|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I agree that human rights and the other issues raised by my hon. Friend must be at the top of the list. However, as a member of the all-party group of Bulgaria and a friend of the country, I believe that, like Romania, it needs to do far more on animal welfare. I raised that with the Bulgarian Prime Minister last Thursday, and I am glad that his Government are taking the subject far more seriously. People who visit Sofia are put off by the sight of bear baiting on the streets, which is something that one does not see in Prague.
Mr. Hands: That is correct. Animal welfare was covered by my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham and for Totnes (Mr. Steen), but my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) is right to say that it must conform to European standards.
Much has improved with regard to trafficking, although the situation is by no means perfect. To some extent Bulgaria in particular will always have a problem with trafficking, because it is directly on the route from the middle east and the near east into Europe, but more needs to be done.
In conclusion, these accessions will add another 30 million people to the EU. Compared to last year's accession states, Romania ranks second in size, after Poland. Romania and Bulgaria have been members of Partnership for Peace for about 11 years and are now members of NATO. We should welcome them warmly and try to bring them round to the British view of the EU as a looser collection of states whose relationship is characterised more by free trade than by federalised institutions.
1 Nov 2005 : Column 781
I am delighted that we are making good on the promises and pledges made by this country 15 years ago, including the promises and pledges made in the House in 1990. If democracy and free markets take root, Romania and Bulgaria must be welcome new members of the European Community. All of us who believe in these things should congratulate Romania and Bulgaria on their progress. We should urge further reforms, but warmly welcome the Bill.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Like hon. Members in all parts of the House, I warmly welcome the imminent accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. However, as a member of the all-party Romania group, I shall focus my remarks primarily on Romaniaand, indeed, on the Bill.
Romania and the part of the world I come from, north Wales, have remarkably long links. In 1890 Queen Elizabeth of Romania journeyed to Llandudno, where she set up her court for several months. As a consequence, several streets in that town were named after that event. There is a Roumania crescent, a Roumania avenue and also a Carmen Sylva drive. Since then there has been a great affinity between the people of north Wales and the people of Romania.
Of all the European nations in the 20th century, Romania may have been the unluckiest. The century started with a period of civil unrest and ended with the impoverished legacy of Ceausescu's bloody rule. In the interim there was the division of the country by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, followed by several decades under communism, and the more extreme form of communism exemplified by President Ceausescu. It is a credit to the people of Romania that despite their travails throughout the last century, they remain optimistic about their future and want to play their part as a western nation.
It is particularly to the credit of the Romanian people that they look beyond the confines of the EU and have recently become full members of NATO. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) expressed some concern about the presence of the Americans in Romania. I remind him that the Americans are also members of NATO. I believe that there is a delegation from America in Romania at present, looking to establish a NATO base near the Black sea.
There are admittedly real concerns overshadowing the proposed accession of Romania, especially with regard to the development of the economy, public health and corruption. For that reason a safeguard mechanism has been built into the treaty of accession. However, having spoken recently to Romanians, I know that there
1 Nov 2005 : Column 782
is great concern in Romania that the mechanism may be invoked to delay the country's accession by 12 months to 2008. I, for one, hope that that can be avoided.
Over the past 12 months, particularly since last December's elections, democracy in Romania has made significant strides forward. There is genuine enthusiasm for membership of the EU, which has complemented other political changes in the country. If the process of accession is delayed by 12 months, which may be the case under the terms of the safeguard mechanism, the political impetus that Romania has enjoyed over the past few months may be lost. I would be reluctant for anything to damage the enthusiasm that has built up over recent history in Romania.
Clearly, there are significant problems of corruption, which the Romanian authorities need to address, and under President Basescu they are doing so. It was pointed out by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) that those who take a more jaundiced view of the European project would regard it as ironic that an institution whose Court of Auditors has repeatedly for the past 10 years refused to sign off the annual accounts is so picky about corruption in Romania.
The enlargement of the EU to encompass Romania and Bulgaria should be welcomed. It amounts to a widening of Europe, rather than the deepening that was so decisively rejected by France and Holland earlier this year. It sends out a message that Romania and Bulgaria are part of the European family, and that the EU is moving towards the outward-looking association of nation states, which is as it should be. If the EU had been more outward looking over the past 15 years, the accession of Romania and other eastern European nations may have been accelerated.
The presence of Romania and Bulgaria within the body of NATO must also be welcome. Our security as a continent and our relative peace over the past half-century are attributable not only to the European Union, but to the strong and effective Atlantic alliance. NATO and the EU are not mutually exclusive organisations, as they are seen to be by some on the continent. European nations should play their part in wider international arrangements; they should not simply be subsumed into the rigid corpus of a European state.
In short, progress has already been made in Romania. Certainly, much more progress has to be made, but I am sure that the character of the Romanian people, which many speakers have touched on this afternoon, will prevail. The Romanians will play their full role as part of a Europe of independent nation states and as part of the stabilising political force of NATO. I welcome the Bill.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD):
I apologise to the House, especially those Members whose speeches I missed in my absence. I wrote to Mr. Speaker asking to take part in the debate, but was subsequently required to chair a Committee of the Houseironically, on the EU budget, which was interesting to say the least. I wrote to Members on both Front Benches and to my colleagues to tell them that I hoped to take part, and I was present for the opening
1 Nov 2005 : Column 783
speeches of both the Minister and the Opposition spokesman. I was pleased with the Minister's opening statement, namely, that he had fulfilled the ambitions and commitments that all of us feel, and that right back to 1990 UK Governments had supported the endeavour to bring Romania and also Bulgaria within the European family. I would be disappointed if that did not happen on 1 January 2007.
As the current chairman of the British-Romanian all-party group, I am proud to say that my association goes back to December 1989 when the revolution was taking place in Romania. I was there and I remember only too well the enthusiasm of some, the doubts of many, and the fear felt by much of the population about the possible repercussions of what they had started. It was not until a few months into 1990 that we began to realise that that fear had started to ebb away and was being replaced with hope and enthusiasm for that beautiful country, in terms of it developing to full maturity and giving its citizens the opportunity for a better life.
During the time that I have been a member of the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe I have been responsible for writing reports on Romania and Bulgaria, as well as other former Soviet states. I have written about corruption, about trafficking and about institutions. I know such institutions very well because I worked in asylums in Romania. I know what it is like to work with children and adults in long-stay institutionsyoung men and women whose only existence had been among some of the worst horrors one could ever imagine; which would put to shame any human being associated with them; and which would defy any possible description that I could give. Nobody could suggest that that was a right and fit way to treat any other human being.
During the 15 years that I have been a regular visitor to Romania and Bulgaria, enormous steps have been taken by the people of those countries. A year ago, I wrote a report for the Council of Europe about taking young children out of institutionalised care. The situation is not perfect by any means a lot still needs to be done. Having said that, I worked with children with disabilities in this country, and many of their parents told me that even here they struggled for 20 years or more to get proper recognition of children with disabilities. For a long time, the only solution was to put them in long-stay institutions. That took us up until the 1980s, when we started to think about care in the community without providing the resources to ensure that the community could properly care. It would not do justice to what has been achieved to expect the reversal of the horrors of Ceausescu, and for that matter what happened in similar institutions in Bulgaria, in a very short space of time with nowhere near the resources that we had. Staff have been trained, mentalities have been altered, and people in the community generally want to see children back where they belong, wherever possibleproperly supported in their families.
One of the failures of the past 15 years in both countries has been that of EU countries to support the political process within political parties. Politicians lived in the expectation that they would win the next election, but they had no chance of winning the one after that. It was a question of their getting power, then using and abusing it in the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of people would reject them at the next
1 Nov 2005 : Column 784
election. There was no consistency in working as opposition parties. The EU put little effort and few resources into stabilising the political processes in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Without that, democratic processes will always be subjected to abuse and failure.
Corruption is another problem in those countries. When the Romanian President was here last week for the Hampton Court meeting, I asked him whether the Romanian people were comfortable about the changes that were being proposed. He said that corruption will start to be proven to be dealt with when investors feel safe to invest in Romania and western countries and others invest large sums of money there without having to answer the niggling question of how much it will cost to get a particular deal. That process was started by former Prime Minister Nastase. I give credit to that Administration for doing two good things. First, they started properly to resource social care for children, albeit under a lot of pressure from the EU; and secondly, they tried to tackle corruption and create confidence in inward investment into Romania. The current Prime Minister and the Liberals are working hard to follow that commitment, and the current President is determined to make a great effort to try to pull off the coup of taking down someone in a position of power who is known to be corrupt. The willingness to find the necessary evidence to do that has not been there in the past, but now the challenge is starting to be addressed realistically, particularly in Romania.
My first drive in Romania was along the road from Brasov to Ploesti. The British and Americans bombed the city of Ploesti heavily in the second world war. Many of its people have unpleasant memories of horrendous bombing, day after day, night after night, in 1943 and 1944. When I stopped at the side of the road, I had never in my life seen such rich soil and agriculture. Romania has the largest cultivable space in Europe, bigger than Spain or even France4.5 million hectares of rich soil where one can grow virtually anything. It is amazing that such a rich country was destroyed so stupidly by politicians who did not have an inkling of what they could have done with those resources. The country went from being gold-rich to oil-rich to land-rich.
Many hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), talked about the character of the Romanian people. It is obvious to anyone who has been there that they have a resilience and a willingness to work hard and to try to make a success of their country. I am heartened by the fact that many of the people whom I met in 1989 and 1990, having left Romania, are now back there because they want to give their country some of the knowledge and opportunities that they have been granted elsewhere.
The same can be said of Bulgaria, where I recently wrote a report about children and trafficking. It is sickening to see any child who is exploited and trafficked. However, the situation has moved on considerably in 15 years. Over the past three or four years there has consistently been a willingness first, to admit to the problem, and secondly, to start to deliver some of the solutions. I am heartened by that response.
Countries such as Romania and Bulgaria have been under enormous pressure in relation to children being adopted by Americans and people from other countries who are in favour of international adoption. One
1 Nov 2005 : Column 785
hon. Member spoke about the problems involved in international adoption in countries in the EU, but that should not be happening. The people who are adopting those children are doing so illegally in Sweden, France and Germany, and perhaps even still in the UK. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham says from a sedentary position that the German Chancellor illegally adopted; I do not think that he did.
I, for one, am not completely opposed to international adoption. For some children, it will be their only opportunity to have a good lifethe sort of life that many of us have taken for granted. A ban on international adoption is not the answer. A ban on illegal international adoption without proper checks and balances, and without proper care being put into it, is part of the answer. What is really needed is for proper resources to be provided so that children can be cared for by families who are prepared to adopt inside these countries, but that has not been easy to achieve.
If we do not give Romania and Bulgaria the green light, we will disappoint countless millions of people in both countries. If Romania and Bulgaria are not granted accession to the EU, agricultural workers, steelworkers, the young unemployed and the elderly living on meagre pensions will pay the price. Those people need to be confident that, for the first time in most of their lifetimes, the political structures are in place to allow their countries to care for them properly, to give them a decent education and somewhere to live, to protect them when they are unhealthy and to provide them with an opportunity to fulfil their true potential. Those goals are idealistic, but young people in Romania say that that is what they will get out of joining the EU.
It is too easy for us to be too critical of both countries. The benchmark was set by the EU's acceptance of countries such as Latvia, which has more than 1 million non-citizens, and Slovakia, where the Roma people have encountered many difficultiesa blind eye has also been turned to the abuse of the Roma in countries such as the Czech Republic. It would be wrong to set the benchmark so high that it is impossible for Romania and Bulgaria to join.
As a democratic assembly, we must help to strengthen the political process in both countries and ensure that the EU properly examines the funds associated with the accession process. I have just chaired a Committee discussing the EU's forthcoming budget, in which one theme was the appalling way in which the EU currently deals with corruption within its own budgetary system. As other hon. Members have said, the EU's criticism is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The accession funds for Romania and Bulgaria are of critical importance to the people of those countries, and if they are squandered those countries and those peoples will suffer. While the Government have the EU presidency, I urge them to ensure that the monitoring process is rigidly adhered to and that the funds are properly monitored and directed in a way in which we can all be confident. Given the hundreds of millions of euros that are being put into those countries, it is strange that the EU offices in Bucharest and Sofia are
1 Nov 2005 : Column 786
conducting such limited scrutiny of the operation, and we need a greater understanding of why those funds must be focused in certain ways.
Anyone who has been to Romania in the past few months and visited the areas devastated by flooding will see that the infrastructure is shot. The situation is disastrous for the county councils and municipal authorities, which cannot recover. Those bodies will get some help from national Government and a trickle-down of help from the EU, but that is nothing like the resources that we should have been able to commit to put the infrastructure back together. The people who are living in tents in Transylvania and on the Moldovan border face a harsh winter because they have nowhere to live.
Earlier, hon. Members intervened on the Minister on the health issue. In London last week, the Romanian President gave an assurance that Romania is tackling it and delivering much-needed resources to combat the spread of bird flu. Anyone who has been in Romania in the past few weeks will have witnessed the measures that have been implemented, which are a credit to the country. However, anyone who has been to the beautiful Danube delta, which is inhabited by exotic birds at certain times of year, will know that it is an impossible task to trace every bird that dies from or becomes infected by avian flu.
Today, we have an opportunity to do the right thing by people who have had the wrong things done to them for too long. I applaud the Government's efforts in getting the legislation through this House and support wholeheartedly the Minister for Europe's determined effort to ensure that accession happens at the earliest opportunity and that no delays occur.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|