End of enlargement stalemate?
After weeks of disagreement, EU member states finally arrived at a consensus on some of the most contentious
Enlargement issues. The agreement on the free movement of capital, including the purchase of land, together with a common position on the free
movement of workers removed most obstacles to proceeding with accession negotiations.
The purchase of land
After France had dropped its objections, on Thursday, 31 May, the 15 EU representatives agreed on the length of transition periods for the sale of land in candidate states to other EU nationals.
Seven-year transition periods were established for the sale of agricultural and forestry land in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The transition period on secondary homes in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland was set at five years and also applies to Cyprus. Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania did not request any such protective measures.
Meanwhile, some candidates had demands for much longer periods. Poland and the Czech Republic (mainly because of their proximity to, and endemic—though now covert—geographical disputes with, Germany) voiced the loudest concerns over land protection from non-nationals.
And the free movement of workers...
Less than 24 hours before this breakthrough, another dogged enlargement issue was resolved amongst the member-state ambassadors. Spain had finally yielded an end to its blockade of the proposed transition periods on the so-called free movement of labour from future EU members. In return, the Spanish government is insisting that poorer regions in the EU must not pay the price of enlargement and is still awaiting a written confirmation that regional subsidies will not dry up after the new accessions take place.
As a result, the EU will be able to impose two-year restrictions on the movement of labour from newly acquiesced states and to extend those further three to five years. In practice, Germany and Austria's demands for seven-year transition periods have been met and, in theory, the infringement on the right to free movement of people within the EU is minimal, despite the fact that candidate states see these measures as discriminatory.
In a survey conducted last month by the Brussels-based Central European Opinion Research Group (CEORG), it was implied that Eastern Europeans are in fact not that interested in working and migrating to current EU countries. Only four percent of the people in the Czech Republic, seven percent in Hungary and 13 percent in Poland would look for a job in Western Europe after enlargement.
Interest to work abroad is surging in Romania (17.3 percent) and to a lesser degree in Bulgaria (9.6 percent). Overall, the percentage of people willing to settle permanently in Western European states after enlargement is even less. At the same time, Germany, Austria and France emerged as the most favoured destinations.
Consequently, once a common position on some of the most controversial enlargement issues was established, suspended accession negotiations were resumed. Meetings with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia, who were all snubbed on 18 May, now took place on Friday, 1 June. However, negotiations on the free movement of workers are still not expected to close, because, this time, members and candidates do not share the same views on the issue.
On the other hand, the Swedish Presidency has congratulated itself on the end of this enlargement stalemate. In this way, it will be able to proceed with negotiations as planned and to avoid straying away from the enlargement roadmap. The last round of pre-accession talks at ministerial level it hosts is on 11 and 12 June. It seems like the Gothenburg Summit four days after that will be far less acrimonious.
EU scolds Romanian government
The European Parliament foreign affairs committee has drafted a report on Romania due be adopted in September, in which it criticises the country's government for lagging behind with reforms and for ignoring the living conditions of abandoned children. Ultimately, the report warns that negotiations with Romania can be suspended if these issues remain unresolved.
In the 2000 EU Progress reports prepared for each accession country, the Commission stated that "Romania still fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria although this position will need to be re-examined if the authorities do not continue to give priority to dealing with the crisis in their child care institutions." In addition, Romania has emerged as the candidate who has closed least negotiation chapters (6 out of 31) and is thus considerably lagging behind the rest of the accession states. Overall, this has led to the EU doubting the commitment of the Romanian government to reform. As a result, the EU has resolved to the more aggressive end of its carrot-and-stick policy.
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Năstase reacted bitterly to the draft report by accusing it of playing out vested interests. "There are people who could not care less about the fate of Romanian children, yet use the issue to further their own personal interests," said the Prime Minister, according to Rompres.
On the other hand, the Romanian government is accused of not reacting to the Ceauşescu-regime tradition of high birth rates, which, combined with ever deteriorating living standards, ends in increasing numbers of children handed over to orphanages. In addition, child-adoption in Romania has turned into a profitable business, where Western couples willingly pay large amounts of money.
"Far from stopping abandonment or offering contraception or stemming it by introducing child welfare payments there is clear evidence that the state is encouraging child abandonment," Baroness Emma Nicholson, author of the report, told the Financial Times. At the same time, cutting on social welfare and government spending is one of the rule-of-thumb reforms professed by the EU and the leading international financial institutions in candidate states.
Ivana Gogova, 1 June 2001
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