I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. Members must consider the issue of the accession of two further countries to the EU, namely, the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania. This will entail the addition of a further 30 million people, which is a considerable number. I understand that Romania has a population of 22.7 million while Bulgaria has a population of approximately 8 million. The two countries are in different states of readiness. Romania has been an applicant for accession to the EU for quite some time and was granted membership to the Council of Europe as long ago as 1993. A subsequent sequence of events started the process.
It is important to note that approximately 95% of Romania's citizens want to join the EU and are active and enthusiastic in this regard. The high level of support for European integration may be explained by the great advantages which EU membership brings. They see how well other member states are doing and the benefits which membership has brought to them.
On its accession, Romania will become the seventh largest state in the EU and will be quite influential. For example, it will have 35 seats in the European Parliament and will undoubtedly wield significant influence in that forum. Another critical issue concerns Romania's strategic geographical location. It will act as a gateway to other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Turkey. It will act as a controlling factor on issues such as visas for those countries.
On 10 May last, this House celebrated Europe Day by discussing European issues at length. It had discussed the question of Romanian and Bulgarian accession to the EU shortly before that. In general, their applications received support from all sides of the House. Although it was originally intended that they would join on 1 January 2007, I am now uncertain whether this will take place in 2007 or 2008. However, serious negotiations began in December 2004.
This debate provides Members with an opportunity to take stock and to review the evolution of the European Union. The concept began in the aftermath of the Second World War. The seeds were sown when people rejected war, having become over-familiar with death, pain and the prospect of sending young people out as cannon fodder. In 1950, the French Foreign Minister decided to co-ordinate the French and German coal and steel industries through the formation of a single supranational authority. At the time, that was a far-thinking measure as in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, people were concerned about their own national identities. The French and German initiative to begin to work together in respect of coal and steel was very important as it laid down a new type of thinking in Europe. Shortly afterwards, in 1952, they joined four other countries, namely, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, to form the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1958 this evolved, with the Treaty of Rome, into the EEC, or the Common Market as it was popularly known for a long time.
Many people ask whether the EU is already sufficiently large. Once one is inside the door, a thinking mechanism emerges to the effect that perhaps enlargement should stop to prevent the EU from becoming too big and unwieldy and that it may be unable to handle further applications.
Thereafter, the EEC worked to converge national economies into a single European economy which was soon to rival the United States as the world's largest trading bloc. While other large trading blocs such as China and India have emerged subsequently, at present Europe is in a position to battle with the best of them. In 1965, the Brussels treaty merged the three existing European organisations into the European Community, which later became the European Union.
From Ireland's perspective, Europe really arrived in 1973, with an expansion which included Ireland, the United Kingdom and Denmark. This was a major step and change for Ireland. Not everyone agreed with the concept and some felt we were selling our national identity or had similar concerns. However, we became part of a wider Europe and we should be proud that as a small nation, we have contributed much to its development. Those who were opposed to entry, if they can remember back that far, might wish to reconsider whether their opposition was misjudged.
In 1981 Greece joined and was followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. The big issue at the time was the potential effect their accession might have on the labour market, given the cost of living in such countries, and whether we would be fit to absorb them. However, they have been absorbed well and capably as part of Europe.
The Single European Act, which was enacted in 1987, amended the EC treaties to help create a single internal market, which constituted another major step forward. It was followed by the Maastricht Treaty of the European Union in 1992, which provided for a central banking system, commonly known as the European monetary system. That significant milestone was particularly welcomed by business interests. I know that Britain remains outside that monetary system and I imagine that some British business people look with envy at the seamless currency transactions in the rest of Europe. Some day, the British will see the error of their ways. This hang-up pertains to their fear of losing their national identity. However, they will see the wisdom in joining at some point. While their business community already does so, they have a nationalistic instinct not to surrender, at a cost to themselves in currency transactions. With the euro, people in Ireland can directly compare prices and labour costs to those which obtain in other regions. These constitute some of the advantages which we enjoy.
The accession of ten new states in May 2004 was another significant milestone for Europe. People probably became concerned in this regard, although this is true every time the EU opens its doors for expansion. Luckily, however, such concerns have been unfounded thus far. People expressed major concerns regarding the impact of inflows of immigration into our labour market. To date, it has not done us any harm, although this might change in the future.
In 2003, the EU embarked on military missions and EU troops were deployed to Macedonia, Congo and, later, Bosnia. In 2004, it was agreed to admit Bulgaria and Romania, with Croatia to follow. The question of Turkey's admission was deferred and many issues remain to be dealt with in that regard. As I stated, there is a tendency on the part of citizens of countries which have entered the EU to be reluctant to consider further enlargement and to state that it is already big enough.
To move on, both countries must grapple with quite a number of issues before they can be accepted. There are issues in respect of the free movement of people, as well as human trafficking between different countries. There are concerns about Ireland's capacity to continue to grow and to accept immigrants. However, business people state that the demand for labour is such that we will need more than 60,000 people per annum to keep our economy going. If we continue at that rate, the bubble is not likely to burst for a number of years to come. Approximately 135,000 people have come from the ten accession countries since May 2004, which is a considerable number. Some 62,000 are expected to come in the next year. There are differences of opinion as to the percentage that they represent. Some people believe the EU non-Irish nationals account for approximately 2% of the population and non-Irish nationals in total account for approximately 3%. However, some people believe that 8% or 9% of our workforce is made up of non-Irish nationals. It certainly appears that way as I keep meeting quite a few of them. We are still able to cater with these numbers.
Rather than guessing how many people might come from Romania and Bulgaria, we should have a logical method for carrying out research on the matter. I understand that Britain has carried out research into the number of people it expects to come from Bulgaria and Romania. We need a scientific method to analyse the numbers we expect to come. We need to be properly prepared and have the proper information. I believe the recently held census will be very revealing regarding the number of non-Irish nationals living here. We will have that information in the autumn and it will allow us to get our housekeeping together and see what is what. We have had ways of figuring this out. To some extent we are guessing at the number of people that might come. Someone recently referred to a back-of-the-envelope guess at the number of people coming.
The two countries concerned have a number of housekeeping issues to address. They were put on notice some time ago and they know they have many issues to correct before they can be admitted. Money laundering is a major issue and we have seen reference to it in this country recently. It is a major issue in Bulgaria. Fraud, corruption and judicial reform are major issues and can be endemic in a system, making them hard to root out. I would have concern about the political influence certain gangs have in those countries. We have heard that in some countries with corrupt systems they claim ownership of a number of politicians. If they have had access to money for such a period, I am concerned they might have corrupted many people.
We cannot be seen to lower the bar to facilitate the entry of these countries to the EU. Too many issues are at stake and they would need to be seen to have taken sufficient steps to have made a positive impact. The safety of nuclear power plants in Bulgaria could present difficulties. That country needs to take steps to ensure the safe storage of nuclear material. Earlier I referred to human trafficking, which is the most despicable abuse of human rights. There is evidence that human trafficking is a problem and that gangs are involved in this activity in Bulgaria.
Considerable money will be allocated to ensure these countries move in the right direction. In the initial three-year period, approximately €9 billion will be allocated to help make the transition. We might regard all the regions in those countries as being poor. However, the poor regions will get in excess of €8 billion. The farming community will get in excess of €1 billion. Some €350 million will be allocated to address nuclear safety. The translators and administrators will need to get a share of money to help them come up to speed. The farmers in Bulgaria and Romania will get 25% of EU payments in 2007, increasing gradually each year so that the direct payments will reach the same level as the rest of the EU in 2016, one decade after the planned accession of the two countries. While that may seem a long time away, ten years will not be long passing.
The Commission assesses the amount of direct payments to the two countries in the first three years at €1.3 billion, which is a considerable amount. Agriculture will be the main beneficiary. Given the amount involved, it will need to be seen to go into a safe system. There is a major incentive for Romania and Bulgaria to get their houses in order. It is good that they have a keen interest in wanting to join the European Union. I look forward to them being in a fit state to join us in some years' time.