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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 18:57 GMT
EU enlargement: You asked the UK's Europe minister
Denis Macshane

  Click here to watch the forum.

  • Click here for transcript.

    EU foreign ministers, attending a summit in Copenhagen, are laying the groundwork for endorsing a financial package that will pave the way for 10 new member states to join in 2004.

    Candidate states are pushing for a fair financial deal on agricultural subsidies and structural funds to promote the development of poorer areas.

    Another potential stumbling block includes the issue of admitting Cyprus as a divided island. This could risk damaging relations with Turkey, which is also seeking EU membership.

    Expansion is likely to cost 25 billion euros over the first three years, which roughly translates as 66 euros to each of the EU's current 370 million population.

    Do you support EU enlargement? What advantages or disadvantages do you think it will bring?

    The UK's minister for Europe, Denis MacShane is attending the summit. He answered your questions in an interactive forum from Copenhagen.


    Hello and welcome to this BBC News Online interactive forum. I'm Paul Reynolds. The deal to expand the European Union from 15 to 25 countries in May 2004 is currently being negotiated at a summit in Copenhagen. Poland is holding out for more money and the Turkish prime minister has accused the EU of discrimination because of its decision to delay the opening of talks on his country's membership until December 2004 at the earliest.

    But is enlargement a good thing? Denis MacShane is the UK's Europe minister and he's joining us from the summit in Copenhagen to answer your questions. Welcome Mr MacShane. Can I ask you first of all are you likely to reach agreement with the applicant countries on the terms of their membership at this summit?

    Denis MacShane:
    I think so. As I speak the presidency of the European Union, currently held by Denmark, is having intensive one-by-one negotiations with each of the 10 applicant countries and that's a good sign because I think we're moving to the closing stages. You never know in these events but I think the smoke signals are good and I think by this weekend we can talk of a reunited Europe and the great countries of Eastern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus joining the European Union.

    But one you don't mention there of course is Turkey and that's really the hottest issue and we've got a lot of messages from Turkey on this. Here's one from Faik Sagkol: "Giving no solid date to Turkey is a mistake which could have tragic pitfalls."

    Denis MacShane:
    I think Faik probably is slightly behind the news because Turkey has a solid dates, it's two years away, and in European Union terms two years, frankly, is almost like the blink of an eyelid and that's a firm commitment. And I think the Turkish government, as they realise the historic significance of what they've achieved are now, this afternoon, beginning to understand just what a good deal it is.

    Well here's a question from the other side. John from England says: "Turkey is not ready to join the EU and even the two years set out seems optimistic. Turkey is essentially a third world country which does not have the infrastructure to cope with the EU. Do you think Turkey would be a huge financial burden and given its human rights record many people would resent their money being used to fund Turkey?"

    Denis MacShane:
    I think that on Turkey we have to put aside perhaps some of the old images. Turkey's on the road to modernisation, the new government has made very clear that it wants Turkey to be a democracy, it has passed an impressive range of human rights legislation in its parliament. Yes it's a poor country in many respects but so are many of the other countries that joined the EU and then became rich. And in two years time we'll be looking to see if Turkey has completely fulfilled what are called the Copenhagen criteria, that's the respect for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and so forth, then negotiations begin. And the Turks themselves said the negotiations are certainly going to take some time, so we're not looking at an immediate entry for Turkey but it's a wonderful moment because Europe now will look out towards Turkey instead of pretending it can slam the door shut in Turkey's face and that's good for all of us.

    Sean from the United States writes: "Enlargement of the EU is a double edged sword for Europe and the US, European countries lose their individualism but gain world power. For the US it would be nice to have another superpower to deal with world problems but the US will not be able to throw its weight around."

    Denis MacShane:
    I don't think countries lose their individuality, in fact if anything the contrary, within the European Union France is more French than ever, Germany is more Germany and in fact some of the smaller countries - Ireland, for example, the country which I always used to go on holiday to when I was schoolboy, now is a very rich, successful, confident nation. So you can be a strong nation with a very clear national identity inside a strong European Union. And yes I think that we're creating a Euro Atlantic community of democracies based on liberal values and rule of law, respect for human rights and struggling to just make a better, fairer and above all a safer world. And I hope America and the European Union can act as partners in that great project.

    Martin Kwasnik from Poland and the US: "Poland and other candidate states could bring Europe back to a potential world power status. Do you agree that the power of a united Europe in time could be greater than that of the US itself?"

    Denis MacShane:
    I'm glad that Poland now is joining the European Union, if that's the final agreement today in Copenhagen. But you see can't we move beyond the idea of talking about great powers? What we should be talking about are great values - the values of democracy, the values of a market economy, the values of the right to health, to education and so on. And it's that that the European Union has to work to develop, not just for itself but its near neighbours - for Turkey in due course - and to work with the United States to ensure that those values are spread around the world. Surely we can build a 21st Century that is free of the old talk of superpower rivalry.

    An e-mail has just come in from Guy Kingston, Bristol in the UK: "Cyprus is not in Europe, it's in the Middle East, so why is Cyprus on the list of possible accession countries to the EU?"

    Denis MacShane:
    The last time I checked Cyprus was in the Mediterranean which certain is a sea that is shared by many countries. When the Roman empire was there it was called mare nostrum - our sea - and I think it's good that Europe, which has an immense presence in the Mediterranean - in Spain, in Italy, in Greece, now in Malta - will be able to have Cyprus which is a rich, civilised and very energetic and entrepreneurial nation joining the European Union.

    And yet not a reunited Cyprus as things stand, the negotiations there seemed to have faltered.

    Denis MacShane:
    That's a very important point. We have this wonderful opportunity, which if we can seize - these are the plans put forward by Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, which suggests that Cyprus should become a single republic, obviously with sovereign control over the two big communities there - the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. Those plans are being discussed now and we could see a united Cyprus enter the European Union with say, for example, a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot foreign minister because that's one of the proposals from Kofi Annan and that would mean that, for the first time, we could have a Turkish gentleman, a Turkish foreign minister, from the united Cyprus sitting around the EU table in the Council of Ministers.

    Now here's a series of questions Denis, actually all three of them from Britain about the effect of this enlargement. Kevin, England: "Only an idiot will consider EU expansion a good idea. Manufacturing jobs will go to the lowest bidder, the UK will be exporting jobs to the east." Chris Fysh, UK: "Will our tiny island be able to cope with the huge influx from Eastern Europe? Are we prepared?" Peter Riley: "I'm concerned about very large numbers of immigrants, including the Roma who are persecuted across Eastern Europe, coming into the South East of the UK putting pressure on housing etc."

    Denis MacShane:
    Well in fact Paul all those questions really knit themselves together. What we have seen has been a 400 per cent increase in trade with Eastern Europe before accession, trade from Britain that is, in other words exporting our goods, our services, earning money for British workers and British firms and I think that enlargement made formal that trade will increase. Immigrants coming into Britain - all the evidence from the past is that in the past when Ireland was outside of the European Union and poor it sent many, many millions of Irishmen to come and live and work in England, Spain and Portugal sent its male adults to work in France and in Germany. But once Ireland and Spain and Portugal entered the European Union we saw the reverse happening - many Irish people going back to a better life in Ireland, many Spaniards in France or Germany going back to a better life in Spain. So I think those fears are exaggerated. And again the whole point about bringing the Eastern European Union countries into the EU is to insist that they do have to respect human rights and the persecution of the Roma, which the last questioner quite rightly referred, is now being dealt with, not perhaps as well and as generously as one might wish but there are a lot of Western European Union countries which don't have marvellous records on the Roma people. But they will now be under pressure and given financial help and told that they've got to develop proper support for Roma people within the countries in which they currently live.

    Here's another one from Gareth in the UK: "The UK already pays billions more than it receives to be a member of this undemocratic, bureaucratic monster called the EU, will the expansion cost the British taxpayer more?"

    Denis MacShane:
    No expansion I think costs about a pound per family or per person per year and for that we get, as I say, countries who can now grow their economies, so they're not putting pressure on ours, countries that have to cooperate on police and work against organised crime. Yes there are some countries, like Germany and the Netherlands and Sweden and France, that pay a bit more into the European Union than they receive in return, just as we do, but the price then is that we can export our goods, our services, we can live in a Europe that isn't racked by the kind of conflicts of certainly my father's generation knew about and I think, on the whole, that is much better for Britain than the old Europe where everybody was hiding in defensive national - behind national frontiers only thinking that everybody else was out to do you down. That kind of Europe, a kind of quarrel and conflict, at times wars, is a terrible Europe and the new one we're building will put an end to all that.

    Here's just a quick one from Wolfgang Hortner from Germany, the other point of view here, he says: "The enlargement will be a good thing that makes our economies stronger, what we don't need are member states dragging behind and thus blocking progress, as for example the UK."

    Denis MacShane:
    Well that's a very fair point. I'd say rather on the contrary that Britain has been very much in front of other countries insisting on enlargement, very much in the front of other countries in saying that Europe's got to get ready to take in the new members being decided upon today and indeed Turkey. But I just don't like this idea where one's always seeking to criticise this country or that country, that's a rather childish schoolgirl quarrel idea of how Europe works. There are differences between Britain and Germany, France and Germany, Italy and Spain - that's normal but we can actually not treat it as a zero sum game and build a better Europe for all of us.

    Okay here's one, a live e-mail just come in, Manu, London: "What's in this specifically for the normal citizen of the EU?"

    Denis MacShane:
    Very simply five big things: increased trade and jobs, secondly increased security and stability, thirdly a new commitment to uphold rule of law and respect democratic rights, fourthly the chance to travel, to study, to go anywhere without having to worry about passports and visas and the rest of it and fifthly, the chance to show to the rest of the world that countries that not so long ago were living under pretty undemocratic regimes and a great deal of poverty can grow together. And I think those are five excellent reasons - trade, jobs, security, the crack down on organised crime and a model of how countries and nations can live together - those are pretty good things for all of us.

    A final live e-mail from Paul Simms: "What happens if any applicant country rejects the enlargement treaty?"

    Denis MacShane:
    That obviously is a very good question. They've got to put what's been decided today to their peoples in the form of referendum and referendums, as you know, can be very controversial and difficult things. But I am confident that the people of the new Europe or the reunited Europe, that we're creating, will see the advantages - it's Europe warts and all, it's not a sort of perfect utopia, far from it - but that they will understand that their interests and their families interests and the interest of a Europe of the 21st Century that can live a whole hundred years in peace and prosperity and growing together is a historic chance they mustn't reject.

    Thank you very much indeed. That's all we have time for I'm afraid, my thanks to our guest, the British Europe minister Denis MacShane and to you for your e-mails. From me, Paul Reynolds, goodbye.

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