Wilders – Eastern Europe thanks you

In launching an anti-immigrant website, the Dutch populist has once again issued a provocation in bad taste. But the good news is that it encourages us to examine the relationship between Europeans from two parts of the continent, writes a Czech columnist.

Published on 24 February 2012 at 14:39

Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders ought to be appointed an honourary Central European, for the interest he takes in the quality of the fight against corruption in the new EU member states and for how he supports integrating their citizens into the common labour market.

Wilders’ Freedom Party recently launched a web pageon which his fellow countrymen can register complaints against Polish, Czech or Romanian workers. This is pure populism, because it contradicts the laws of the European Union. Wilders’ party, however, remains in the Dutch centre-right cabinet, and so ministers stay discreetly silent. In the first two days, Wilders has boasted, the site received 32,000 complaints. And in Europe, once again, debate has been stirred up about the (non) opportunities of the common labour market.

All this we can dismiss as mere pub chatter, a symptom of the right-wing populism that Wilders and others in Western Europe are riding on. Much more serious in terms of the structure and functioning of the European Union is another issue, one in which the Netherlands is going against the flow, much like the Czech Republic in its objections to a fiscal pact. The Netherlands is blocking Schengen enlargement to Romania and Bulgaria by arguing that neither country is able to eradicate corruption and that their justice systems work very badly.

Schengen – “our biggest political defeat since 1989”

It is fair to add that tying Schengen to the fight against corruption is also openly backed by Finland, France and Germany and that nine of the older EU states are keeping their labour markets closed to Romanians. But only the Dutch used their right to a veto.

Romanian diplomatic efforts to explain that the inhabitants of the second largest post-communist EU state feel betrayed by European integration and relegated to the category of second-class citizens, on the other hand, have evoked much less interest within Europe. “The Romanian public and media feel that our absence from the Schengen area has been our biggest political defeat since 1989,” said Romanian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Daniela Gitmanová during a public debate on Romania and its exclusion from the Schengen area that took place last week in Prague.

The latest report from the European Commission in early February repeats that Romania and Bulgaria still have much to do in the fight against corruption and in reforming the judiciary. Another report from the committee last year assesses the readiness of the country to guard the Schengen border as “positive”, notwithstanding the fact that, after Finland, Romania has the second-longest external border (2,070 km) in the EU.

Doors left wide open to populists

Entry to the Schengen area has been postponed indefinitely. Politicians and public opinion in both countries consider this to be extremely unfair. All technical conditions have been met. Politicians from Balkan countries complain that whenever they satisfy any further conditions, their western partners come up with new ones.

The latest condition, though, is objective, and embodied precisely by Geert Wilders, who plays on the vulnerability of the peoples of the “old” member states and the hunt for an external enemy. In addition to the Greeks, Romanians and Poles – three hundred thousand of whom work in the Netherlands – also make suitable targets.

Romanians are frustrated that there is not enough European Union; the Dutch (and Finns, as well as French and Germans) that there is too much. Combined with the economic crisis, the outcome of such attitudes is uncertainty and doors left wide open to populists like Geert Wilders. And not just in Romania and the Netherlands.

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