E.U. nations uneasy towards newcomers

Stephen Beard Dec 27, 2006

BOB MOON: When the New Year dawns next Monday, the people of Romania and Bulgaria will be celebrating with more than usual enthusiasm. That’s because the two countries will finally join the European Union. They will be, by far, the poorest member states. But they hope to get a big economic boost from gaining greater access to one of the world’s richest markets.

Among the existing 25 member nations, though, the welcome for the newcomers will be muted, to say the least. As Stephen Beard reports from London, some British newspapers have been warning that a horror story is about to unfold.

SOUND: Welcome foolish mortals to the Dracula Experience!

STEPHEN BEARD: This British exhibition reminds visitors that Dracula hailed from what is now modern-day Romania. But the horrors conjured up here are nothing compared with the nightmare to come, if the British tabloids are to be believed. They predict a flood of criminality and disease when Romania joins the E.U.

CRISTINA TIBERIAN: The sort of articles that appeared here, that Romanians would bring AIDS into Britain, and tuberculosis, and only criminals and gypsies will come, have obviously disappointed, even angered Romanians.

Cristina Tiberian, Radio Romania’s correspondent in London, has been charting the countdown to her country’s troubled accession to the E.U.

She says that the combined 30 million citizens of Romania and neighboring Bulgaria have been treated unfairly. Even after they join next Monday they won’t have that basic E.U. right to move freely around the Union looking for work. There will be limits and quotas:

TIBERIAN: Most Romanians think that we are treated as second-class members. We are given sort of second-class treatment, what with the restrictions that have been imposed on us work-wise.

But the curbs were hardly unexpected. Average incomes in Romania and Bulgaria are about a quarter of West European levels. Unemployment in Bulgaria is 10 percent. Analyst Graham Mather says many voters in western Europe are no longer keen on the E.U. taking in new, poorer members:

GRAHAM MATHER: They’re nervous about migration. They’re nervous about their jobs. The public have turned against enlargement.

The two new member states are being treated with suspicion. Both countries wiil have to report to Brussels every six months on their progress fighting corruption. Officials will carefully scrutinize their handling of tens of millions of dollars worth of E.U. aid money — with good reason, says Katynka Barysch of the European Reform Group:

KATYNKA BARYSCH: Both Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Romania are known to have tremendous problems with corruption and organized crime. The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive, has put a lot of pressure on these countries to sort that out before they come in. But progress has been less than fully satisfactory.

At a Christmas party in London a few dozen expatriate Romanians whooped it up and brushed aside any doubts about their fitness to join the E.U. Sixteen years after the collapse of Communism, they feel this is their country’s first real chance to catch up:

ROMANIAN EX-PAT: It’s a big opportunity for us because Romania has been left behind in Europe. I don’t know why.

And they believe that as Romania becomes gradually more integrated with its European neighbors, the labor restrictions will disappear, the Transylvanian mist will lift, and their hideous reputation will be finally laid to rest:

SOUND: If you wish to see the destruction of Count Dracula, come with me. But I warn you, it is not a sight for the squeamish. . . .

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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