Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 23 November 2006

Contact: Owen Williams 020 7219 8659


In a report published today the House of Lords European Union Committee states that the process of enlargement has long been an integral part of the development of the EU and brings tangible benefits to both new and existing members.

The Committee dismisses fears that further enlargement of the EU is a threat to current Member States, pointing out that the effect on the EU 15 of previous enlargements eastwards has been broadly positive and that the predicted institutional gridlock in policy making has not materialised. The Committee brands the current debate on 'absorption capacity' unhelpful and suggests that the increasing use of 'variable geometry' will show pro-Europeans that widening and deepening can proceed in parallel.

The report makes clear that immigration into Britain from the new member states in Eastern Europe has been beneficial for the UK economy. It argues that the influx of a high skilled, low cost workforce has helped British companies cope better with the growing competitive pressures from Asia leaving the UK economy better placed for the challenges of globalisation. The Committee also point out that in those countries that have retained quotas and work-permit requirements, Central and Eastern Europeans have often found work in the black economy.

The Committee recognise that a larger EU will require institutional change to function effectively. They assert that sensible and functional improvements to the working practices of the EU can still be pushed forward despite the Constitutional Treaty's failure and argue that these could be introduced through a new intergovernmental conference.

In their report the Committee calls on politicians in Western Europe to do more to engage the public on the benefits of EU expansion and to challenge the negative media portrayal of an enlarged EU. They point out that expert opinion is far more positive towards further EU expansion than the public opinion, and stress that politicians in Britain and other established Member States must rise to the challenge and put forward the case for further expansion.

The Western Balkans nations are identified as countries that could benefit significantly from further involvement with, and eventual membership of, the EU. The Committee describe these countries as 'fragile and fractious' and assert that the prospect of EU membership could help them avoid a return to sectarian violence as well as encouraging them to tackle crime and corruption. The alternative is the prospect that they could become an area of political and economic instability surrounded by EU members. Indeed the Committee make clear that the EU could be faced with the stark choice of integrating the Western Balkans into the EU or running them as protectorates if they become failed states.

The Committee recommends that the EU Member States should strive to maintain a more consistent and coherent line as regards the possible accession of Turkey. The Committee argues that it is in both Turkey's and the EU's best interests that negotiations be pursued in good faith and with a will to bring them to a successful conclusion.

The Committee stresses that the EU needs to have an attractive and effective policy to work with those countries that do not have the immediate, or even medium-term, prospect of membership. The European Neighbourhood Policy is judged a promising start but the Committee recommends that the EU improve it through better incentives, tougher conditionality and more differentiation among the participating countries.

Commenting on the report, Lord Grenfell, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, said:

"EU enlargement has significant benefits for both new and existing member states.

"The last round of enlargement brought countries from Eastern Europe into the EU and all the evidence suggests their inclusion has had a beneficial effect on their own economies and those of the established EU members. In a global economy, where competitiveness is key, immigration from Eastern Europe has helped British companies compete with those in the emerging economies of Asia.

"The prospect of EU membership for the Western Balkan states can act as a key olive branch to encourage its population and politicians to move away from corruption and sectarian violence and towards a future of integration with the rest of Europe. The risk of the Balkan region becoming destabilised again and the pressure this would place on the EU and Western European countries should motivate current member states to keep the door open to the Western Balkans."

Notes to Editors

1. The report is published by The Stationary Office, The Further Enlargement of the EU: Threat or Opportunity, The House of Lords European Union Select Committee, 53rd report of 2005/06, HL Paper 273.

2. The report will be available shortly after publication at:

3. The members of the Committee who conducted the inquiry are:

Lord Grenfell (Chairman)

Lord Blackwell

Lord Bowness

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Haywood

Lord Dubs

Lord Geddes

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

Lord Harrison

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

Lord Marlesford

Lord Neill of Bladen

Lord Radice

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

Lord Roper

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

Lord Tomlinson

Lord Woolmer of Leeds

Lord Wright of Richmond

For copies of the report or to request an interview with Lord Grenfell, please contact Owen Williams, Committee press officer, on 020 7219 8659 or 07961 101 461.