Approval of draft decisions under Article 352 of TFEU

Part of European Union (Approvals) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 10th October 2017.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 6:15 pm, 10th October 2017

I am delighted to follow Vernon Coaker and I will hopefully pick up on a couple of his points. I will speak briefly in support of the Bill, and specifically Serbia and Albania’s admission to observer status in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. That is important for us, but it is extremely important for those two countries, particularly Serbia.

Whether we like it or not—we clearly do not, because we thought that it had ended about 20 years ago—we are in something of a cold war with the Russian Federation, or at least with its leadership. The aggressive cooling of relations was advertised in President Putin’s Munich speech back in 2007, and it could be said that there was a gestation period of some 10 to 15 years before that during which the forces of proto-communism and socialism, hard-line nationalism, and even an aggressive, virulent fascism coalesced around an illiberal hostility to the western world. Whether we like it or not, there is a battle for Serbia’s future and, broadly speaking, there are two models for where the country is going. One is pro-EU and involves democracy, individual rights and hostility to minority oppression. It is not a perfect system—it could be said that a little more adversarial politics would be no bad thing—but those things are critical to a civilised society.

As the hon. Member for Gedling was saying, the other model that the Serbians face is the one that the Russians want: hard-line nationalism; hostility to individual rights; perhaps a celebration of a sort of pan-Slavism; and aggressive propaganda against NATO, the EU and “gay Europa”, as the Russian official media would have it. The hon. Gentleman mentioned conservative nationalism, but it goes beyond that—it is a virulent form of illiberalism in almost all forms. It is almost proto-fascist, although it gains support from both sides, with avowed fascists and avowed communists having a similar social agenda involving antagonism towards homosexuality and what they perceive as deviance, and a slavish hierarchical acceptance of an order that we would consider stifling and deeply unpleasant.

Examples of the active destabilisation that has sadly been engaged in in the Balkans include the recent attempted coup in Montenegro, which was allegedly carried out by the GRU—Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate—and the handing out of Russian passports to Serbians in the Balkans. The aim of that is to give the Russians the ability to interfere in politics in that part of the world and, in the worst-case scenario, to create the destabilising, small-scale conflicts that have marked Russia’s behaviour in the former Soviet states. There is also economic and political pressure in mainstream Serbia to try to get the country, and powerful individuals within it, to turn away from a broadly pro-western, pro-EU model.

What can we do about that? From my experiences in former Soviet states, the easiest things are probably free trade and free movement—all those things with the word “free” in—as well as support in every conceivable way for civil society, which the EU’s fundamental rights will help to grow. That is the fundamental basis on which democracy will be strengthened on the basis of our alternative—a broadly pro-western, liberal alternative —with a rejection of more aggressive, destabilising nationalism. For those reasons, the Bill is somewhat important to us, but it is extremely important to the Serbians.