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European Union (Croatian Access and Irish Protocol) Bill

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013


My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. With the agreement of the Committee, I will now put the Question that I report the Bill to the House without amendment.

Question put, That the Bill be reported to the House without amendment.

My Lords, before proceeding, I would like to place on record the respect of the whole Committee, I am sure, for, Zlatko Mateša, Prime Minister of Croatia between 1995 and 2000. I was with him in Andorra only a couple of months ago when he suffered a very severe heart attack. I am glad to say that he is on the mend.

The reason why I mention him is because as Prime Minister in 1995, he provided the leadership, the inspiration and the commitment to the European project through signing the first agreement between the European Union and Croatia. As Prime Minister, he also established the office for European integration in his country and appointed a Deputy Prime Minister, Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, as Minister for European integration.

Zlatko Mateša is a great European who has been a good friend of this country, not least through matters Olympic. He has led the Croatian national Olympic committee for many years. I am sure the whole Committee will wish him well and hope that he makes a speedy and full recovery, recognising the remarkable and important contribution that he has made. His work and the work of his successors have been good news for British relations with Croatia and good news for Croatia. This is an important year for Croatia, which will go down in its history. We will all celebrate and support that country on its road to full integration within the European Union.

My Lords, is it in order for me to say something about the Irish protocol? I apologise for not having given notice that I intended to do so.

There is a bit missing from the Irish protocol, for which the UK bears some responsibility. The story starts with the rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters, which prompted Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy to propose a social clause to be incorporated into European treaties to reflect the fact that the single market is a vehicle for social progress and that economic freedoms and competition in the market should not have priority over fundamental social rights and not be used to evade or circumvent national laws and practices.

The idea was dropped as the constitutional treaty was minimised; certain things were concentrated on—some things were withdrawn, not added, to the process. Then came along two legal cases turning on the relationship of the free movement principles with national employment law systems. I refer to the Laval case and the Viking case. In both cases, the European Court of Justice ruled that the free movement principles would prevail.

There has been a series of other cases, some of which noble Lords will probably be familiar with because they are closer to home. One involved British and Irish Ferries where the predominantly Irish workforce was replaced by an eastern European workforce. This caused a lot of consternation in Ireland at about the time that the Irish voters rejected the EU constitutional treaty. This protocol is designed to permit the Irish Government to put the issue again to the Irish people, which they have done. But at that time the initial rejection was put down in a major way to the Irish Ferries case, employment issues and workers’ rights.

There are other cases. The British Airline Pilots Association—I declare an interest as the unremunerated president—in a dispute with British Airways, which was establishing subsidiaries in Paris and Brussels, was seeking clarification on whether the British collective agreement, which covers Hong Kong, Australia and other places, would also cover Paris and Brussels.

There was also a dispute at Immingham in 2009 in a petrochemical plant that attracted a lot of attention under the heading of “British jobs for British workers”, a phrase that the previous Prime Minister had used. In each case, employers were seeking to take advantage of the ECJ rulings in the Laval and Viking cases. Let me make it clear that unions are not objecting to the employment of foreign labour—absolutely not. We are trying to protect collective agreements and to be able to enforce those agreements in the country where the dispute arises. We are looking to protect the collective agreement to ensure equality between migrants and indigenous workers, particularly where there is a loophole in the posting of workers directive where a migrant employer brings in his or her own workforce.

This is when the idea of a social protocol re-emerged to be attached to the Irish protocol. It was based on a clause on the free movement of goods originally drafted by Mario Monti when he was European Commissioner. He said then that in relation to the movement of goods, the single market would not interfere with fundamental rights. We have been seeking to get that phraseology shoved into the provisions on the free movement of services.

We have the support of the Taoiseach, the Irish Government and most Governments. It all went through the diplomatic channels and COREPER in Brussels, but it was blocked at the eleventh hour by the UK Government, who were worried about red lines in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and feared that it would strengthen calls for a referendum in the UK on Britain’s EU membership.

Interestingly, for those who think that powers should be repatriated, if we had been then in the Norway position, this particular measure could never have been blocked; the rest would have agreed it. The British influence worked against my interests in that case, but it showed Britain’s influence in the EU through participation.

The response of the European authorities was to establish another exercise, also under Mario Monti, who proposed a regulation rather similar to the one he had proposed 10 years earlier in the free movement of goods legislation. The Commission drafted a regulation based on his report but, interestingly and importantly, said that they could not go further than the ECJ decisions because it was important simply to recognise that free movement is a European competence and labour law is a national competence. They were going to respect that as no doubt the British Government wished.

That has produced a lot of disillusion. I am certainly not holding my breath for any prospect of change, but the campaign for a change goes on. As Brendan Barber, my successor at the TUC, has said, we managed to get Monti 1, we did not manage to get Monti 2, but now we would really like the full Monti. The full Monti is a social protocol which we came close to achieving in the Irish protocol that is before us today.

I emphasise that the campaign for the trade union principle of when in Rome, do as the Romans do—advice given many centuries ago to St Augustine—is very important.

I will not go into the broader implications of social Europe. I am presuming a little on the Committee’s time at the moment, and I am grateful for its patience. However, it is important to recognise that social Europe is a crucial part of Europe’s future. That concept made Europe popular, certainly on the left of British politics. Ever since, it has been chopped and cut back, and this is an example. Funnily enough, the number of supporters decreases. If we pro-Europeans are going to fight for the European Union in future, do not be careless with the concept of a social Europe. Do not be careless with the rights that have been established, or how social Europe can be used to move us in the direction of the more successful European countries such as the Nordics, Germany, the Netherlands and the eastern side of our North Sea.

I thank the Committee for its attention and for this opportunity.

My Lords, before we receive any more contributions, I remind the Committee that the Question before it is to do with the reporting of the Bill back to the House. It is not really debatable. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Monks, I do not think that he can expect any further contributions on the observations that he has made.

My Lords, I first congratulate the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government. The forthcoming European Union membership of Croatia is greatly to be welcomed and we all welcome it. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Croatia, and also as Scottish consul for Croatia. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Anderson. They have both made an enormous contribution within Parliament to assist Croatia in recent years.

It so happens that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I have just come from a meeting with a Montenegrin delegation. I asked its members one question which may be timely: given that we now have three countries within south-east Europe committed to the European Union—Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia, with the latter already in membership—what plans are they already evolving among themselves to confront intransigent problems preventing candidature and EU membership elsewhere in south-east Europe?

First, we have not least the absence of constitutional reform within Bosnia and Herzegovina; we have the Kosovo/Serbia difficulty; and we have border disputes and a number of other matters holding back Macedonia and Albania. What plans have the Government to address those issues along with these three committed EU states, thus making use of their energies?

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but this not appropriate to the Question we have before us. The Minister is not required to answer the noble Earl’s question.

I am grateful to the noble Countess for reminding me of that. I am fully aware that the Minister is not required to answer my questions today. I had a word with her before these proceedings and suggested that she might come back to me later on. She has already kindly agreed to do so.

I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, who I am tempted to call “my noble friend”. We had a discussion as to whether we should sit on the same side of the Committee. Indeed, we form a troika with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in this respect. Again, I do not expect any answer to the questions I raise at this point. Perhaps the Minister will consider them and will be able to give some answer at the next stage of proceedings.

Croatia is, as the noble Earl said, the last entry into the EU, as it will be on 1 July, under the old rules. As we know, the new rules will be far tighter—particularly, as the noble Earl has said, in respect of the rule of law. There have been bilateral problems in respect of Croatia from Slovenia, in that Slovenia first drove a hard bargain in respect of Piran and, latterly, in respect of the bank. I understand that Croatia has given a firm, if not bankable, pledge that it will not use the fact of its entry as a means of creating problems for other countries in the western Balkans.

In terms of its regional responsibilities, Croatia is also to be complimented on passing to all other relevant countries the acquis, which it has translated, since the language is essentially the same in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. This is a major matter, although I understand that a large part of the material that it produced actually relates to defunct, expired elements of the acquis and is not relevant.

The most important point, which perhaps the Minister can briefly come back to when we next convene, is how to deal with the matter of regional integration. We know that after Croatia’s entry to the EU on 1 July, there is likely to be a substantial hiatus. It is possible that, depending on the result of its vote, Iceland will enter the European Union in about 2015. Thereafter, the earliest possible date—and the target date for Montenegro—is 2020.

All the instruments of the European Union must be used to keep the remaining countries of the western Balkans in play, to ensure that there is not a greater divide. For example, I understand that Bosnia will lose out in terms of trade in several respects. The particular trade matters that are relevant include the sale of river fish and animal skins. So we have to ensure that there is no further divide over that period as a result of the Croatian entry.

Finally, there are clearly other regional implications, although it is now agreed that there will not be a bloc entry and the European Union accepts that there is differentiation. Montenegro has a particular advantage because it already uses the euro and there are no bilateral problems. It will be very important, therefore, that those countries that have recently gone through the process of joining, particularly those in the region such as Slovenia and Croatia itself, help the remaining countries of the western Balkans. It is in their interests. It is surely in our interests.

My very final point is that it would be helpful if, next time, the Minister could give some indication of how we will use our experience of helping Croatia in its own six-year preparation for entry on 1 July in terms of twinning and technical help for the neighbouring countries in the western Balkans in preparing for their hoped-for entry. The key point is this: the troika and all of us will surely give a very warm blessing to Croatia on its progress to full entry in July.

My Lords, once again I remind the Committee that the Question before it is to report the Bill. Perhaps I might observe, with great respect to those who have contributed thus far, that it might have been more appropriate to add these points under a clause stand part or similar Motion. Equally respectfully, I recommend to the Committee that we do not progress this debate further.

My Lords, I suggest to noble Lords that they put an amendment down on Report if they wish to speak to it.

My Lords, I will take a few brief moments to thank noble Lords who have made contributions today. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, makes important historical points but also raises some concerns for the future. I add my comments to those of my noble friend in relation to Mr Mateša. I am sure that all of us will join him in wishing him a speedy recovery.

There was some overlap of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lord Dundee in terms of those who are inside the European Union family, those who are now joining and those who are seeking to join. I think we would all agree that there is a responsibility on those of us inside the European Union to ensure that we keep on making the case for an enlarged European Union and for those joining the EU family to meet their responsibilities. We must also ensure that as nations we continue to strengthen our bilateral relationships with nations aspiring to become part of the European Union family. With those comments, I beg to move that the Bill be reported to the House.

Bill reported without amendment.