Then and Now: Accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU

30 July 2012

Then and Now: Accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU

Romania and Bulgaria should never in fact have been admitted to the European Union five years ago. The European Commission did not consider that democracy in either land was sufficiently strongly established and there was ‘a lack of sustainability and irreversibility in the process of change’ in the two former Eastern bloc states.

Despite this, in 2006 all political parties in the Dutch Parliament eventually agreed to the accession – with the exception of the SP. In the final debate on the issue in the Senate, the SP’s Tiny Kox said that Parliament had been too quick to say ‘yes’.

14th June, 2006:

Tiny KoxThe Dutch Parliament consists of two ‘Chambers’, the ‘Eerste Kamer’ (First Chamber, commonly the ‘Senaat’ – Senate), and the Tweede Kamer (Second Chamber), the equivalent of the House of Commons in Britain or the United States House of Representatives. Once the Tweede Kamer had voted to accept the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU on 1st January, 2007, it was the Senate’s turn. The SP was alone in refusing to support the necessary legislation, on the grounds that it was too soon to say yes to either country’s application. Too much was amiss in each, such as the high level of corruption and organised crime and the absence of any attempt to combat these, argued Senator Kox.

The SP’s ‘not yet’ stance matched the opinion prevailing amongst the Dutch people, as Secretary of State for European Affairs Atzo Nicolaï admitted. The government’s own research confirmed that at the time a majority was opposed to accession. If both countries were to meet all of the stated conditions, however, three-quarters declared that they would be in favour. Senator Kox described as cynical the fact that just a year after the Dutch ‘no’ to the European Constitution, government and Parliament was once again saying ‘yes’ to something to which the people had said ‘no’. He said also that it showed a lack of concern for the people of Bulgaria and Romania, who would ‘soon be paying for the flexibility that allows them to join immediately, in the form of additional and demanding supplementary requirements which will give them the feeling of being second class citizens in the European Union.’

The SP proposed that a final decision on the accession be postponed until the European Commission published its definitive report on progress in the two countries, a report which had been requested by the member states. This occurred at the end of September. In May the Commission stated that there had been visible progress, but that corruption and organised crime were still rampant and that efforts to combat these by the authorities were inadequate. On the internationally recognised Transparency International corruption index, Bulgaria was in 55th place and Romania 85th. In Bulgaria there had been in recent years more than a hundred contract killings, which had resulted in not a single conviction. Both countries are transit states for drugs trafficked out of Afghanistan. According to the European Commission there were additional major concerns - in relation to the subordination of minorities (including the Roma) and the lack of any real attempt to combat racism, discrimination and xenophobia. Both countries must, the Commission said, contribute to attempts to stop people-trafficking, as well as improving the treatment of prisoners and of psychiatric patients. In Bulgaria’s case there remained major problems in relation to food safety, the administration of the taxation system and nuclear safety.

The CDA (Christian Democrats), which in the Tweede Kamer joined the SP in calling for a postponement, failed in the Senate to continue its opposition. This was a result of pressure from Foreign Minister Ben Bot, who was meeting that week with his counterparts from other member states to discuss the future of the European Union. Postponement of the decision would, the CDA’s Senators argued, send the wrong signal. Senator Kox retorted that the CDA had misunderstood the significance of ratification of accession treaties by Parliament. ‘Signals are sent in other ways,’ he told them. ‘This concerns a formal decision over the accession to the EU of new countries, by which the Netherlands will be sharing part of our competence. This must mean that an agreement is an agreement. If the agreements haven't been met then of course you should wait. This is what big countries such as France and Germany have also done. If this autumn it turns out that Bulgaria and Romania have indeed fulfilled the conditions, as far as we're concerned they are heartily welcome to join the European Union. For this to happen, however, the current uncertainty must be replaced by a fully positive 'yes' to all the conditions.’

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