other violations of human rights in prisons. The desperation of the prisoners is shown by the fact that some apparently set themselves on fire rather than submit. There is still a serious restriction on press freedom. The report says:
"There is still a serious problem with regard to the freedom of expression, including that in the political sphere. Existing legislation, as confirmed by many judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, still leads to interpretations that violate the freedom of expression as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkish courts continue to restrict the expression of views with which the State disagrees, notably when it concerns the situation of the population of Kurdish origin".
There is some improvement in the south-east. On page 19 the report states:
"The authorities have also shown the will to allow a partial return of the population in villages and hamlets evacuated in the past for security reasons".
However, I have a report from the Kurdish human rights project that the village of Senlikköyü near Lice, which was rebuilt by returning inhabitants, was again forcibly evacuated and burned by an army raid on 3rd October. I could give a great deal more detail but time is marching on.

I turn briefly to deal with Cyprus. Over the past 12 months five rounds of proximity talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have taken place but so far there has been only marginal progress. Before the European Court of Human Rights there are over 150 cases brought by Greek Cypriots against Turkey for not allowing access to property. In the case of Mrs Loizidou, judgment has been found against Turkey, but the Turkish authorities have refused to recognise the verdict and still will not allow the owner access to her land.

Cyprus is on track to be admitted to the EU in the first tranche despite the Turkish army's occupation of 37 per cent of the country. As my noble friend knows only too well, there are numerous Security Council and other UN resolutions requiring Turkey to withdraw its armed forces. We should insist upon those resolutions being carried out as a precondition of Turkey entering the EU.

Turkey needs to change in so many areas. It will be an uphill task and will take, I suggest, at least a decade and possibly longer. However, many in Turkey want the EU to insist that Turkey reaches standards that comply with European conventions. We must not let them down by admitting Turkey too soon.

Of course, there is a view that within, rather than outside the EU, Turkey will be more easily persuaded to change. I do not accept that and nor do a great many people inside Turkey who strongly favour Turkey's eventual acceptance. As with the other candidates for admission, we should not allow strategic or economic considerations to override the urgent need for Turkey to reform its whole approach to human rights and the need for it to end its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, if only for the sake of its own people.

7.14 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords are grateful to my noble friend Lord Avebury for introducing this subject and for emphasising the centrality of the criterion for membership of the European Union: that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions, guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for, and protection of, minorities.

Earlier this year I was forcefully reminded of how important it is that the enlargement of the European Union is an enlargement of values and not simply a process of added value. In other words, the enlargement of the European Union is about the values expressed in the Copenhagen criteria and not just about the enlargement of GDP, the market opportunities, the raising of standards of living and so on. It is easy to slip into a vision of enlargement that is simple economic arithmetic and to ignore the critical dimension.

That was brought home to me when I was at a conference in Germany of young British and German people—the Young Konigswinter Conference. In the discussion groups it was alarmingly clear that the majority of young Germans and Britons had no idea that there was such a dimension to the enlargement of the European Union. They were quite shocked to discover that the criteria existed and that it was not possible for a country to join the European Union unless it was a democracy and offered protection for minorities.

To begin with they were slightly confused by that discovery. Was that a form of cultural, democratic imperialism? Were we being arrogant in imposing conditions? It then bore in on them that that was at the heart of the character of the European Union itself. Either the Union had to embrace those values or it should not exist.

During that conference I was reminded of another experience when Greece was ruled by the military junta. Your Lordships will recall that Greece negotiated membership of the then Common Market but when the colonels took over the country that possibility was immediately suspended for the duration of the dictatorship. I can recall, as a journalist in this country, interviewing people from Greece—for example, Helen Vlachos—who testified to the real importance of the fact that membership of the EU had been put on hold in applying pressure to Greece so that people in Greece understood that the junta could not continue indefinitely and, were it to do so, it would permanently exclude Greece from the community of Europe.

In the process that is beginning to evolve there are two dangers. The first has been referred to already: as we near the deadline set by Nice the pressure to succeed, to complete, will become extremely great. That will be a pressure not only on applicant states, but also on the existing states of the EU. Already one can see the officials of the Commission struggling with that pressure. I shall quote two examples of that. The first is from Romano Prodi, speaking to the European Parliament last year:
"The Copenhagen criteria are so fundamental that the European Council meeting in Luxembourg and Cologne recommended opening further accession negotiations only with countries which meet them. If we apply this recommendation to the letter, it rules out opening negotiations with most of the remaining applicant countries since they do not fully meet the economic criteria".
He then added significantly:
"In the changed … landscape of Europe, especially in the Balkan region, some countries may also let slip the progress they have made towards democracy and human rights, and the European Union will have seriously failed the people of those countries".
He says that if the Commission and the Union take that hard-line approach, the danger is that countries may not enter the process of negotiation unless they have met the criteria. He is struggling with the tension between those two things.

Even more dramatically, last year Commissioner Verheugen, who has been much quoted in this debate, was speaking about Turkey. He said:
"We all know that [Turkey] does not fulfil the political criteria laid down in Copenhagen. The issues are well-known: human rights, the Kurdish problem. the role of the armed forces, which remains enshrined in the Constitution, Cyprus and the outstanding bilateral issues with Greece".
Then he added:
"At the same time there are the geopolitical and strategic arguments that make it imperative to support Turkey's affiliation with Europe, bring about democratic change … I think we can all agree that we want a stable, Europe-oriented Turkey. We want a Turkey where democracy and the rule of law comply with European standards … We should give ourselves a chance of achieving this objective".
He is describing the process of leverage which has been discussed and focused on in this debate.

What is the danger in that? It is clearly that, as the pressure to succeed with the process of enlargement mounts, there may be a softening of the key Copenhagen criteria on human rights and democracy. I am sure that we shall be looking to hear from the Minister in a few moments that our Government, in any case, will be determined to ensure that there is clarity and continuity on that issue.

The second danger is that, in assessing progress on the Copenhagen criteria, the EU relies only on progress on the statute books of the applicant states. It was clearly stated in the European Parliament's debate on the Malmström report, for example, that decades of Communist rule in many of those countries showed that fine pronouncements—including those on the statute book—on human dignity and fraternal solidarity are one thing; practice can be something quite other.

The importance therefore, to which my noble friend referred in relation to Romania, is to ensure that through monitoring, on-the-spot observation and careful co-operation and partnership with the applicant states, we are not just looking at progress on the statute book; we are also looking at progress on the ground. We need to monitor and check.

In that regard it is important—perhaps the Minister could briefly comment on this—if I have understood it correctly, that in the new accession strategy, no acquis chapter is actually closed until the completion of the entire process. Therefore, we continue to monitor even when the basic negotiations on the chapters have been completed.

The importance of that is underlined by the experience in Romania. I had the honour with my noble friend Lady Nicholson to serve on the High Level Group looking at the children's problems in Romania. When looking at that directly, one is clear that the reason why it has been made such a priority now in Romania—it has been, is and will continue to be so under the new government—is two-fold. First, the Ministers concerned are genuinely persuaded that something has got to be done and they are therefore motivated as human beings and as politicians. Secondly, 80 per cent of the Romanian people are determined to join the European Union and unless they can get this right, they will not be able to do so. It is as simple as that. That is real leverage and pressure.

Although this may be a controversial observation, it is my own conviction that in the economic sphere, the convergence criteria for the euro applied a beneficial and helpful pressure on those countries which have moved into euroland, to ensure that their economic houses were in order. Some Members of this House, let alone those in another place, have been surprised by the progress made by some of those countries to that end. There is a kind of parallel here. In this sphere, in this dimension of convergence—a convergence of democracy and of standards—enlargement is the pressure.

However, in addition we must look at two other matters. It is important for us, in the existing European Union member states, to avoid double standards. It is easy to slip into a lecturing and hectoring tone which assumes that everything in our garden is perfect; that racial prejudice, the maltreatment of minorities and the failings in democracy occur only in those unfortunate states now standing in a queue to join the European Union. In fact we know that is not the case. It is important, if we are to have credibility with the populations of the applicant states, that we are honest and frank about our own problems and continue to monitor ourselves as strictly and carefully as we promise to monitor them.

The second danger—this is extremely important—is that we are careful always to avoid any impression, let alone the reality, that we may be focusing on this Copenhagen criterion because we would like to postpone the day when we have to share the economic benefits of the Union with the applicant states. If there is a suspicion in the applicant states that the high morality of the European Union stance is a disguise for the low morality of trying to hang on to trading benefits which might possibly be jeopardised in some way by the enlargement of the Union, again we lose all credibility.

Tonight we are discussing an essential part of the transformation of Europe. The Copenhagen criteria are the guarantees that this transformation will be real. If it is anything less than that, we have created a monster. If we have achieved this, if this criterion really does help and we have brought to an end decades of abuse of human rights and denial of democracy, the European Union really will have achieved something of great historical importance.

7.27 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for initiating this debate, not only on an important subject but also one that is near to my heart. Enlargement towards eastern and central Europe has been on the agenda for a long time.

When I was in the European Parliament in 1989 we witnessed one of the most important political milestones in my life; that is, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the totalitarian police states hiding behind the Iron Curtain. We all knew what that meant; that the forgotten Europe, as it was known to some, would soon be rejoining the fold of the European Union of 12. Little did we realise that more than 10 years later not one of those countries would have become a member, even though progress has been made towards the goal.

As A. N. Whitehead said,
"The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order".
It was never going to be easy. The progress from a command to a market economy was always going to harbour serious problems. We were all well aware of future problems for the applicant countries as well as the changes needed from within the European Union. I remember in the Foreign Affairs Committee's final meeting in May 1994 in the European Parliament, of which I was a member, we debated deep into the night on whether Austria, Sweden and Finland should join or whether it was essential to have the institutional reforms in place first. The vote is history. I tell that story because many do not realise that one of the few responsibilities the European Parliament has is the final say on enlargement.

The Copenhagen political criteria have to be fulfilled before an applicant country may be admitted, as we heard from various speakers this evening. That requires major changes. However, an important fact is often forgotten: that at the Luxembourg Council in December 1997 it was agreed that there should be two "waves" for the timing of entry. Neither the first nor the second was to be a rigid block. It should be that as and when an applicant state attained the democratic and economic criteria it would be free to join.

That flexibility is most encouraging for the states in the second wave. States such as Romania and Bulgaria should not be linked together. We heard in the interesting speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, about all the serious problems which Romania still has to face.

It is a pity that today we have such a short time to discuss all 13 applicant countries as there is so much to cover. We have heard reports from several noble Lords on the Czech Republic, Turkey and Romania. If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall concentrate on the one country, Bulgaria, which I know quite well and visit regularly. It has not been mentioned tonight. It is still in the second wave but might well soon be considered in the first wave by the admirable progress that has been made. I stress that, as that progress has been made through great hardship and discipline of the government and the people.

In the spirit of the Neill committee, I should declare some interests, even though I receive no financial reward. I am a governor of the American University of Bulgaria and I am a member of the Council of the Foreign Office body, the British Association of Eastern and Central Europe. I took all the Bulgarian Europe agreements through the European Parliament and was vice-president of the delegation while I was there.

The benefits of enlargement are already visible. Stable democracies have emerged in both eastern and central Europe. Some are more democratic than others but they are, we hope, robust enough that they will not relapse into authoritarian regimes.

Bulgaria continues to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. It has made progress in adopting secondary legislation necessary to implement the Civil Service law. The adoption of the Child Protection Act in June 2000, which creates a stage agency for child protection, is another step forward. The upgrading of the judiciary is still in progress. As in most of the countries which suffered under communism for so many years, corruption is still a problem which will take time to eradicate.

According to the report, the adoption of the framework programme for the integration of the Roma last year, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has led to some progress. But the administrative capacity of the National Council of Ethnic and Demographic Issues to implement the programme remains low and the limited financial means allocated for implementation make effective performance of its task difficult.

We had a seminar at the British Association of Central and Eastern Europe on Community integration for the Roma in the United Kingdom in October. Eight participants, including those responsible for education in Bulgaria and representatives of the Roma community, came to examine the ways in which ethnic minorities are integrated into a wider society. Two successful days were spent in Leicester, hosted by Leicester City Council. That is one example of what the European Union should be about.

Perhaps Bulgaria's biggest success over the past few yeas has been its policy to promote regional cooperation and good relations with its neighbours. This enhancement of regional stability must be welcomed. The signature of a joint declaration between Bulgaria and Macedonia is particularly significant. It has effectively put an end to the language dispute and brought about an historical transformation in their relations. The Turkish minority is now well represented in both the national parliament and local government. This inclusive approach is a far cry from the forced assimilation used by the former communist regime in the eighties, and one which has led to a strong relationship between Bulgaria and Turkey. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that Turkey is important to the European Union and should be supported.

Progress in transport has accelerated compared with previous years. Steps have been taken in all sectors and work has started on maritime safety. The longstanding issue of the second bridge across the Danube to Romania was resolved with an agreement between the two in February this year. In financial terms, billions were lost as the result of the recent war in Kosovo. The damage to the bridges makes navigation of the Danube still a hazardous affair.

The restructuring of the energy sector has gained momentum this year. Nuclear safety has been an ongoing problem with Kozloduy. The commitments for the early closure of Units 1 and 4, made by the government in the understanding of November 1999, mark an important step in its pre-accession course.

Bulgaria has made considerable progress towards becoming a functional market economy. It has established a satisfactory track record of macro-economic stabilisation and performance. Good progress has been made in privatisation, especially with regard to banks, property and a major reform of health and pension systems has begun.

It is the third largest of the eastern and central European applicant countries. It has a comparatively small population of 8.3 million. Its annual inflation rate of 2.6 per cent is the second lowest. The leva has also been pegged to the deutschmark, now the euro, for some time.

Finally, Bulgaria has partially fulfilled the large majority of short-term accession partnership priorities relating to the aquis. I have not covered everything; there are huge economic and social difficulties in transforming both the economy and society.
"The European talks of progress because by the aid of a few scientific discoveries, he has established a society which has mistaken comfort for civilisation".
How appropriate are Disraeli's words of more than a century ago.

That is a condensed description of Bulgaria's position, from which we see that it has already started to address some of the medium-term accession partnership priorities. I am glad that we have had the opportunity to discuss the political criteria from the progress report. Of course the report does not deal only with the political criteria; it is but one element of the whole accession progress. In time, we will no doubt discuss the other parts of the report and I look forward to that.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the opportunity for the debate and add my congratulations to those proffered by other noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, not least for his good fortune in arrangements for today's business. I welcome the importance placed on enlargement by all noble Lords, particularly the supportive and helpful comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, who speaks today on behalf of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition.

As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and other noble Lords have made clear, as members of the European Union we are members of a Union which,
"is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law".
Those words are from Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union and it is right that it has been cited on more than once tonight.

The Copenhagen European Council reflected those values in 1993 when it set out the criteria for accession to the European Union. I was particularly reassured and pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Watson, was able to enlighten the Young Konigswinter Conference participants of their importance. We attach such importance to these criteria that candidates cannot even begin accession negotiations until the political criteria are met. This is why Turkey has not yet joined the other 12 candidates in accession negotiations.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in particular that the criteria are not merely a formality. Scrutiny of the political criteria does not stop when accession negotiations begin, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, so ably set out. Candidates must continue to maintain their standards and are expected to deal with any areas that give rise to concern.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised a number of questions about the role of the Commission in the enlargement negotiations. Enlargement negotiations are a formal series of intergovernmental conferences, with the 15 member states on one side and the individual candidate countries on the other. The Commission has an important role as a facilitator of the negotiations and a source of expertise on the large body of EU legislation that new member states must adopt, but the key decisions in the enlargement process are for the member states. It is the member states which decide which countries should be deemed candidates for membership, when to open negotiations with individual candidates and the conclusion of negotiations. It is also for the member states to decide, in the event of a candidate failing to live up to all—I stress that word—its commitments under the Copenhagen criteria to suspend or even terminate negotiations. To answer the noble Lord's specific question, the fact that 12 of the candidates have been deemed to meet the Copenhagen political criteria is no guarantee of admission. If it came to light that a candidate had failed to meet the criteria it would be open to the member states to delay its accession until it had rectified those matters.

I welcome the clarity that has been provided by a number of noble Lords in this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, explored this issue further. I hope that we are ad idem that there is no going back in relation to the criteria. For example, last year the Commission recommended that the opening of negotiations with Romania should be conditional on reform of childcare institutions by the end of 1999. This year the Commission recognised Romania's political commitment to addressing the problems and progress, including the development of a national strategy.

But in this year's progress report the Commission reiterated its commitment to continue to monitor developments closely to ensure that positive policy developments result in comprehensive reform and an improvement in living conditions for the 100,000 children in care in Romania. We are very much aware of the difficulties of childcare in Romania and the valuable work of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in this important field. We are glad that Romania is rising to the challenge, as the noble Baroness so eloquently pointed out. The Government have committed £3 million in bilateral assistance to childcare in Romania over the next three years. In our dialogue with the new Romanian Government we shall continue to raise the need for further improvements.

The Commission's progress reports are an invaluable resource both for member states and candidate countries in assessing how well candidates meet the criteria for membership. They also set out clearly and in detail what still needs to be done, and they are also effective. The 1999 progress report on Estonia criticised that country's language law as discriminatory. The Estonian Parliament amended the law in April 2000. The Czech Republic was told that it needed to develop a comprehensive long-term policy to fight discrimination and social exclusion of the Roma. That issue has been raised by many in this House tonight. In June 2000 the Czech Government adopted a draft outline for a long-term policy which envisaged a strategic action programme for 2001 to 2020.

The preparation of progress reports is a huge task, particularly when it comes to subjects such as the rule of law or human rights. I hope I can reassure all noble Lords of this Government's high opinion of the work of the Commission in this respect. I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Lea that the assessments and work of the Commission are absolutely indispensable. I also welcome the warm comments and congratulations of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, who also spoke of the Commission's work.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the sources used by the Commission in putting together the reports. As the progress reports indicate, the Commission has drawn on reports by the Council of Europe, the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe and a number of nongovernmental organisations, both international and national. It has also paid heed to the deliberations of the European Council and the European Parliament on this subject. Every element of the report is meticulously cross-checked. Elements are included in the progress reports only when there is clear evidence from at least two independent sources to reinforce the objectivity of the process.

To ensure that all candidates are assessed against the same standard, checklists are used which divide the criteria into detailed elements, such as the ratification and implementation of relevant treaties and conventions, the situation of minorities, active policies to integrate minorities and many other criteria. This Government have always found the Commission's progress reports thorough and fair. The 100 to 150 pages of each report provide a clear and comprehensive account of the candidate's progress towards accession. This does not mean that we accept them blindly. The Government are in close and regular touch with the Commission about the enlargement process, including the progress that candidates make towards fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised an important point about the relationship between the Commission reports and the reports of other European institutions working in the area of human rights, such as the Council of Europe and the OSC. First, I am pleased to say that the Commission has assured us that the reports of the Council of Europe and OSC are among the main sources for the preparation of its reports. Secondly, the Commission works closely with both the Council of Europe and the OSC on a number of practical projects to support democracy and human rights. However, the competence of formal human rights dialogue both with the other international organisations and the candidate countries themselves lies with the member states, not the Commission.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will permit me to put one question. Does she include among the institutions with which the Commission has contact the High Commissioner for National Minorities, whose particular expertise in the field of the Roma is unparalleled? The commissioner's report on the Roma in Europe is an extremely important source of information on that subject.

My Lords, yes. The noble Lord raised an important point about the way in which the Commission presents its progress reports. The noble Lord said that it was impossible to tell from the reports which sources had been consulted and how much weight had been given to them. We are happy to ensure that the Commission is made aware of the noble Lord's point about the transparency of the process and to encourage it to explain in as much detail as possible to interested NGOs how its assessment is produced.

I also reassure the noble Lord that if we felt that a Commission progress report did not tally with our own assessment of a country we would want to discover why. Our embassies in candidate countries follow the political and human rights situations closely. That is true of Turkey where the situation is of particular concern. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Rea, dealt with that issue. Noble Lords will be aware that the political section of Turkey's progress report covered a range of areas in some depth. These included an account of recent political developments in Turkey, an analysis of progress in democracy and the rule of law, including the judiciary and the role of the National Security Council. Another section on human rights and the protection of minorities covered in detail vitally important areas of Turkish reform, such as the death penalty, freedom of expression, torture, prison conditions, freedom of association and assembly, religious tolerance, cultural and language rights and equal opportunities.

The report looked at these issues in the context of individual rights for all Turkish citizens and in particular examined the treatment of Turkish citizens who are members of religious or ethnic minority groups, including Kurds. I understand that, among other sources, the Commission drew upon the work of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, of which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is honorary president. In each case the Commission's report clearly highlighted various shortcomings in Turkey's legislation and practice.

The report recommended ways in which these issues could be addressed in order to bring Turkey into line with EU standards. The Government welcome the Commission's report and believes that it gives an accurate representation of Turkish efforts to align with the European Union's legislation and practice—the acquis communautaire—as well as indicating areas for future work.

The progress report is an invaluable basis for the formulation of the European Union's Accession Partnership for Turkey, the contents of which were agreed by the Council on 4th December, subject to consultation with the European Parliament. The Accession Partnership sets out clear, short and medium-term priorities for Turkish action across a broad spectrum of areas.

We look forward now to receiving Turkey's own national programme for the adoption of the acquis, which will set out how it contends to meet those priorities. I am confident that the European Union accession process remains an essential spur to reform Turkey, as it has been to all candidate countries.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, for raising the issue of Bulgaria and for her remarks about its progress in these areas. We support the work of the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe and the involvement of the noble Baroness.

This year's progress report on Bulgaria points out areas that need further work, in particular strengthening the rule of law and the protection of human and minority rights, especially that or the Roma population. The report rightly recognised that Bulgaria still has much to do to integrate its Roma community. The signing of a framework agreement for the integration of the Roma community into Bulgarian society in April 1999 was a positive step welcomed in last year's progress report. Bulgaria has set up a governmental working group on the Roma issue which is preparing a draft anti-discrimination law. Bulgarian state TV is now broadcasting some programmes on minority issues. Experts on minority issues have been appointed by 24 out of the 29 regional administrations. Therefore, the Government believe that the progress report on Bulgaria gives an accurate picture. We shall continue to monitor those issues in Bulgaria and we shall continue to try to ensure that it fully meets the criteria.

The Commission and the member state's scrutiny applies equally to countries which started negotiations in 1998, as to those which started this year, such as Bulgaria, or those which have not yet started, such as Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will know that the Commission's progress report on the Czech Republic notes that, while the Czech government are making significant efforts to combat discriminatory practices especially in terms of Roma access to education, these need to be sustained over time.

The Commission also funds important projects in this area. We and our EU partners have a regular dialogue with the Czech government to review progress and spread best practice. I am pleased to tell the House that the High Commissioner's report on the situation of the Roma and the Sinti in the OSCE area issued in March 2000 was one of the sources used by the Commission in compiling its progress reports. So it is an issue which is very much to the fore.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea, asked about the involvement of social partners, including trade unions, in the accession process. The progress reports cover that in most detail in the section on Chapter 13, "Social Policy and Employment". Many candidates have set up arrangements for involving social partners in the adoption and implementation of the acquis. In some countries these arrangements work better than in others. That is reflected in the reports. The progress reports also cover trade unions in the political criteria under the section on economic and social rights.

The Government believe that bringing the countries of eastern Europe into a union of democratic states is the best way to ensure that the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law become firmly embedded, not only in their laws but in their institutions and in their cultures.

The enlargement process, the process which will lead to greater stability, security and prosperity for current members as well as for new ones, is about to enter a new phase. Earlier this month the Nice European Council agreed to inject new momentum into enlargement negotiations in the hope that the first new members would be able to participate in the European Parliament elections in 2004. That was a direct echo of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister's historic words in Warsaw in October. The Government will continue to be a champion of enlargement. We shall continue to look to the Commission's annual progress reports to provide a clear and comprehensive assessment of each country's progress towards membership. We shall not see the worth of that membership devalued by lowering the standards required of the applicants.

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank most warmly all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today. We have reaffirmed our view that there should be no softening of the Copenhagen criteria. The Minister had the opportunity to put on record that we continue to scrutinise most carefully the performance of African countries even after they have been deemed to satisfy those criteria. We have said that there should be improved and more extensive monitoring. As my noble friend Lord Watson said, that monitoring should cover not only statutory provision but also what happens on the ground.

I hope today's debate was a useful contribution to the issue of enlargement and that our words will be reflected in the activities of the Commission. I hope that my noble friend will take back to Europe some of the important issues which have been raised in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.