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Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is giving the House the benefit of an extremely thoughtful analysis. In preparing himself for giving that analysis, did he consider the alternative for those countries? If they did not become members of the European Union, it would be difficult to envisage how they would break out of the cycle of corruption and inadequate economic development.
Mr. Henderson: I agree with many matters that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raisesI find myself in that camp again today. There is no democratic alternative for those countries in the medium and long term. If accession negotiations failed with Romania, Bulgaria and the other countries to which we have referred, they would have nowhere else to go, unless an undemocratic totalitarian tendency emerged in south-east Europe.
People will look at the strengths of the European Union. The strong fight against terrorism and unity against terrorism are strong aspects of the Union. Given the Union's unity when helping the rest of the world to come on board economically through various forms of assistance and aid, countries such as Bulgaria and Romania could explain to their people that they would be joining a worthwhile organisation.
I have no doubt that when the people of those two countries consider the issuesassuming that they meet the acquisthey will think that turning north-westwards will mean that they can end their isolation and bring themselves into a democratic world. They will have a guarantee that the EU will insist on human rights being maintained in their countries, if they cannot do that themselves. They will have a better opportunity for economic prosperity than they would have otherwise. I thus hope that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading.
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Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Bill underlines an intriguing paradox. It is the latest step in a remarkable process of enlargement that the European Union has successfully prosecuted almost in spite of itself. Economic gloom has been prevalent in the European Union and there have been disagreements about foreign policy issues, such as Iraq. The ill-fated constitution has collapsed and there is malaise among EU institutions. Despite that, the European Union has somehow remarkably managed to expand in a few short years from roughly 350 million citizens to about 475 million citizens, and with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria the figure will soon be just over 500 million. By anyone's reckoning, that is an extraordinary triumph of hope over pessimism.
Enlargement has always been driven by the geostrategic good sense of consolidating liberal democracy throughout EuropeI say that in a non-partisan, if somewhat wistful, fashionand the moral duty to reunite a divided continent. It is thus ironic that such good sense and moral purpose seem to have prevailed at exactly the time when the European Union has been fractious and introverted, as has certainly been the case in recent years. While getting Bulgaria and Romania up to the starting line and launching the process of enlargement has been a remarkably positive process, one big question looms: how do we make enlargement and an enlarged European Union socially, politically and economically sustainable? Many difficult questions are therefore posed of existing members of the European Union, as well as the new applicants and members.
I have two general observations and one specific observation. First, enlargement and an enlarged European Union, as some hon. Members suggested, will not be possible unless the public and political case is made to electorates throughout the EU in more forceful terms than has been the case hitherto. We have seen the profound sense of unease and anxiety among electorates in other parts of the EU when voting on the European constitution, in which unrelated and, in my view, unfounded fears and anxieties about the process of enlargement were brought to bear on the debate.
We like to think that public opinion in this country is solid and uniformly enlightened. However, as the prospect of, for instance, Turkish membership hoves into ever closer horizons, I suspect that public opinion will equally prove to be more volatile than has been the case until now. Advocates of a more diverse and wider EU have a great incentive to unite to make the case not only for Romania and Bulgaria's accession, but for potential members elsewhere, lest we allow fear and anxiety to overshadow the benefits of enlargement more generally.
My second observation is that Romania, Bulgaria, the 10 countries that joined in May 2004, Turkey, if it were to join, and any other potential applicant will not find that the EU provides the benefits for which they hoped if there is not a greater consensus about what the EU should and should not do. It is unrealistic to imagine that a highly integrated political and economic club of such a size and diversity as the EUnow 25 members, soon to be 27, and no doubt more after thatcan act effectively if it is afflicted by constant internal political bickering. That will take time to overcome.
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The EU is in a moment of transition from one form of integration to another. No one on any side of the debate quite knows what that pattern of integration will be in years to come. We may require a new generation of political leaders. Change has already occurred, if in somewhat half-hearted fashion, in Germany. It is likely to take place in Italy, France and this country, too. Whoever is in charge in the future needs to re-create a consensus that has been lost. Without that consensus about the fundamental purpose of the EU, the glue that is necessary for such a diverse club to hang together will disappear. The risk of long-term disunityI suggest mischievously that that might be why some advocates of enlargement have always been so supportive of itin an organisation with such a large membership is real and needs to be addressed.
Kelvin Hopkins : I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. Is not the serious division at the heart of Europe about economics, as the elite try to thrust on it a neo-liberal version of the economy that people do not want? If we could agree on a more relaxed social democratic approach, it would be much more popular with everyone.
Mr. Clegg: I do not recognise that characterisation of the debates, which undoubtedly exist, about economic policy. If one compares any of the EU social and economic models with what exists in north America, one would have to agree that there is a degree of unity in the mix of economic and social policies that is, perhaps, a little more progressive than the hon. Gentleman's pessimistic analysis suggests.
The process of accession must be rigorous, credible and thorough. That is why I applaud the rigour and detail of the European Commission's report on Bulgaria and Romania. It is not fashionable to praise the Commission, but anyone who reads its report will be impressed by the detail and independence with which officials assessed the validity of the claim from Romania and Bulgaria to join.
It would be a disservice to Romania and Bulgaria, let alone the rest of the European Union, to let them in unprepared. There is always some risk when allowing new member states into the EU because they make promises today which will not be fulfilled tomorrow, next year or for a number of years. One is necessarily making a bet, but the trick is to minimise that risk. That is why I urge the Minister to take very seriously the warnings and the potential use of safeguard measures set out in the Commission's report.
I urge the Minister also to address himself to the crucial question raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). There is an unusual safeguard mechanism that would allow the Council of Ministers, on the back of a report from the European Commission in, I think, spring next year, to defer final accession for another year, but that is not much of a threat if it is merely a deferral by 12 months of a process that will then conclude on 1 January 2008. I am a passionate supporter of Romanian and Bulgarian accession, but I believe that this is when we have the greatest leverage over political developments in those
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countries and, as the Commission's report has highlighted in sometimes chilling detail, there is a great deal to be done.
I urge hon. Members to look at page 7 of the report, which covers everything from the total lack of enforcement of animal welfare rules and the absence of the administrative capacity necessary to absorb EU structural and agricultural funds to the lack of the rule of law in dealing with corruption. It says of the latter:
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