European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 20th November 2001.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:45 pm, 20th November 2001

I am glad to accept the noble Lord's intervention. He carries enormous experience on these matters. I am sure that his intervention is in line with all the procedures and customs of this House, as I understand them. I am quite a new boy as well.

The provisions in the protocol—and this is why I am moving a probing amendment—are important for the enlargement process to go forward. However, the noble Lord used the phrase "if it [the Treaty of Nice] had gone wrong". I hope that the Treaty of Nice will go right, but at present it is an undisputable fact that one country has refused to ratify by a referendum. Until that can be unscrambled, the Treaty of Nice will not go forward. If we had had a smaller treaty—a plan B—with such provisions in the protocol it might by now be all over and done with. There would have been no objections in Dublin or anywhere else. Unfortunately, the decision, supported by Her Majesty's Government, was that the Nice Treaty should include other provisions which have nothing to do with enlargement and which have greatly weighed down the treaty-making process. Those issues to do with enlargement did not feature very much.

What will be the result? Those of us who want to see enlargement are entitled to raise these questions with some firmness. It is perhaps a cause of anger that far from helping enlargement, clumsy treaty making is getting in its way. What is happening? In Warsaw we see that hostile europhobe parties—they are not merely euro realists or sceptics—are gaining more influence and now have 15 per cent of the votes. There is enormous concern about the acquis provisions on borders and about Schengen. Poland has huge difficulties when considering how to transfer its border from the west, the old Schengen border, to the east, vis-à-vis Russia, which has always presented a porous and different kind of border. That will require vast upheavals and social changes.

In the Czech Republic we find growing disenchantment and worries expressed over whether Slovakia will be included. I hope that it will be, otherwise the Czechs will have to consider putting a Schengen border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia; namely, a border erected between two nations which, until only a few years ago, were one country. That border is particularly permeable.

I had an opportunity to put questions to the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr Orban. We met on a public occasion and there is no harm in repeating his comments. He made it perfectly clear that he seeks a flexible Europe. He is uneasy about centralisation and the growth of qualified majority voting. The Hungarians also face nightmarish problems as regards the Schengen provisions vis-à-vis Romania if that country remains outside the EU. The above are immensely difficult problems which we shall address with all our energies.

I turn now to the brave Baltic states, which I have visited on many occasions and for which all have a soft spot. It is often forgotten that Estonia was founded, in effect, by British actions taken in the 1920s before that country entered the long dark night of absorption into the Soviet Union. Those states have been asked to put up tariffs. I understand that they are not worried about it, but that is what joining the European Union means. However, they are concerned that they may become second-class members of the common agricultural policy. That concern also applies to other countries.

The Cyprus problem is beginning to burn. No noble Lord is better qualified to comment on that than the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, who is not in his place. However, the problems with Turkey and Greece are extremely dangerous. There is a real threat that Greece may veto and obstruct the entire process if membership for Cyprus is delayed. Equally, Turkey may cause all the trouble it can if the situation turns the other way around; namely, if Cypriot membership is accelerated. Furthermore, smaller countries such as Latvia insist that they want to see a Europe of nations.

The cause of Europe has been damaged by the botched nature of the treaty proposals and evidence of the big boys ganging together over them. That is why the famous Euro-barometer records waning enthusiasm. At the beginning of this year it recorded that some 44 per cent of the EU was in favour, but I gather that the percentage is now much lower.

We agree with the Minister, who commented yesterday at the Dispatch Box that considerable benefits will be enjoyed in an enlarged market. Ironically, we seem to be moving to a situation in which the applicant states, whose position would be assisted by this protocol if only we could move it forward and it was not bogged down in the rest of the treaty, are set to grow faster than the near stagnant member states of western Europe; in particular they will grow faster than Germany. Luckily, however, for the moment the British economy seems to be doing well.

When we are told that unless we tick the boxes on the Nice Treaty enlargement will be held up, then we are entitled to be more than cynical and to say that, on the contrary, if we were to tick all the boxes in the Nice Treaty we shall find ourselves in deeper trouble. Indeed, that is the case already. If, as many advised at the time, we had concentrated on the simple mechanical changes needed to correct the weighting, distribute properly the seats in the European Parliament, get the structure of the Commission right and so forth, we would now be moving ahead on the process of enlargement.

It is deplorable that enlargement has taken so long. It should have taken place after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of Czechoslovakia soon after. Those of us who visited those regions at the time told our dear friends in Prague—it may have been misleading—that in only a matter of months, or perhaps a year or two, they would join the European Union. That was 12 years ago. So much for enthusiasm about enlargement.