Despite all its internal troubles, future existence, many countries and “so-called” countries are still trying to join the EU. The current official candidates, Kosovo, Iceland, Serbia, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro and Turkey, are treading a well-worn path. Like all other aspirants they have been given all kinds of criteria to fulfil and must now wait for the EU to decide whether they have done so or not.
In many cases, it is very difficult to determine whether any country has actually met the criteria. For example, at what point does a country have a “functioning market economy”? What level of GDP indicates “functioning”, and how many controls can be put in place before a market ceases to be “free”? As George W. Bush once allegedly said in response to continuing French state subsidies, “the French have no word for entrepreneur”, but France was a founder member of the EU and the word “entrepreneur” is a French word.
Many aspirant countries who see the EU as the key to their future prosperity are therefore quite reasonably asking, “We have done everything you asked of us, what more do we have to do?” So let us look at some of the more recent accessions to the EU to see exactly what prospective members have to do, in the real world.
Roses by any other name
In 1993 the EU realised that it could not just walk into the former Eastern bloc nations and take over all their resources just because it was “the democratic West”. If “non-communist” equalled “free market”, these newly non-communist states had to be made part of the free market club, to stop them developing their own, perhaps equally effective, models of political and economic development, as they had long sought to do during their communist days.
As a panic measure, the EU adopted the Copenhagen Criteria which all prospective new members had to meet. These read, in part:
“Membership requires that a candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”
In some former Eastern bloc states, such as the Czech Republic, a new ruling class emerged after the fall of communism comprising people who had been excluded under the old regime for being pro-democracy. However, in certain others quite the opposite happened.
Hungary is often held up as an example of a state where the former communists, who had notoriously remained in power by crushing a revolt, simply changed colours and continued to run the country as before. No matter how many elections are held in Hungary the parties which contest them are still dominated by former communists.
Hungarian governments may behave democratically, but when all the parties are effectively run by former comrades, this is hardly surprising. Amongst themselves, they can have all the democracy they like, but the idea that people with pro-democracy backgrounds might have a chance of gaining power without former communist patronage, as they would in a functioning democracy, has never seriously been tested.
When Getulio Vargas was dictator of Brazil between 1930 and 1945 he was not known as an advocate of democracy, although he was very popular for much of his rule. After democracy was reintroduced under Allied pressure he stood down but was subsequently re-elected as a democratic ruler, in preference to the US-backed candidate.
The cry in the US was, “how can Brazil be a democracy if it re-elects a dictator, and how can he be a democrat if he takes power again”? It was assumed Brazil’s institutions were not guaranteeing democracy, even though the US ultimately intervened precisely because they were, and the US didn’t like the outcome.
So are Hungary’s institutions guaranteeing democracy if they keep former communists in power in perpetuity? Should Hungary be an EU member? The question is at least debatable. But the country offers wonderful health spa holidays, which Western politicians, keen to be green and nature-loving, have often taken advantage of. Therefore it is in the club, to stop the Russians getting there first.
As regards human rights and respect for minorities, we may well ask if these stipulations apply to the newest EU member, Croatia. The EU would probably have accepted it into membership before 2013 if it didn’t have the same concerns. Not that it will say so publicly, because it has done all it can to keep them hidden.
During the break-up of Yugoslavia the Western media adopted a consistent position. Serbia was big, and therefore bad, and that is why Russia was supporting it. Croatia and the other parts of Yugoslavia were small, and therefore good. Every crime was committed by Serbs alone, and as soon as Croatia was free everyone would live happily ever after.
What the same media refused to report was that after Croatia regained its pre-break up borders refugee reception agencies throughout Europe were reporting, month after month, that more new arrivals were coming out of Croatia than anywhere else. Professionals in the field casually assumed these were either Serbs or Croats fleeing persecution by the other side. Ultimately however this proved not to be so.
The independence of Croatia created a mass exodus of Croats themselves, who the independence was supposed to favour, fleeing their own government. The refugees themselves were quite open about this, but it was never reported in the media. This would make the narrative too complicated, and bring the nature of Western support for Croatia into question. Their cries went unheard, and consequently more refugees came, whose needs were not addressed because the situation they were fleeing from was supposed not to exist.
Maybe Croatia has got over that. But like most former communist states it has failed to address the question of its minorities in the way the West says it should. To begin with, it took the view that unless you could prove that you and your family had been Croat back to around 1700 you were not entitled to a passport, a job or a home. This obviously provoked the majority Serb areas, which account for around one third of Croatian territory, to demand union with Serbia, thus prolonging the conflict at the behest of Western peacemakers such as Dr. David Owen who were using it to make political comebacks.
Croatia has since moderated its policies to some extent. But the whole country is built on the principle that it is for Croats alone, and has to be independent because its minorities are representatives of the enemy.
Again, this can be compared with a South American example. There is no essential difference between Croatia’s policy towards the ethnic and political minorities it has not yet driven away and the doctrine of the “internal enemy”, which created the thousands of “disappeared” in Argentina under its dictatorship, a system the antithesis of that required by the Copenhagen Criteria.
So why is Croatia an EU member when aspirants of much longer standing, such as Turkey, are not? The West nailed its colours to the mast of Handsworth Logic when it blindly supported Croatia and ignored its crimes. It can’t now accept that small does not automatically equal good and big automatically equal bad.
Croatia has blackmailed the EU with its own stupidity, and put it in a position where it has to keep pretending by making it an EU member, or risk seeing its whole foreign policy exposed as flawed just as it is trying to develop a common one.
Robbing Peter to pay Peter
It is also somewhat ironic that EU aspirants must theoretically prove that they have “the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union.” Greece has been a member for over 30 years, but that didn’t stop its economic collapse and EU bailout. Italy was one of the founding Six and also had to apply for one, as did Portugal, which had once been the only non-democracy in NATO simply because it had a strong economy.
EU members such as Bulgaria and Romania, both of which have also had a significant ex-communist presence in government ever since they overthrew communism, are hardly economic powerhouses. They cannot compete in a free market with Western European nations, as their migration patterns testify.
The open borders have also seen Westerners migrating to Bulgaria and Romania. But these migrants generally fall into three categories: those who want somewhere cheaper to live, where their Western money goes further, those working internationally to boost Western-based careers and those who can’t find work in their home countries.
Most migrants from Bulgaria and Romania leave because they have nothing back home. Going to the West means the possibility of a lot more income, and a better life, doing the jobs natives don’t want to do and living in places natives don’t want to live. Does this indicate that the economies of Bulgaria or Romania are competitive? Ask Western Europeans to show you the Bulgarian or Romanian products sold in their shops, or anywhere else, and a similar picture emerges.
So why are Bulgaria and Romania in the EU? After all, they are not the only pro-Western states to have applied to join. They have both achieved one simple thing – keeping out of the news. At one time refugees from Romania were big international news, but the last Romanian politician most Westerners can name is Ceaucescu. Bulgaria has had King Simeon, but he lived most of his life in Spain, so that doesn’t count.
Bulgaria and Romania have learnt their place, and don’t remind the EU of the panic it felt when it realised it had to deal with them. Provided they remain colourful blobs on the map, and no one has to take a position on them, they are welcome in the EU.
So who’s next?
As many more recent aspirants have found, playing by the EU’s book doesn’t get them membership. They need to offer something else, something more to do with the EU’s failings than its principles.
Kosovo has the best chance of joining because the EU created it. Iceland is the least well-placed of the current candidates because it is already prosperous; it was able to rebound from the financial crisis quicker than the EU did by adopting exactly the opposite policies, not toeing the line. It meets all the criteria, but got to that point by doing things differently, and the EU can’t cope with any challenge to its flawed models, as we saw when it wouldn’t let Ukraine also have non-EU partners.
The door is opened when you recognise and prey on the EU’s weaknesses, hypocrisy and double standards. This opens the gate for your working and most educated population to to run away. But in public you must still pretend that the EU’s values are real, and thus refuse to respond to reality.
Is that the way any country can serve its people?
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.