Friday, October 20, 2006

Bulgaria and Romania Will Join the EU, But What About the Others?

This time, there were no flags, emotional euphoria, and grandiloquent-bombastic rhetoric about "the final end of the Cold War," which was the case on May 1, 2004, when eight former Soviet satellites joined the ranks of the happy European family. Instead, Bulgaria and Romania received a remarkably lukewarm, if not to say, icy welcome.

On Sept. 26, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, announced that the Balkan-duo would be allowed to enter the EU on Jan. 1, 2007. Like a severe schoolmaster, the EU commission immediately admonished the two pupils. Its (draft) report, compiled under the auspices of enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, pointed out that the young brethren are in need of additional education about European rules and values. Rehn's report states that Bulgaria only produced limited progress in modernizing its justice system, adding a complaint about the lack of investigation and prosecution of high-level corruption, and warns Romania that "petty and small scale corruption remains a problem." If Romania and Bulgaria fail to push on judicial reform, judgements and warrants issued by their Courts will not be recognized in the EU. On March 31, 2007, they will have to convey clear proof of progress in the field of justice and in the combat of corruption. The EU also imposed other transitional arrangements on its latest "acquisitions": a restriction on the free movement of workers — so far, only little Estonia has officially announced that it will welcome Bulgarian and Romanian labour-immigrants — and bans on food exports and cuts to the EU funds, in case problems with the reform of the backward agricultural branch arise.

An article was published in The Times of London on Sept. 25 indicates that indeed a lot of work is awaiting Bulgaria and Romania. The leading British daily — a dedicated advocate of EU-enlargement — wrote that efforts to wipe out corruption have been stepped up, but at the same time provided some examples of the rotten mentality that is still keeping parts of Bulgarian and Romanian society in its stranglehold. In Bulgaria, a former director of the state-owned heating company is being accused of tax evasion and transferring $2.85 million to foreign bank accounts. Six prosecutors were sacked for "forgetting" a massive corruption investigation. Bribing the police is everyday, practical routine, not to mention the 150 gangland-killings over the last five years. On the weekend before the publication of the Commission's findings, 18 customs officers and 2 former secret agents were arrested at Bucharest Airport. Many (Western) tourists could add stories about their personal experiences with "civil servants" demanding payment of "local" or "environmental taxes" at the Bulgarian and Romanian borders.

Did the EU make a grave mistake then by letting Bulgaria and Romania in? On the contrary. First, accession of both countries was inevitable, since this was already agreed upon during the EU summit in Helsinki, in December 1999. The Thessaloniki Summit (June 2003) set the accession-date of Jan. 1, 2007. On April 25, 2005, both countries signed their Accession Treaties in Luxemburg. These treaties also contain protocols on a possible one-year postponement, but cancellation of the operation as such was out of the question. Second, the argument that EU membership will deeply anchor democracy, the rule of law, and the free market economy in the new member states and will enhance regional stability is not bound to time and space. Logically, it could be applied to all the countries on the European continent that have displayed interest in eventually joining the ranks of the EU — so not only to Bulgaria and Romania, and before them Poland, the Baltic States, and all the other countries that joined the EU in 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia), but also to Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and, after dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko's voluntary or forced retirement, Belarus.

In the recent past, the EU already made promises to Croatia and Macedonia. Romano Prodi, the then president of the European Commission, granted Croatia the official status of candidate for membership in June 2004. Like neighboring Slovenia, Croatia once belonged to the multi-ethic Habsburg Empire that infamously collapsed at the end of the First World War in 1918, but is still seen by many as the EU's "delivery room." The main obstacle for Croatian membership, the extradition of war criminal Ante Gotovina to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, has meanwhile removed itself (Gotovina was arrested in the Spanish Canary Islands in December 2005). Prodi's successor José Manuel Barroso nominated Macedonia — officially: "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or "F.Y.R.O.M." — as a candidate member state in November 2005, a recommendation that was taken over by the European Council (the European heads of government) one month later. Vigorous EU and NATO diplomacy prevented the outbreak of a Kosovo-like civil-war between native Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in 2001, but tensions have occurred ever since. Guiding Macedonia to the EU altar might be a good incentive for consolidating a lasting peace in the country.

Bearing in mind the magic formula of exporting the basic liberal-democratic values to Europe's fragile, former communist — and before that, authoritarian-fascist — Eastern periphery, it is rather striking that Barroso made the following statement (Sept. 25): "The upcoming enlargement with Bulgaria and Romania will be the last stage of enlargement allowing the reunification of Europe. There are limits to our absorption capacity." An institutional agreement among its current members should precede further EU-enlargement, the president of the commission added in the European Parliament.

Of course, Barroso is right from a formal point of view — an ever-growing EU should not end up as an unmanageable tanker helplessly adrift in the ocean of world politics. But is this the only explanation for the sudden neglect of the enlargement rational that has proved to be so successful over the last 15 years? Apart from Turkey — the accession talks with this country, which kicked off last year, are on the brink of a collapse — the Balkan and former Soviet republics will not be in a position to exert far-going influence on Brussels' decision-making process. In total, they have approximately 85 million inhabitants, but a combination of Germany and France will simply overrule them.

Yet, another, more crucial factor is slumbering in the background: the wish to appease the wrath of the spoiled inhabitants of "Old Europe." The rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters on May 29 and June 1, 2005, has been interpreted as a clear hint that the inhabitants of the old and rich member states are no longer willing to pay for obscure, unknown peoples in the East, who dare to dream of a more prosperous future and who will deluge the West, snatching up all the jobs there. Barroso seems to take into account the possibility that the French and Dutch will blockade a second, adapted version of the constitution, or a completely new treaty on the reform of the EU's institutional framework, as well.

Not surprisingly, France, still an influential member of the union, immediately expressed its warm support for Barroso's hardened stand. La Grande Nation is not anxious to welcome more pro-American countries (the Romanian government, for instance, signed an agreement on the opening of American military facilities on Romanian soil with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in December 2005) that might undermine its "natural leading position" within the EU even further. France announced it would subject all future enlargement rounds to plebiscites. Nicolas Sarkozy, the rightwing candidate in France's presidential election next year, reiterated his doubts about further EU expansion. Other members, like Italy, Belgium and Luxemburg, share France's view that the construction of a European "core group" might be the inevitable outcome.

So it seems that the unpopular — but inescapable — accession of Bulgaria and Romania had to be compensated for in the capacity of employing tough language against the backwards stragglers. Regarding Ukraine and Georgia: has the EU surreptitiously taken the cynical decision to render them to Russia's sphere of influence, so that it can pursue lucrative gas deals with versatile Moscow? The reticence and lack of enthusiasm Brussels has displayed after the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine has surely contributed to the return to power of sinister, pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev last August. Former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar called on the EU to play a mediating role, but the union has remained remarkably silent during the recent Russian-Georgian crisis.

Barroso's hesitation has exposed the EU's real weakness: a total lack of authoritative, visionary politicians who are able to explain to a broader audience in a calm and convincing way the necessity of disseminating stability throughout the whole of Europe, including its outskirts. Will the new Vaclav Havel please stand up?

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