European centre-right claims to have defeated communism

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In Europe, the European People's Party (EPP) was alone in denouncing communism, its secretary-general, Antonio López-Istúriz, declared in Brussels yesterday (18 March).

"We combated communism. We denounced the big lie of communism," López-Istúriz said at a conference organised by the Centre for European Studies, the EPP-affiliated think-tank.

"The EPP was alone in this fight. Other parties were blind," he claimed.

The statement was not challenged by the audience, despite the fact that socialist François Mitterrand, French president in the 1980s, was an important player in many of the dramatic events that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, alongside German Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the centre-right CDU party.

Mitterrand famously organised a breakfast with Bulgarian dissidents at the French Embassy in Sofia on 19 January 1989, which hugely accelerated events leading to the collapse of the communist regime in that country on 10 November that same year.

One of those invited to the breakfast, historian Zhelyu Zhelev, became the country's first democratically-elected president in 1990.

Even the communist parties in Western Europe took up positions against the Soviet regime. 'Eurocommunism' in the 1970s and 1980s, first adopted by the Italian and Spanish communist parties, expressed fidelity to democratic institutions and was seen in Moscow as a worse threat than capitalism itself.

Meanwhile in the former Czechoslovakia, the 1968 Prague spring was an attempt by Czech and Slovak leaders to reform the communist regime from within (EURACTIV 01/08/08).

Presenting a new publication by the Centre of European Studies, dedicated to the 'New Eastern Europe', López-Istúriz said the time had again come for the Union to decide what kind of relationship it wants with its Eastern neighbours. He added that Brussels needed to demonstrate leadership.

Filling void left by USA

Svante Cornell, research director at the Stockholm Institute for Security and Development Policy and the author of the paper, said there had been "an American retreat" from the region in question (Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), providing another reason for Europe to engage. Europe should categorically reject Russia's concept of "privileged interests" in the region, he added.

MEP Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany) said things could change for the worse in the region, and subscribed to the view that so far strategies there had been dominated by the Americans, but now it was Europe's turn for decisions and action.

Speaking about events that led to the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 and the separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, Brok was highly critical of EU policies, which led to providing visa facilitations to Russia before Georgia. This, according to reports, had prompted the citizens of the breakaway regions to seek closer ties with Russia.

"We idiots in Brussels gave visa facilitation to Russia before Georgia," Brok lamented.

EFTA as model?

Brok advocated transforming the Eastern Partnership into something similar to EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, of which Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are members, like the 'New Eastern Europe'.

EFTA is a trade alternative for European countries which did not choose the European Community in the past. EFTA countries have taken on board a large proportion of the acquis communautaire. Several former EFTA members became EU members at different stages of the Union's history (UK, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, Austria and Finland).

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