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European Communities (Regulations)

Mr. Mark Field accordingly presented a Bill to make provision in respect of the effects on persons and businesses of regulations made under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 115].

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Orders of the Day

European Union (Accessions) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Although the Bill is slim, it is significant and important. It will do two things. First, clause 1 will enable the implementation under United Kingdom law of the accession treaty, which was signed in Athens on 16 April and extends the European Union to the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia from 1 May 2004. Secondly, from the same date, clause 2 will allow nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia the same rights to work in the United Kingdom as those enjoyed by nationals of current member states and those that will be automatically enjoyed by nationals of Malta and Cyprus. However, that will be subject to a clear regulation-making power to withdraw such a concession if the need arises, as I shall discuss later in my speech.

Let me begin with clause 1. The accession treaty is one of the most important agreements in the European Union's history. Enlargement sets the seal on the end of the cold-war division of Europe. Many hon. Members, including myself, represent Britain's immediate post-war generation. We hardly need reminding that security among European nations has been nothing less than a continental and American obsession for almost 60 years. That was the stimulus behind the infusion of Marshall aid and the inspiration for the foundation of the European Union. It led to the establishment of the most successful military alliance in our history—NATO.

European security was a central preoccupation of one of my most distinguished predecessors, Ernest Bevin. If he were alive today he would, I am sure, be immensely proud of the progress that Europe has made from being the

that was so vividly described by Churchill in 1945 to becoming the prosperous and peaceful Union that we have today. Those of us who take an interest in European history need to recognise that the norm in Europe has been conflict and bloodshed and that the exception has been relative peace and harmony. That exception, which we have created in the past 60 years, has not been accidental but was created as a result of conscious decisions by peoples in Europe and throughout the continent.

When the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and tens of millions of Europeans decided to take destiny into their own hands, they were not unwitting actors in a historical drama driven by political and economic forces beyond their control. Indeed, they wanted to exert control over economic and political forces that had previously denied them such control. They acted because they recognised that their system had failed them. They looked not further east or south but west for a better future,

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freedom, representative government and the opportunity better to reward their talents. They recognised the European Union as an institution that, alongside NATO, had delivered security and prosperity to its members for decades.

As a result of that, almost immediately after the fall of the Soviet bloc Governments and the establishment of substitute Governments that became representative and democratic in time, Governments in central Europe pursued the goal of EU membership with relentless determination. It has been a remarkable effort. Political and economic reforms have laid the foundation for a prosperous future. Given the rich talents of each of those countries, I have no doubt that they will, over time, enjoy an economic transformation every bit as striking as that in Spain and Portugal since the 1980s.

Angus Robertson (Moray): Bearing in mind the overwhelming votes in referendums so far among accession countries, will the Secretary of State deprecate those who make the case that people in accession countries who have voted to enlarge the Union are substituting their hard-won independence for some form of tyrannical government? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the building block of the European Union remains independent member states, and that enlargement should be supported by all Members of this place?

Mr. Straw: It is a matter of free will whether enlargement is supported. However, I sign up to both of the propositions that the hon. Gentleman makes. In all my dealings with my Italian, French and German colleagues, I have had no sense from them that they feel that their nationhood has been diminished or undermined by membership of the European Union. More importantly, countries such as Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Hungary see their membership of the EU as an expression of their new nationhood, and not in any sense a detraction from it.

Sir Michael Spicer : (West Worcestershire):The Secretary of State is making the point about the future prosperity of the applicant countries that will follow, as he says, from their entry. He must take into account the fact that the current average level of prosperity of the applicant countries in terms of per capita income is about one seventh of that of the present members. Unemployment is about twice as high. In Poland, for example, it is 20 per cent. Who will pay for the great new prosperity that the applicant countries will enjoy?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Enlargement will lead to a greater range of gross domestic product per head than has existed hitherto. There are some significant figures. The new 10 will add 23 per cent. to the land mass of Europe, 20 per cent. to the population, but only 4 per cent. to the GDP of the EU. Those disparities are there.

The hon. Gentleman asked who will pay, and I will give the exact figures later. The key way in which we have the process paid for is by increasing the output of the new member states. In a sense, they pay for it themselves. That has been historically the practice, after some initial subsidisation of new entrants, and I think

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that that will be the practice in future. Already, the GDPs of the candidate countries—former communist bloc countries—have grown by 40 per cent. As they are drawn into the EU, they will have wider access to our markets, especially our agricultural markets, or some of them. They will also be able to change and adapt their labour practices. We shall then see them really motoring, in the same way as the economies of southern European countries that have come within the EU. There will be some subsidy, and I shall deal with that.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Those of us in this country who hail from central European Jewish backgrounds, as I do, have no reason to feel any antipathy towards our fellow Europeans, but we are legitimately concerned about the right of this country to retain the power of self-government. Given that it is now five years since the inclusion of the protocol on subsidiarity and proportionality in the treaty of Amsterdam, will the Secretary of State identify one directive or regulation flowing from the EU that has been repealed under the terms of the protocol?

Mr. Straw: No, and the practice has been unsatisfactory. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked for an answer and I have given him the answer. I am then asked what we are going to do about the situation. One of the major issues that is being discussed within the Convention is to ensure that there is a two-way street in terms of subsidiarity. There is an important proposal, which I hope will be supported by the whole House, that where the Commission puts forward draft proposals for legislation and that is objected to by a third of national Governments, those proposals must go back to the Commission for reconsideration. [Interruption.] I am asked what reconsideration means. We want to see that strengthened. I believe that that is a dynamic mechanism and far better than the mechanisms that were put in place by the previous Government.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): I return to the point made earlier by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) about the economics of the new entrants. Is it not true that when Spain, France and Greece all joined the EU, exactly the same phenomenon was true? Britain increased its trade with countries such as Spain by about 40 per cent. over only four or five years.

Mr. Straw: Indeed, that is the case.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): The Secretary of State has made an important point about the failure of the principle of subsidiarity up to now. He has said that there is a new power in the draft constitution. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that at best member state parliaments will be able only to request that the Commission review a proposal, and that there is no obligation on the EU or the Commission to take any notice of such a proposal? The point was made by the Scrutiny Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore undertake to veto a draft constitution that does not give practical effect and powers to member state parliaments to enforce the subsidiarity principle in the way that he thinks is desirable?

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