Croatia: EU Accession

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:03 pm on 6th December 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 8:03 pm, 6th December 2005

My Lords, let me also thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for initiating this debate on a topic so important to the future of the European Union and to the wider future of Europe itself. I start by congratulating Croatia and the Croatians because a couple of days ago Croatia won the Davis Cup. It was a remarkable achievement because there are only 4.5 million people in Croatia compared with the 60 million people in the UK and I believe we have not even got near to the final in the post-war period. The losing country in the final was Slovakia, which is also a new European state.

About three weeks ago, I was in Santa Barbara, California, an idyllic little spot. I have to admit to the Minister, who is busy with his papers, that I gave up one of my roster nights in order to do so. Fortunately, he is no longer my Whip—at least, I believe that he is no longer my Whip. In Santa Barbara, California, there are some lovely second-hand bookstores. In one of them, I bought a book for a dollar, the equivalent of about 60p these days. It was called Inside Europe and was written by John Gunther. It was published in 1961. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, knows about John Gunther. He wrote a range of books over a fairly lengthy period. It was an extraordinary experience to read that book sitting on the beach in Santa Barbara. It brought home to me the enormity of the changes that have happened in Europe over some four decades. At the time that the book was written, in 1961, Europe was still divided. The author speaks of Germany as the fiery heart of Europe. At that time, the Berlin Wall had not been built. People were still commuting, mostly from the east to the west, but some from the west to the east. It was the time when, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, there were dictatorships in three core European countries: Portugal, Spain and Greece. Some of the major European states were still colonial countries at that time. One of the interesting things about the book was that there was a mention of what was to become the European Economic Community, but it warranted only five pages in a book of some 500 pages.

What advance has been made since then? Of course, one cannot say that the European Union is responsible for all the changes that have happened, but it is responsible for a fairly substantial number of them. I would like to echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the significance of enlargement. Enlargement is the single most important foreign policy tool of the European Union. It has created not only a zone of peace in Europe, but a zone of hope for societies that are outside the membership of the European Union. Compare that with the zone around the United States. If one looks at Central or Latin America, states in those areas have suffered from American intervention in previous periods, leading to civil wars and so forth, and many people have been killed—for example, in Guatemala—but the United States does not offer a model. It does not offer the same kind of possibilities for the future that the European Union does. My view is that, in spite of the problems that the European Union has suffered recently, enlargement should and must continue. It is crucial to the future of Europe and the future of the European Union.

We tend to think of the Balkans as exceptional—I accept that Croatia might not regard itself as part of the Balkans—and we tend to think of it as historically a conflict-ridden area where a world war was initiated and where there is, apparently, a famous clash of civilisations, as Samuel Huntingdon so famously described it. But that view is wrong. I do not think that the Balkans are significantly more unstable than the rest of Europe used to be. The Balkans are a hangover from European history, rather than being an exception to it, because European history is the history of tribalism, division, ethnic conflicts and violence. One of the most interesting works on this issue is Mark Mazower's book Dark Continent in which he shows that the progress of Europe has not been an untrammelled, easy process of movement towards democracy. It has been a highly turbulent history, including its recent history and its very recent history, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. We have to see the Balkans more as an extension of what European history used to be, rather than as an area specifically different from the rest of Europe.

That is why it is so important to speak of the accession negotiations that have begun with Croatia. Of course, the opening of negotiations with Croatia was overshadowed, especially in the media, by the opening of negotiations with Turkey. I speak as a strong supporter of Turkey's potential accession to the European Union. I was a member of the so-called independent group on Turkey, which was headed by the ex-President of Finland, Mr Ahtisaari. We were all independent experts, although I was less of an expert on Turkey than on more general issues, but we came down firmly behind Turkey's accession to Europe.

Croatia is a small country, as I said, but its potential accession is perhaps just as important as that of Turkey for the future of Europe and the future of the wider region. In a speech in Zagreb on 10 July 2003, Romano Prodi, who was then the head of the European Commission, said that by submitting its application, Croatia,

"has declared that the long and trying period of war, division and nationalism is well and truly over".

He reaffirmed the European Union's firm commitment to the integration of the Balkans as a whole into the Union. In that process, Croatia must be a vanguard country. It must show to the rest of the area that it is possible to have a country that was war-torn and caught up in the horrific conflicts, about which we know so well, that can make the transition to peace and economic development and be part of an effective European Union.

As my noble friend Lord Anderson mentioned, some of the signs are good. I had a good look at the economic statistics for Croatia and they show that Croatia is already deeply integrated into the wider economy of the European Union—far more than any other state in that area, with the exception of Slovenia. That process is facilitated by the recovery of tourism in the country. On the other hand, we should not be complacent about that and nor should the Croatian Government—I believe that they are not. There are still strong currents of nationalism around. I hope that winning the Davis Cup will be a positive version of nationalism, not a negative one. There are still major divisions in the country. Support for the European Union has been waning recently, rather than rising. General Gotovina is still at large, although the Croatians have now promised full co-operation with the ICTY.

In conclusion, like other noble Lords, I think that we must welcome that as a major advance in Europe. I should like to ask the Minister something different—more about the European Union itself, rather than just Croatia. Following the referenda and the stalling of some aspects of European progress, we must no longer simply ask, "What can the EU demand of the accession countries?"; we must also ask, "What can the potential accession countries ask of the EU?". We need reform in the EU and to push ahead with the European project. I have heard many members of the Government say that Europe should not be just a marketplace, but I should like to hear the Minister say in what respect it should not. I believe that Europe must be a political project. If it is to be a political project, there must be governance reforms in the European Union. I cannot see how those reforms can be not a bit like those proposed in the constitution. Potential accession countries will be watching to see how far the European Union can set itself on the right course. If there is to be a political Europe, what are some of the main contours that it should assume?