EU enlargement to carry on despite far-right

  • 2002-05-23
  • Mihaela Rodina, AFP BUCHAREST
The wave of far-right populism and Europhobia washing over Europe must be dealt with, but it will not derail EU enlargement, officials said on May 19 during the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

"The ascension of the far-right must be taken seriously because it undermines the democratic values Europe is based on today," European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pedro Solbes said.

"Enlargement has been politically accepted in the European Union, but this does not mean that everyone is equally eager to see it done," he said.

The rise of the far-right, symbolized by stunning showings in recent Dutch and French elections, is a clear call to action, EBRD Vice President of Finance Steven Kaempfer said.

He said political leaders in the European Union and candidate states must "address the new challenges and the benefits that arise from enlargement."

The London-based EBRD, established 11 years ago to foster reform in ex-Soviet bloc countries, works in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia.

All of these countries are slated to join the European Union by 2004.

Diplomats from candidate states gathered at the forum said that EU enlargement must be sped up to stave off threats from the rise of the far-right, which wins popular support through its anti-immigration and EU-skeptical policies.

"The radicalization of opinions should be an argument for accelerating the process" of EU admission, Polish representative Danuta Hubner said.

Romanian Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu added that the "debates and worries" provoked by extreme-right victories must not affect EU plans.

Solbes confirmed that the timeline remained unchanged and that the first round of enlargement remained set for 2004.

"Fear that enlargement may create a new divide in Europe is unfounded," he said.

Representatives from several candidate states also used the May 19 forum to voice concern that the European Union overlooked major differences in the candidacy of the 13 aspiring countries.

"The decision to see the 10 countries acceding to the EU was taken too early. There are differences between countries in terms of preparedness," said Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka.

"We need to respect their ambition to be members, but also the quality of EU integration."

The Czech Republic is considered one of the most prepared candidate states, compared with Romania and Bulgaria, which are behind in their transition programs, and Turkey, which has not yet begun negotiations on EU integration.