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 Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling 6:15 pm, 10th October 2017

This is a Bill that I think we can all support. It is small and we have consensus but, as other Members have said, it is still a significant measure. I refer, in particular, to the decision to grant Serbia and Albania observer status at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

One of the EU’s great successes, which I think the House should celebrate, notwithstanding the decision to leave, is its support to progressive movements in many former Soviet bloc countries in eastern Europe. Many of those countries are now full members of the EU, but many others, although now parliamentary democracies, are still seeking to move forward in a range of areas, as the Minister reminded us, such as in combating sexism, racism, homophobia and conservative nationalism in the worst sense of the term. It is important that we reflect on that in this debate.

Only 20 years ago, as Andrew Bowie mentioned, this country supported Kosovans. We saw ethnic cleansing in that part of Europe, just a few hours away from Heathrow. We thought that ethnic cleansing had been banished, and that it was impossible for that to occur again in Europe after the horrors of the second world war. The instability of the situation threatened the wider region. It has taken Serbia and Albania 20 years to reach the position in which they can be granted EU observer status.

There are still significant challenges. I recently met representatives from Albania at a conference in Rome on slavery and human trafficking, and we were reflecting on the challenges that the country still faces—I am not as familiar with Serbia, but I know that other Members are. All that I wanted to do was stand up in this House and say that the British Parliament thinks about and understands the people who are seeking to bring about progressive change in their counties, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.

There is a question for us, if and when we leave the EU—without getting into the divisiveness of whether or not we should—of how we can continue to support progressive movements that are seeking to tackle some of the problems in Serbia and Albania, and indeed in counties such as Montenegro. The Government will need to consider how to approach that. That sort of consideration can easily be lost in our debates on the EU, but it is of fundamental importance.

Serbia and Albania have made massive advances, but there is still a long way to go. The granting of observer status is another significant step forward. The people in those countries who are seeking to advance the causes of sexual equality, anti-racism and a nationalism that does not remind us of the horrors we have seen before need our support, and they need to know that we are interested, that we care, and that we will support them in their endeavours. The Bill is small, but it is crucial to us all.