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Mr. MacShane: I make that point constantly as a wake-up call to Europe. The figures are serious, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) quoted a report that I have also cited. This is the time for Europe to get back to work and down to business.
Mr. Swire: I fully agree with the Minister, but I am trying to point out some of the problems faced by some of the accession countries. It is as wise for them to be aware of the problem as it is for the existing member states to be aware of it.
The current 15 member states all enjoy roughly comparable living standards and basic rates of GDP. However, figures from 2001 show that Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Estonia all have a GDP per capita of under Euro5,000, compared with an average GDP figure for current EU members of Euro22,280. I am not trying to scaremonger. A report from the Commission, entitled "The Impact of Eastern Enlargement on Employment and Labour Markets in the EU Member States", highlighted the economic difficulties and concluded:
Professor Piachaud, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, has questioned the Commission's estimate that 350,000 immigrants would leave their homes to come to their more prosperous neighbours. He thinks that the real figure could be of the order of millions.
Dr. Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman cites the current unemployment rate in Poland, but can he tell the House what the unemployment rate and level of economic activity were in Poland 10 years ago? Does he consider that the trajectory that might thus become apparent might cause him to come to different conclusions from those he has reached?
Mr. Swire: The hon. Gentleman makes a tempting offer, but I shall not pursue that topic, given the time restrictions. I was not seeking to raise the issue of unemployment in Poland, other than to show that there are a large number of people who might seek to move elsewhere within the enlarged EU in order to gain employment.
What assessment have the Government made of the impact of labour migration between member states following the accession of 10 new member states? If fears of mass immigration are overplayed, as the hon. Gentleman has just suggested, and the Commission is right that immigration will have little impact on wage costs in the existing member states, why have 10 member statesincluding France, Germany and Spainretained the right to close their borders to workers from the accession states?
A consensus has emerged in the House this afternoon that fundamental reform of the EUnot least, the common agricultural policyis necessary. The political sentiment towards bringing the accession countries into a wider EU is understandable and reflects the changing world and a post-socialist eastern bloc. However, we would do no favours to the existing member states or to the accession states if we did not separate the political sentiment from the economic reality. It was disingenuous, mischievous and misleading of the Prime Minister to claim that those of us who want a referendum are against enlargement. The claim that a no vote would scupper enlargement is clearly not true. Many people simply cannot understand why the Government will not trust the British people with a referendum, particularly after what has happened on the Convention. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) lucidly said, all existing treaties will be repealed. I do not support the bland statement of the Secretary of State for Wales that this is all about a little local tidying up. The right hon. Gentleman's view is not borne out by the decision of 71 of 108 Convention membersnot just little Englanders or Euroscepticsfrom 25 countries who, by 7 May, had signed a demand that the constitution should be ratified by referendums throughout EU member states on the same day as elections for the European Parliament next June.
For many people, it is quite extraordinary that the Prime Minister should argue that referendums are not in the British tradition when his Government have held more of them than any other Government in history. In a speech to the 1995 Labour Party conference, he said:
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): I ask the House to note that I have registered my interest as a member of the British-Polish parliamentary group, and was recently a guest of the Polish-British group in the Polish Sejm. I have visited Poland many times including, on occasion, before the fall of communism. In the light of my experience and what I have observed taking place in Poland over a long period, this afternoon's debate, subject to the passage of the Fireworks Bill, ought to be
Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): Does my hon. Friend recollect that in the past some people objected to the European Union because it only represented part of the European continent? One cause for celebration today is the fact that it will now embrace the whole continent, which we should get politically excited about. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to take that message from Parliament to the nations and regions of the UK in the months ahead?
Dr. Whitehead: My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. She will be interested to know that in the Polish referendum the key phrase of the yes campaign was "Yestem Europielski", which means "I am a European." That is at the heart of what is now happening in countries that were formerly part of the communist bloc.
I am rather saddened to hear, however, that those who express less than complete enthusiasm for such a move sometimes characterise those states as static countries, with economies that will drag down the EU, that will cause nothing but problems if their accession is agreed to. Of course such comments are not put quite like that in a lot of discussions, but that is the underlying import of what is said.
I visited Poland just after the fall of communism, when inflation was about 600 per cent., unemployment was overwhelming, industry had almost completely disappeared and there was nothing to buy in the shops even if people had the money. I have here a 10 zloty note. At that time, 100 zloty was worth about thruppence and, indeed, the second time I went, it was worth about tuppence, but it is now worth about £1.60, as the Poles have reorganised their currency.
We should take into account the tremendous strides in economic development made by the EU accession countries, particularly the former communist countries of central Europe, during the accession process. That seems to be a guarantee that we should not consider static figures. Those countries will be a great benefit to the EU and to our labour markets, trade and the partnerships that will develop in a different form of decision making in the EU. Therefore, it is not right to suggest that those countries are not ready to join and that they will be a problem.
Those countries, particularly Poland, have also made that change partly as a result of the concentration on changing the way that they work by incorporating the acquis communautaire into their own legislation. As other hon. Members have said this afternoon, that has been the process whereby those countries have shaped their economies and how their societies work in the knowledge that that is a European way forward, and those countries have benefited thereby.
It has been said that millions of people in caravans will suddenly start to move across Europe. Frankly, that is a myth, and it is important to note the work that countries such as Poland have done on the common borders of Europe, as part of the acquis communautaire. Indeed, they have dealt with issues such as the borders with Belarus, and there have been intense negotiations with Lithuania on the borders and the transition and visa arrangements with Kaliningrad.
All of that is important not just for Poland and Lithuania, but for the whole of Europe. As other hon. Members have said, by acceding, those countries have done a very good job of ensuring that the movement of labour, immigration and determining who can go into which country in what circumstances are European issues, not just issues that start at Dover.