SP questions EU accession for Romania and Bulgaria

1 February 2006

SP questions EU accession for Romania and Bulgaria

The SP today proposed that approval of the treaty admitting Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union be delayed, foreign affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel arguing that it would be “illogical and undesirable to move to ratification at the present time”.

Mr van Bommel noted that in order to judge whether the candidate countries can accede to the European Union a number of conditions known as the Copenhagen Criteria must be fulfilled. "According to these criteria evidence must be shown of a stable democracy which guarantees the rule of law, respects human rights and protects minorities, and there must also be a functioning market economy. In addition each new member state must accept the common rules, standards and policy measures which form the body of EU legislation. Romania and Bulgaria must therefore be measured against these yardsticks."

He went on to question whether the two countries came up to scratch. The attitude of the government and of the European Commission was illogical, he said. On the one hand they admitted that neither country had yet fulfilled all the criteria for membership; on the other they were asking that the Treaty admitting the two countries be ratified. Moreover, it was not permitted for the Dutch parliament to say yes to one country and no to the other. It was "all or nothing", and this was unacceptable.

A number of specific problems remained, and neither the government nor the European Commission was able to give any assurance that these would be resolved in time. The Commission's own progress report admitted, for example, that serious human rights issues continued to give cause for concern, and in particular that “with regard to the Roma minority in Romania extremely limited progress has been made. Discrimination, and the resulting social and economic deprivation of the Roma community, remain widespread.” The aversion to and subordination of the Roma is in both countries deep-rooted, van Bommel noted, asking "On what does the government base its expectation that there will be, on this point, remarkable improvements between now and accession?"

A further concern was corruption. Both countries had improved their record, but remained at the bottom of the the list of European countries as measured by the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Poland had slipped down this table since joining the EU, showing that membership was no panacea. Corrupt payments had fallen measurably in both Romania and Bulgaria, but many other kinds of corruption existed about which little was said. "Could the government," the SP spokesman asked "what has been achieved by the two countries in tackling the whole range of corruption – including nepotism, extortion and embezzlement - since the latest progress reports?" The anti-corruption service of the Romanian state had recently been reformed, but now it had apparently been disbanded, calling into question the ambitious "Strategy and Action Plan for 2005-2007" aimed at judicial reform, a plan which the Commission had said must be implemented "without delay". Given that the member states were bent on creating a situation in which citizens could be confident of receiving a fair trial, under a system which respected the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, it was vitally important that before they were admitted, the legal systems of Romania and Bulgaria were functioning in such a fashion that they justify the thorough and unconditional confidence of the Netherlands. Could the government guarantee that this was the case?

Mr van Bommel went on to question arrangements for the inflow of migrant workers which would inevitably accompany accession. Although member states had been given the right to phase in the full legal right to come to their territories in search of work, this did not apply to self-employed people who had no employees of their own. This status had been abused in the past, when people who were in reality employees had been classified as self-employed. Could the government guarantee that this would not happen again? On what did it base its expectation that the accession of Romania and Bulgaria will not lead to a steep rise in the number of migrant workers?

In conclusion, van Bommel said that "in common with the Commission and the government, the SP is 'especially concerned about the extent to which both countries can, by 1 January 2007, fulfil the obligations in the area of Justice and Home Affairs in general, and the combating of corruption in particular.' Both countries have time to effect the necessary reforms, but in the SP's opinion no conclusions can be drawn regarding the preparedness of either country to join on 1 January 2007 or indeed 1 January 2008. What the government is literally saying is that 'at the moment it is too early to draw conclusions about the preparedness of Bulgaria and Romania to accede on 1 January 2007 '. It is therefore illogical and even undesirable to move to ratification at the present time.

"Halfway through this year, on 16 May, a progress report will appear from which it will surely become clear whether these countries can indeed be ready in time. Is it not better to wait until then before we decide whether to ratify? ... France, Denmark and Sweden will not decide until June whether to approve the accession treaty. Approval in June would not mean that accession could not take place in 2007 or 2008.

"Europe stands at a crossroads. The rejection of the European Constitution shook many, including some in this house. The government agreed that in June 2005 the voters had said 'no' because they were concerned that the European Union was developing too quickly, and that it was too meddlesome and too expensive. Serious work is needed to produce a European Union of a new kind. Europe must become a network for cooperation, capable of addressing transfrontier problem and for the time being no more than that. It is therefore high time that Europe was reformed, and reformed on the basis of a more critical view of further enlargement. There are limits to the capacity of the Union as we know it now to absorb more members than it already has. We cannot avoid such considerations. Romania and Bulgaria belong, as far as the SP is concerned, in the European Union, but only if and when we are certain that both countries are ready for membership."

You are here