European Affairs debate

Mike Gapes spoke in the debate on European Affairs in Parliament today.

Here is his speech in full.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I want to concentrate on just three areas, beginning with the future of the Lisbon treaty. The Irish Government will no doubt introduce their own proposals in the next few days, and it is important that the UK continues to recognise that they will need to find a way to deal with that problem in their own time. That will certainly mean that, next year, it will not be not possible for the changes envisaged in the Lisbon treaty to come into effect in accordance with the original timetable, which raises questions about what will happen with regard to the future of the Commission, about the number of Commissioners, and about the size of the European Parliament.

If elections for the European Parliament are to go ahead next June, they will do so on the basis set out in the previous treaty—the Nice treaty—and not as envisaged in the Lisbon treaty. That is important, because a different number of Members are involved. There is the question, too, about the fact that the existing Nice treaty says that we should move to a situation in which the number of Commissioners is lower than the total number of states. That could give rise to a complex position on the relationship between the size of the Parliament and the size of the Commission. I hope that when the Minister for Europe responds to the debate, she will clarify the Government’s attitude to those questions, because either some fancy footwork is needed or we will have to adopt procedures to reconcile the issues if the decision in Ireland is not to be made, as seems quite likely, before next June.

The second issue I should like to highlight—and I touched on this in an intervention on the Foreign Secretary—is related not just to Kosovo but to the future of the relationship between the European Union and the western Balkans as a whole. Today, one of the countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia is already within the European Union. A second country, Croatia, is in train to join the EU quite soon. A third country, Macedonia or, to use the term that appears in the documents, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia—

Daniel Kawczynski: That is semantic.

Mike Gapes: It is, but it is politically important. The reality is that there is no way, unless the issue of the name is resolved and unless there is flexibility or agreement between Greece and Macedonia, that that EU membership will happen. That is a fundamental difficulty.
Alongside the questions of Croatia and Macedonia, there is the question of what will happen to Serbia, on which outstanding issues relate to what is happening in Kosovo, including the unresolved question that only 52 countries recognise its independence and that five EU states to date still do not do so. We are therefore in difficulties regarding the Serbian application to join the EU. In addition, we must look at the other countries that emerged from that region. I do not want to go through each of them in turn, but there is an important associated question to consider. Albania was not part of the former Yugoslavia, but it has its own history, and there are difficulties arising from its internal political turmoil.

There will be a general election in Albania in the near future. I hope that the Albanians resolve their current internal difficulties and that the election is free, fair and subject to international standards, so that all countries in Europe can say that Albania is continuing to make good progress towards its aspiration of joining the EU. I hope that that is the case, but there are some controversial issues about electoral systems and related matters, which have led to some Albanian Members of Parliament going on hunger strike. We do not do it that way in this country—we just get involved in arguments that look a little bit facetious to the rest of the world—but perhaps the day will come when Members of Parliament in this country go on hunger strike.

Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, so does he agree that Greece should not be able to veto Macedonia’s joining the EU unless the issue of the name is resolved?

Mike Gapes: Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman and all of us who want to see simple solutions to such matters, EU enlargement cannot take place without the agreement of all member states, which is how it has always been. Regardless of how unreasonably or intransigently a country takes a particular view in blocking the membership of another country, that membership will not happen. Similarly, if one EU member state were to decide to block Turkey’s membership for ever, Turkey’s membership would not happen. That is the reality. The hon. Gentleman is younger than me, so perhaps he was not born at the time, but he knows that General de Gaulle—there is a cartoon about this in Portcullis House—vetoed British membership in the 1960s, so there is a precedent.

Mr. Hendrick: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—the shadow Foreign Secretary was reluctant to take my intervention, so I will make my point in a roundabout way. The Opposition say that they want to see enlargement with the likes of Serbia and Bosnia entering the EU, but whenever enlargement takes place, they call for a referendum and tell people that they would vote against the proposal. Does my hon. Friend think that position is slightly contradictory?

Mike Gapes: I do not want to explain the contradictions in the Conservative party, because it has enough problems in explaining them itself. It is vital that we enlarge the EU to include all the states in the western Balkans. We do not want to be in a position in which, by one means or another, Slovenia and Croatia are in and the other countries are out.
Reference has been made—I will therefore not go into the detail—to the current difficulties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The solution to the difficulties there and in the whole of the former Yugoslavia lies in having the whole of that economic and political area within a common legal framework and a common means of trade and of free movement of people within the European Union.

Mr. Wilshire: I want to see whether I can cheer up the hon. Gentleman about Albania, about which he has rightly made some valid points. As he knows, the little-remembered organisation, the Council of Europe, also has a role. It laid down clear conditions about Albania’s democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and the Albanians are conscious that they have not met those requirements yet. I am one of the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which monitors what goes on in Albania. We recently visited Albania, where people are conscious of the ongoing shortcomings, accept that they must do something about them and are working out ways to do so as quickly as possible.

Mike Gapes: I am grateful for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to say that I recently met the leader of the Albanian opposition, who was on a visit here, and engaged in constructive discussions. I am sure that many people in Albania, in government and in opposition, are working together to resolve the difficulties. We need to be aware that there are still difficulties, and the hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out that the Council of Europe, other organisations and individual Governments will work to try to assist the remarkable process that the Albanian people have made since the regime of Enver Hoxha. We need to think back; the difference between where the country was 20 years ago and where it is today is remarkable. Sometimes, we take the changes since 1989 for granted.

When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, I was in Warsaw at a Socialist International meeting. On 9 November that year, I was visiting President Jaruzelski and Prime Minister Mazowiecki. I remember that the only person who predicted that Germany would unify quickly was Rakowski, the communist leader, who said, “Mark my words—Germany will be united within a year.” Everyone else said that there would be a confederation and that unification would take time, yet in 10 months Germany was united.

The remarkable changes of less than 20 years ago are coming to a culmination. Countries that came out of the breakdown of the cold war and the ending of the bloc system—or the ending of national isolation, such as that of Albania—are coming into the democratic, pluralistic European Union. That is precious. We should work to make sure that it continues, because it provides political stability as well as economic prosperity to all the millions of people in central and eastern Europe.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that dynamic in relation to accession to the European Union may operate for Turkey and for the problem, which has seemed intractable for decades, of the division of Cyprus? Negotiations for accession to the European Union may pave the way for a just and viable solution based on UN resolutions.

Mike Gapes: I do not want to get into the subject of the negotiations on Cyprus, which is in a strange position because it is already inside the European Union but has a divide within it. We need to recognise that there are now ongoing negotiations, brokered by Alexander Downer, the former Australian Foreign Minister. In the past, the European Union played a role and Lord David Hannay, former ambassador to the United Nations, was involved in the previous negotiations—the abortive Annan plan. There is clearly now some prospect of a breakthrough, but considerable issues of detail still need to be resolved. We need to give the necessary support, and we hope that a resolution of the Cyprus problem in the next year or two will facilitate the continuation of the aspiration for Turkish membership of the European Union. There are also other issues in respect of Turkish membership, and they need to be looked at.

I turn to one final issue before I conclude: European Union expectations, and how we respond to them, in respect of the changes that have happened and will happen in the United States. President-elect Obama has been elected and there is growing recognition—all the commentators are talking about it—that in the next 20 or 30 years, the US focus will inevitably shift much more towards Asia and the Pacific. Europe will be expected to make a bigger contribution to resolving some of the issues on our periphery and in our neighbourhood.

That will place demands on us, and rather than opposing the European security and defence policy, we should be working hard to strengthen it. We will need much better co-ordination—not just having naval operations intercepting pirates off the coast of Somalia, as was mentioned, not just trying to save lives in Africa, and not just doing the good work done by European Union forces in the Lebanon conflict or in the other conflicts in the region. In time, there will be greater demands on EU countries to make a more serious contribution in other areas. That will place big demands, particularly at a time of economic crisis, on the budgets and commitments of some European Union states.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): What the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely true. There will be a greater onus on European Union countries to deliver more in the realm of defence. Does he agree that other EU countries should be looking to their own defence budgets given that, as he knows, we provide a high percentage of our gross domestic product for defence, outshining several of our EU colleagues? Does he further agree that when other countries are asked to provide troops to EU missions, they should do so unconditionally and not impose conditions so that their troops do not come into any danger?

Mike Gapes: I completely agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps that is a topic for tomorrow’s debate rather than today’s.

Five years ago, the European Union developed the European security strategy, to which the Foreign Secretary briefly referred. That is being revised and updated, and High Representative Solana has been asked to produce the new version that will be considered for adoption this week. I hope that we can recognise that the EU faces different challenges in 2008 from those that it faced in 2003, but that some of those challenges are enduring and will continue. It is important that we not only focus on the immediate, but recognise that we need a strategic view about how we as Europeans can work, as we have over the past 50 years, to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in our continent.

Sometimes, hearing the debates in this country and reading some of our newspapers, one would think that the argument is entirely about a small percentage point of spending on the common agricultural policy or rebates, but some of the issues are much more important than that. I hope that we can lift up our eyes and look at the big picture—to coin a phrase that was used by a former Prime Minister—and think about where we, as Europeans, wish to be in making our contribution to the security and prosperity of the whole world during the rest of this century.

posted 10 December 2008



The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.