European Union (Accessions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:38 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development 4:38 pm, 20th December 2005

My Lords, I, like my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford warmly welcome this Bill and am grateful to the Minister for moving the Second Reading. It has been a fascinating debate; we have heard the history of Bulgaria and Romania, slightly potted, from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, personal experiences from my noble friend Lord Biffen, and other noble Lords' experiences. With your Lordships' tolerance, I will concentrate mainly on Bulgaria. I go back to the start of its European Union aspirations, because I took the Bulgarian Europe agreements through the European Parliament in the 1990s, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, reminded us. I declare an added interest in Bulgaria as a governor of the American University in Blagoevgrad. The degree of consensus on these Benches and in the other place is extremely pleasing and, I hope, represents the widespread appreciation both of what the European Union can do for Bulgaria and Romania, and what they can do for us.

A Bulgarian friend of mine pointed out with great pride the enormous achievements of young Bulgarians worldwide. Their international achievements include world-class opera singers, mathematicians, chess players, computer programmers and so forth. There is no doubt that, once accepted, both Bulgaria and Romania will play a significant and constructive role in the European Union on our populations, economies and cultural wealth. They will also have significant power within the European Union institutions, with Bulgaria wielding the same number of votes as Austria—10—in the Council, and of seats—12—in the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, and the European Parliament—17. Romania, because of its larger population, will have even more.

The experience of the last round of accessions, where not just two but 10 countries were accepted with similar potential for success and failure, has been very positive. I see few reasons to believe that this round of accessions will not go equally as successfully. However, there are areas that are worrying. Despite Bulgaria and Romania having GDP growth rates significantly above the EU average, both have GDPs of around a third of the EU average. Both countries have done a commendable job in squeezing in all the acquis communautaire laws in order to comply with the EU deadlines. But the laws now need to be implemented. Specifically, the Bulgarians must revise their judicial system and make certain that at long last criminals are sentenced and accordingly sent to gaol. It is unacceptable that so far not a single boss of the criminal world is sitting behind bars.

The European Parliament has already demanded greater effort in stamping out such crimes. The European Union, too, still has to make the necessary institutional reforms as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Biffen to cope with the present and future enlargements. The sheer enormity of the task facing the European Union and the tasks facing these two countries make their preparations for 2007 seem a Herculean task. Ten years ago this month, the European Council took the decision to let Bulgaria become a European Union member when it met the political and economic criteria, regardless of its place in the queue, up to 2007. That was a huge spur and encouragement. It also presented a steep hill to climb. We should congratulate the Bulgarian people on having strived so diligently, despite having suffered great hardship along the way, to meet the requirements. They are nearly there.

We must use every method possible in the time left to us to encourage these countries to fulfil the requirements and prepare themselves effectively for their accession. The alternative, so rightly stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is unthinkable. I wish them both the best of luck and I end by returning to Clause 1. We on these Benches urge that the ratification of the treaty and that of the Bill go through Parliament as quickly and as smoothly as possible.