Mon Feb 20th, 2006 at 11:55:33 AM EST
A couple of days ago, I read the following article in the EU Observer:
Public opinion could delay EU entry of Romania and Bulgaria
16.02.2006 - 17:42 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - France and the Netherlands will take their enlargement-wary public opinion into account when deciding on the option of a one-year delay on Romanian and Bulgarian accession, diplomats say.
European enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn warned last autumn that the European Commission would delay scheduled 2007 accession by one year if anti-corruption and judicial reforms fall short.
The commission's formal recommendation is due in May.
But diplomats told EUobserver that public opinion will be "a factor" for both France and the Netherlands in handling the delay option, despite the official line that timing depends purely on meeting EU standards.
"No country can disregard public opinion," one French contact said.
French and Dutch citizens' uneasiness over enlargement is widely seen as one reason why they rejected the EU constitution in referendums early last year.
The accession treaties signed by Brussels with Bucharest and Sofia contain a clause with the option to delay the 2007 entry date until 2008, if accession preparations are insufficient.
But not all European diplomats estimated the option of entry postponement as realistic.
"Something extremely serious would have to happen for accession to be delayed," said one of them, as this would send a "very negative signal" to the region.
Another contact indicated "There is a high probability that the commission will issue a positive opinion" in its May report, pointing to an upbeat non-public interim document by the EU executive currently circulating in member states' representations.
On top of this, France has traditionally been an ally of Romania, and could opt instead to massage its public opinion over other planned enlargements in the Western Balkans and Turkey.
The French parliament recently adopted an amendment to its constitution, securing a popular referendum on every single enlargement after Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.
However, Paris and The Hague might still use Romania and Bulgaria's delay option in the accession treaty as a means to press for tough safeguard clauses if the countries enter as scheduled in 2007.
Also in the event of EU entry next year, the accession treaties provide for an exclusion of Romania and Bulgaria from participation in specific EU policy areas - primarily justice and home affairs and parts of the internal market.
"The real question is not when the countries will become members, but what sort of membership they get," said Marin Lessenski, an analyst at the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) in Sofia.
Bulgaria might well get excluded from judicial co-operation in the EU, Mr Lessenski indicated.
Gergana Noutcheva, an expert at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), said that Bulgaria "could have done more" in reforming its judiciary since the commission issued a warning last autumn.
"There has been talk about reforms, but there has been little real progress. They could have passed constitutional amendments changing the immunity of magistrates, but the judiciary has proved very resistant," she added.
Delay: a good idea?
Policy experts disagree on whether the one-year delay option is a good means to help the two states meet EU standards.
Ms Noutcheva said "keeping uncertainty on the entry date is a good thing because reform in these countries has always taken place under external pressure."
But IRIS' Mr Lessenski stated "a delay would cause a political crisis [in Romania and Bulgaria] which would rather lead to a stall of the reforms."
Katinka Barysch, policy expert at the Centre for European Reform, said the effect of entry delay would be hard to predict.
"The EU generally has more leverage to exert influence when a country is outside, but in this case, the countries would know that they would enter a year later anyway, so there's no real stick."
Being a Bulgarian citizen, it is more than frustrating for me, to come across such commentary.
Idiocy # 1:
"France and the Netherlands will take their enlargement-wary public opinion into account when deciding on the option of a one-year delay on Romanian and Bulgarian accession, diplomats say."
Since when the Dutch and French public opinion is allowed to decide on my country's future. The one-year delay of Bulgaria and Romania is a momentous step and, therefore, much more important factors should be taken into account when making such a decision. What is more, in my view, public opinion is not reliable and should not be considered trustworthy, especially when making such a vital political decision. We all know that the general mass of people, the crowd, is not politically aware and knows little, if not nothing, of policy-making. How is it then justifiable to let people who are not politically sensitive to take political decisions? Politics is for politicians. They are the people that are entrusted with decision-making functions. True, public opinion is a powerful force. Unfortunately, the public is, more often than not, poorly informed, politically speaking, and cannot therefore make an educated decision. It is not my fault, or the fault of Bulgarians and Romanians, that French and Dutch citizens are uneasy over enlargement. There is no such thing as "uneasiness" mentioned in the Copenhagen Criteria, isn't it? Let me strengthen my point further: I believe that referenda are the silliest way ever devised to conduct policy.
Idiocy # 2
"Also in the event of EU entry next year, the accession treaties provide for an exclusion of Romania and Bulgaria from participation in specific EU policy areas - primarily justice and home affairs and parts of the internal market."
Jeeeez! What is wrong with you people? Well, yes, Bulgaria could have done more. Every EU country could have done more prior to accession. No EU member state is faultless in meeting EU standards. In fact, some of the FOUNDING members often break the laws that they themselves have created. This is why the Court of Justice is up to its chin overwhelmed with cases. If I am not mistaken, Article 3 of TEC explicitly states that the activities of the Community shall include a system ensuring that competition in the internal market is not distorted. Well, tell me, how on earth, Bulgaria would be excluded from participation in parts of the internal market but, somehow, competition would not be distorted? As I see it, this situation is in breach of Art. 3. But, you respectable EU politicians know better. It is not your first time breaking a law.
Don't get me wrong, I am optimistic about the EU, I am also a European Studies student, and I do think that the European Union is a great idea. But I also believe that there are some things which are profoundly wrong within the European Community. I am also aware, that it is impossible not to be this way, especially when it comes to politics. But I also know that the Bulgarian people would be deeply disappointed with the EU, if the one-year delay clause is implemented. We did a lot, and it might not be enough for EU citizens and politicians, but it is a precedent in Bulgarian modern history. As the Bulgarian foreign minister recently put it, "In Bulgaria, miracles happen in the last minute. But they do!"