While in the north-western end of the European Union possible treaty changes are being discussed quite intensively, in its south-eastern end have been articulated the three main reasons why the current EU exists. This happened in Zagreb on February 5th during a joint news conference of the foreign ministers of Croatia and Romania - Vesna Pusic and Titus Corlatean. The two met to discuss their common views on the region and the EU and found they have a lot of similar positions, especially regarding economic issues. They have common views also in terms of the developments in the region - the enlargement of the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership and especially the developments in Ukraine. Croatia and Romania have a lot to say to each other on energy issues as well.
But what do they think of the demands for treaty changes and especially the part that concerns redefinition of one of the European Union's fundamentals - the free movement of people? Both did not pay any attention to the first part of the question euinside asked, but the second part made them laugh. Mr Corlatean, Romania's top diplomat, asked if he should be tough or direct and I advised him to try both. He underscored that there should not be any selectivity when the main European value is applied, enshrined in the treaties - the free movement of people. Mr Corlatean demanded a strong reaction by all governments and politicians who are devoted to the European project. They must renounce any xenophobic, populistic and sometimes racial rhetorics. The Romanian foreign minister named the greatest source of such rhetoric - British eurosceptic Nigel Farage. (You can watch the complete response of both ministers in the attached vide file)
"There are politicians in Western Europe who use people's fears in the still complex economic and social context in the EU, using them in a very populistic way in the domestic debate and especially before elections to gain more votes", added Titus Corlatean and recalled that never so far have the fears of a Romanian-Bulgarian invasion materialised, including on January 1st, 2007, when the two countries joined the EU. In conclusion, he said the EU still was a very good project and that Romania and Bulgaria were part of it.
Ms Vesna Pusic was even tougher and more direct. She preferred to answer in Croatian because she wanted to be as clear as possible. According to her, three are the main reasons why the EU exists. Those are long-term stability without war, freedom of movement of people and freedom for economic activity on the common market. "Without these three elements the EU makes no sense", she said and stated that Croatia will tirelessly work to defend as "the famous four freedoms" so these three reasons for EU's existence. It is still not clear how will she do that given that in Croatia itself nationalistic and even xenophobic rhetorics are gaining speed.
One such speaker is the leader of the biggest opposition party in Croatia - the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) - Tomislav Karamarko. In an attempt to save his steadily declining personal and party rating, Mr Karamarko embarked on dangerous political manoeuvres by supporting the rebellion of the war veterans in Vukovar against the introduction of Cyrillic alphabet in the city which still keeps fresh the memories from its complete devastation by the then Yugoslav People's Army during Croatia's independence war. HDZ is part of the family of the European People's Party, but last year the party won the elections for the European Parliament in Croatia thanks to Ruza Tomasic, leader of the Croatian Rights Party Ante Starcevic. However, after she became a member of the European Parliament, Ms Tomasic joined the eurosceptic group European Conservatives and Reformists, a group dominated by David Cameron's conservatives.
For almost a year this has not been a problem but because of the forthcoming European elections in May, Joseph Daul, the leader of the EPP (France), warned HDZ against repeating this practise. In an interview with the Vecernji list, Mr Daul said it was not right to send MEPs in Strasbourg with one list and then they join a different political group. It is not clear why Mr Daul had closed his eyes for this last year when Croatia elected its first 12 representatives. But now the stakes are very high because the European political parties have the right to nominate a candidate of their own for the position European Commission president, which is why every vote counts. For now Karamarko has insisted Tomasic to lead HDZ's list, but she said this was a problem HDZ should resolve on its own and was confident she can succeed on her own.
In the context of the Bulgarian-Romanian case, the Croatian citizens, too, suffer labour restrictions, but, instead, Croatia has introduced reciprocal measures. Separately, the European Parliament, too, condemned those European leaders who call for changes and restrictions of the free movement of people. In a resolution adopted at their first plenary session this year, in January, the Parliament called on the member states to refrain from any actions that could affect the right of free movement and to renounce any proposals that could cap the number of EU migrants because this would be a violation of the principle of free movement as enshrined in the Treaty. The resolution was a joint effort by the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats, the Liberals from ALDE, the Greens/EFA and the United Left. The reformists, Ruza Tomasic belongs to, were not among the initiators.
And while in that part of the Union the main topic is the battle with prolonged recession, high youth unemployment, EU funds absorption and, of course, the lists for the European elections, on February 27th, in London is expected to arrive German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is possible that she may be given the rare attention to address both chambers of the British parliament. In the past weeks, the positions of London and Berlin on the need of reforms of the EU came very close, including in terms of limiting the free movement of people and especially protecting the social benefits from "foreigners". If that speech of Ms Merkel's takes place, it might prove Merkel's "European speech", similarly to David Cameron's European speech last year, confirmed this January by his finance minister George Osborne.
The question, therefore, is how will the countries from the south-eastern periphery play this new and much more serious challenge, given that to them the EU is not simply a sum of benefits, but a long-term civilisational choice.