European Union (Accessions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:18 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 4:18 pm, 20th December 2005

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Triesman. Since we joined the European Union, there has been a stream of new and successful enlargements. We had, successively, Greece, Spain and Portugal moving us up to a community of 12 members; then Sweden, Austria and Finland moving us up to 15; then, last year, the 10 new countries acceded, taking us up to 25. Now we have Romania and Bulgaria and, waiting in a line, Turkey, Macedonia and, possibly, Croatia.

Everybody seems to want to join the European Union. No politicians are seriously griping anywhere across the Union, other than here in the United Kingdom—where we seem to have more than our fair share. In welcoming the proposed enlargement the noble Lord, Lord Howell, sounded about as enthusiastic as Scrooge welcoming Christmas. I think he was having one of his bad days today; I much preferred the tone of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who seemed enthusiastic indeed about what he was supporting.

Yesterday saw parts of the United Kingdom at their worst; mainly, those parts represented on the Conservative Benches in both Houses. They profess to want to be in Europe, to want to support enlargement and to want policies that support economic reform in eastern Europe. They want to do everything but pay their fair share of the bill for that process.

Perhaps the worst service ever done to serious discussion of Europe was that performed by a former prime ministerial demand that we want our money back. That demand reduced Europe in so many people's minds to a balance-sheet exercise and yet most of the real benefits have been seen in the political and security consequences of many of the successive enlargements to which I have referred.

In Greece, we saw the return to democracy following the overthrow of a military junta and the membership of the European Union underpinned that democracy. In Spain and Portugal we saw the replacement of General Franco and Salazar by newly emergent, political democracies, again fully underpinned by their membership of the European Union. Even when we saw successful, economically prosperous, net-contributor countries joining—countries such as Sweden, Austria and Finland—we saw them all face up to very real political problems about their different sorts of neutrality and decided, despite the views that at one time they had thought were obstacles to them joining the European Union, that their global political and economic influence should be expressed by membership of the European Union.

The more recently liberated-from-the-shackles-of-communism applicants all sought to re-establish their sovereignty and democracy within the framework of that same European Union. They are our natural allies, sharing our view of Europe. They did not reject the centralisation of the former Soviet Union by seeking to join a European Union that would then be one in which they surrendered their new-found freedom and their new-found independence to the centre at Brussels—no more will Bulgaria or Romania. Like us, they want to remain members of a Union of sovereign nation states.

My noble friend Lord Triesman was correct and proper to emphasise that what we have before us in this Bill is not a fully done deal, based on the assumption that both countries will automatically join the European Union on 1 January 2007. There is the possibility for either or both to be delayed for a year. Our obligation is to ensure that the serious work is continued. We must ensure that the process of economic liberalisation, the necessary judicial reforms, the tackling of the environmental problems, and dealing with the problems of corruption and organised crime are continued. In that role both we and the European Commission must assist in those and other problems. It is correct that it is far more important to get the accession right than to get it quickly.

The noble Lord, Lord Biffen, in a fascinating and very interesting speech, sounded an important warning to his friends on his Front Bench on the views of Angela Merkel. She sounded some very interesting views as well. I was fascinated to see the letter she has reportedly sent to Mr David Cameron, looking forward to close co-operation with him within the framework of the European People's Party. I am not sure whether it was that letter that led to the appearance in today's Independent of a full-page article, which, I noticed at the bottom, in small print, said it was co-financed by Conservative MEPs and the European People's Party, which they are supposed to be about to leave. Or is that just another view that is about to be jettisoned under the kind of pressure from Mrs Merkel? However, the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, was right to emphasise that institutional questions have to be tackled. They needed to be tackled after the enlargement to 25, and they are as imperative as ever, if not more so.

I remain an unapologetic supporter of the outcome of the Convention on the Future of Europe. The institutional proposals in that convention are infinitely preferable to those that we have in the Treaty of Nice. We have to face up clearly to what we are going to do in relation to the institutional proposals that came from the Convention on the Future of Europe which suit an enlargement much more satisfactorily than those that we have had to revert to in the Treaty of Nice.

We used to hear a great deal about fortress Europe, about Europe being a rich man's club, about Europe being introspective. Enlargements have given the lie to those allegations and so does this Bill, which, I believe deserves our full support and shows Europe as being the preferred way of all these newly democratic European countries to be able to express their own aspirations within the framework of the economic and political stability that the European Union gives them. I support the Bill.