World Focus: Lessons that a larger Europe must learn

There is a simple rule of political life, all life indeed. It is that you can ask anything of someone who wants to join your club so long as they're still trying to gain entry. Once they've joined you lose all leverage short of the nuclear option of immediate expulsion. The European Commission is not going to do that with Bulgaria or Romania. But they're going to be in real difficulties forcing any change of behaviour merely by withholding grants.

It's their own fault – or rather the fault of the rush to admit new members in the first place. Eager to consolidate the gains of the collapse of the Soviet Union, EU leaders and commission officials simply turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption and almost uncontrolled crime that marked Bulgaria and Romania – indeed virtually all the Soviet republics – once the immediate control of Moscow and the party was removed. It was naive to have expected otherwise, as the doors were opened to the free market and the instruments of the centrally controlled economies were put up for sale.

European leaders were also keen – in Bulgaria's case – to give support to the pro-Western Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, against his nationalist and anti-Western rivals. And so they have made the fatal error of saying to the new entrants that they could come in, but they would be expected to keep up their efforts to stamp out corruption once they had. And their efforts would be monitored.

Yesterday's decision to withhold £400m of aid to Bulgaria and to withdraw the right of two Bulgarian agencies to manage EU funds follows a series of damning reports on Bulgaria and Romania's efforts to control crime and corruption in the 18 months since they joined. Suspension of aid may serve to concentrate minds. It is unfair to say that nothing has been done to improve conditions in Bulgaria. In the end it will be the desire of the ordinary citizen to see cleaner government and the insistence of outside investors that business be clean which should bring about change. But, given the nature of power, it would be idle to expect dramatic results in the short term.

In the meantime there are two lessons for the Commission. One is that the business of doling out aid and leaving it to local agencies to disburse it must be better monitored. That is a lesson not just about new entrants but founding members, too. Recent investigations have shown widespread fraud in agricultural aid in Italy, France and Spain, with little real effort by the Commission to control it.

The second is equally pressing. With Turkey and Croatia pushing for entry and Serbia also keen to join, the conditions have to be set out and assessment made before entry. The political imperatives of expansion may be paramount, but never disregard the mundane, especially when it concerns money.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map