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 Watson of Richmond Lord Watson of Richmond Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 20th November 2001

The noble Lord described an eastern Central Europe which is barely recognisable. If it is truly the noble Lord's conviction that in the capitals of the applicant states governments hold their heads in their hands in despair when confronted by the complexities of the acquis communautaire—for which they must buy large computers to scan an unforeseeable future; although one noble Lord is strong on prophecy and it might be cheaper to hire him—that they perceive as an absolutely unalterable barrier, then that conviction is, frankly, quite unreal. The truth is that the acquis communautaire, although complicated, provides an important blueprint and plan for the modernisation of eastern Central Europe.

It is greatly to the good fortune of Europe at this historic moment that the treaties are in place, that the acquis communautaire is a single body and that, therefore, a proper negotiating agenda has been agreed; namely, a road map by which the enlargement of Europe can proceed. If all those achievements were wished away, which clearly is what many Members of the Committee desire, then to be frank, Europe would be in turmoil. We would certainly be dependent on prophecy and even the biggest computer would not be able to solve our problems.

The fact is that membership of the European Union is the great driving force for modernisation in the eastern Central European states. Far from enthusiasm waning for membership of the EU—I do not know which polls the noble Lord has consulted; they differ from the ones I have seen and from the evidence of my own visits to some of the capitals—it is clear that determination to proceed with enlargement is formidably strong. Are we to say that the populations who will that and their governments which express that are foolish, nai ve and misled? Have they not listened to the prophecies, and thus do not believe in the conspiracy theories? Should we in some way educate them in a new clarity and realism? No, that is not the right approach.

The fact is that the Nice Treaty, although somewhat inelegant in parts, is essential to the enlargement process. It has clarified the important question of weighting of votes in the Council. It has introduced an element of legitimacy to the voting system, which is extremely important because it would be difficult to proceed if that had not been achieved. As Europe stands at present, it is vital that the three larger countries of the present Union hold their positions. That was not easy to negotiate at Nice, as we all know. However, it was achieved.

We must distinguish between the endless and multiplying problems foreseen by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. He has examined every aspect of the European Union for grandmother's footprints, or someone else's footprints; there are always more footprints in the snow. Every time one of them melts, it is replaced by dozens more. Indeed, it would be possible to become positively hectic, even neurotic, in the pursuit of those footprints. I sometimes wonder whether, on occasion, that might be the case.

But the truth is that the vast majority of opinion expressed by the applicant states is clear: enlargement should take place. The Treaty of Nice has been welcomed as a necessary step. The Government are absolutely determined to go ahead with it. I do not think that it is right, for this Committee or those elsewhere in the United Kingdom, to stand in the way of what is clearly the historic right of the applicant countries and an unarguable demand that we should move forward.