Clean up your act, EU tells aspiring members

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Brussels told the exCommunist countries of eastern Europe yesterday that they must root out corruption and improve their treatment of minorities before they can achieve their ambitions of joining the European Union.

Brussels told the exCommunist countries of eastern Europe yesterday that they must root out corruption and improve their treatment of minorities before they can achieve their ambitions of joining the European Union.

A formal document from the European Commission also called on Turkey to transform its human rights record by eradicating torture and improving the position of its Kurdish population before it can start formal talks on membership.

Yesterday's report reasserted the EU's commitment to expansion but outlined a timetable for negotiations which effectively rules out the prospect of any former Communist countries joining before 2004 or 2005. Although the European Commission's paper praised the efforts of most of the nations applying to join the 15-strong bloc, it disappointed some applicant countries with target dates of 2003 for entry.

Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, also acknowledged concern over flagging public support for the project, arguing that the "citizens of the European Union need to be convinced of the benefits of enlargement - so do the citizens of the candidate countries".

Perhaps the most sensitive part of the document dealt with Turkey, whose relations with the EU are prickly on several fronts. Despite some recent human rights initiatives towards matching the so-called Copenhagen criteria of human rights and basic political standards, the paper still painted a damning picture.

"Compared to last year, the situation on the ground has hardly improved," it argued. "Torture and ill treatment are far from being eradicated, even though the matter is taken seriously by the authorities and the parliament." The report added that the position in the south-east, where the population is predominantly Kurdish, "has not substantially changed".

The 12 would-be members differ hugely in their preparedness for membership of the EU and yesterday's document spelled out a clear pecking order, with a small group standing out as an advance guard. Cyprus and Malta are at the top of the list economically, although the divided status of the former remains a huge political obstacle to its membership.

A second batch of countries, made up of Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, are judged to be "functioning market economies" which should be able to match Europe's tough economic criteria in the "near term" providing they continue reforming.

Of these nations Poland's progress has picked up while the Czech Republic has fallen back. Behind them lie Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia, seen as "medium-term" prospects, followed by Bulgaria and, finally, Romania.

The document described corruption, fraud and economic crime as "widespread in most candidate countries". The Roma population of eastern Europe "continue to face widespread discrimination in social and economic life", it said. Trafficking in women and children has also emerged as a growing problem in some countries, and Romania's social problems continue. The plight of 100,000 children, including those in orphanages, remains dire.

Tony Blair has called for the first countries to join the EU no later than June 2004 and yesterday's document is consistent with that target. However, one diplomat from a candidate country described the commission's timetable as "disappointing".

Brussels now envisages ending talks with candidate countries by the end of 2002, with those negotiations having to be ratified in all EU and applicant countries - something which takes anything from nine months to two years.

Comments