Tuesday, July 28, 2009

EU double standard

Iceland, which has gone through the wringer because of the financial crisis, may get fast-tracked into both the EU and the Eurozone in as little as three years or even less, given the close integration that already exists between the country and the trade block. Meanwhile, the applications for some other countries are being held up for all sorts of reasons: Croatia (a candidate country) still has a border dispute with Slovenia (in the Eurozone); Serbia still is seen as uncooperative with the UN War Tribunals; and of course Turkey -- well, most of Europe fears having a Muslim majority state in on the party.

Is it me, or is there a bit of ethnic prejudice going on here?

Maybe, but I also think people in the EU are still reeling from how fast Romania and Bulgaria were admitted to the EU before they were really ready. Transparency International still gives pretty low marks to both countries -- in terms of "cleanness" Bulgaria ranked 72nd (tied with Mainland China) last year, while Romania was 70th (tied with Colombia). Compare that to some other EU countries -- Poland (58th, tied with Turkey), Italy (55th), Malta (36th, tied with Puetro Rico), France (23rd), and at the top of the list for least propensity for corruption: Denmark and Sweden tied for first (along with New Zealand). Canada, by the way, was 9th. The US rated no better than Belgium and Japan (18th).

Earlier this year, the EU pulled about €450 million (about USD 640 million) in transfer payments to Bulgaria for what is seen as its lack of efforts to clean up the judiciary and purge the Mafia. True, Bulgaria is a "free country" as most Westerners would define it; and I will concede that it along with the rest of the ex-Soviet client states have made incredible strides since the revolutions of twenty years ago. But it is clearly still not at the point where it could adopt the Euro (the country originally set a target of 2012 but 2014 seems more realistic now, if that).

Romania has appeared to fare better, but it still has a large brain drain issue, with many migrants heading to wealthier EU states, including Italy. The strained relations between Italians and Romanians is well publicized.

Sadly, my parents' home country of Croatia still misses the mark on some economic indicators and its judiciary is still partially stuck in the Communist era with judges still not fully independent from political interference -- one of the key hallmarks of a democratic state. The border dispute over Piran and Istria is really a red herring. Canada still has several border disputes with the US but that didn't stop a free trade agreement between the two countries more than two decades ago.

To be fair, Iceland meets most of the criteria for EU membership and it could theoretically become a member tomorrow if an agreement could be made on its whaling practices. But really -- why should it get any more special favours than any other candidate country? Shouldn't it have to meet the convergence rules first and then made to wait, just like all the EU states currently in had to do? A fast-track is simply glad handing the banks there which made some really poor choices in investments then expected the world to bail them out.

EU membership shouldn't be a bailout, but a reward for good financial stewardship.

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Monkey Loves to Fight said...

In the case of Iceland, and I might also add Norway and Switzerland as well, they already meet all the criteria for joining and have not joined more out of their own choice than not qualifying. Still I do hope all the former Balkan countries and Turkey will eventually join. I know with Turkey a lot of Europeans fear due to the fact it is predominately Muslim, but it is quite secular, so shouldn't be too much of a problem. The main issue though is that once admitted, you gain the right of free mobility and in the case of 2004 and 2007 this was not thought through well. I know in Britain, many are not happy about the flood of people immigrating from Eastern Europe, so I suspect that might be part of the reason for the delay. On the other hand Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland are part of the EEA so they already have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, they just aren't part of the common market.

BlastFurnace said...

I personally think too that Turkey will eventually be admitted to the club -- although in their case the issue is North Cyprus and reuniting it with the South (which is in the Eurozone). You are right about the mobility issue, though -- which I have commented on my site several times. The Schengen treaty is a dream come true for both EU citizens as well as tourists (no border controls within the zone, only at the exteriors) but free movement also means people go to where the jobs are or where the best social programs exist. Sweden and Finland are complaining about illegal immigrants for the latter reason -- they don't want their social safety net to be taken advantage of simply because one has "the right" to live there.

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I think Turkey will also join eventually, although they have to join at the right time as only one country has to exercise its veto and its blocked. Resolving the issue with Cyprus is the first main step, but I also think Germany might have concerns considering they already have a huge Turkish community and unfortunately their still seem to be lots of ill feelings towards them amongst the public (mind you this exist towards non-Europeans in pretty much every EU country with a large non-European community).

The Scheghen Agreement is definitely great for travel as you can travel through several countries in one day and not have to worry about border line-ups. I would add the common currency is also quite handy since changing currencies frequently can be a bit of nuisance.