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Lord Biffen: My Lords, the conventions of the House are that there is no vote on Second Reading, and I acknowledge that. If there were, it would certainly have my support, although I would wish to argue that the extension of the European Union cries aloud for major reforms to its institutions.
My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford mentioned that he had recently been in Sofia. I heard that with great envy. Fifty years ago I paid my only ever visit to Bulgaria, to be a member of an
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international youth camp organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which the Minister will realise at once was a communist front organisation. Had I been a member of the Labour Party, I would have been proscribed for such initiative. That I bare, but will take no further, as this is not the occasion for personal reminiscence.
I want to make three points. I want to consider the geography of Europe in the light of the legislation. Secondly, I want to talk about the economics, particularly the problem of financing, as has been demonstrated vividly over recent days with the settling of the budget. Finally, I want to revert to the problem of the constitution.
First of all, on the geography, as has been demonstrated, this is not a question of drawing the line. Charles Stewart Parnell once said that no man can halt the march of a nation, and we are rather in that mood as far as the European Union is concerned. I accept at once that this is not the end of the expansion of Europe.
The treaty on the prospective accession of Romania and Bulgaria invites the immediate consideration of the expansion of the European Union to the south-west, to incorporate the Balkan territories whose prospective accession was discussed quite recently in the context of Croatia. I will go no further on that. This afternoon at least we can reflect that the whole question of Ukrainian membership becomes that much more live. My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned it, and I note that it is also the view of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It is a great temptation. I share much of the cultural instincts of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about seeing Europe not merely in economic and political terms, but also in cultural terms. I cannot see the Uniate church without feeling a strong sense of rapport.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that that expansion will raise delicate issues with our immediate neighbourhood, with Russia. That is not an expansion that we can undertake without making full judgment of what will be the wider consequences. I leave it in those rather elliptical terms, which are none the less very real.
I now turn for a moment to the question of finance. I am not going to join the general chorus of applause and doom that has attended the recent budget negotiations. I think that the Prime Minister had a difficult hand to play, and I am not among his foremost critics. Are we really to suppose that the common agricultural policy will be that much easier to dismantle on account of the accession of these two countries? I rather doubt it. They both have strong agricultural interests, which they will be determined to protect. That is as I understand it. Can the Minister indicate what are the kinds of reform that the Government have in mind in respect of the common agricultural policy that can then encompass the interests of Romania and Bulgaria? Does he foresee the single payments, which will be at the heart of agricultural expenditure over the period we are surveying, being subject to a reduction? That course is
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advised by an academic writing in the Times today; it is over the brow of the future, but it will become part of the immediate consequences when we discuss the implied accession of Romania and Bulgaria.
Secondly, and probably of equal challenge to the prudent financing of the European Union, is the question of accession payments. I quite understand that every eastern European country which is joining the European Union needs some kind of Marshall aid. But it should be kept as modest as possible; above all, it should be seen as a transitional payment. I say this because I believe that those countries will make their way in the European family largely by virtue of their own exertions. They have the basic advantage that whatever may have been the misfortunes of communist rule, education was not a casualty. Therefore, their sheer nationhood and population are formidable weapons in adjusting to the economic patterns of western Europe.
There is a certain paradox here: the more we welcome the movement of labourand I dothe more we realise that quite often the people who will come to the West from eastern Europe could do a tremendous task in raising standards in their own country. Very often, those who come to the West are among the most enterprising and achieving. I do not wish to establish any barrier against that free movement of labour, but we would find ourselves caught in the most dreadful problem if we had to make substantial budgetary payments to eastern Europe on account of the migration of their best westwards.
I do not wish to be confrontational, but I see, hidden in the situation, the prospect of trying to resolve all the difficulties by having recourse to higher spending. We understand that the deal was eventually brokered last week by a modest addition to the Community budget. I promise that when the Prime Minister goes before the European Parliament this afternoon he will be confronted by cries for a much more ambitious budget. Of course the European Parliament will call for a more ambitious budget because those are not the politicians who will have to confront the taxpayer with the consequences. The split between the institutions of the Community and the long-standing institutions of nation states will become much more sensitive as we approach the situation of greater and greater spending on accession assistance.
The Commission, helpfully at this stage of the argumentI quote from today's Evening Standardis proposing a European tax, which would be levied by the institutions of the European Union and collected direct from the taxpayers of individual countries. That is like advising someone with a common cold to seek the cure for bubonic plague. I cannot think of anything that would give rise to more antagonism and disillusionment towards the idea of a European partnership.
That takes me to my third pointthe constitution. My noble friend Lord Howell said that it had sunk and settled on the seabed. Well, I have news for him. Angela Merkel, replete in a Mae West suit, is floating, and now swimming hard for the shore. I quote from the grand coalition's reform programme:
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"We pledge to continue the ratification of the European constitutional treaty after the first half of 2006 and to give new impulses to [the ratification] under the German presidency in the first half of 2007".
I think we are all agreed that the present institutional arrangements are not appropriate for a Europe expanding way beyond what was ever within the conception of the founding fathers. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, wants a good debate on the Floor of this Chamber. That is fine, but it is inevitable that that debate will be carried to the British public. That pattern has already been accepted. If we have any vision for Europe, it must be a performance that will appeal as much to the man in the street as the man in the London club.
It is fitting that a historian like myself should be among those who rejoiceto use the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in another connectionat the prospect of welcoming Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, may be remembered as having said in a neglected passage in her speech at Bruges in 1988 that it was essential for us in western Europe to keep a candle burning to light the way of such countries as these we are talking about towards liberty. I think we can say that, after 1988, that candle burned very well.
These two countries have much in common. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said, the territories of both were in the Roman Empire in the days of Trajan. It is fair to say that the recovery of those Roman borders has some relevance to what we are trying to do in Europe today. Both countries were, from the middle of the Middle Ages to about the middle of the nineteenth century, dependent on or subject to the Ottoman Empire in one way or another, while the Muslim armies of the Sultan swept onnot just once, but several timestowards Vienna, in a threat to Europe which must have seemed more alarming than Muslim fundamentalism does today.
Both countries emerged from the night of Ottoman control in the late nineteenth century after the Congress of Berlin in 1878, in which two Members of this House, Lord Salisbury and Lord Beaconsfield, played a major part. That congress led to the formation of two small states, initially directed by German monarchs; one, a minor member of the Hohenzollern family; the other a Saxe-Coburg, a member of that extraordinary family which gave kings to Portugal, Belgium, even Britain, as well as Bulgaria. Both these states found it hard to survive from the time of their creation through the whirlwind of war and diplomatic struggles of the First and Second World Wars. Poor Romania was caused to fight against both Germany and Russia in the Second World War. Both
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states, it is important for those in this House to recall, were let down badly in 1945 by the western Allies, despite the Yalta conference's declaration on liberated Europe.
One friend of mine, a member of the British military mission to Bulgaria in 1945, found that his first duty was to attend the execution of 68 parliamentarians. That assignment helped to make Malcolm Macintosh an especially acute observer of the Soviet military machine in subsequent years.
No doubt because of Soviet brutality later on, both Bulgaria and Romania have shown astonishing lack of bitterness at the western failure of the immediate post-war years, a failure which resulted in the imprisonment or death of hundreds of admirable people who expected support from us. I mention only the name of the ex-Romanian Prime Minister Maniu.
Though they have much in common, these two states also have many differences. For example, Romania maintained her contacts with the Westparticularly Francethrough her Latin-based language. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned that point.
Bulgaria's position should not be neglected. In the Middle Ages she constituted a major empire, a threat for a long time to Byzantium, and also preserved her orthodox Christianity during the long era of Ottoman control. Both Bulgaria and Romania have had close relations with Russia from the 16th century onwards for obvious geographical reasons, though Romania's were basically destructive. Bulgaria'sat least until the communist erawere usually benign.
Modern Romania has constituted four territories: Moldavia and Wallachia which constituted the heart of the country after 1878; Bessarabia which after several improbable changes is now the independent state of Moldova; and Transylvania which was wrested from Hungary in 1919 under the Treaty of St Germain. Bulgaria has experienced fewer territorial changes, though she did lose a priceless outlet to the Aegean in 1919.
Romania had oil, hence the German occupation of the 1940s. She also had both a fascist movement and a substantial Jewish minority which was later largely massacred. The cleverness of King Boris of Bulgaria should not be forgotten since he did much to save the admittedly smaller Jewish population of that country. However, Bulgaria did have the dubious honour of enduring the longest reign of any communist satrap, that of Zhivkov who was in power for 35 years in Sofiajust before the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, went there for the first time.
In rejoicing at the likely entry of these two tragic but resilient countries into the European Union, there is one further thing that I should say. Throughout their history, both have been affected by their associations with larger enterprises, whether the Hapsburg, the Ottoman or even the Soviet empires. Thus they are not like the great nation states of western Europe such as ourselves, France, Spain, perhaps the Netherlands and Sweden which have enjoyed five centuries of untrammelled sovereignty and naturally find it more
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difficult to forget or neglect the attitudes so formed. Thus though Romania or Bulgaria could throw up European statesmen of importanceex-King Simeon might turn out to be oneit is unlikely that they will aspire to lead Europe as France has or as Britain could have done.
That brings me to commentthis may seem irrelevant but it is, all the same, importantthat, like others, I have pondered on the reasons for the astonishing transformation of British politics over the past 20 years which has caused the party of Europewhich the Conservative Party was from about 1960 until 1988to change places with the Labour Party, which until 1988 seemed, to say the least, unenthusiastic about associations with the European Union.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, touched on why he personally had moved from an old enthusiasm to a modern scepticism. But I think this change occurred for a different reason. I think that in about 1988 Conservative leaders realised that Britain had lost the chance to lead Europea chance which could have been theirs. Those who led this country into EuropeLord Stockton, Sir Edward Heath, Lord Duncan-Sandys, for example
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