Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.46 pm

21 May 2003 : Column 1101

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): I begin by declaring an interest. I recently took part in a British-Polish parliamentary group visit to Poland, in part paid for by the Polish Parliament.

I was very encouraged when, at the beginning of the debate, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), said that the Opposition would support the Bill. It was such a pleasure to hear the Opposition say anything positive about something that has come out of the European institutions. It is a pity, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman's constructive comments about the Bill were spoiled by his Jekyll and Hyde transformation. I would not say that he became a raving Eurosceptic, as the right hon. Gentleman does not do raving, but he certainly became a mildly synthetically excited Eurosceptic, and felt that he had to include, at the beginning and end of his speech, the compulsory diatribe against the European Convention and all its works, and the dreaded threat of a European superstate.

The fact that the shadow Foreign Secretary felt that he had to include that sort of diatribe shows that, at the heart of the Conservative party leadership, there is a grudging approach to Britain's membership of the EU. There is no point in giving us lots of enthusiasm about Europe in general when the Conservative party's approach to playing an active role in the EU is at best grudging.

The danger for this country of the Opposition's approach is that it risks removing the possibility that Britain can enjoy the full benefits arising out of EU enlargement and the accession of 10 new member states. As has been noted already, the potential new market in those new members states is immense. Some depressing and discouraging comments have been made, to the effect that the GDP of each accession state is much smaller than the European average. Of course it is, but we should not be worried about the one or two economic blips that may have taken place in those states in recent times. We should remember the situation as it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Anyone who has visited countries in central and eastern Europe will have seen that, for the most part, their economies have been amazingly transformed. We must realise what those countries have achieved and the great potential that awaits us if we take advantage of those markets. We must also realise how much we will lose if we adopt a grudging approach to the potential that those markets represent.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are tremendous possibilities for regions such as the north-east, which relies on exports, and whose 76 per cent. of exports are to the European Community? Expansion to new markets in eastern Europe will give a big boost to such regional economies.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Indeed. The benefits in my hon. Friend's area will be shared throughout the country, if we take a positive approach to enlargement, rather than the grudging approach in some quarters of the House.

As well as the possible economic and employment benefits, the UK will gain new allies in the diplomatic and political world and in the decisions that will have to be taken on future European development. The situation in Europe is fluid. We can play a leading role in Europe and increase our country's influence, if we get in there and take an active part.

21 May 2003 : Column 1102

The danger in the position held by the Conservatives is that in attempting to whip up anti-European hysteria they affect the attitude of British people towards the EU in general. As a result, we shall fail fully to take our opportunities. Nobody is against robust debate. The issues are important and I do not object to anyone putting forward their strongly held views as effectively as they can. However, robust debate is one thing; anti-European hysteria is another. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Devizes cannot believe half the guff about the European Convention that he has to come out with, so perhaps he should privately tell his leader that the anti-Europeanism that they are attempting to whip up is actually extremely damaging to this country's interests. They should stop doing it if they are interested in the employment prospects and the economy in both our country and the rest of Europe.

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes a persuasive case for "our country" being involved directly in Europe, for "our country" playing its part, together with central and eastern European countries. By what date would he like to see our country have the full normal status of independence so that we can join our friends and neighbours from central and eastern Europe?

Mr. Lazarowicz: Our nation, as part of the UK, has the benefit of being one of the large member states of the EU. We should not have that advantage if we were having to negotiate to join the EU, which would be a consequence of the independence that the Scottish National party wants to foist on us.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) made eloquent reference to an issue that was also discussed during the visit to which I referred when I began my speech, and which raises important questions for the UK, for the Government and for members of all parties. Where will the accession process go after the current round of accessions? Although, from our perspective on the north-western edge of the EU, Bialystok is a long way from Bristol, Riga is a long way from the Rhondda and Szczecin is a long way from Stirling, areas on the eastern edge of the new Europe naturally will not see the boundary that will then be formed between the EU and the countries to their east as the final border of the EU.

When we talk to parliamentarians in those countries, they ask when countries such as the Ukraine and, under different leadership, Belarus, will join the European Union. It may seem to those of us who are only just getting used to the idea of the accession of 10, and then three, new member states that such questions can be left until a later date, but we have to decide on our approach to the large countries further to the east as the EU expands. Are we going to open the door to those countries, close the door, or put them into a limbo state for the foreseeable future?

Turkey has been mentioned and I would certainly like to see its membership of the European Union coming forward at an early date. We should recognise that Turkey has been placed in a difficult position for decades: for many years it was effectively strung along with the prospect of EU membership, which became a real prospect only recently. The certain way to cause resentment among the states to the east of the new

21 May 2003 : Column 1103

expanded European Union is to string them along as well and give them no proper idea of their future relationship to the EU. It may be impossible for some of those states to join. As the hon. Member for Henley suggested, the idea of incorporating Vladivostok in the European Union seems far-fetched, but these are important issues and it is important to raise them in tonight's debate.

Our current debate may be preoccupied with accession, the Convention and possible membership of the euro, but the future direction of the European Union is crucial and it will confront us soon after the new countries join in the next couple of years. I would welcome clarification of the Government's views on that matter. We will have to deal with it in future, but it is better to start the debate now rather than wait for it to hit us by surprise a few years hence.

5.56 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): I apologise for my absence earlier, having been detained on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. I was able to hear the start of the debate, and it is continuing much along the same lines, but I apologise if I repeat any points made by my hon. Friends.

We are debating this evening a small, two-clause Bill, which deals with the accession treaty and freedom of movement for workers, but it is impossible not to stray—many hon. Members already have—on to the wider issues of the Convention and the euro. I warmly welcome the accession countries. I have always believed that the EU should be expanded to include aspirant countries, particularly those that recently threw off their communist yoke. It is vital for them to continue to enjoy their new-found independence, their freedom and their right to share in the greater prosperity of a greater Europe. It is also vital that an enlarged Europe develops in a flexible and decentralised way with emphasis on a genuine partnership of European states, rather than a bureaucratic and centralised state run from the top down.

I am concerned about the problems of accession countries, with their different economies, some of which are only just coming to terms with free markets. Having lived for almost two years in Berlin during the cold war, I well remember seeing life there—on both sides of the wall. I returned after the wall had come down. I believe that some of Germany's present economic difficulties are a result of the over-generosity of the then German Chancellor in swapping 1 Deutschmark for 1 Ostmark. Some of the problems encountered by modern-day Germany are the result of East Germany not having been integrated fully into the more prosperous West Germany.

The Minister recently told Le Figaro Magazine in an interview on 26 April that "today" the European economy, by which he meant the 15 member states,

In other words, given the same rate of growth, the US economy by 2020 will be more than twice as big as the EU economy, and by 2050 it will be almost four times

21 May 2003 : Column 1104

as big. So it would take a leap of faith to believe that an enlarged EU would be as competitive as the US, for the foreseeable future at least.

Next Section

IndexHome Page