EU Enlargement on May 1st
Delivered in Plenary - March 10th 2004
1st May 2004 will finally signify the end of the cold war and seal the reuniting of a continent that we failed to protect from Communist tyranny. The EU, a body of 25 states, will soon have a population of 455 million and be the biggest economic zone in the world, even bigger than the United States of America.
Slovakia, on which I am shadow rapporteur for my Group, has undergone huge changes over the last ten years, with the current government determined to deregulate. For instance, it has just cut business tax, along with income tax, to a competitive flat rate of 19%; this is most worrying to its neighbour Austria, which fears that businesses will relocate over the border. There have been similarly huge, visible changes in terms of prosperity, security, democracy, the rule of law and the fight against corruption in public life. In particular, we observed huge improvements in human rights, including minority rights, such as for the Roma communities and the gay community. Other matters as diverse as safety in nuclear power stations and food hygiene laws have also been implemented to the high EU standards.
Security is also improving for all our continent, as all acceding countries bar Malta and Cyprus, which I particularly welcome as British Commonwealth states, will shortly be joining Nato. We can safely say that previous enlargements of the EU have historically been a success story. Conservatives, on balance, welcome the process and expect a similar outcome this time. However, we in the United Kingdom are right to bring in measures to prevent benefit tourism, whilst at the same time welcoming those seeking to work in our country.
Over the horizon, we look forward to Romanian and Bulgarian accession in 2007. I am confident that the strong warning in the report on Romania will provide the incentive for its government to drive through the necessary reforms to satisfy all the Copenhagen criteria in time for Romania to join in due course, as scheduled. Today's sacking of the Romanian Justice Minister is a clear demonstration of the necessary political will for that process to occur.