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Keith Vaz: Does the hon. Gentleman think that now is the time to get rid of the stereotypes that have somehow attached themselves to those who have come since 1 May 2004? They are in every profession and in every type of work in every part of the country, and we are glad that they are here, including the cousin of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski).
Angus Robertson : I am glad that we have in this country hard-working Poles who have come recently, along with those who came in previous generations. The impression of people in my constituency and elsewhere is that the Poles are hard working and law abiding. We should never shrink from reminding doubters about that.
The near neighbourhood policy has not yet been addressed, but it is of significance. The ripple effect of accession carries on into many countries. When I was based in Vienna in the mid 1990s I well remember the efforts of Alois Mock and Franz Vranitzky in moving Austria towards membership of the EU. That had a considerable impact throughout the wider Danube region. It was not confined to former communist countries thinking that they were on to a good thing. There was a general realisation that membership of the European Union was worth pursuing. I am disappointed by the Austrian Government's recent opposition to Turkish membership. It is ironic that one of the most vocal supporters of Turkish membership of the EU was none other than Jörg Haider. That might be a surprise to some.
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We need to understand that the EU is already looking at countries that are bordering on the accession states that we are discussing. In 2004, the launch of the near neighbourhood policy would have an impact on Ukraine and Moldova. A little later, a second round of the policy was launched, which would include the south CaucasusArmenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The policy does not mean that those different states will be able automatically to join the EU; it recognises the ripple effect that accession has as the EU moves further east, bringing benefits to trade, standards of governments, human rights, law, cross-border control, combating drugs and human trafficking and to fighting terrorism. We should never forget that all those things are part of the ripple effect of enlargement.
I have one minor criticism of those on the Government Front Bench, which I made in an intervention at the start of the debate. I was reminded of it when the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) arrived in the Chamber late because, as a fellow member of the European Scrutiny Committee, he had to attend a meeting with members of the European Parliament. When European business comes before the House, every effort should be made to co-ordinate so that Members of this place, such as the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Totnes and me, as members of the European Scrutiny Committee, are not put in an impossible position whereby we cannot attend important meetings. I hope that the Government will take that comment in the spirit in which it has been made.
The Minister for Europe will be aware of the irony, from my perspective and that of my hon. Friends, that we have been discussing the accession of 10 states, and the prospect of Bulgaria and Romaniaand, in time, Croatia and many others joining the EU when our historic nation, Scotland, is not in its rightful place at the top tables of Europe. If the benefits of membership are obvious for both the richer and the emerging economies, and for both larger and smaller countries, it is ironicthis will not be lost in time in the public consciousness in Scotlandthat Scotland is not part of an inward enlargement of the EU as well.
The Minister for Europe said in error at the start of the debate that there was tripartite support in the House for enlargement of the EU. Of course, he knows that the Scottish national party, Plaid Cymru and our Northern Irish colleagues support enlargement. I am not sure why he should ignore the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. Our parties will be delighted to support the Bill. I hope that it will not be forced to a vote. We shall be looking closely at what happens in Romania and Bulgaria to ensure that they make progress on their obligations in the years ahead. We hope that they can soon be part of the EU, and we wish them well.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con):
For the first time, under the Bill, the EU will reach the Black sea. For the first time, Greece will have an overland connection to the rest of the Community. This is not a tidying-up exercise; it is a significant expansion of the EU in its own right. I am delighted to be called to
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participate in the debate, because I have taken a strong personal interest in the affairs of both Romania and Bulgaria since my first visit to both countries in 1988 as a student. My recollections are similar to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski).
If I had been asked at that time how long it might take for those two countries to join the EEC, as it was then known, I would probably have said 15 to 20 years, and possibly longer for Romania. That has proved to be more or less correct. I am sure that the wait has been right for the EU, and that it has probably been helpful to Bulgaria and Romania.
I clearly recall my first visit to those countries in 1988, arriving at the Gare du Nord in Bucharest after a long slow train journey from Budapest. The journey was memorable for two thingspoverty and corruption. The Ceausescu regime was rampant, demolishing whole districts of Bucharest in the most controversial manner possible and creating agri-industrial complexes in the countryside. Today, such regimes exist only in North Korea or Zimbabwe, but the Ceausescu regime was in the premier league of tyranny. The poverty was incredible for a European country. Children begged at the side of the train for chewing gum, and even tourists had almost nothing to eat. I survived on tomatoes for an entire week, and gained the impression that a command economy was operating. The week after, people probably lived on cucumbers.
Corruption was evident as soon as I arrived at the border. The price of a visa was hiked up arbitrarily, from 40 Deutschmarks to $40, then to £40, because I was a UK citizen. I recall Romania as a beautiful but depressive and slightly volatile country. The only place to go in the capital at night was a rundown 1930s-style club called the Athenée Palast, which offered truly ghastly entertainment. I believe, however, it is the club mentioned by the late Alan Clark in an interesting passage in his diaries about his trip to Romania in the late 1980s. The people were naturally friendly but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, it was a country run by fear. It was significantly poorer than Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and even the Soviet Union.
The status of minorities was extremely bad. I spent one afternoon in Transylvania with an elderly ethnic German who had been given electrode treatment in the 1960s because of his views and ethnicity, and was in a sad state. The atmosphere was oppressive. The only bookshop that we saw was stocked entirely with the volumes of Elena Ceausescu. The wife of the hated dictator was a chemist who specialised, bizarrely, in plagiarising the works of other scientists, which she claimed as her own. The relief caused by the December revolution in Romania was palpable, and a few weeks afterwards I received a 17-page letter from a Romanian I had met describing the conversation that he wished he had had with me. For an MP, a 17-page letter is a nightmare, but it was a revelation to me as a student, because it was a moving personal testimony that described in detail the nightmare of a life wasted at the expense of communism.
Bulgaria was also in a bad way, suffering from a stagnant economy and the grim regime of Todor Zhivkov, a Brezhnev-like figure. It had forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Turks in a sad
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precursor to worse expulsions in the Balkans in the 1990s. Bulgaria was not subject to the obsessive and crazy schemes of Ceausescu. In fact, one of the Romanians' main grievances was their perception that they had fallen behind even Bulgaria. I returned to Romania in March 1990, when the revolution was only a few weeks old. The streets were filled with armoured cars, and it was still dangerous, with soldiers, paramilitaries and political activists all mixed together in a volatile atmosphere. Ironically, the "people's palace" that Ceausescu inhabited had just been opened up to the people, but the people did not like what they saw, and the experience evoked yet more hatred for the recently deceased dictator. The country was moving towards the leadership of the National Salvation Front, or FSN, and continuing single-party rule under Ion Iliescu. Many people simply wanted to leave, and I was almost crushed to death on the Bucharest to Timisoara train, which was full of people wanting to go to Belgrade before Yugoslavia introduced a new tougher visa regime for Romanian citizens. Only a few years later, of course, the flow was reversed.
Romania and Bulgaria have both had a tough passage since 1989. Fortunately, Britain has been a great friend to both of them since the beginning of democratisation. In researching my speech, I looked at the debates in the House in 1989 and 1990. I was struck by the speed of the Government's response under Margaret Thatcher. For example, in January 1990, they announced the setting-up of the know-how fund to use British expertise to advise public and private sectors in the emerging democracies such as Romania and Bulgaria. Possible membership of the European Community was first mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), the present chairman of the Conservative party, in the House on 31 January 1990.
Both Bulgaria and Romania have made huge progress in the 15 years since. They are not fashionable parts of eastern Europe, and they do not have any cities as picturesque as Prague. Unlike Poland, they have not produced a powerful diaspora, and they lack geographical immediacy. Neither of them has ever been a democracy, in contrast to Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the 1930s. Throughout the first part of the 1990s, Bulgaria was wracked by political instability and strikes. The former communists remained a powerful influence. Although the end of the decade was more stable, there was little tangible progress in economic reform until the arrival of the Simeon Government in 2001. King Simeon's Government deserve to be thanked and acknowledged. A student whom I employed and helped to train on Wall Street in 1993 went on to become Deputy Finance Minister in that Government in 2001, so in a small way I can say that I helped.
Romania, too, has suffered from long bouts of instability, poorly executed reforms and so on. In the early 1990s, as hon. Members have said, the country grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons because of its treatment of children, especially orphans. Crucially, both countries could have gone down the route to demagoguery, as happened in nearby Belgrade and, to some extent, Zagreb, but they wisely chose not to do so. Both were damaged economically by the sanctions on YugoslaviaBulgaria was even hit by a cruise missileand both helped us out in Iraq. The
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political leaders and the peoples of the two countries deserve to be congratulated on the progress that they have made in those 15 years. We are grateful for the support they have given us on issues important to the United Kingdom.
Significant problems remain, and I shall address them briefly, as other hon. Members have already discussed them. First, corruption needs to be reduced. When I visited Sofia in 1996, gangster culture and Government corruption were very much in evidence. I met a man who said that he ran Sofia airport. He said that the Americans were terrible at business, because they would not pay the price necessary to secure a contract. He contrasted their approach to business with that of the Germans and Italians, so it was an enlightening conversation. Corruption is still in evidence, and it is probably worse than it is in the 10 countries that joined the EU in the past year. However, it has been reduced significantly in the past 10 years, which is an encouraging trend.
Secondly, as has been said, efforts must be made to continue to improve the status of minorities, notably the Hungarian minority in Romania, the Roma in Bulgaria and Romania, the few remaining Germans in Romania, the Turks in Bulgaria, and the Vlachs in Romania. Those minorities add a great deal to the culture of those countries. Thirdly, we must accelerate progress on free market reforms. Fourthly, progress should be made in reducing violent crime, especially in Bulgaria, which has suffered from assassinations. Finally, both states must boost co-operation with the west on issues such as drugs and people trafficking.
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