Here is my speech on Tuesday 22 November in the debate about the European Union and Croatia entitled "Justice and Fundamental rights"
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I shall try to be brief. I do not think that the accession of a democratic NATO ally, which has had a democratic change of Government and has been transformed as a country over the last 11 years since the death of Franjo Tudjman a country that is dynamic, that has young people who are outward looking and want to be part of modern Europe, and a country that also has a very good football team and a manager in Slaven Bilic who once played for West Ham United—is a country that should be held hostage for an internal debate in the Conservative party over Eurosceptic or Europhobic hostility.
I believe that we should welcome Croatia. An enormous transformation has taken place in the country over recent years, partly through its own efforts but also because of the aspiration to join the European Union. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said some harsh things and some true things about what happened with Romania and Bulgaria, but I do not think that we should hold back Croatia on the basis that the country is like those two other countries were in 2006. It is not. Croatia is much more developed politically and in many other ways. It would not be right on account of some bad experiences before this new procedure was brought into effect to damage the Croatian aspiration.
I believe, too, that it is important in looking at these issues that we look at the context. We are not dealing with Croatia alone. What we are doing is sending a clear signal that it is not just Slovenia among the countries of the former Yugoslavia that can join the European Union, as we are open to all the other five states—Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo—and, indeed, to Albania. It has its own problems, but if we are to have the western Balkans stable, secure and developed with a community of trade and partnership, all those countries have to be in the European Union at some point. It would be very dangerous if there were a hole in part of southern Europe, with a country or several countries out of the political process, out of our politics and our pluralistic approach.
I say to the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that the accession of Croatia will bring in a democratic, pluralistic, young and dynamic country that wants to be part of the modern European Union. The EU is still attractive to many people precisely because of that, and it is time that Members of all parties started to make that case to the British public for the future. We need a dynamic Europe; we need to look at Europe as an asset for this country, and we should stop getting obsessed and gazing at our own navel.