European Union (Accessions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 7th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 3:15 pm, 7th February 2006

My Lords, over the various stages of the Bill there have been excellent debates in your Lordships' Chamber. Everyone is familiar with the terms of the Bill, but this is a moment at which to acknowledge and welcome the cross-party support that there has been at all the vital stages for the principle of European Union enlargement and accession. The noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Dykes, have made that point. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, used the word "historic", and I completely concur with him. This is such a moment.

Enlargement of the European Union is, of course, a policy that has made an enormous contribution to stability and prosperity across the whole continent. I am glad to say that it is an issue on which parties and the House have been consistently united. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is absolutely true. A large number of people have come to this country, bringing with them abilities and skills. They have been welcomed by this country in a way that demonstrates its civility and its ability to welcome people, to absorb them and to give them a place within our social order. Alongside that, more economic activity and prosperity have been created, all of which is a great reflection on what we, as a nation, are capable of and for which we sometimes do not give ourselves credit, much less receive it from others.

The ratification of the accession treaty for Bulgaria and Romania is only one aspect of the process. The real achievement has been the largely successful reforms of the political, judicial and economic structures of the two countries. I pay tribute to the remarkable work of both governments and both peoples. As has been said, that is of the greatest importance for those countries.

However, they are not there yet. The point has been made that there may be delay. There certainly needs to be the closest possible reporting and it is right that Parliament should hear those reports. I completely agree and confirm the proposition made by noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Biffen. Indeed, the European Commission's autumn monitoring reports found some worrying areas of concern, not least in the areas of corruption, organised crime, environmental pollution and the ability of both countries to absorb EU funding streams. I look forward to the next report—I believe it will be on time—to see whether we are making real progress. However, we are of the view that there is plenty of time in this process for Bulgaria and Romania to address the areas of most serious concern identified by the Commission and consequently to take their rightful place within the European Union on 1 January 2007. I am optimistic about that.

What would it mean for us? An enlarged EU is an EU better able to meet the challenges we now face. As your Lordships are aware, there is regional instability in our neighbourhood and on our borders. It is because we face these new collective challenges that we need and value Bulgaria and Romania as European partners. I will not go into detail—I am sure nobody would want me to do so—but counter-terrorism, the combating of organised crime, the provision of military support and the development of prosperous communities are all areas where the benefits of this enlargement will become clear. They will become even clearer if parliamentarians are indeed able to visit each other's countries and share in each other's understandings. I am certainly willing to say to the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, that I will do all I can to facilitate parliamentary visits in both directions, to ensure that that kind of discussion takes place.

I conclude by returning to the point I made at the outset: EU enlargement has always had the support of all parties across this House. This consensus has enabled the United Kingdom to play a leading role in driving forward a policy that is fundamentally in our interests, the interests of our EU partners and the interests of these two accession states. I am glad, once again, that the House has come together to send such a clear message in support of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. Of course, we have to make sure that they are ready for membership, and we will do so, but today I believe that we can be optimistic that two important partners will soon become members of the enlarged, outward-looking Europe, seeking to meet the challenges of the coming decades.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.