EU Applicant Countries (Assistance)

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th February 1997.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock 12:00 am, 24th February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action his Department is taking via (a) the know-how fund and (b) other initiatives to assist EU applicant countries in respect of their economic and commercial structure. [15552]

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The know-how fund supports a number of projects to help associated countries develop their economic and commercial structures. In addition, other multilateral programmes—notably, the EC PHARE programme—to which we contribute are active in that area.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

Although we appreciate the work that is done by the know-how fund and other agencies in promoting the training and interests of people in countries of central Europe that have applied for membership of the European Union, could we not do more? Will the Minister review with his colleagues in Government the opportunities for students of English from Visegrad countries to have greater access to the United Kingdom to learn English, so that they can return to develop their skills in the economies and commerce of those applicant countries? Will he consider a programme to ensure that a quality British newspaper is available in most further and higher education institutions in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia to whet the appetites of people who are very keen to identify with the United Kingdom? All things being equal, they would prefer to trade with the United Kingdom than with our German competitors—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. That is long enough. The hon. Gentleman is very keen on central Europe. I know that he has a wonderful reputation there.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I thought that I had fallen asleep and had woken up during the Adjournment debate.

What the hon. Gentleman said was extremely important. I shall raise his concerns with the British Council, which is a prime example of the type of organisation that could deal with such matters. He is correct that we could do more for the associated countries. We have been working hard to improve access for central Europeans to the EU' s agriculture market. It is fair to say that we reached a modest settlement last December. It would have been far more generous if some of our partners, especially France and Germany, had matched their fine words on enlargement with deeds.