Draft speech in summary to the Moldovan Parliament by Lord Dubs, Friday, 5 October 2007, 10.00, Plenary Session of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova
Thank you for inviting me to address you, and on behalf of the British delegation it is an honour for us to have this opportunity. May I introduce my colleagues: Rt Hon Alun Michael a Labour MP, has served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Wales and also held senior government responsibilities for Rural Development and for Industry. Rt Hon George Reid is a member of the Scottish National Party, has served as an MP in the House of Commons and has been Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, in other words the Speaker. As for myself, I have been an MP in the House of Commons and after losing in an election was subsequently appointed to the House of Lords demonstrating that there can be life after political death! For nearly 3 years I was a Minister in Northern Ireland in the period leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of devolution.
I speak as Chair of the All Party British -Moldovan Parliamentary group. This is my third visit to Moldova in the last 2 years and it is a great pleasure to be in this country once more. I should add that the group has received excellent support and help from your first class Ambassador Mariana Durlesteanu in London. I am grateful to her for her hard work. I believe your country is well represented by her in London.
My first visit was on behalf of the John Smith memorial Trust as a member of its Advisory Committee. I am sure many of you are aware of the work of this trust. Every year we invite young people from Moldova, as well as from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. We select these people to come to the UK for a 5 week course covering democratic institutions, media, British politics, local government and economic development. We expect our alumni to be high achievers when they return to their countries and indeed they are. Some have become members of Parliament, advisers to senior Ministers, heads of NGOs but we do not yet have a President or Prime Minister among them. However you may be aware that the present Moldovan Ambassador to the United Nations is a John Smith fellow.
I should like to address you on 2 specific issues: First European Enlargement and secondly the UK's experiences of devolution.
The UK has been one of the EU countries most supportive of the enlargement process and this is true of all the main political parties. We were very pleased when the 10 joined the EU and later when Romania and Bulgaria joined. One of the difficulties for EU countries has been the question of free movement of labour. Most of the EU countries did not open their labour markets to workers from the 10. The result was that larger numbers than expected came to work in the UK. The greatest number appears to have come from Poland. The British Governments response was to limit the movement of labour into the UK from Romania and Bulgaria, much to the dismay of these 2 countries. This issue is being kept under review by the UK Government.
In the meantime Croatia and Macedonia have now become accession countries. But you will be aware that the biggest issue is Turkey. A number of EU countries have expressed their opposition to Turkish membership or at least leading members of their governments have done so. With Germany and France and Austria, among others signalling their opposition the question of Turkish membership will be difficult to resolve - though the timescale is very long. I should add that the UK position is supportive of Turkish membership - provided, of course, that Turkey meets the EU terms and conditions - and even the Turks agree that they have a long way to go. But it must also be acknowledged that Turkey has already made substantial progress.
Within the EU the phrase 'absorption capacity' is being heard and I feel this really means Turkish membership - although it has apparently been renamed 'integration capacity'. Granted Turkey would be the largest EU country and its record on Human Rights would have to improve significantly. But as I said, Turkey has made progress and has for example abolished the death penalty.
One difficulty is the question of Cyprus and while this is not the proper occasion to discuss the Cyprus question in detail it seems that the EU now feels that this was badly handled. It is unlikely that the EU will in future accept in membership any country which has serious border disputes with its neighbours.
I have already mentioned Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey and if further enlargement is to take place it seems that the next countries will be the others in the West Balkans. At least that was the basis of the evidence given to the House of Lords EU Select Committee when we investigated the further enlargement of the EU. I served on this committee for the last 3 years and believe that our report on enlargement was probably the most important we have produced.
We went on to consider possible alternatives to enlargement including the European Neighbourhood Policy. Whatever it may be called in the future there is clearly scope for bringing countries from further East into a wider European framework. While this would have obvious advantages there is also the question of national pride as it does not give the chance of being at the heart of the EU. On the other hand it might be the best way forward and it does not close the door on eventual full membership.
On my earlier visits to your country I learned clearly that Moldova had been placed in a specially difficult position following the accession of Romania. Your close social and economic links to Romania have inevitably made it hard for you to adjust to having the EU border between you. I hope that some adjustments have been made to help you in this including the difficulties you had originally in obtaining visas. But it has clearly not been easy for you and I have several times raised this with British Government Ministers.
May I now turn to devolution. All 3 of us on the British delegation have been involved in this, Alun Michael in Wales, George Reid in Scotland and I in Northern Ireland. Every situation is unique and I would not want to suggest that our experiences of devolution in the UK can easily be applied directly elsewhere. In any case the details of devolution differed in each of the areas concerned. What they had in common was a referendum endorsing devolution and then detailed legislation setting out precisely which powers were being transferred from Westminster to the devolved parliament or Assembly. The precise powers devolved varied between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This was not an easy process and already there are pressures for the transfer of further powers away from London.
Let me say something further about Northern Ireland where the Good Friday Agreement and a transfer of powers to the Assembly in Belfast, represented a basis for ending the 30 years of troubles and conflict. But an essential feature was the close relationship between the UK government and the government of the Irish Republic. A history of tensions and disagreements has been replaced by ever closer co-operation including an excellent personal relationship between Tony Blair and the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Aherne - a relationship which I am sure Gordon Brown will do his best to continue.
Before I conclude let me say a little more about the structure of devolution in Northern Ireland. You will, I am sure, be aware of the history of tensions and conflict between the 2 communities in Northern Ireland, between the Unionists or Protestants on the one hand and the Nationalists or Catholics on the other. And I realise I am oversimplifying the position. The Assembly in Belfast, in contrast to Cardiff and Edinburgh, must choose its First Minister and deputy first Minister on a cross community basis. And the Executive comprises Ministers from the 4 main parties selected in proportion to party strength in the Assembly. It may seem complicated but despite serious difficulties over the last 7 years it is beginning to work with Dr Paisley leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and First Minister working closely with Martin McGuinness deputy First Minister and a leading member of Sinn Fein.
There are outstanding issues in UK devolution and one is a demand that there should be tax raising powers for the devolved institutions, something that exists on a limited basis in Scotland but not elsewhere. This is still an evolving situation and there will no doubt be further changes in the years to come. I leave it to you to decide whether the UK's experiences of devolution have any relevance for Moldova.
Thank you for listening.