EU is bartering away its own values

7 October 2016

EU is bartering away its own values

Foreign Minister Bert Koenders is correct when he says, as he did last week in this newspaper, that Europe can only work if countries hold to their agreements. So it would also be right for him to address Polish and Hungarian leaders on the subject of their reprehensible performance in relation to the refugees and the two countries’ attempts to wriggle out of a fair division. The referendum called by Hungarian Prime Minister Orban on migration quotas was even more despicable, because Hungary was asked to make only a modest contribution and take a total of 1,294 refugees. But if we want a Europe in which human rights really do come first, limiting oneself to a moral appeal to countries which care nothing for such matters makes no sense.

European Union membership does not without commitments. The Copenhagen Criteria, which serve as benchmarks by which a country is judged as to whether it is fit and ready for accession to the EU, should be permanently in force, with a test periodically applied to assess the quality of the rule of law and whether it respects the EU’s fundamental values. Hungary is well on its way, indeed, to being the 'illiberal democracy' which, in an infamous speech, he announced it would become. Poland confessed to having sent back Chechen refugees before they had had a chance to apply for asylum. Both of these countries have a deplorable reputation when it comes to abuse of power and freedom of the press. The EU has, however, few if any sanction mechanisms enabling it to hold member states to the rules. It’s true that Poland is being investigated by the European Commission, but that’s a long process, as well as sensitive. That’s why a fresh look should be taken at the conditions attached to the receipt of European moneys.

In addition for its part, our government, which supports the EU-Turkey deal, needs to take a long look at itself. This agreement means that we, as part of the EU, are permitting human rights abuses by the Turkish government. The person who devised the original deal with Turkey, Gerald Knaus, director of the thinktank European Stability Initiative, himself describes as a scandal the way in which the agreement was elaborated. Meanwhile our government gives credence to President Erdogan when he says that allegations against Turkey regarding the shooting of Syrian refugees at his country’s border are rubbish. With the Turkey deal the EU has shown that its principle concern is to halt the flow of refugees, and that it isn’t above a little horse-trading, or bartering away its own values.

Yet things could be different: last week a parliamentary motion from the SP and the Christian Union was carried calling for the suspension of financial aid to Turkey, which receives this as a candidate for EU membership. This success came without the support of Koenders' Labour Party colleagues. Evidently it’s too hard a task for the minister or his party to put their words into practice.


Koenders points also to the tensions in Ukraine, which have indeed created a great deal of turbulence in eastern Europe. In that case too the EU has, with the support of our government, made a complete mess of things. Their desire is to bring Ukraine into the European sphere of influence with an ill-fated Association Accord that was partly responsible for a lot of blood being spilt, rather than advocating that Ukraine take the role of buffer state. In this way the EU is making itself just as guilty of playing geopolitical tug-of-war as is Russia.

The EU has for a long time failed always to set a good example when it comes to cooperation that leads to stability or that respects human rights. Serious efforts must be made to enable intervention when member states stray too far from what should be expected. If the EU wants to maintain its role as guardian of the rule of law, democracy and human rights, then it needs to enhance its credibility with concrete steps and respectable agreements.

With the Turkey deal, the EU has shown that it isn’t averse to horse-trading.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the national daily Algemene Dagblad on 7th October.

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