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How far should ‘Europe’ go? 3 mai 2006

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

Newsweek, May 1, 2006

By William Underhill

For a Bulgarian, Vasil Ivanov made a risky career choice. He became an investigative reporter for a national TV station, learning plenty about corrupt officialdom and the country's flourishing underworld. Too much for his own safety: earlier this month unknown enemies detonated a bomb outside his home in Sofia. No one was hurt, but he's now under police guard–not for the first time. Says Ivanov: "It was a crime against journalism and free speech."

It was also a big black mark against Bulgaria. The bombing adds to a long list of unsolved crimes that have helped to dirty the country's name as it prepares to join the European Union. Together with Romania, its struggle to curb corruption and organized crime provides one more excuse for Western politicians to play up worries over the bloc's eastward expansion. Next month the European Commission will issue a report that may recommend a year's postponement of both nations' membership, currently slated for Jan. 1, 2007. Entry to the Brussels club, officials say, can't be guaranteed without further improvements in both their records. And on that, says the EU's enlargement supremo, Olli Rehn, "the jury is still out."

Whatever the verdict, it will be read with interest across the Balkans. Romania has an edge right now, thanks to the reformist zeal of its new government under President Traian Basescu, who's worked hard to clean up the country's judicial system and push out corrupt officials. But it's still no shoo-in. Meanwhile, a clutch of other states are lining up for eventual EU membership, promised a place in the wider European family as a reward for good democratic behavior. Croatia and Turkey already have their slots on the official candidates' list; the rest anxiously await their turn even as sentiment in Western capitals turns against them. The treatment of Bulgaria and Romania will send a signal of
discouragement–or hope.

Bulgaria makes a handy case study. Clearly, Sofia has much to do, particularly with regard to the rule of law. According to a recent survey, almost 60 percent of Bulgarians believe their judges are corrupt. Nor has the government made much progress against organized crime. The Interior Ministry recorded 156 contract killings over the past five years, many of them distressingly public. Convictions are almost unknown. "It may happen more often in Naples, but at least in Italy they have some success in prosecution," says Boyko Todorov of the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, which recently released a
report chronicling what it calls the country's wholesale "institutionalization of political corruption."

By contrast, neighboring Romania has been scoring points in Brussels. Prosecutors in Bucharest are at last grappling with the old culture of cronyism. Heading their target list: former prime minister Adrian Nastase, who resigned last month as speaker of Parliament following corruption charges linked to shady property deals. Not that Brussels is yet satisfied. More convictions would be welcome, as well as progress in the fight against people trafficking.

Despite all this, EU watchers expect that both countries will be admitted in January, problems or not. "We are too far down the track," says Lucia Montanaro-Jankovski of the European Policy Centre in Brussels. EU officials also worry that delaying Bulgaria and Romania's admission would discourage further reform–and possibly stir up opposition to the EU. Western Europeans may be experiencing "enlargement fatigue," says Radu Motoc of the Open Society Foundation in Bucharest. "But here there's a risk of integration fatigue." The likely scenario is that the EU will take the pair in but deny them certain
privileges–maybe even some subsidies– until further progress is made.

Either way, the debate over Romania and Bulgaria is bound to evoke strident rhetoric in Western European capitals. Last summer's rioting among young Arabs in Paris, coupled with terror attacks in London and Madrid, have reinforced growing popular fears of the disruptive outsider. Worries over big-bang enlargement, which saw the EU accept 10 new members in 2004, are cited as one reason that voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU's proposed constitution last year. The latest Eurobarometer poll finds that almost 60 percent of Germans are against any further widening of the EU, including
Bulgaria and Romania.

Picking up on the dyspeptic public mood, an increasing number of politicians are railing against the prospect of more EU subsidies for yet more poor agrarian countries. In France and Germany, where fears of globalization run especially deep, the idea of facing still more competition–this time from inside Europe–only exacerbates anti-expansion sentiment. "In politics the voter is never wrong," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy last month. "We must not rush headlong into enlargement." Unsurprisingly in this new
climate, the European Parliament recently passed a resolution cautioning against "limitless expansion." At the very least, EU ministers say, Brussels should soft-pedal enlargement until it sorts out tedious but tricky internal questions–such as how to revamp the Union's voting system to ensure a fair balance of power between larger and smaller nations.

To some, this all smacks of a retreat from the most sacred ideal of Europe. For decades, enlargement has been a vital policy tool for promoting prosperity–and stability–across the Continent. Just as the incentive of membership cemented democracy in Portugal and Spain in the '80s, so tomorrow it might help bring peace to the still war-torn Balkans. What's emerging is a pragmatic compromise. The heady enthusiasm for forging a new all-embracing Europe has been put aside. In its place comes a more measured approach. "It will all be much slower in the future," says Jan Wiersma, a Dutch socialist member of the European Parliament. "There will be no more big bangs–and we're drawing a line to the east."

That doesn't mean backtracking on existing pledges. But it strongly suggests
that the aspirations of such hopefuls as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine will be indefinitely postponed. The qualifications bar will also be raised. Henceforth, Brussels will want to be sure that aspirants conform to its standards before they're accepted for membership. "The commission isn't looking for commitments any longer; it is looking for implementation," says Gergana Noutcheva of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Bulgaria, and to a lesser degree Romania, should thus count themselves lucky. In the future, Europe will have no room for a country with so many unresolved problems.


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