Roger Helmer MEP
One of the biggest things currently going on in the EU is the proposed enlargement from 15 to 25 members, scheduled (some would say optimistic-ally) for 2004. Yet this huge change has had very little debate in the UK.
Tory policy on enlargement is clear. We are in favour of it, for three reasons. First, we owe a moral debt to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which were allowed to fall under the pall of Communism after the Second World War. Second, by entrenching democracy and the rule of law in Eastern Europe, we ensure stability and security for the future. Thirdly, an extra hundred million people in our Single Market may be a short-term liability, but long-term will contribute to growth and prosperity.
Many Tories believe that a larger Europe must come closer to the Conservative vision of a flexible Europe of independent nation states. After all, how can so many diverse nations conform to a single Brussels model? This is the "wider and shallower" theory - and one that I should support if I thought it was achievable.
But the European Commission takes exactly the opposite view. Recognising the problem of managing diversity, its solution is more rigid central discipline - "Wider and deeper". The proposals recently submitted by the Commission to the so-called Convention on the future of Europe make this approach crystal clear.
its [the EU's] solution is more rigid central discipline - "Wider and deeper"
There are serious problems to be faced if we are to make enlargement work. Here in the European parliament, we already cope with eleven languages. This could go up to twenty. Translation already takes a third of the parliament budget, and this cost will go up exponentially. Of course if we had any sense we should cut back to perhaps three core languages -- say English, French, and German -- and get on with it. But the Euro-visionaries insist that every national language, however small, must have equal status.
But there are much bigger problems than language: structural funds, agriculture, and the movement of people.
Britain for years has been a major net contributor to the EU project. Enlargement will create a huge demand for funds for the accession states, which will mean that the existing member-states will foot the bill. But some member-states, especially Spain, have managed to confirm their net beneficiary status at least until 2008 - so it is difficult to see where the new funds will come from.
This is why the Commission has told the accession states that they can only have a quarter of the agricultural funds that they had expected in 2004 - provoking howls of anguish from East European farmers. Their share will be up-graded over ten years. But by that time, with luck, the CAP will have been cut down to size anyway - so the new members will never get their expected largesse.
The new member states are already major agricultural producers. Poland apparently has more farm workers than the whole of the existing EU. With new European money for restructuring, their agricultural sectors will become even larger. And they will have every right to market their produce in Britain - a further body-blow for our hard-pressed farmers.
And all these new EU citizens will be free to live and work anywhere in the EU. I was in the Slovak Republic recently. There is an eighty-thousand strong ethnic minority group in Slovakia called the Roma people (apparently we are no longer allowed to say "gypsies") who are subject to poverty and discrimination. When they become European citizens, it is not unduly alarmist to expect that many thousands of them may want to come to Britain seeking a better life - and they will have a legal right to do so.
Given the strong feelings in Britain about immigration, this could lead to significant problems.
Of course it is one thing to invite new countries to join, another to press them to do so. This is why I have recently visited two accession states, Malta and Slovakia, and explained in clear terms the pros and cons of EU membership. There are signs that public opinion in the accession states, which originally was strongly in favour of EU membership, is softening, with several countries too close to call.
The enlargement debate reminds me of Saint Augustine, who in the fifth century famously prayed "Oh Lord, give me chastity, but not yet". Yes, enlargement may be right in principle, but not on my watch!
This article was used in Freedom Today magazine