The silent treatment

Article published on May 5, 2005
community published
Article published on May 5, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Last year’s enlargement saw ten newcomers join the EU. What seems to have escaped attention is that two others, Bulgaria and Romania, are due to join in 2007.

Last week, the two Balkan states signed their accession treaty with the EU in Luxembourg. But the European press seemed to be too busy commenting on the beleaguered ratification of the European constitution and the election of the new Pope to worry about the addition of 30 million new citizens to the European Union. Undeniably, extensive coverage of the accession of two more former Communist countries, who are still struggling economically to recover from the years of recession since the Perestroika, could scare voters and decision-makers who are already reluctant to approve the European constitution, leading them to issue a decisive “Hell no!” in any referendum.

Hordes from the East?

During the French far-right party’s annual demonstration in Paris on May 1, National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once called the Holocaust “a detail in history”, warned some 3,000 demonstrators during a speech that when Romania and Bulgaria join the union, there would be a “massive wave of miserable indigenous populations such as Romanian and Bulgarian Gypsies” in Western European countries. The popularity of Le Pen, who reached the second round of the French presidential elections in 2002, and his detestable rhetoric prove that many people in France and the rest of Europe do fear that further enlargement would increase immigration and the outsourcing of local companies, resulting in unemployment and recession. Matters are made worse by the fact that Romania and Bulgaria are still fighting to get rid of the old clichés which lead many to see them as nothing but corrupt, underdeveloped states. And the media is doing anything but helping.

Their best isn’t good enough

It is not guaranteed that Bulgaria and Romania will actually join the EU in 2007. The 860 page accession treaty clearly stipulates that both countries have to get to work on implementing the necessary measures, including fighting corruption and protecting minority rights, or otherwise face the postponement of their accession. Although Bulgaria seems to be doing well on this front, with political and economic reforms well under way, Romania’s case is more complicated as the EU only considered it as having a market economy last year, but the fact that it is one of Europe’s largest oil and gas producers should help. Be this as it may, it is said that if France was to reject the constitution, both countries’ accession would likely be delayed. Given that certain analysts are arguing that the former Soviet satellite countries’ accession would leave the door wide open for other countries, such as Croatia, Bosnia and Turkey to sneak in, don’t expect Le Pen to be the only one issuing despicable comments regarding future members’ treaty negotiations.