Romania seeks EU leadership debate on surge of ‘xenophobia’

Razvan Ungureanu.jpg

EU leaders need to have a high-level political debate on the surge of 'xenophobia' and anti-European attitudes that threaten integration, Romanian Prime Minister Mihai R?zvan Ungureanu said during his first political visit to Brussels yesterday (15 March).

"There is concern regarding the way EU policies can be questioned in the national executives and parliaments by the political expression of xenophobia, anti-democratic and anti-European attitudes," Ungureanu said at the end of talks with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

Before heading to Brussels, the Romanian premier said it was appropriate to have an extraordinary EU summit to talk "very frankly about what is happening" and to find ways to protect pro-European policies, "so that such cases that erode European politics will not keep integration captive".

Together with Poland and Bulgaria, Romania is one of the targets of the xenophobic website (see background) launched by the right-wing Dutch Freedom Party (PVV).

The European Commission and the European Parliament's major political parties have condemned the site [more]. However, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has refused to take position, saying it has nothing to do with the government. Rutte leads a minority government backed by PVV.

Ungureanu said it was time "to openly discuss how Europe reacts to increasing political influence of the extreme right voters. We need  to recognise the problem and seek solutions."

The Romanian premier linked the trend to the accession of both Bulgaria and Romania to the border-free Schengen area.

The Netherlands is the only country opposing the entry of the two member states in Schengen, citing a lack of "substantial and irreversible" reform of their judiciary system and fight against corruption. But a more important reason appears to be that Rutte has committed to PVV to uphold the veto.

"I cannot shut up when it comes to such an important issue," Ungureanu said. "It is a sensitive problem, we are prepared to enter Schengen and we now need a political dialogue between the Romanian government and its EU counterparts".

Ungureanu called the Dutch attitude "unfair" and said that there should not be any inequalities in rights between the different citizens of the Union.

'Painfully low' absorption rate

Ungureanu took over as Romanian prime minister last month following more than 20 days of protests over austerity measures and the economic downturn.

In Brussels, he also talked about how his could start to access its untapped EU structural and cohesion funds. Romania is the worst performer EU-wide in absorbing EU funds, for reasons both of lack of administrative capacity and corruption.

"The current absorption rate of 7.4% is painfully low," said Commission President José Manuel Barroso, following his meeting with Ungureanu.

EU financing allocated to Romania will be lost at the end of 2013. In an effort to prevent this from happening, Barroso said the Commission was prepared to look favourably at Bucharest's request for a lower level of co-financing for projects promoting growth and job creation.

A source from the Romanian delegation told EURACTIV that Romania will get help in tapping the estimated €6 billion in EU money from the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Barroso also referred to the next report under the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (CVM), put in place to help Romania remove existing deficiencies in law-enforcement. The next report, due this summer, will cover the entire five-year period since the country's EU accession in January 2007.

"I will not prejudge the outcome as it will depend on the progress made in Romania. What I can say is that the Commission will reject any attempts to link the mechanism to the Schengen accession process. This is a question of fairness," Barroso said.

 

The right-wing Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) launched a special website on 10 February, inviting Dutch citizens to denounce nuisance caused by Europeans citizens coming from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria [more]. Types of nuisance that can be reported include pollution, problems related to housing or simply competition on the job market.

More than 10,000 people responded in just a few days. The PVV website has caused a stir in the countries concerned.

Viviane Reding, European Commission vice president responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, vigorously condemned the website for "openly calling for people to be intolerant".

PVV, led by Geert Wilders, is the third largest party in the Netherlands. Although it is not in the government coalition, PVV has been an active supporter of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative cabinet, a cooperation which was laid down in a "support agreement".

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