Keep debating about NATO and Eastern European troubles

18 March 2009

Keep debating about NATO and Eastern European troubles

NATO needs a political debate about its future. This should be a debate about the strategic concept of NATO trying to reshape the organization in such a way that it can fulfil its genuine role in international relations, according to Harry van Bommel, an MP from the opposition Socialist Party in the Parliament of the Netherlands. He was speaking to BTA, the Bulgarian News Agency in anticipation of the publication of his book on NATO later in March and a NATO Summit in Strasbourg/Kehl in April which is expected to decide, among other things, on the name of the new Secretary General of the Alliance.

Harry van Bommel Van Bommel (46) has been in Parliament for ten years now. He is a member of the commissions for foreign affairs and European issues in the Dutch parliament. He is also on the Dutch delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

"We know where NATO came from - from being an organization that was there to secure and provide a collective security. It has changed, adopting a role of worldwide police organization intervening in internal and regional conflicts and thereby it went from a defence organization to an offensive organization," van Bommel said. He believes that NATO should go back to its original role. "I would put more stress on the prevention of conflicts instead of trying to enforce peace on countries", he said.

He doesn't have strong opinions about the bid of Bulgaria's Solomon Passy to be the next NATO Secretary General, and says what matters is the role - not the name - of the next Secretary General.

"What we see is that the Dutch position, with the secretary general who comes from the Netherlands, has not changed anything in its agenda and we, as a Socialist party, believe that the Dutch Jaap de Hoop Scheffer could only get that position because he has always been supporting the American agenda. And therefore we hope that someone more critical is going politically to lead NATO", Harry van Bommel says.

He believes that NATO needs a person who is in a position, and has the knowledge and the political will, to raise every now and then the question: 'Is this the right way to do it'?

Van Bommel is better known in Bulgaria for his strong position in respect of this country's performance as a EU member state. After the European Commission put out last February its latest report on the steps Bulgaria had made in the area of justice and home affairs over the past half-year, Harry van Bommel said in the Dutch parliament that sanctions were needed against Bulgaria and Romania. Back in 2007, his party was against the accession of Romania and Bulgaria and insisted that the two nations were not ready to become members.

"The practice seems to be that entering the EU does not mean that the progress that has been made and has to be made, will be speeded up. In fact, we have seen that before in Poland, that some countries fall back as soon as they are members of the EU. While being in the waiting room countries do whatever they need to do to actually get in and as soon as they get in, then they get the feeling that: well, we are in now and we can go now on with our own agenda", the Dutch politician explained.

"When we look at the fight against corruption and organized crime, the issue of buying votes in Bulgaria, corruption in the judicial system, in the political system, in the area of health care, it is seen as a proof that also in the case of Bulgaria being a member does not guarantee that countries take the full responsibility of living up to the promise that they have made at the moment that they acceded to the EU", he told BTA.

"Being a lawmaker, I know that making law is one thing and implementing it is another. I know it is not easy but it as an issue that has to be dealt with. Because in the EU, where we are supposed to be able to fully trust each other - both politically and as regards the judicial systems, we cannot have individual members that live by different criteria".

He admits that Bulgaria has made "good steps into the right direction" in battling with corruption and organized crime but it takes time for the measures to produce results.

He is aware that the problems with corruption and organized crime "first and foremost hit home" and says it is up to the political elite and the political class to deal with these issues. "It is the people of Bulgaria who suffer from these consequences. Therefore it is tough for us to find the right buttons that have to be pushed. We don't want to punish the people of Bulgaria, because they are already the victim of these problems".

Van Bommel's party has 25 of the 150 seats in the Dutch Parliament and in February, when he spoke of sanctions against Bulgaria and Romania, the idea did not get the support of the majority. Neither was it supported by the the Dutch European Affairs Minister, Frans Timmermans. "But even for him, the patience that the EU has to shown in these cases has an end. Because there is a history in this problem, a history that does not concern Bulgaria but does concern the EU as an institution. And Romania and Bulgaria were just the last countries and we will go on with an enlargemånt of the EU, which means that we have to learn from our own history and the mistakes that have been made in the past should not be repeated. And that is the risk we are running into", Harry van Bommel says. He added that a tough position on Bulgaria and Romania is also a message to countries that want to join the EU, like Croatia and Macedonia.

Van Bommel is going to raise again the sanctions issue in the summer, after the next progress report of the European Commission on Bulgaria, unless the situation in the two countries changes.

He is an optimist and expects improvements in Bulgaria in the months before the report is due. "There will be improvement because, fortunately, no government can block the improvement - no matter what policy. Because it is also a fact that there is an autonomous process going on in the new member states - new institutions and new laws will eventually produce the effect that we all want", he says.

Dwelling further on this, he says corruption can only exist when it has the support of people in power and can only be dealt with by stronger laws and stronger position of politicians and a more open society -and the Bulgarian society has become more open - as the the press brings out more, individuals get more critical, and so do human rights organizations and labour unions. "People and institutions will have to put efforts in this", Harry van Bommel says.

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