It is a pleasure to be in Edinburgh and I welcome the opportunity to speak at the Europa Institute. The Institute has developed to be one of the finest centres in the UK for the study of the institutions, policies and law of the European Union, and I appreciate this opportunity to speak today about the future of Scotland, and the UK, in an enlarged Europe.
SCOTLAND AND THE EU
Scotland has historically been an outward-looking, trading nation, proud of its Scottish identity, as well as its European identity. The relationship with Europe has been mutually beneficial. The character of Scots law, with its profound debt to Roman law, reflects the training that the best Scottish legal minds received in European universities. Scottish universities have well-established European connections and a deserved reputation for excellence across the continent.
In the centuries preceding the Act of Union, Scotland developed one of the most mature commercial networks in Europe, with trading privileges in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltics, Poland and Russia.
As the son of a Polish father and an Irish mother, I was interested to discover that in the 17th century, Poland was in fact described as ‘Scotland’s America’. Contemporaries estimated that 15,000-40,000 Scots were settled in Poland mainly as merchants and craftsmen. While this mass migration is perhaps largely forgotten in modern Scotland, it is still remembered in Poland. The names of the descendants of Scots immigrants are still to be found in Polish phone books, such as Ramzy from Ramsay, or Czarmas from Chalmers. Danzig still has many Scottish street names and villages in the hinterland are named after the Scots - Dzkocja, Skotna Góra, Szotniki or Szoty.
Scotland’s ease with its European identity has always sat comfortably with a strong sense of Scottish patriotism. The people of Scotland have demonstrated how pride in one’s nation and support for Europe are entirely compatible.
Today, I would like to take this opportunity to set out my vision for the future of Scotland in an enlarged Europe. It is a vision for an outward-looking, self-confident Scotland, in a strong, stable and prosperous Europe.
For more than half a century, the EU has been a powerful force for good, bringing democracy, peace and human rights through force of argument, rather than force of arms, to the peoples of Europe. When the UK joined the European Community in 1973, Spain was ruled by a military dictatorship. In 1973 and 1974, there were military coups in Greece, Portugal and Cyprus. Membership of the European Union helped to stabilise and strengthen the renascent democracies of Spain, Greece and Portugal.
Today, the prospect of EU accession has acted as a stimulus for reform in the ten accession countries, as well as in Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. Only last month, EU leaders met in Athens to sign the Accession Treaty, paving the way for ten countries from central, eastern and southern Europe to join us in the EU on 1st May 2004. Enlargement will be one of the greatest achievements of the current European generation, finally ending the bitter divisions of the Cold War. Indeed, there is no greater testimony to the benefits EU membership brings to its people than the desire of many countries to be part of the Union. There must be something good about an institution that almost everyone wants to join!
Britain has championed EU enlargement from the start. The enlargement negotiations began under the UK’s Presidency of the EU in 1998, and the Prime Minister was the first EU leader to call for EU expansion in 2004.
This government has backed its political commitment with the resources needed to make it happen. British experts have shared their knowledge and expertise so that accession countries can increase their standards to meet those of the EU.
And Edinburgh has played its part too. Just one example is the contribution made by the City of Edinburgh Council to the Demos Project. This project links eight city councils in seven countries – including Krakow in Poland – with research across Europe. The project is developing new ways to enhance citizen participation in local government, and is already helping to improve community safety in Krakow.
Such expansion in Europe is unprecedented. EU enlargement will boost peace, prosperity and stability across the entire continent. The political importance of enlargement is clear; so too are the practical benefits it will bring to the people of Scotland.
BENEFITS OF EU ENLARGEMENT TO SCOTLAND
The people of Scotland and the UK stand to gain from EU enlargement. It will create a single market of 450 million consumers, with more choice, at more competitive prices. Independent research estimates it will boost the UK’s economy by £1.75 billion and create 300,000 new jobs across the current EU – many of those in the UK. And there will be even more opportunities to travel, study, work and live across an enlarged EU.
Already, more than 14,000 British firms are exporting or investing in Central and East Europe. These companies aren’t just the big players like Tesco and Cadbury. Many local Edinburgh companies are also seizing the new opportunities to expand their business. For example, Caledonian Alloys, working in the aerospace industry, has recently established a processing facility in the Czech Republic. Another is Scottish Woodlands, a forestry consultancy. The company is currently investing in Latvia and Estonia, buying land to develop forests and providing expertise to local managers of forests.
Companies such as these are to be admired for their vision and boldness. But I want to see more Scottish businesses seize these new opportunities. They must be in pole position, one step ahead of the competition. Many more need to be informed and involved in the accession countries now – rather than waiting for others to move in. My message to them is that we risk losing out if business doesn’t prepare properly. Scottish companies have no automatic right to the opportunities in central and eastern Europe. Our European competitors are also after them. And if we don’t take advantage, they will.
EU expansion will bring benefits for everyone in Scotland. Enlargement will make Europe more secure and boost our ability to tackle global issues such as cross-border crime, people trafficking and pollution, through increased trans-national co-operation. These are issues which affect us all and which no country can solve alone.
I want to tackle some of the myths about enlargement. Sceptics worry about the cost. But it costs us far less to support our neighbours' transition to stable democracies and open economies, than it does to rebuild them after conflict. Just take the example of countries that turned towards Europe, like Slovenia, and those that did not, like Yugoslavia under Milosevic. In 2001, the EU as a whole spent around £20m helping Slovenia prepare for EU membership. But it spent around £300m on the reconstruction of Kosovo.
Some fear that EU expansion will increase immigration and asylum seekers to the UK. But enlargement will bring more stability, security, and prosperity to these countries – and therefore lessen the likelihood of migration. In 1986, the year Spain joined the EU, there were over 100,000 Spanish workers in France; by 1994, this had fallen to just 35,000. More British people have settled in Spain than Spanish people in Britain!
Britain has had a long and close relationship with the enlargement countries. From the sacrifices of 250,000 Poles who fought under British command in World War II to today, they are very much part of our lives. Over three million Britons visit Cyprus and Malta every year. Over twenty footballers from the new countries play for British football teams. One, Andrius Skerla, plays for Dunfermline.
In summarising my vision for the future a strong Britain in an enlarged Europe, I would like to quote the great French philosopher, Victor Hugo. In 1849 he said: ‘A day will come when you, France; you Italy; you England; Germany; all you nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and glorious individuality, will merge into a higher unity and found the European brotherhood.’ There could be no better statement of the objective of a diverse, yet stable and unified Europe, stretching from Estonia to Portugal. This would be the greatest achievement of this current European generation.