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Europe Law and Liberties D66 European Parliament

No enlargement negotiations without the rule of law

   Sat 23/03/2002

The EU should not negotiate with countries that do not guarantee the rule of law, Dutch MEP Lousewies van der Laan, argued today at the conference of Liberal International in Budapest. She also complained of discrimination between large and small countries in the EU. (Full text of speech attached)

Good Governance: What does it mean?

It should mean: Following the law and that the law applies equally to all. At the moment Europe is doing a very bad job. It distinguishes between big and small countries. The laws apply to the small, not to the large. I will give you two examples:

1. Germany violated the clearly established rules of the EMU stability pact. They received a yellow card, set up a lobby among other big countries and the yellow card was withdrawn. 2. Austria got a new government, which included unsavoury right wing elements like the FPO (led by Joerg Haider who was kicked out of this Liberal International). There was no legal basis, but sanctions were imposed. It was convenient to the socialist governments to help out their Austrian socialists friends in this way. The same thing happenend in Italy. Berlusconi came into power with unsavory rightwing parties like those of Bossi and Fini. Then no sanctions were imposed.

Now we have a new problem. The EU has now 13 candidates countries which would like to join of which 12 are negotiating. The current position of the EU (taken at the Laken summit) is that 10 countries should join by 2004 and that this group will definitely include Poland. All other countries need to fulfil the accession criteria, but Poland is getting a free ride in. This is not acceptable. I tell Mr. Schroeder and Dutch Prime Minister Mr. Kok: You undermine the credibility of Europe when big countries are treated differently from small countries.

Of course a case can be made for letting go of the criteria and letting the political importance of the enlargement take priority. But then politicians should be open and honest about that, not pay lip service to the criteria, while pushing ahead with their own timetable.

I prefer to do it differently: lets stick with the previously agreed criteria. We should do this not only because sticking with what you once promised is an essential part of good governance, but also because I believe it is the only way we can try to gain back some public support for this project. Of course there are many reasons why the public is not enthusiastic about the enlargement (fear, greed, security, ignorance). One of the reasons, however, is that the public feels the discrepancy between the agreed criteria and the political rethoric.

The enlargement of the European Union is a huge challenge and one that we should push forward. However, we need to do everything to get the public on board and to avoid it simply becoming a project of the political elite.

Europe is giving too many mixed signals now. I give you one example related also to Hungary. France gave refugee status to gypsies from Hungary last year. I find it bizarre that we are negotiating with countries from which we are still accepting asylum applications. Either there is the rule of law and people are safe and we do not recognize refugees, or there is no rule of law and then we should no longer negotiate. Continuing this contradiction undermindes the criteria and is contrary to good governance.

On April 4, there are elections in Hungary. I have visited Hungary a few times and I recently noticed a change of tone: populistic, nationalistic, simplistic. The SZDSZ is resisting this trend. So what we need now is for SZDSZ to do well in the coming elections and for Hungarians to resist this new trend.