Transmite-se a intervenção de Margaret Beckett, acreca do alargamento da UE, hoje, na Câmara dos Comuns.
As contas britânicas
com a Turquia e o mais
The European Council will be held on 14 and 15 December. The formal agenda will, as normal, cover a wide range of topics.
On Africa, we expect the conclusions of the Council to inject some momentum into the EU-Africa Strategy by highlighting key priorities for action.
On climate change, we will push to maintain the momentum generated at Lahti, by strongly reaffirming what was agreed at that summit: on the linkages between energy security and climate security, on the strengthening of the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme and on establishing a new process for heads of government to review progress and set a forward agenda.
And we are also expecting a significant portion of the Council to be spent discussing the Justice and Home Affairs agenda and, in particular, migration. Goods, money and people are moving around the globe in greater numbers and more freely than ever before. That is making the fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration more complex and difficult.
The 2004 Hague Programme set out a comprehensive framework for EU co-operation. This was supplemented by the actions plans on counter-terrorism, drugs and human trafficking and by the Global Approach to Migration which was agreed at the Hampton Court summit during the UK’s Presidency last year. The Council will be examining how we can use the 2006 Hague Programme review to put an even tighter focus on practical implementation of those measures and how we can make sure that those clear priorities are getting the appropriate level of resources.
So, Mr Speaker, next week’s agenda will be a full one. But one topic is likely to dominate discussion next week: enlargement.
We hope that the General Affairs Council on Monday and Tuesday will settle questions relating specifically to Turkish accession, but there is a possibility that they will need to be on the agenda of the European Council on Thursday and Friday. The Council will, in any case, be looking at issues related to enlargement more generally.
All sides of the House have been admirably clear and consistent in their support for enlargement. That stems from a recognition that it is in the best interests of this country, and indeed of Europe as a whole, for that process to continue.
The European Council offers a chance for EU leaders to send a strong signal that our strategic commitment to enlargement remains. The EU has been asked – not least by Dutch and French voters but also by others – to show that it is bringing concrete, tangible benefit to its citizens. In enlargement we have the single process which has done most to improve the lives of the people of Europe as a whole.
In making that claim, I am referring in part to the startling transformation that joining the EU has wrought in the lives of those in new member states. When I accompanied Her Majesty the Queen on the State Visit to the Baltics earlier this year, we saw countries that were unrecognisable from only a decade ago.
But it is not just those coming into the club who have benefited. We all have. Across Southern Europe – in Greece, Spain, Portugal – we are no longer bordered by unpredictable dictatorships but by stable democracies. To the East our neighbours are not stagnant Communist states, but dynamic vibrant and free nations.
Each successive wave of enlargement has provided us with new jobs, new markets and new opportunities for investment. The 2004 enlargement added 74 million consumers, making the EU the world’s largest single market and the economies and workers of these new members are boosting growth across Europe.
We are seeing the same process with Romania and Bulgaria.
Both countries have made dramatic progress since the EU invited them to join in 1999. They have a free media, hold free and fair elections and benefit from thriving civil societies. Economic growth has recently averaged 5% a year. Unemployment is falling and inflation is low. Standards of living have dramatically improved.
That’s good for all of us. UK exports to Romania have trebled in a decade. Our exports to Bulgaria were up 41% last year. Better governance and a stronger judiciary, makes our investments in both countries less risky, more transparent and more competitive.
This is not to suggest that enlargement is an easy or automatic process. Romania and Bulgaria still have some way to go in strengthening the rule of law and in tackling corruption and organised crime. Indeed the process of enlarging the EU to those two countries – and indeed before them to the ten new member states who joined in 2004 – has led us to refine and tighten up the whole process of enlargement. The requirements to join the EU are more rigorous and more carefully monitored than ever before.
Those are the requirements facing Turkey and Croatia. But effective conditionality is one thing; fresh conditions is something altogether different. Having agreed the membership requirements and invited people down this path, it would be quite wrong to come up with new hurdles now and to deliberately construct barriers designed to halt this or any further enlargement.
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.
These strategically important countries will be our neighbours and play a pivotal role in our futures whatever decisions Europe makes. The choice we have 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 foolhardy in the extreme to turn our backs on one of the best and most proven ways 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 right in the heart of Europe. Indeed, there are still significant EU and NATO forces in the region. We have, therefore, a very direct interest in tackling Balkan insecurity and encouraging them further down the path of political and economic reform.
Croatia is showing the way for others in the region. Here is a country which is making the necessary reforms. A country that has low inflation, a stable currency, and rapid economic growth. A country with bright, hardworking young people and strong scientific credentials: and which is taking on international responsibilities, including by sending peacekeepers to Afghanistan and by working – among others – with British police to fight drug smuggling and money laundering.
If you wanted to see how far Croatia has come, it is worth noting that although it is little more than a decade after a massive war, every year over a quarter of a million British tourists choose to go there on holiday.
Of course there are more conditions that Croatia has to meet, particularly in reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption. But it is on the right path. And it is on that path because of the prospect of enlargement.
Now, it is worth being frank at this point. There are some in Europe who have no problem with Croatia joining the EU but do have a very real problem with Turkey joining.
Yet the strategic case for Turkish membership is at least as compelling as it is for any other country, in fact probably more so.
And just like any other country, Turkey has to fulfil its obligations to the EU. In the case of the Ankara Protocol, Turkey has not yet done so and it is right that the EU gives a clear response. That response should be proportionate and designed to get Turkey to fulfil its obligations and maintain the momentum of reform. It should not be a pretext for derailing negotiations. We need to agree and set out clearly what we expect them to do; it is then up to them to decide how quickly to reform and progress towards accession.
We in the UK government judge that the current measures tabled by the European Commission are too harsh and risk being counterproductive.
That would be a very poor result for the people of Turkey. But it would also be a very poor result for Europe.
Look at some of the strategic challenges we are facing: increasing global competition from Asia; insecurity of our energy supplies; seemingly intractable problems in the Middle East; rising extremism trying to drive Muslims and non-Muslims apart; an ageing population and a looming pensions crisis; the desire for Europe to play a more active role beyond its borders; and – both at those borders and within them – the need to tackle drugs, organised crime and illegal migration.
Turkey could play an immensely positive role in tackling all these challenges. It has a dynamic economy that is on track to attract US$20 billion in inward investment this year; it is already a major transit country for oil and gas and 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, which no current EU member state can match; it has a young and increasingly educated workforce; it has larger armed forces than any other European country; it has shown that it can deliver real successes, working with us, on tackling terrorism, organised crime, illegal migration and trafficking; and, perhaps most 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.
Now there is an argument, Mr Speaker, that says that since we already working so well with many of the countries that want to join the EU, we don’t actually need to follow through on our promises of enlargement or to keep open the prospect of further enlargement.
That seems to me both a dangerous and incredibly short-sighted argument.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The foundation of the EU’s extraordinary “soft power”, the reason why more than any other international organisation it has transformed the world around it, has been the prospect of full membership. In the case of Turkey or Croatia, offering them anything else at this stage would be to go back on our word. For other countries, if we want to encourage them down the right road – which is in their interests and ours – we can’t rule out the ultimate destination.
The story at the European Council next week will almost certainly be enlargement. European leaders can choose to keep the door open to their neighbours, fulfilling our promises, helping those countries to continue political and economic reforms, stressing the need for them to meet strict conditions and obligations. Over a period of time we could draw these strategically vital countries ever closer until they were in a position to become members of the European Union.
Or we could push them away. The Government is clear which is the direction in which Europe must go. And that is the message that we will be taking – with, I think and hope, the full support of the House – to Brussels next week.