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Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

EU Enlargement: Bulgaria and Romania



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Nicholas Winterton
Blunkett, Mr. David (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab)
Brady, Mr. Graham (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Hoon, Mr. Geoffrey (Minister for Europe)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)
Main, Anne (St. Albans) (Con)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton, South) (Lab)
Younger-Ross, Richard (Teignbridge) (LD)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(5):
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)

European Standing Committee

Monday 15 January 2007

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

EU Enlargement: Bulgaria and Romania

4.30 pm
The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I want particularly to welcome the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside. I hope that he enjoys this experience, and if he wishes to participate I shall be even happier. Can I say to the Minister that statements should be factual, and that if they take any longer than 10 minutes I shall show my impatience.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): After a warning like that, Sir Nicholas, I am delighted to be able to introduce this European Standing Committee debate on European Union enlargement. I am particularly pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside in his place on the Government Benches. I invited him to see whether he had a good book to read but, knowing my right hon. Friend, he could probably write one in the course of this debate.
I am grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee for providing the opportunity to discuss this important and high-profile issue. The Scrutiny Committees have made a series of excellent contributions to the enlargement debate.
All too often, this debate is presented as a problemin need of a solution—in the most extreme case, slamming shut and bolting the doors against all countries asking to join. Rather, I would argue that the documents before us show that enlargement is part of the solution to the many challenges that we face.
The strategic challenges facing the European Union today are numerous. They range from the economic tests of increasing global competition from Asia and the insecurity of our energy supplies to the global political problems in the middle east and the need to tackle drugs, organised crime and illegal migration. EU enlargement is one of our most effective responses to those challenges. It is a reinvigorating force to the economies of Europe, as shown in the Commission’s strategy paper. Each joining country provides us with new jobs, new markets and new opportunities for investment. The enlargements of 2004 and 2007 have added more than 100 million consumers, making the EU the world’s largest single market, and the economies and workers of the new members are boosting growth across Europe.
The Commission’s monitoring reports show that both Romania and Bulgaria have made dramatic progress since the European Union invited them to join in 1999. They have free media, hold free and fair elections and benefit from thriving civil societies. Economic growth has recently averaged 5 per cent. a year, unemployment is falling, inflation is low and standards of living are dramatically improved. That is good for all of us: UK exports to Romania have trebled in a decade and our exports to Bulgaria were up by41 per cent. last year. Better governance and a stronger judiciary make our investments in both countries less risky, more transparent and more competitive.
That is not to suggest that EU enlargement is an easy or automatic process. Romania and Bulgaria still have some way to go in strengthening the rule of law and tackling corruption and organised crime. Indeed, enlarging the European Union to those two countries—and, before them, to the 10 new member states that joined in 2004—has allowed us to improve the quality of the process of enlargement. The requirements for joining the EU are more rigorous and more carefully monitored than ever before—[Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. I did not hear that, but I do deprecate mobile phones that might ring, whoever’s pocket they might ring in.
Mr. Hoon: It was not mine, Sir Nicholas.
Those are also, of course, the requirements facing Turkey and Croatia. The strategic case for enlarging to the current candidate countries and for keeping the door open to other European neighbours remains as powerful as ever. Those countries will be our neighbours and will play a pivotal role in our futures whatever decisions Europe makes. Our choice is what that role will be. It is in all our interests that they become closer, stronger, richer, more reliable allies. That being the case, it would seem foolish in the extreme to turn our backs on one of the best and most proven ways that we have of ensuring that outcome. The prospect of EU enlargement is probably the most powerful example of so-called “soft power” available to any country or international organisation in the world.
Take the Balkans. They have been, in all too recent history, a crucible of violence and instability in the heart of Europe. Indeed, there are still significant EU and NATO forces in the region. We have, therefore, a direct interest in preventing any re-emergence of Balkan insecurity, and in encouraging the countries of the region further down the path of political and economic reform. While there is more for them to do, the Commission’s monitoring reports for those countries show how the prospect of EU enlargement has been crucial in encouraging them to make reforms and to move away from instability.
Croatia is another significant example: it is making the necessary reforms and has low inflation, a stable currency and rapid economic growth. It has bright, hard-working young people and strong scientific credentials and it is taking on international responsibilities, for example, by sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan and working with the British police, among others, to fight drug smuggling and money laundering. If you want to see how far Croatia has come, Sir Nicholas, it is worth noting that, although it is little more than a decade since an extremely destructive war, more than 250,000 British tourists each year choose to go there on holiday. Of course, Croatia must meet more conditions, particularly on the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, but it is on the right path because of the prospect of enlargement.
It is worth speaking plainly at this point. There are some in Europe who have no problem with Croatia joining the European Union but have a real problem with Turkey joining. However, the strategic case for Turkish membership is at least as compelling as that for any other country, or arguably more so. Turkey could play an immensely positive role in tackling the challenges facing the EU. It has a dynamic economy, it is already a major transit country for oil and gas and it is set to be a crucial energy corridor into Europe. It has a network of relationships with countries in the middle east, including Syria and Iran, that no current EU member state can match. It has a young and increasingly educated work force and larger armed forces than any other European country, and it has shown that it can deliver successes by working with us on tackling terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration and trafficking. Perhaps most strikingly of all, at a time when some people are peddling the idea of an inevitable clash of civilisations, it is an immensely powerful symbol that European values can be Muslim values and vice versa.
There is an argument that, since we are already working so well with many of the countries that want to join the European Union, we do not need to follow through on our promises of enlargement, or to keep open the prospect of further enlargement. That is both dangerous and short-sighted. The foundation of the EU’s extraordinary “soft power” and the reason why it has transformed the world around it more than any other international organisation has been the prospect of full membership. To offer Turkey, Croatia and the countries of the western Balkans anything else would be to go back on our word. To encourage other countries down the right road, which is in their interest and ours, we cannot rule out their getting where they want to be. I therefore wish briefly to address the European neighbourhood policy.
The ENP is a positive way to promote reform, democracy and prosperity for the EU’s neighbours, and it is already starting to deliver results. Ukraine’s ENP action plan, for example, has given it a clear set of priorities to help it to make progress towards EU integration. It has helped it to achieve accession to the World Trade Organisation, free and fair parliamentary elections in 2006, the establishment of a free media and enhanced co-operation in the common neighbourhood, including the EU border assistance mission on the border with Moldova.
Ukraine’s neighbour Belarus does not yet have an action plan under the ENP umbrella, but the framework of the ENP has made it much more plausible for the EU to set out an offer of closer engagement that will be open to Belarus if it improves its standards of human rights and democracy.
To the south, the implementation of the action plan in Israel has paved the way for significant development in EU-Israel co-operation on political dialogue, the promotion of trade and investment, justice and security, science and technology, including space co-operation, and higher education. The process of implementing the action plan has helped better to define the framework of EU-Israel relations and enabled the deepening and strengthening of co-operation on a wide spectrum of matters. Those are just a few examples of the ENP already acting as a driver of change and it can be developed further to provide stronger reform objectives. In that light, the European Commission’s proposals to strengthen it should be welcomed, and we will offer our support for increasing the incentives for reform.
I look forward to answering Members’ questions and hearing their contributions to the debate.
The Chairman: Before we move to Question Time, I will mention that I saw some concern and confusion in the eyes of some Members when the Minister mentioned other countries in his opening statement. While the monitoring report relates specifically to Bulgaria and Romania, the issue of accession preparedness concerns future applicants. A wider debate on future EU enlargement would therefore be appropriate both during questions and in the debate to follow.
We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that they should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions if that is their wish.
Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I would like to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your vigilant eye, Sir Nicholas, and on this occasion, your vigilant ear: I apologise for the interruption of the mobile phone. I hope that your sagacity spreads to my right hon. Friend the Minister when he attempts to answer our questions.
My question is rather simple. Four areas of concern have been expressed with regard to Romania and six of major concern with regard to Bulgaria. When one looks at the reports on the western Balkan nations, one will see that the same areas crop up time and again: corruption, crime, money laundering, people smuggling and so on. The monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania mentions that there will be post-accession mechanisms to ensure that those countries are meeting their obligations. Will the Minister expand on those mechanisms and how they will mitigate the damage that could be done? We must bear it in mind that, if we do not have the mechanisms to examine structural funds, for example, and to ensure that, in a corrupt environment, they are properly spent, it is certain that the British taxpayer, among other European Union taxpayers, will be ripped off.
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right to raise such concerns. They have been present throughout the negotiations on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria. It was judged that progress had been made, sufficient to allow both countries to join the EU on 1 January this year. That was subject to certain conditions, most notably relating to justice and some aspects of internal policy, particularly the policing of corruption. Those conditions will require rigorous post-accession monitoring to ensure that Bulgaria and Romania continue to make progress. We have learnt from previous accessions that countries have made an enormous effort up to the point at which they have joined the EU, but collapsed in a heap thereafter like a successful long-distance runner, and failed to continue the process. The purpose of the rules was to require Romania and Bulgaria to continue to reform their legal processes once they became full members. The conditions will allow us to supervise their progress, with the possibility of financial consequences if the countries do not make the required improvements and reforms.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s remarks; the subject of enlargement is one of the few areas in which there is an outbreak of harmony between the Government and the Opposition in these exchanges.
Given that some of the principal concerns about Bulgaria and Romania relate to the adequacy of their justice, home affairs and policing, what assurance can the Minister give that adequate measures are in place to ensure that any criminal records of Bulgarian or Romanian citizens who enter the UK will be made available to UK authorities? More topically, is he confident that adequate measures are in place to inform in full the UK authorities of any criminal offences committed by UK citizens in Romania or Bulgaria?
Mr. Hoon: I am always pleased to discover that there is agreement between the two Front-Bench teams. I slightly question the extent to which we agree on enlargement, because unfortunately we are unsure what is on offer from the Conservatives. When the hon. Gentleman goes to other countries that are planning to apply to join the EU, I am not clear what he is offering them, because we have no idea what kind of—
The Chairman: Order. I am not liking the way in which the Minister is answering. Will he concentrate upon the question, which relates to the motion?
Mr. Hoon: I would like to point out that, although the hon. Gentleman supports the idea of enlargement, he does not make clear what exactly he is offering to a candidate country. It is not clear what the Conservative party’s policy is on the shape and direction of the European Union.
The Chairman: Order I am not going to have it from the Minister. He must not talk about Opposition policy. He must deal with the question which relates to the motion on which we are questioning him.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry, Sir Nicholas. No one else is talking about the Opposition’s policy, so I thought I might.
The Chairman: Not under my chairmanship.
Mr. Hoon: As far as the question of criminal records is concerned, it is vital that we improve the co-operation between member states. There must be an exchange of information in both directions, which I think was the point of the hon. Gentleman’s question, so that information about the criminal records of UK subjects held in Bulgaria or Romania is passed to the United Kingdom and vice versa. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department will ensure that that is carried through.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister for answering the question in so far as he did. Can he give the Committee an assurance that these matters were addressed prior to accession on 1 January?
Mr. Hoon: All right hon. and hon. Members are aware of the current issues in the Home Office. I made it clear that the ambition of the Home Office is obviously to ensure that the information is collated, recorded and available.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I am surprised that the Minister decided to refer to the Conservative policy on Europe, because I did not think that they had one to debate. [ Interruption. ] The European Scrutiny Committee’s 38th report, Session 2005-06, which is attached at the front of our papers, lists on pages 18 and 19 a long series of Government concerns about Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU. Were the Government in favour of them joining on1 January this year, or did they support the idea that that enlargement should have been deferred by a year, as was possible?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that it is necessary for all existing member states to support an application for a candidate country before that country can join. Clearly, the United Kingdom supported the applications of Romania and Bulgaria, subject to the kinds of safeguards that I have been setting out. It is particularly important in the justice and home affairs area that Romania and Bulgaria should continue to make progress.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to serve on a Committee that you are chairing, Sir Nicholas.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks about enlargement. I look forward very definitely to Britain gaining the benefits from Romania and Bulgaria having full membership. First, can he confirm that, to achieve full membership, those two countries must also be members of NATO? As members of NATO, they have to use up a percentage of their gross domestic product to develop an armed force. Is that still the case? Secondly, however we measure it, they are poor countries. Would it not be more sensible for them to spend their GDP elsewhere, rather than use it to develop their armed forces?
Mr. Hoon: On the benefits to the UK, it is often assumed in these debates that existing members of the European Union are somehow doing a favour to candidate countries by agreeing that they should be able to join. It is quite interesting to look at trade between newly joined countries and existing members. Very often the benefit is entirely for the existing members. Certainly, the UK has benefited enormously through its exports to the newest member states. There are real benefits to new member states as well as to existing member states from enlargement.
Both Romania and Bulgaria are members of NATO, and they clearly have obligations under that treaty. I will, I am sure, risk the wrath of the Chairman if I spend too much time talking about that. However, one advantage of joining the EU for those two countries is that they will become part of European security and defence policy. They will have the opportunity to participate co-operatively in the development of their armed forces. One of the significant contributions that the EU has made to the development of military capability in Europe is by emphasising the necessity for that military contribution to be complementary, rather than simply having countries developing their armed forces solely in the interests of their own national sensitivities. As Romania and Bulgaria become fully integrated into the process of developing European armed forces, it may well prove to be the case that they will spend the same amount on their military—we would hope so—but that they will do so more effectively, because they will identify shortfalls in European military capability. We hope that they will fill those gaps.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): May I first welcome the Minister to this Standing Committee? I am a member of the European Scrutiny Committee and have a particular interest in Romania and Bulgaria. My experience of the Commission in both Romania and Bulgaria is that it has been very good, very skilled and extremely professional in how it has addressed the issue of Romania and Bulgaria coming into the European Union. I welcome and support that. However, it is clear that the number of Commission officials in both Bulgaria and Romania after succession will virtually collapse—there will be virtually none. Will the Minister make inquiries and satisfy himself that there is enough Commission presence in both Romania and Bulgaria to ensure that the issues about which the EU countries were concerned are addressed? My impression is that nobody is going to know.
Mr. Hoon: I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will not be the case, but he is right that, inevitably, as countries approach the point at which they become full members, there is a requirement for monitoring, advice, assistance and expertise. I am grateful to him for the positive way in which he has viewed the role of the European Commission. I do not have figures to hand on how many Commission officials are likely to be there now, following membership. However, there will be a continuing role for the Commission to monitor the progress that countries have made. The United Kingdom will also offer help and expertise, as will other countries, particularly in the judicial area. I am shortly going to visit Bulgaria and Romania, and that is such a good point that I shall certainly raise it with those countries.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): When the European Union expanded from 15 to 25 member states, the Government, infamously, dramatically under-predicted the number of citizens, particularly Polish citizens, who would choose to reside here in the United Kingdom. During his conversations with the Home Office on other, perhaps even more topical matters, has the Minister satisfied himself that the Government have made an accurate assessment of the number of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who are likely, as of 1 January this year, to wish to reside in the United Kingdom? Furthermore, is he satisfied that the restrictions, announced by the Home Office, on the ability of those people to work in the United Kingdom are likely to deter people from Romania and Bulgaria—if that is his objective—and to what extent?
To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, the Government have learned their lesson and we shall not rely to the same extent on those kinds of independent survey. There is no evidence so far—obviously it is early days in 2007—that large numbers of people are coming from Romania or Bulgaria to reside here permanently. To that extent, the Home Office restrictions have clearly been successful so far.
Mr. Kilfoyle: In response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South, the Minister made much of the potential for change in the attitude of the armed forces in Bulgaria and Romania. Does he agree that, if that change were to take place, those countries should consider peacemaking and peacekeeping, rather than war-making, as a guiding ethos in their armed forces? Is he aware of the controversy in Bulgaria over the past couple of years about British Aerospace’s alleged dealings with a member of the former Bulgarian royal family?
Mr. Hoon: The reform of the armed forces in Romania and Bulgaria began long before they joined the EU, because they were required to reorganise them significantly to meet their responsibilities as full members of NATO, so there is no doubt that that process is well under way. I simply highlighted a mechanism whereby that reform can be tailored in light of the Helsinki headline goal and the importance of European countries developing complementary forces to fill the clear gaps in their overall capabilities.
On the BAE Systems allegations, I am not sure that it would be wise or sensible for me to comment at this stage.
Mr. Brady: I return to the movement of people. The Minister gives some assurance that the numbers have not been great so far, although he admits that it is early days. Will he give an indication of the numbers arriving and registering to work in permitted occupations and categories? Given the widespread reports, which he believes it to be wrong, about restricting the employment opportunities of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens and given that he was subsequently reported to have indicated to Members of the European Parliament, who were observers from the two countries, that the restrictions might end sooner than was previously understood, will he shed some light on the likely timetable for the review and lifting of those restrictions? Does he think that the case for doing so is now stronger because there has not been a large influx of people seeking residency here?
The Government made it clear that we would review the operation of the schemes after a year—we announced that publicly—and that we would fix the quota at 19,750 people. If he wants a specific number, I can tell him that no more than 19,750 people will come from Romania and Bulgaria to engage in unskilled work. That is the most sensible way to deal with the issue. The arrangements were fixed in light of experience from the numbers that come, representations from employers and our assessment of the employment situation in the UK, and we will consider them a year on.
Richard Younger-Ross: On immigrant labour, considering the hypocrisy reported in the papers that even companies that support the United Kingdom Independence party are happy to employ immigrant labour from Poland, could the Minister enlighten us on the emigration pattern from Bulgaria and Romania? Is the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office view that there will be more emigration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK or to other parts of Europe?
Mr. Hoon: Clearly, the free movement rules will ultimately allow citizens of all EU member states to move freely. For the reason to which I alluded earlier, the pattern so far has been that people from Poland have tended, perhaps disproportionately, to come to the United Kingdom, rather than to go to other countries. My suspicion is that that is because there is a substantial Polish population in the UK, dating from the second world war. Many young people, in particular, have taken the opportunity to visit distant family and to remain here for a period to work.
It is possible to look at what happened before Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, and the pattern so far seems to suggest that people from those countries prefer to go to warmer countries than the United Kingdom. I put that as delicately as I can in the age of concern about global warming.
Ms Taylor: I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend’s responses to concerns about the movement of people and the potential that we might have for placing restrictions. Without meaning to tease too much, I ask him to accept that Polish builders are held in very high esteem and are in great demand in the UK today. I should like to persuade him not to consider restrictions but to look at opportunities for the countries of Romania and Bulgaria. I hope that he will take seriously my suggestion that we should supply them with a list of shortages of skills and professions and persuade those people that they would be warmly welcomed here. They would most certainly be warmly welcomed in Stockton.
Mr. Hoon: I will take note of my hon. Friend’s point. Similar representations have been made to me by companies in my constituency. As I carefully consider these issues and reflect upon the various arguments that have been made, I will remind myself of my hon. Friend’s observations.
Mr. Brady: The Minister may even be persuaded in due course. He was touched by my naïve attachment to the reports carried by various Romanian news agencies.
Mr. Hoon: I was touched by your support for their translation.
Mr. Brady: Translation would be very welcome. The Minister will be aware of concerns that the border between Moldova and Romania could be porous and that a large number of Moldovan citizens might have a right to a Romanian passport. That is one of the concerns that was raised in the context of possible onward travel to other countries in the European Union. Can the Minister update the Committee on whether there is any evidence of such applications being made by Moldovan citizens?
Mr. Hoon: I am not aware of any evidence. The consequence of enlargement in a general sense is that the external frontier of the European Union is extended. Obviously, that includes the frontier between Romania and Moldova, which is an important EU frontier, and the issue was raised with Romania to ensure the security of what has now become the EU’s external frontier.
Several hon. Members rose—
The Chairman: Richard Younger-Ross caught my eye first.
Richard Younger-Ross: At present, rightly, there are import restrictions on pig and cattle produce from the two countries we are talking about because of the presence of swine fever and transmittable spongiforms and encephalopathies. Has the Minister been advised how long those restrictions are likely to remain in place, and how long it is going to take Bulgaria and Romania to get rid of those two diseases? What will the UK do to ensure that the Commission takes the right decision on whether to allow exports of those products from Bulgaria and Romania?
Mr. Hoon: The Commission has proposed measures to safeguard the internal market in certain areas related to food safety. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s first question is, “As long as it takes.” The UK will support any measure designed to protect the internal market, and particularly consumers in the UK.
Mr. Steen: I might be able to help the Minister with the question he was asked on Moldova. There are 70,000 Moldovans who are entitled to come into Romania and into the EU because they have a parent who is Romanian. The other figure—the scare figure—is 700,000, but I gather that 70,000 passports have been granted that will give joint rights, so there is potential for 70,000 Moldovans to enter Romania.
The second issue on which I should like to help the Minister is the Poles. Without Polish dentists, the teeth of most people in my constituency would be falling out. We can only find Polish dentists to fill the places.
The Chairman: Order. Is that a question?
Mr. Steen: No, but I am coming on to that.
The Chairman: I have to say to Committee members that this particular period of the debate is for questions. I shall take it that it was a question.
Mr. Steen: No, it was not.
The Chairman: I shall take it that you were asking the Minister to confirm the statement that you were making.
Mr. Hoon: I am always grateful for information. Of course, it is not for me to comment on the processes whereby other countries determine entitlement to nationality. Clearly, however, in the case of a child born in the UK of a relationship between, say, someone in France and someone in the UK, there would have to be a process for determining both their nationality and their entitlement to a passport from different member states. In practice, the situation in Romania is probably not much different from that in other parts of the EU. I shall resist the temptation to talk about gaps in our dental service.
Mr. Browne: There are now 27 EU members—more than double the number when the UK joined. In his opening remarks, the Minister mentioned other potential members including Croatia and Turkey. Will he give a value for the number of member states thathe envisages for the future and will he say what implications that figure will have for the administrative and organisation mechanisms of the EU? Will it require the proposed constitution to be returned in the near future in amended form?
Mr. Hoon: I do not think that it is sensible to talk about a specific target or numbers. It is clear Government policy, and it is important, that we leave the door open. It is vital for the western Balkans and for Turkey that there is the prospect of them joining the EU—it drives change in those countries and it is in EU interests, for the strategic reasons that I have set out. I do not wish to state a number for future members, not least because that might indicate a sense in which the door is closing.
It has followed from all previous enlargements that in order to ensure that the EU, as it grows, can take efficient decisions, it must necessarily reform its decision-making processes. That was anticipated in the most recent enlargements and it would be anticipated if we assume that Croatia joined the EU in due course. It has been a constant process, but that says nothing about the constitutional treaty, because we must find a way forward on the elements of the treaty that may be brought into force. That can be done only by agreement between all member states. We must emphasise the need for effective decision making in the European Union as it grows. That has always been an issue to consider, which will not change as a result of the most recent enlargement.
Richard Younger-Ross: Further to that point, many countries that wish to join have supporters within the EU. It strikes me that we will be at a point of potential enlargement for ever and a day because there will always be some other place that has someone in the EU wishing to support its membership and uses that as a bargaining position. For instance a country might say, “We will support Turkey joining the EU if you support us.” That would be the worst of all worlds in how the EU is formed. Would it not be better for the EU to determine what its boundaries ought to be in a set period of time so that we have some idea of its future shape and form?
Mr. Hoon: We do have an idea of that, because we call it the European Union. We have a sense of what Europe is and its limits. We do not need to go further than that at this stage, for the reasons that I have set out. If we were to place an artificial limit on the size and shape of the EU, what message would that send to the countries of the western Balkans, for example? I do not suggest for a moment that all those countries are ready to join, but the prospect of becoming full members one day is driving change. They are clearly part of Europe and we have deployed our troops in recent years to preserve human rights there. Many European troops are still there, including British troops. It would be foolish artificially to prevent those countries from continuing the process of reform and change or from one day joining the European Union.
Richard Younger-Ross: The Balkan states are clearly within Europe, but some people would argue that should Ukraine and Belarus comply, they also ought to be in the EU. Is the Minister saying that Ukraine and Belarus could one day become part of the EU?
Mr. Hoon: I am not ruling it out, but it is clearly not going to happen any time soon. It is not on the horizon at the moment, and both those countries need to engage in the type of reforms and changes that we have seen in other former members of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw pact. Such changes have had an enormous impact on the rule of law, human rights, democracy and the creation of market economies. The European Union has not been given sufficient credit for the fact that the prospect of membership has driven change in the countries involved, and I do not believe that we should take that prospect away from countries engaged in the difficult process of reforming their constitutional arrangements.
Mr. Kilfoyle: In answer to a question asked a moment ago my right hon. Friend the Minister gave me the impression that he does not believe that we should attempt to pre-determine the boundaries or shape of Europe, which is sensible, but also that we have a consistent approach towards enlargement. I suggest that that is not the case, and I return to my original question about the post-accession arrangements mentioned in the reports. Are not those new mechanisms intended to deal with the specific circumstances in Bulgaria and Romania, and is there not a danger that Europe will give the impression of making it up as it goes along?
Mr. Hoon: I said in my opening statement that the enlargement process is more rigorous than ever, partly in response to the criticism that the EU has been enlarged at an unseemly and unreasonable rate. The approach taken by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers was to ensure not only that Romania and Bulgaria continued the reform process up to the point of joining but that it should continue thereafter on matters on which we continue to have concerns. That is a sensible reflection of experience and a way forward for Romania, Bulgaria and perhaps other countries that will join in the future.
Mr. Steen: The question that I was going to ask a while ago was of a serious nature. There is a great deal of concern across the country about not just the number of people who might come in but police corruption, the trafficking of human beings and the sheer scale of the problem. I have had the good fortune of spending a little time in Bulgaria and Romania. There is no doubt that there are large organised gangs of corrupt and evil people who are trafficking people—
The Chairman: Will this be a question or would it perhaps be better incorporated into the debate which will take place shortly?
Mr. Steen: No, it is a question, Sir Nicholas. I can assure you that that was a preamble and the question follows closely behind. Is the Minister aware of the scale of the criminal activities, which is far worse in Bulgaria than in Romania? Is he also aware that no prosecutions of any criminals concerned with corruption at the highest level have taken place in either country? Will he raise the continued concern of the British public about the trafficking of peopleand the corruption of the politicians and the police force?
Mr. Hoon: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read some of the Commission’s documents in preparation for these countries joining the EU. Those were among the issues set out as areas of concern. The whole point of post-membership monitoring was to ensure that the progress that Romania and Bulgaria had made was continued and there was no setback in their efforts.
There have been some improvements in Bulgaria. It is no longer strictly true to say that there have been no prosecutions. I would accept it if the hon. Gentleman had said that there have not been enough prosecutions. We want to see the progress continuing, particularly the reform of Bulgaria’s justice system. We want to see more prosecutions for high-level organised criminal gangs, people trafficking, drugs smuggling, money laundering, counterfeiting documents and the range of issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
Similarly there are efforts that we should like to see Romania make to strengthen its justice system further. Indeed, we have offered some assistance in that respect. These are issues that have been closely followed and tracked by the European Commission. I want to emphasise that Romania and Bulgaria have made significant progress in all of these areas. We simply want to see that progress continuing and made more effective.
Mr. Brady: The Minister was clear that he would like to see further institutional change prior to future accessions to the European Union. Will he be equally clear in stating the Government’s view—I hope that it is their view, because we would share it—that further enlargement could take place without new institutional arrangements being put in place?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman tends to mislead the Committee about what I said. I did not say that it was necessary that there should be institutional change prior to further accession. I indicated that the experience of the EU over a long period, as it has enlarged and expanded, has been that institutional change has been necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and I agree, as he is such an enthusiast for the Government’s policy on enlargement, that institutional change is necessary to ensure that the EU can continue to be effective, can take the right decisions and can safeguard the interests of its citizens. I know that in the course of the debate that will follow, Sir Nicholas, you will encourage the Opposition spokesman to enlarge upon the Opposition’s policies.
The Chairman: I like to be hands on, but I do not have the authority to encourage any spokesman, either for the Government or the Opposition.
Mr. Brady: If I may pursue that point a little further, I think the Minister was approaching the critical point, but stalled somewhere along the way. I was hoping that he would say that further enlargement can take place without further institutional reform.
Mr. Hoon: It goes without saying that enlargement could take place without further institutional reform. The question that the European Union will have to face up to, as would any serious political party wishing to engage in this debate, is whether and to what extent the European Union could be effective in taking decisions if it had not taken the necessary institutional measures to safeguard the efficiency of its decision-making processes.
Mr. Browne: Will the number of United Kingdom MEPs reduce as a result of Bulgarian and Romanian accession and, if so, by how many?
Mr. Hoon: Those decisions were taken in anticipation of Romania and Bulgaria joining.
Mr. Steen: May I suggest that, if the Minister goes to Bulgaria, he visit the chief prosecutor and discuss with him how effective he has been able to be; and if he has time when he goes to Romania, that he ask to see a Romany village or town, because the 2.8 million Romanies in Romania and the 1.8 million in Bulgaria are among the poorest people in Europe. He ought to get a feeling of the problems that they suffer.
Mr. Hoon: I shall ask my diary secretary to contact the hon. Gentleman for details.
Richard Younger-Ross: Could the Minister expand on what institutional change the Government would support with regard to expansion? For instance, will they support the passerelle on reform of the judicial system?
Mr. Hoon: The Government are considering a range of measures. It is important that we keep under review the EU decision-making process. Our view is not fixed because, clearly, it is important that it should evolve in light of European Union enlargement. Changes are necessary—the hon. Member for Taunton indicated one area—if the size of the European Parliament is not to become completely unmanageable. Over the years, member states have reduced their number of MEPs to allow for representation from new member states. Similar issues are being debated with regard to the size of the European Commission and, because of pre-existing rules, the issue might have to be considered further. The process of qualified majority voting has caused UK Governments considerable difficulty in the past as they have struggled to reconcile their views—I should not say prejudices—with reality. All those are issues that inevitably flow from the enlargement of the European Union.
Mr. Steen: I would like to ask the Minister about a matter that I want to get clear in my mind. I know that—through the Serious Organised Crime Agency and other organisations—there are good working relationships between the British Government and the Romanians with regard to information on trafficking and the sharing of information on other criminal matters, and that we have sent people from the Home Office and the police over to Romania. What I am not clear about is whether, when an EU citizen comes into Britain through passport control, the immigration officer has any information about his criminal convictions and past if he is from one of the 26 European countries other than Romania. If somebody has a criminal conviction in Belgium or Italy, will the immigration officer know, because of the communication between Britain and Italy, or is it only Romania that has such DNA, photo identity and fingerprint profiles?
Mr. Hoon: Clearly, the process is developing. The more information that is exchanged between member states about those engaged in serious criminal activity, the better. As I indicated earlier, the position of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is that we should go on developing the ability to exchange up-to-date and accurate information. The answer would depend on the level of criminality of the individual concerned. The particular criminal in question, whatever member state he or she comes from, might have a substantial file that will be passed around depending on the nature of the information and the activities in which that person is engaged. Obviously, it is the ambition of European countries to improve that exchange of information and to do so as quickly as possible.
Mr. Brady: Looking at the future enlargements that we hope will take place, does the Minister believe that a precedent has been set by the establishment of the post-accession monitoring regime? Will it be something that any future accession country will have go through, or will it be specific to certain countries, depending on their level of achievement and performance by the date of accession?
Mr. Hoon: I do not want to suggest that the policy has necessarily set a precedent, but I hope that my remarks have shown that it is a valuable means for ensuring that the process of reform continues through the precise date of accession and into the early period of a country’s membership of the European Union. I do not want to anticipate the next country to join the European Union; it may negotiate such a spectacular process and achieve all the reforms that are required of it well before the date, so that such safeguards are unnecessary. However, as I have emphasised more than once, the process today is more rigorous that it has ever been. An example of that rigour is post-accession monitoring. That valuable tool can be used in the future to ensure that the process of reform and change continues.
Mr. Browne: On a different subject, both Romania and Bulgaria are regarded as having less progressive views towards people with mental health problems and disabilities than is the case elsewhere in the European Union. Will the Minister use his office and our embassies in both countries to put pressure on the Governments in both states to improve the conditions for people who suffer in that way?
Mr. Hoon: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that pressure is necessary. One of the consequences of the accession negotiations was to highlight the problems to which he has alluded and to make them an issue in places such as the United Kingdom, so efforts have been made in both countries to improve matters. Obviously, that process must continue. I cite membership of the European Union as being part of the benefits that flow because it ensures that the media and the public in the United Kingdom and in other parts of the EU are informed about what is taking place in a way that might not have happened if those countries had not chosen to apply to join the EU.
Ms Taylor: Will my right hon. Friend outline the way—if there is a positive way—in which the Government or the Commission are supporting Ukraine’s involvement in higher education and training, especially with regard to how the United Kingdom could respond to the requirements?
Mr. Hoon: I apologise to my hon. Friend. I do not feel absolutely confident to say that that is part of the neighbourhood policy in respect of Ukraine. Clearly, as I said, we want the European neighbourhood policy to expand and develop. We believe that real progress has been made for Ukraine, but obviously more work needs to be done—and the piece of paper that I have just received does not tell me the answer to her question.
Mr. Brady: A number of concerns were expressed in the reports that we are discussing about the inability to ensure at present the proper functioning of agencies that are responsible for disbursing funds, particularly agricultural funds. A post-accession deadline has been fixed for the end of March for steps to be taken if the integrated administration and control scheme system is not functioning properly in either country. There is also reference to the possible restriction of Bulgaria’s access to the internal market in aviation if proper measures are not taken. Can the Minister shed any light on those two matters?
Mr. Hoon: The first example is a clear illustration of how post-accession monitoring has teeth. It will mean that, if countries do not satisfy the rules of the European Union, they will suffer financially. That seems a sensible way to ensure that the goals of monitoring can be achieved. There has been some criticism that what is happening is simply a paper exercise, but the European Commission has devised the rules in such a way as to ensure that the two countries will face not only necessary political criticism but, potentially, financial consequences if they fail to achieve the required standards.
Several hon. Members rose—
The Chairman: Order. The hour allotted for Question Time is over, but there appear to be hon. Members who still have questions to put to the Minister, and under Standing Order No. 119(7) I am extending Question Time to allow the remaining questions to be asked. However, we shall move on to the debate as soon as all the questions have been asked, and, of course, Question Time will take time from the time allocated for debate. We shall still finish, if we go that long, no later than 7 o’clock.
Mr. Kilfoyle: I do not want to labour the point about Bulgaria and Romania and the post-accession measures, but can my right hon. Friend tell me whether any countries about to accede to the European Union were placed in the same position as Romania and Bulgaria, which will face new measures if they have not met the specified requirements by the last day of December 2007? Does not the report state that the Commission will come up with new-fangled mechanisms? Is it not the case that no one has a clue yet what they will be? In that sense, are we not buying a pig in a poke with the accession of those two countries?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend raises the same point that he raised earlier, in a different way. I shall try to answer it in a different way. He is right to the extent that the mechanisms that have been used on this occasion are new and different. It is fair to say that there was some legal debate in the European Commission about the extent to which it was possible to adopt such arrangements under European law. The assumption was that once a country had been granted full membership of the European Union it was difficult to treat it any differently from existing member states. On the other hand, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that all new member states, including the United Kingdom, when we joined, and all countries that have joined subsequently, have undergone transitional processes. Countries have been exempted from the full rigour of European law in different areas, to facilitate their membership. In a sense, therefore, the arrangements are comparable to those transitional measures. They allow a country to join but to commit itself to continuing the process of reform in the areas in question. That seems to me a wholly sensible and beneficial process for existing member states.
Mr. Brady: The Minister was obviously right in trying to ensure that he completed his last answer to me within the allotted time. That was before your very enlightened ruling from the Chair, Sir Nicholas. Perhaps I may take advantage of the additional time to press the Minister a little further about the agencies responsible for disbursing agricultural subsidies. There was a deadline of the end of March. I was hoping to hear from him whether there is further evidence of progress since the last assessment was undertaken. In addition to the period between that time and accession, there has been another week or so.
Mr. Hoon: I am not entirely sure whether this is extra time or injury time, but I shall proceed on the basis that there has been a score draw so far. What is important about the issue, which the hon. Gentleman touched on, is the inevitable time lag between the publication of the report and the events that it covers. The truth is that, although many countries before Romania and Bulgaria relied on the reports published by the Commission, they often dealt with events as much as 12 months earlier. In the meantime, the Commission was confident that Romania and Bulgaria had made progress in the specific areas. It is important to recognise that it takes time to produce the evaluations and for reports to be published, debated and discussed.
Mr. Brady: I have a further question on a matter that I touched on previously. I know the Minister would not wish to miss the opportunity to deal with Bulgarian access to the internal market in aviation. Is the assessment to date that that will be possible, or will it be precluded or deferred?
Mr. Hoon: There has been progress; we simply want to see more.
The Chairman: If no more hon. Members wish to put questions, we will now proceed to the debate on the motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13347/06, Commission Communication: Monitoring report on the state of preparedness for EU membership of Bulgaria and Romania; and endorses the Government’s support for EU enlargement.—[Mr. Hoon.]
5.36 pm
Mr. Brady: I shall be brief because we have had a good, informative question session, which was enjoyable and welcome, although it was slightly more informative than the Minister intended.
Mr. Hoon: Longer.
Mr. Brady: The Minister says that it was longer than he had hoped. Time flies by so quickly when we are enjoying ourselves.
I shall say a few words in conclusion on behalf of the Opposition, mostly on the wider issue of enlargement. The Minister teased me and suggested that he was glad that we had undergone a conversion and joined the Government in supporting the process of enlargement. As he well knows, it is the other way round—that policy was always pressed with vigour by Conservative Governments—and we are delighted that the Minister has joined us in supporting the process of EU enlargement, which is entirely welcome.
We think, as does the right hon. Gentleman—
Richard Younger-Ross: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Brady: No. The hon. Gentleman wants to carry on until 7 o’clock.
Richard Younger-Ross rose—
The Chairman: Order. The Opposition spokesman is not giving way. The hon. Gentleman will be able to catch my eye if he wishes to make a contribution.
Mr. Brady: The comments and the items reviewed in the reports that relate to the future programme of enlargement give grounds for encouragement. There is a considerable programme of further enlargement, which we would welcome. As I said earlier to the Minister in an intervention, I hope that the increasing rigour of the process for accession, which may be right and proper, is not abused to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of countries that we would wish to welcome and that are making progress.
I entirely agree with the Minister’s remarks about the importance of the accession process in encouragingthe beneficial reforms in Bulgaria and Romania to continue. As he knows, we welcome their accession; considerable further progress needs to be made and the ongoing monitoring procedure is sensible in trying to ensure that it goes forward.
We are delighted to be serving on the Committee, following the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, which is a positive and welcome step. We want the Commission and the British Government to work with the Governments of Bulgaria and Romania to ensure that they get it right and move as quickly as possible through the remaining elements of their accession and, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, in a way that will ultimately benefit all of us and not cause unnecessary difficulties.
5.40 pm
Richard Younger-Ross: I tried to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, who is the Conservative spokesman, to ask him to confirm his party’s view on the expansion of Europe and whether it is still a European party. He went on to answer that question by saying that his party is in favour of EU expansion. My description in my constituency of the Conservatives as a pro-European party is therefore accurate, and I am pleased to hear it.
When talking about enlargement, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton was clear on the problems that have affected the process by which Bulgaria and Romania have been allowed to join the EU. The process is rather haphazard, which will create problems with other countries that seek membership, particularly Croatia and Turkey, which may find that the criteria have suddenly changed again.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Richard Younger-Ross: I will not give way, because Members on the other Benches were not inclined to do so.
Mr. Burns: rose—
Richard Younger-Ross: Go on then. I am a generous soul.
Mr. Burns: I am not convinced that I can thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity. Given the question that he wished to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, will he tell the Committee whether his is a pro-European party?
The Chairman: Before the hon. Gentleman replies, I should like to say that the debate is not about the policy of the Conservative and Unionist party or the Liberal Democrats; it is about the report and the observations and statement that the Minister has made.
Richard Younger-Ross: In which case, I will answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that we are in favour of much that is in the report. We take a lot of heart from the possible further expansion—[ Interruption. ] The answer is yes.
The serious point is that there are concerns. There will be problems with accession, particularly that of Turkey. Last year, I went with the European Scrutiny Committee on a successful trip to Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey. We managed to lose the hon. Member for Totnes in the airport in Istanbul for about an hour, so it was a good trip all round. A lot of what we saw in Bulgaria was wanting. We were surprised that the country was allowed to become part of the EU—there was no way of stopping it at that point—without many of the problems being resolved. Those issues may now rumble on longer, because the incentive for Bulgaria and Romania to change has been reduced. The Commission has certain powers to deal with problems such as swine fever, but they are limited.
Some problems of previous enlargement have been created by this Government. They very generously said that there was free flow when Poland was allowed to join, which was a correct decision that we supported, but no accurate figures were given on how many Poles would come into the country. The Government were then slow to give assistance to local authorities, which suddenly found that they had to cope with a large number of extra schoolchildren, housing issues and other resultant problems. The Minister will know that there are a lot of Poles in my constituency. In his former incarnation as Defence Secretary, he visited Ilford Park Polish home, where he planted a tree.
Mr. Browne: Is it still alive?
Richard Younger-Ross: It is still alive. The home is the last Polish home to remain from the second world war. There is a long link between us and Poland.
Other countries have joined and the EU has created some of the problems. For instance, Cyprus was allowed to join at a point that was perhaps earlier than should have been accepted. The problem now is that Cyprus is acting as a block to the later accession of Turkey. If there were not the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” attitude towards letting in this or that country, we could have been nearer to resolving the issue of the occupied territories in northern Cyprus than we would have been by allowing Cyprus in earlier. We would have found it easier as a process to deal with potential Turkish accession.
The nub of the matter is that we need not necessarily to set the boundaries of Europe as a fixed line, but to have a clear set of criteria about how countries can join and what the rules should be for countries to come into the EU. That should not be done on the basis of countries being supported by this or that country as a favour to someone else. It should be done on a clear, fair and just basis.
The Chairman: I now call the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside. I apologise for not calling him earlier. He was very quiet during questions, and I did not anticipate that he would wish to contribute to this important debate.
5.46 pm
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I rise to congratulate the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) on the work that he has done and is doing on enlargement, and that he will do on his visit to Romania and Bulgaria.
I want briefly to address two or three points that he raised both in his opening address and in answering questions. First, there is the issue of the encouragement—in this case to Romania and Bulgaria, but also to those seeking accession to the European Union in years to come. There is a changing climate, culture and willingness of politicians of all persuasions in those countries to take the necessary steps to change what is taking place on the organised crime front and drug trafficking. Those matters affect us, whether or not they are in the EU, but if they are, such matters are less likely to be neglected.
Those countries will certainly receive much more supportive action and investment from EU funds if they enter it. I agree with comments that there has been a great deal of progress; my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, in particular, made that point. There is a great deal more progress to be made on organised crime, not just in the 12 months ahead but in years to come. Judging from my time in the Home Office, there is no question but that the prospect of accession made it possible for countries to accept help that they would otherwise have been reluctant to accept. On matters such as border control, there was clearly a real possibility of giving assistance. There is no doubt whatever that not being part of that process does not stop organised gangs being here in the United Kingdom. Albania is worth considering in that regard.
Secondly, on my right hon. Friend’s visit to Bulgaria and Romania, it might be interesting to see whether they have plans of their own that go further than the action plan that they had to set in place as part of their accession. For instance, investing in Bulgaria’s marine possibilities would be of economic advantage, but that has not necessarily been near the top of that country’s agenda because of the imperative of investing in the issues that we have discussed this afternoon. Economic prosperity brings automatic drivers for improvement in areas that people are concerned about. Organised crime is obviously one of those areas, but there is also the matter, which was raised this afternoon, of the neglected minorities, such as the Romany population. Dealing with such issues would be a great step forward.
My right hon. Friend also touched on the anticipated future impact. I believe that it would be good thing if, in a year’s time, the United Kingdom Government allowed people to come here and work legally and not have to enter the black economy. There is no question that 19,750 is an adequate figure given the population of Romania and Bulgaria, but we can anticipate how many people will declare themselves as already having been here. One reason why the Government and I, when Home Secretary, got the numbers game wrong was that we did not anticipate the large number of people who were already here illegally and working.
The figures were nowhere near as silly as those pronounced by some statisticians. We never believed, and no Minister ever mentioned, the figures that the statisticians came up with—thank God, for the credibility of the Ministers concerned. We thought that around 100,000 a year would come and clearly we were out on that, particularly in respect of Poland. We could have done more to support the large Polish population during the diaspora, to which my right hon. Friend referred, when people came to meet family and friends, to work and then to return. Sending remittances back home helps to increase prosperity there, which leads to fewer people coming in future.
An important issue is how best to plan for the EU’s future in a more orderly, understood and transparent way, and to consider what that means for countries such as Croatia and particularly Turkey. The issue of Cyprus is dwarfed by the internal politics of France, as we shall see vividly during the next three or four months. Tragically, I think it will be a deeply offensive debate. Reaching out to Turkey, with all the changes that will need to be reinforced in place, is a positive move not just in extending and enlarging Europe, but in embracing different cultures and enabling those who are in favour of change in Turkey to have their views reinforced and their next general election fought on an entirely different basis.
5.52 pm
Mr. Browne: I will not detain the Committee longer than necessary, but I want to say a few words towards the end of this useful sitting, partly because the European Union’s enlargement is of international strategic importance to the United Kingdom and partly because, in a different way, it has a direct bearing on the day-to-day lives of many of my constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members.
I shall start with the larger picture. There have probably been two major landmark events from a British or western perspective in my adult life. The second took place on 11 September 2001 in the United States, and the ramifications continue and will do so for a long time. The first, which occurred early in my adult life, was the fall of the Berlin wall and the crumbling of the Soviet bloc. The facts of life of British foreign policy as we had known them until then were turned on their head, not quite overnight, but in a short period and with a small number of people killed and uprooted in the process. A remarkable series of revolutions took place at the end of the 1980s.
Countries that were seen as being part of the enemy and under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union when I was growing up have come into the European Union and, to a reasonable extent, have embraced free markets, democracy and freedom of speech. I say that because, too often, we take it for granted, but a huge change took place and that was a triumph for diplomacy. This Government and previous Governments deserve some credit, and western Europe as a whole played the changing face of our continent with considerable skill. As a result, we are more prosperous and more secure in 2007 than we would otherwise have been.
It is notable that all those countries are lining up to join the EU and that no countries are looking to leave it. It is relevant to the debate to note that a sizeable group within the principal Opposition party wants us to leave the EU and that the Conservative leader is having difficulty in keeping a lid on that internal debate. I shall not venture further down that path for risk of incurring your wrath, Sir Nicholas.
I move to the practical experiences of my constituents and others. A large number of people from Poland, in particular, have come to Taunton to work, and there have been some difficulties around the country with the large influx of citizens from the 10 new accession member states. There may be further difficulties as a result of Bulgaria and Romania joining, particularly with pressures on local services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge pointed out, if large numbers of Polish people come to an area and some of them have children, that puts pressure on local schools, particularly if the children speak no English, and one would not expect them to speak English as a first language. However, most of the people who have come from eastern Europe to work in the EU have been young and without dependants, so the pressures on health and education services have been less per head of population than they are for the population that was already in the UK.
We run the risk, in our political debates in the House and in local newspapers around the country, of being too negative about the process. I have been struck by how positive a large number of people have been about the contribution that Polish people make to the UK. I recently spent a day working on a farm in Somerset—or at least observing other people working on a farm; I was contributing to an extent—and I was struck by how extremely positive the farmer was about the contribution of Polish labourers to his enterprise. He said that he would have difficulty in keeping his dairy farm going if he were to rely solely on domestic labour. There are plenty of other people doing jobs in Somerset and elsewhere that many British people would not want to do—in slaughterhouses, for example. As the hon. Member for Totnes pointed out, many skilled workers are also coming to the UK and making a contribution.
I caution hon. Members who talk about Polish people coming here as though it is principally something to be regretted. If we were to pull that large number of labourers out in one go, which would not be legal or practical, there would be significant labour shortages, increased prices, pressure on inflation and falling economic growth. It is therefore significantly to our benefit that those people continue to contribute to our domestic economy. Of course, it is also to our benefit that British people are able to reside in countries such as Spain, as they increasingly choose to do, and that young people can have a gap year or work experience in Paris. It is not a one-way street. Many British people enjoy working elsewhere in the EU.
Bulgaria and Romania have a way to go to reach levels of entrenched liberal democracy and economic prosperity, but we are right to encourage them down that path. We need to work on corruption and human trafficking in those countries and on the treatment there of disabled people and those with mental health problems. In that regard, the success in countries such as Spain and Greece since they became EU members clearly shows that accession is an effective way for many countries to lock themselves into the liberal, democratic western world. That is much to our benefit and increases the well-being and prosperity of their citizens. We should see that as an enormously positive contribution to the development of Britain and Europe as a whole.
6 pm
Mr. Kilfoyle: As a supporter of both the widening and deepening of the EU for a very long time, I believe that those processes ought to be undertaken in a considered and cautious manner. That is my concern with the issues before us. In the report, which is not mine, the monitors say that there are four areas of serious concern regarding Romania, and six regarding Bulgaria. I wonder what that will mean further down the line. There is a degree of ad hocery. It may work out well: we may see marvellous outcomes for the process brought about by membership. However, it is equally possible that the outcomes will not be those that we desire.
We can all wax lyrical, as some hon. Members have, about the Polish workers who have come to this country in recent times. I understand that building companies that were short of skilled employees have been pleased by the influx of Polish workers with high skills and relatively few demands. There is, however, always a price to pay. That price has been paid in constituencies such as mine. Building workers in such places—rightly or wrongly—blame the influx of Polish workers for their inability to get a job, and for the competition that they face in getting the cheap accommodation and housing that characterise a constituency such as mine. It ill behoves us not to take that kind of effect into account.
As and when we deal with Turkey’s entry to the EU, we will see that it is of a completely different order to the entry of any country we have debated today. The original six countries were light years apart from Turkey. On the Anatolian highlands, some people culturally and socially belong in the middle ages, not the 21st century. Whether that will have an immediate impact on the nature of the EU, it will nevertheless be a consideration.
It is unfair to point the finger at those of our EU partners that have concerns about the effect that Turkey will have, in terms of both politics and the practical economic realities of the EU. That is something we have to consider without falling into the trap of considering ourselves to be letting the side down by looking at the effects that expansion will have on the people of this country, never mind our European partners. A great deal of rank hypocrisy is spoken about those matters. The sooner we have an open and honest debate, the better it will be.
We will also be far better off if we have a set of criteria which, while liable to adaptation and change to meet the specific demands of each applicant country, are consistent, and which do not give the impression that the European Commission and the Union are making things up as they go along.
6.4 pm
Mr. Hoon: I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside has had to leave, but I am particularly grateful to him for having sat through most of the debate and for his contribution.
During the speech by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, it struck me that I had discovered the reason why he was so enthusiastic about EU enlargement. I believe that he has begun to realise that, to carry through the policy imposed upon him by his leader, it will be necessary for him to find another party with which to form a political group in 2009. The reason why he is so keen on enlargement and shares my reluctance to define the limits of Europe is probably that he assumes that there is a political party somewhere, in a country not yet identified, that has the same policy on Europe as the Conservative party. He probably believes that if only that country were allowed to join the European Union, even if it were a remote outpost in the Pacific far beyond the confines of Europe, he would be able to deliver his leader’s policy of leaving the European People’s party and finding another party to join.
The Chairman: Order. I really must ask the Minister to desist. The debate on the motion has nothing to do with the European People’s party or, for that matter, the policy of the Conservative and Unionist party. It is on the report and what I consider to be the Minister’s factual explanation at the beginning of the debate.
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry if I have tested your patience again, Sir Nicholas. I was of course talking about enlargement and the reason why the Conservative party is so enthusiastic about it, but perhaps I have made my point. I shall move on to the contributions made by other hon. Members.
A number of hon. Members emphasised the benefits of enlargement, not least in the context of the changes that we have all witnessed in our lifetimes as a result of the fall of the Berlin wall. The hon. Member for Taunton, in particular, mentioned that. I have never claimed that the European Union was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union but, as I said earlier, it has not been given sufficient credit for providing a focus and direction for former Soviet countries. They have changed out of all recognition since November 1989, when the Berlin wall fell, and they have done so at a pace and in a direction that would not have been possible had they not been aspiring members of the EU. That is the answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton about the outcomes being unknown, uncertain and perhaps not what we desire. It is important to preserve the goal of membership, not least for countries in the western Balkans, but also for others close to the European neighbourhood. It is right for us to celebrate the50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Rome in Berlin, because that was the scene of the momentous events in November 1989 that brought about a dramatic change in Europe.
I say to my hon. Friend that there is necessarily a degree of ad hocery about the way in which expansion is taken forward, because it depends on countries being ready and in a position to accept the standards of membership of the European Union. Different countries have proceeded at different rates, even those that are otherwise very similar. That was one of the reasons why the accession of Romania and Bulgaria was slightly delayed and why some countries of the western Balkans are moving more quickly than others, but they share the same target.
My hon. Friend thinks profoundly about such issues, but the benefit beyond the present membership of the EU of a strategically significant country such as Turkey joining will be the opening up of the Black sea area, historically part of Europe, where there is tension, uncertainty and concern about future stability. The economic prosperity that the EU can bring might well be a way in which some of those risks and uncertainties can be avoided.
I thank you, Sir Nicholas, and all members of the Committee for providing such a stimulating and interesting debate.
The Chairman: I congratulate members of the Committee on an informed, good-natured and constructive debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13347/06, Commission Communication: Monitoring report on the state of preparedness for EU membership of Bulgaria and Romania; and endorses the Government's support for EU enlargement.
Committee rose at nine minutes past Six o’clock.
 
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Prepared 16 January 2007