He does not believe in referendums, agrees that restrictions for migrant workers were a good decision, wants Turkey to join the EU and cannot see the UK joining the euro zone or Schengen in the near future. Labour party member since 1986, Chris Bryant is Great Britain’s Minister of State for Europe and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In an exclusive interview for HotNews.ro, Chris Bryant answers our readers' questions.
R: The UK government was a strong supporter of EU's enlargement process, but afterwards it decided to close its labour market for Romanians and Bulgarians. How would you comment this seemingly contradictory policy?
C. Bryant: When the people from such and such country came earlier in the decade, when the A10 countries joined, we were the only country, apart from Ireland and Denmark, to allow people from day one to come and work in the UK. We had estimated a reasonably low number and, in fact, many thousands came to the UK. We decided, because we were in the middle of recession, that we would continue now with a much more targeted approach towards Romania and Bulgaria and I think that this has been the right decision. The difficulty in an area like mine, which is a very poor constituency in South-Wales, is that they might have felt that, in a time like recession, we would be more welcoming to others from other countries.
R: So, in a way, it’s more political than economical?
C. Bryant: No, it’s economical because it’s recession.
R: But the estimated number of Romanians in Great Britain is around 80.000, compared with the large number of Poles here. Romanians do not prefer Britain when it comes to migration, but countries like Italy and Spain, and in Spain they don’t have restrictions, despite a huge Romanian community.
C. Bryant: I thought they did have the same restrictions.
R: No they don’t
C. Bryant: But anyway, Spain and all the other countries refused to allow Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Maltese and Cypress to come there when they joined the European Union. But from a historic aspect of communities, we had a big Polish community in the UK since the World War II. Many exiled from Poland came here. It’s a very different comparison from Romania.
On security, energy and EU neighbours
R: Romanian minister of Economy invited Russia in May to take part in all Romanian future energy projects. Does this invitation go against any EU law/pact?
C. Bryant: I don’t know the answer to that. I think the most important thing in Europe is ensuring energy and security and that normally means energy diversity. Because if you rely on one company, one gas line, one pipeline or one source of energy, that you are endangering your future economy. So I think that’s very important to have diversity. That is why we want to have Turkey in the European Union.
R: Does Britain have any interest in the Black Sea?
C. Bryant: Yes, because Great Britain’s security – economic security, energy security, physical security, security against crime and trafficking – all has to be guaranteed in that region. If Turkey were not a secure country than security in Europe would be undermined. So, although it seems a long way from the UK, nonetheless making sure there’s security in the region is very important.
R: In contrast to Romania, Britain does support an independent Kosovo. What is UK’s motivation?
C. Bryant: It’s about self-determination in Kosovo’s case. Obviously it has been a very rough period for the whole of the former Yugoslav republicans we’ve been keen to ensure that people have an opportunity to determine their own future. We believe the same, for that matter, with the Falklands and Gibraltar. So Britain was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
R: And will you later support it into the EU?
C. Bryant: It’s certainly a long way to go to get there, but we’re certainly in favour of the enlargement of the European Union, particularly in the Balkans. But there’s a lot to be done: the rule of law, corruption and criminality, but yes, we will.
On the British-EU relation
R: Baroness Ashton’s suitability for her new role was challenged by two British MEPs. Is this a worrying issue?
C. Bryant: I know Cathy very well, she’s a very adapt networker, she is quite used to the arrows that politics throw t you and I don’t suppose she cares less about what those MEPs think.
R: Some British politicians and many citizens argue that British people were denied a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and on the UK in the EU because the people in power were certain the Brits would not vote in favour of any. Why was a referendum not held?
C. Bryant: We had our own referendum, in 1975, on whether Britain should remain in the EEC, as it was then. I don’t think treaties are the right way. When you negotiate treaties, a referendum doesn’t really inform a negotiation very much, it’s just a yes/no question. I think that a better way of analysing if a treaty is good is through an act of parliament. That’s what we’ve always done in the past, it has gone through parliament to those elected by the people. If the people don’t like the decisions they have made, then they don’t have to vote for them in the next elections.
R: People are affected by these decisions and it is very difficult to get the country out of the EU, once there
C. Bryant: But we already had a referendum on that in 1970s
R: But not on the Lisbon Treaty
C. Bryant: The Lisbon treaty has been a very complex treaty amending the treaties of the European Union. I’m not a fan of referendums, I don’t particularly believe in referendums. When we help daft the German Constitution after the Second World War we said that it was inappropriate that Germany should be allowed to have referendums because that’s how Hitler came to power. I think a better way to negotiate referendums is through parliamentary scrutiny.
R: A reader has written to us with the following issue: his wife - having Moldovan citizenship, but Romanian residence - had entrance in UK refused in Luton airport, while travelling with him, an EU citizen, because she didn't have a UK visa endorsed on her passport. They had previously travelled to Greece, Italy, Austria and Germany without any visa. What is your perspective of a united Europe regarding travel freedom?
C. Bryant: We’re not in Schengen. Partly because we’re an Ireland nation and we wanted to keep control of our borders in the way that we do. And we’re not joining the Schegen, certainly not in the short term.
R: So any Moldovan citizens coming to the UK, whether married or not with an EU citizens, has to have a visa?
C. Bryant: They will have to check, yes, and that would be true for other parts of the world as well.
R: Another reader thinks that the UK is perceived as a EU member state interested mainly in the economic aspects of the Union while the political issues are systematically ignored or contested and denied by meaning of opt-out clauses or other instruments, like Schengen agreements, which you mentioned, monetary union, judicial system and police affairs. Do you think that the EEA membership would be more suitable for your country?
C. Bryant: No. There are lots of issues where we are as wholeheartedly involved as possible. For example on foreign policy, we would like to see the European Union playing a much more active role on a world stage, in relation for instance to Russia, or to Iran, China, India… We think the EU should do that much more on a coordinated basis.
We certainly think there is work we have to do on something like climate change, where we very much led the debate. Last week, it was Britain and France who came up with a very clear figure about how much we would be putting in and encouraged other countries to put money as well.
But there are some issues where we differ. We have a very different legal system from a lot of Europe. We have our own legal system, which we share with other parts of the world, but it’s different from the Napoleonic code which was enforced in particular the French, German, Italian and Spanish legal system. And each country in the European Union, when it comes to something it finds difficult, it stamps its foot.
R: One thing we try to achieve but Britain doesn’t want to achieve is adopting the Euro. Do you see Britain adopting the Euro in the next 5-10 years?
C. Bryant: We’ve said that, in principle we don’t have objections in joining the euro. The question is whether the economic conditions are right. I know that last year, particularly with the recession, it has undoubtedly been helpful to the UK has that the value of the euros has fallen in price considerably. If the economic conditions were right, than yes, but I don’t think the economic conditions are right now.
R: Which would be several conditions that would make Great Britain join the Euro?
C. Bryant: There is a list of six. I don’t know if I know them all. One is about the effect in employment; one is about the effect on the housing market. We have a high percentage of people in the UK who own their homes. People with short term-mortgages re-mortgage them after a few years, rather than long-term 25-year mortgage with a fix interest rate. And changes in interest rates dramatically affect the economy in the UK. Other than that, there are very complicated issues that the Bank of England have suggested. But I can’t fully remember.
On the Romanian-UK relationship
R: What do you think about the nomination of Mr Dacian Ciolos as Commissioner for Agriculture in relation with Mr Sarkozy's recent comments? ["The second victory is that our friends, the Romanians, have agriculture."]
C. Bryant: Well, Mr. Sharkozy has said that he hasn’t said what other people said that he had said, as it often happens in Europe. Sometimes gossip is inaccurate. But I think that the important thing is that your commissioner used to be an agriculture minister and we worked closely at that time, so I can’t see any reason why that would change. You know we have criticism of the common agricultural policy, we think that it is unfair to some of the poorest countries in the world and we think that it is wrong in the 21st century that we spend so much of the EU’s budget on a 19th century element of the economy. But nonetheless, we’re looking forward to working together.
R: What are the problem areas in British-Romanian relations?
C. Bryant: I don’t think we see many. Last time I was in Bosnia, a few years ago, the British were very reliant on your helicopters and your troops working very closely together, and that is also true in Afghanistan, and many British troops are really complementary about the courage of some of your helicopter operator pilots.
R: Do you see much relevance of Romanian troops being present in Afghanistan or Iraq?
C. Bryant: Yes, because I think that nowhere in the world can afford a country to become a training ground for international terrorism. It’s not in anybody’s interest. And that’s what Afghanistan was and that’s what Afghanistan would be again if it weren’t British and Romanian and American and many other troops as well.
R: Romanians may say that we are not at war, Romania is not threatened. Do you think we would be wrong?
C. Bryant: I think the biggest terrorist threat in the world is if Afghanistan returns to becoming a terrorist country. And I think that in Romania politicians are being courageous of this and understand public sentiments. And in the European Union and in NATO we stand together.
R: How does the British political environment see Mr. Basescu and Mr. Geoana? Will bi-lateral relations be influenced by whoever remains president for the next five years?
C. Bryant: No, we believe in democracy, and we don’t only believe in it here, we believe in it everywhere else in the world. We will work with whoever is president. We are very big investors in Romania. That is a very important part of our relationship and that does not depend on politics at all, that’s about being good at.
R: Do you think that the business environment in Romania would change if we had a social-democratic government and not liberal?
C. Bryant: That’s a question for those governments.