§ 6. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)
What steps his Department is taking to strengthen political and economic links between the UK and Hungary. 
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz)
The UK has an excellent relationship with Hungary. We have a strong political dialogue. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 29 February. I have just hosted Zsolt Nemeth, the Deputy Foreign Minister, during a UK visit. I also met the Hungarian Speaker, Janos Ader, during the recent Inter-Parliamentary Union visit.
British Trade International's Opportunity Hungary campaign is encouraging more UK trade and investment in Hungary. We are supporting Hungary's accession to the EU through technical and financial assistance.
§ Mr. Marsden
Having recently met, as co-chairman of the Future of Europe trust, an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation from Hungary, I was left in no doubt, first, of Hungary's keenness to join the European Union; and, secondly, of the business opportunities in that country for companies such as PowerGen, British Aerospace and Tesco. Does my hon. Friend believe that Hungary's early accession to the European Union would create a beacon of stability for south-east Europe? Does he also agree that any tampering with current European treaties, as Conservative Members advocate doing, would dangerously jeopardise the enlargement that we all should like to see?
§ Mr. Vaz
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the excellent work that he does as co-chairman of the Future of Europe Trust. He is absolutely right that it is essential that Hungary should be encouraged in its European Union membership application. Last year, bilateral trade with Hungary was worth £1 billion, and British companies invested $1 billion in Hungary. He is also right to say that the accession procedures are going well. Only yesterday, I spoke to Commissioner Verheugen in Luxembourg, and he assured me that of the 31 chapters of the various acquis that are necessary for the negotiations to be completed, 21 chapters have been opened and 10 have been closed. Progress is therefore going well. We must just ensure that we are ready for enlargement by completing the intergovernmental conference this year.
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)
Is the Minister aware of reports, last week, in The Wall Street Journal Europe, that Hungary and Poland had been rebuked by the French 173 President and the German Foreign Minister for expressing concerns about the European security and defence identity? President Chirac is reported to have asked Mr. Geremek, Poland's Foreign Minister,whether Poland wished to be America's 51st state,and Mr. Fischer lectured him about the imperatives of being a "good European". The article goes on to state:Implicit in these admonitions has been the threat that the West Europeans will stall the easterners' applications for membership in the European Union.
Will the Minister now dissociate Britain from any such threats and make it unequivocally clear that countries such as Hungary and Poland which have applied to join the European Union should not be intimidated into acquiescing in European federalist developments that they dislike?
§ Mr. Vaz
I do not know which part of the internet the right hon. Gentleman has been looking at, but there is clearly something wrong with his software. There is no question but that Hungary and Poland—two NATO members—fully support the common security and defence policy of the United Kingdom and of the European Union. That was the message that was given to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when their representatives met him a few weeks ago, and that is the message that I received only last week from all the Visegrad Foreign Ministers. When they came to see me, they were extremely relaxed about the matter. They want a policy that will provide for the peace, stability and security of Europe. They want to be part of that.
§ Mr. Maude
How does the Minister explain consistent reports that those countries are expressing real concerns about the European defence initiative not including current members of the European Union? Does he not understand that, although those countries certainly want to join the European Union, many of them have serious reservations about the slide towards a European super-state? Why does not the Foreign Secretary now exercise some leadership in Europe and start making the case for the candidate countries to be able to join the European Union without having to sign up to every aspect of the acquis? Does not the growing size of the European Union mean that the old "one size fits all" model is simply out of date?
§ Mr. Vaz
I feel very sad for the right hon. Gentleman that he has to rely on second-hand information. The Foreign Secretary and I have first-hand information because we have actually met the Foreign Ministers concerned. We have had those discussions with them. They fully support our defence policy. They want to be part of the European Union, and, as members of NATO, they very much want to be part of the defence policy of Europe. I would rather take their word for it than his.