Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia join EU bloc

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By Gareth Hard­ing

BRUS­SELS — The ad­mis­sion on Jan.1ofBul­gar­i­aandRo­ma­ni­a­tothe Euro­pean Union — boost­ing the bloc’smem­ber­ship­to27­na­tion­sand al­mosthal­fa­bil­lion­peo­ple—should beamo­ment­for­self-con­grat­u­la­tory cel­e­bra­tion. But few out­side of Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia and the Brus­sels belt­wa­yareinamood­to­toasttheac­ces­sion of the for­mer com­mu­nist states.

With the ex­pan­sion, the EU gains al­most 30 mil­lion new cit­i­zens and sees its borders stretched east­ward to the Black Sea. The new coun­tries al­ready are new NATO mem­bers, help­ing to project sta­bil­ity in a volatile re­gion. And their ac­ces­sion 17 years af­ter they shrugged off more than four decades of com­mu­nist rule is seen by some as the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of the Cold War.

“This is a his­toric de­ci­sion,” said the pres­i­dent of the cen­ter-right Euro­pean Peo­ple’s Party, Wil­fried Martens, af­ter the two states re­ceived the green light to join the EU last month.

“Af­ter the ac­ces­sion in 2004 of 10 coun­tries from East­ern Europe and the Mediter­ranean area, the EU is now com­plet­ing the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the Euro­pean con­ti­nent,” he said.

Oth­ers sup­port­ers vaunt the geostrate­gicben­e­fit­sofBul­gar­i­aand Ro­ma­nia’s en­try.

Mircea Geoana, chair­man of the Ro­ma­nian Se­nate’s for­eign-af­fairs com­mit­tee, told The Wash­ing­ton Times: “As size does in­deed mat­ter in in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics, a Euro­pean Union­aimin­gatthes­tature­ofa­gen­uine global power should wel­come the ac­ces­sion of Ro­ma­nia, which is the EU mem­ber with the long­est east­ern border and — to­gether with Polan­dandthe[Unit­edKing­dom]— one of the mem­bers with very close re­la­tions to the United States.”

At the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Brus­sels head­quar­ters a huge ban­ner has hung for weeks wel­com­ing Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia to the Euro­pean Union. The ex­ec­u­tive body even staged a rock con­cert in midDe­cem­ber dur­ing which the two coun­tries were added to a gi­ant ginger­bread map of the union.

Bu­ta­mon­gor­di­naryc­i­t­i­zen­softhe ex­ist­ing EU coun­ties, es­pe­cially the older and richer na­tions of West­ern Europe, there is lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for the latest ex­pan­sion.

“There is a strik­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween this en­large­ment and the fes­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing the 2004 ex­pan­sion,” says Lu­cia Mon­ta­naroJankovski, a pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Euro­pean Pol­icy Cen­ter think tank in Brus­sels.

“It has been dif­fi­cult to per­suade EU cit­i­zens of the ben­e­fits of Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia’s ac­ces­sion be­cause the two coun­tries are en­ter­ing the union dur­ing a cli­mate of Euro-skep­ti­cism and en­large­ment fa­tigue. There is a feel­ing the 10 coun­tries that joined in 2004 haven’t been fully di­gested, and there are ques­tions about how many more coun­tri­es­theEU­can­ab­sorb­with­its cur­rent rule­book.” Ex­pan­sion op­po­si­tion

The en­large­ment of the EU to take in poorer coun­tries on its south­ern and east­ern fringes is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be the union’s big­gest suc­cess story, help­ing to ce­ment democ­racy and bring pros­per­ity to coun­tries emerg­ing from au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

But while the ad­di­tion of Malta, Cypru­sandeight­former­com­mu­nist coun­tries in cen­tral Europe was viewedase­poch-mak­ing­byEurope’s po­lit­i­cal elites, it was viewed more coolly by or­di­nary cit­i­zens who blame the “big bang” ex­pan­sion for high­er­level­sofim­mi­gra­tio­nan­dunem­ploy­ment.

The sense of an en­large­ment fa­tigue is borne out by a re­cent Euro­pean Com­mis­sion opin­ion poll that shows op­po­nents of fur­ther EU ex­pan­sion­al­moste­qual­ingth­enum­ber of sup­port­ers. In two of the union’s largest­coun­tries—France­andGer­many — only a third of vot­ers sup­port fur­ther en­large­ment.

EU lead­ers also ex­pressed their frosti­ness to­ward hastily ad­mit­ting new mem­bers at their quar­terly sum­mit in Brus­sels last month. In a clear nod to Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia, which many EU of­fi­cials think are not ready to join the union, heads of state agreed not to give would-be mem­bers an en­try date un­til they­have ap­plied all the bloc’s strin­gent rules.

“There has been a lot of crit­i­cism about Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia’s lack of pre­pared­ness,” says Mrs. Mon­ta­naro-Jankovski. “How­ever, there is a feel­ing that it will be eas­ier to ad­dress th­ese short­com­ings once they are in the EU.”

The two coun­tries have adopted more than 200,000 pages of EU leg­is­la­tion and car­ried out ma­jor in­ter­nal re­forms in or­der to be de­clared fit for mem­ber­ship of the Brus­sels­based club that started 50 years ago with only six found­ing states. Im­mi­gra­tion fears

How­ever, there is a wide­spread feel­ing inside the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­thatthere­ar­e­se­ri­ousshort­com­ings in the ap­pli­ca­tion of EU law — es­pe­cially in ju­di­cial and home­land­se­cu­ri­tyis­sues.Inthelat­est Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tions In­dex com­piled by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional,Bul­gar­i­aranked57thandRo­ma­nia 88th — be­low most Mid­dle Easter­nand­someAfrican­coun­tries — out of 163 na­tions an­a­lyzed. Or­ga­nized crime is also a prob­lem in both new EU mem­bers.

There­are­al­sofearsthattheen­try of Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia, where per-capita in­come is less than $10,000 a year, will lead to a wave of mi­grants seek­ing work in West­ern Europe.

Most EU mem­bers have barred Bul­gar­ian and Ro­ma­nian job seek­ers from work­ing on their ter­ri­to­ries, but most of the mi­grants who wanted to quit the two Balkan states have al­ready left. In Spain alone, there are thought to be more than 800,000 Ro­ma­ni­ans work­ing on farms and con­struc­tion sites.

Mr. Geoana, the Ro­ma­nian sen­a­tor, blames West­ern Euro­pean tabloids for spread­ing “gross ex­ag­ger­a­tions and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions” about his coun­try and says Bucharest has be­come an “easy scape­goat for those op­pos­ing fur­ther en­large­ment of the EU.”

Politi­cians from the two new mem­ber states com­plain that their peo­plea­reen­ter­ingthe­unionassec­ond-class cit­i­zens with­out the right to work or travel freely en­joyed by cit­i­zens of other mem­ber coun­tries.

They also protest that the stereo­type of Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia as grim, post-com­mu­nist Balkan back­wa­ters has lit­tle in com­mon with the re­al­ity of fast-grow­ing states firmly in the main­stream of Euro­pean cul­ture and his­tory. Turkey’s ap­pli­ca­tion

But in many ways, Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia are the lucky ones. They are en­ter­ing the union be­fore they are fully ready to do so. And de­spite the dis­tinct lack of en­thu­si­asm from many West­ern Euro­peans, no coun­try has blocked their ac­ces­sion.

Con­trast that with Turkey, which first ap­plied to join the EU more than40yearsago,hasasim­i­lar­stan­dard­ofliv­ing­toSofi­aandBucharest and, as a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try bor­der­ing the Mid­dle East and Cau­ca­sus, has an even stronger geostrate­gic claim to mem­ber­ship.

At­last­month’ssum­mit,Euro­pean lead­ers de­cided to par­tially freeze Turkey’smem­ber­ship­bidalit­tleover a year af­ter talks be­gan. If mem­ber­ship ne­go­ti­a­tions fin­ish suc­cess­fully — and no one pre­dicts this will hap­pen for an­other decade — Ankara’s ap­pli­ca­tion­willthenbe­sub­mit­tedto ref­er­en­dums in France and Aus­tria — whose vot­ers are the staunch­est op­po­nents of Turkey’s en­try.

“The more the EU enlarges, the mored­if­fi­cul­titwill­be­to­getin,”Mrs. Mon­ta­naro-Jankovski says.

Sup­port­ers of a more tightly knit and deeply in­te­grated Euro­pean Union ar­gue that the club has to solve its own prob­lems — no­tably agree­ing on an up­dated con­sti­tu­tion — be­fore it can take in any more mem­bers.

But­crit­ic­soft­his­pol­icy,which­in­clude the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, coun­terthat­shut­tin­goutTurkeyand thewest­ernBalka­n­coun­trieswould only cre­ate in­sta­bil­ity on Europe’s east­ern flank.

The de­bate about “widen­ing or deep­en­ing” the union, which has been rag­ing in EU cir­cles since Spain, Greece and Por­tu­gal joined in the 1980s, is likely to con­tinue long af­ter Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia’s ad­mis­sion.

Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

The EU flag was raised in Bucharest on Jan. 1 as Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia be­came the new­est na­tions in the now 27-mem­ber bloc.

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