European Union (Accessions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:27 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 3:27 pm, 20th December 2005

My Lords, I join in the general chorus of approval, however qualified it was in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and join wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has said about the need for the Government to be an advocate in terms of enlargement and indeed of the success of the European Union generally. I follow the Minister in saying that the Bill is relatively narrow in scope: first, it implements the treaty of accession of Bulgaria and Romania and, secondly, it provides for freedom of movement for workers from those two countries.

After the fall of communism, those two countries enjoyed public support in their principal aim fully to join in the Euro-Atlantic structures. They joined NATO last year and will become full members of the European Union on 1 January 2007 or in 2008. That has been decided. It should be welcomed in spite of renewed questions about their readiness, particularly in the case of the lack of movement for part of this year in respect of Bulgaria. Their accession is in the context of greater questions about the enlargement potential of the Union as a whole. I join in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is always worth listening to on this and other subjects.

Logically, if there is a Europe, there is a non-Europe. Even the word "Europe" in the treaty has to be defined, but it cannot be defined too largely. The former French Commissioner Claude Cheyson once told me, on returning from a visit to Mongolia, that it was enquiring about EU membership.

What defines our Europe? It is partly values, but that would include Norway and Switzerland. It is partly geography, and partly history, but that history might also include parts of north Africa if we consider the Roman empire. If there is a case for a privileged relationship at the borders, it will have to be considered as part of the debate that will take place over the next year.

It is clear that enlargement will make the European Union very different from the vision of the founding fathers. All the new countries in prospect carry greater risks than the core Europe and the Europe of the earlier accessions in terms of their adherence to the rule of law, internal stability, corruption, organised crime and free markets. Yet clearly, our Europe has an interest in stability at our borders, wherever they are drawn. It is true that the prospect of membership and the gravitational pull of core Europe has had a wholly beneficial effect on those countries at its borders, including Bulgaria and Romania. Yet some of those doubts on enlargement clearly led to the referenda results in France and the Netherlands in the summer. The effects of enlargement played a key role in the debate and provoked debates about a two-tier Europe, which led, for example, to the contribution to the current debate of the Belgian premier, Mr Verhofstadt, suggesting that the euro-zone should take on a more political dimension, which would have interesting consequences for us and other countries—also incidentally for the prospects of countries such as Turkey.

There is a debate. Indeed, the Financial Times on 16 December reported that a specific part of the communiqué would be to have a freeze on further enlargement. The only reference that I can see is in the context of the decision on the candidacy status of Macedonia. Paragraph 25 of the report says that,

"further steps will have to be considered in the light of the debate on the enlargement strategy, as provided by the Council conclusions of 12 December 2005".

That paragraph continues:

"The absorption capacity of the Union also has to be taken into account".

In any event, it would be wrong to talk about a freeze. There will be no movement in respect of Macedonia over the next year. Croatia will proceed in any event. It therefore seems appropriate to have time for reflection during either the Austrian or Finnish presidency. Clearly there is a group within the Union, including France, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Ireland, that is asking fundamental questions about not so much borders but future enlargement generally.

How do Bulgaria and Romania measure up? It is convenient to deal with them together, yet they have different problems. Until earlier this year Bulgaria was in the lead, but Romania had been moving steadily. It would probably be realistic to talk of differentiation if the Commission were to conclude in April or May of next year that one or other had not moved substantially. But I have some doubts about whether that would be politically possible. It is clear that the jolt to Bulgaria given by the Commission's opinions and conclusions in October has had a salutary effect in moving Bulgaria from, if not a complacent attitude, at least a belief that it can coast along.

The working assumption must be that, by the time the Commission comes to make its reports in the spring of next year, the two countries will have moved along sufficiently substantially. In any event, there are fallback provisions, not only in the unique proposal by the Finnish delegation for a possible one-year delay but also in the continuing possibility of exempting from full membership certain areas of policy. For example, in terms of food safety, we could say that we would not accept agricultural exports from those countries if we were not convinced about their procedures for ensuring food safety. But there should be a sufficient jolt or stimulus to ensure, as should be the case, that those countries will be full members of the Union at the appropriate time.

Clearly, they are historically part of a European dimension. Bulgaria has Greek and Slavic roots and Romania was a province of Dacia in the Roman empire. I understand that Romanian is the closest of the Romance languages to Latin. Indeed, I understand that there was even a Dacian regiment on parade holding Hadrian's Wall, and no doubt that has had an effect on part of the current population in Cumbria.

Both countries have had the awful experience of dictatorship. Zhivkov was a slavish follower of the Soviet Union and Ceausescu was a Stalinist oriental despot of the worst type. Both countries are poor. Their GDP is one-third of that of the existing members of the EU, including the A10, and a quarter of that of the UK. It is difficult to see where either country would go if not to the Union. Both have made major strides since they moved from communism, and the spring report for Eurobarometer and the latest New Europe Barometer (NEB) survey have been quite favourable.

In respect of Clause 2 of the Bill, the Eurobarometer report showed that for 60 per cent of Romanians the European Union is, first and foremost, about free movement of persons. That clearly has some relevance to the view of free movement which our Government will come to, including for the 1 million Moldovans of Romanian nationality. But, contrary to what the Opposition were saying at the time, it is clear that the accession of the 10 has been extremely beneficial, allowing our labour market to be more flexible in key areas where we were not providing, such as bus drivers and seasonal agricultural labour. In my judgment, it is right for the Government to leave the options for the Home Office and other relevant departments to decide in the light of all the circumstances, including the date of accession and the policies adopted by other governments.

I come to my final point. The prospect of membership has already been a great dynamic for positive change, and we can reasonably assume that that is likely to continue. Major failings exist. They were set out in the Commission's October document and in the commentary by Commissioner Rehn, which was hard-hitting and rigorous. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that gives me confidence that the Commission will be equally rigorous and objective when it comes to make its report in April or May next year.

But still something is left on trust. The process cannot now be stopped, but we cannot reverse the Kosovo formula and give status without standards. My understanding is that both countries have made substantial moves and that the Commission has struck the right balance. Accession will be of benefit to the European Union. There will be a form of probation until the spring of next year, but every indication is that the countries will succeed. It will be good for them and, indeed, it will be good for Europe. However, I hope that the current period of reflection envisaged in paragraph 25 of the European Council's report does not lead to an undue delay for the western Balkans, which, in my judgment, should properly be included as soon as practicable within our Union.