The European conference successfully held its first meeting in London on 12 March. Last week in Brussels, we launched accession partnerships with the central Europeans and Cyprus, and the European Union has opened accession negotiations with the six countries that are ready to proceed.
We are embarked on the largest expansion in the history of the EU. The enthusiasm of 11 more countries to become members of it demonstrates their view of its success as the basis for prosperity and security. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will endorse their view.
Cannot the Foreign Secretary see that the results of the proposed enlargement are reflected in opinion polls, for example, in Poland, which show decreased enthusiasm for deeper integration? That is the direct result of the rumbling of the fact that the new Europe, which new Labour is encouraging in its presidency, is an over-centralised, undemocratic, unaccountable Europe, which is going in exactly the opposite direction to that in which the people of central and eastern Europe really want to go.
I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman has spent the past year; the thrust of Government policy is to decentralise rather than to over-centralise, in plain contrast to the policy of the previous Conservative Government. As to lack of democracy, more people have attended open meetings of European Union Councils in Brussels in the first half of the British presidency than ever attended such meetings in the whole of any previous presidency. We have already set a new record for openness.
I warmly welcome the words of the Polish Foreign Minister on returning to Warsaw—that he strongly supports the new central role that Britain is playing in Europe. If the hon. Gentleman listened to those in government in Poland, he would find that they regard his view of the EU as wholly wrong; they will carry their people with them.
In Latvia and in Estonia, which is being considered for membership of the European Union, large Russian minorities are denied citizen and human rights. Does my right hon. Friend accept that there should be no question of those countries being permitted to accede to the European Union until the situation there is put to rights?
My hon. Friend touches on what is undoubtedly a big internal issue for Latvia and Estonia. Both countries, especially Estonia, which is in the front rank for accession to the European Union, have made major progress towards integrating the Russian-speaking minorities, and both, especially Estonia, have matched the proposals of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to meet its standards and recommendations on the treatment of ethnic minorities. Continued dialogue with the EU and the prospect of membership of it will greatly increase the incentive for both Governments to ensure that they complete that work and fully conform with Europe's standards of treatment of ethnic minorities.
Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an assurance that, on the date that they are expected to join the European Union, the applicant countries will meet the same high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection as are achieved in the existing member states?
I can assure the hon. Lady that the applicant countries must meet the full acquis of the European Union. At the point of membership, they must either be fully in conformity with all existing regulations or have tight and well-defined limits on the transition periods to achieving that. Enlargement is important precisely because the environmental standards of some central and eastern European countries are well below those of western Europe. We stand to lose as a result of the pollution and environmental hazards in those countries, so it is in our interests to bring them into the European Union and up to our standards.