Parliament Makes Its Check on Candidates before Historic Vote
While the tussle continues over whether the EU Council treated the European Parliament fairly when it put hard figures into the Accession Treaty, the Parliament itself now has a clear decision of its own to make on April 9, when it is scheduled to debate whether to give its Assent to the accession of the new Member States. The Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee has given its approval. The Parliament as a whole now has to give its final word - on the overall concept, and on the individual aspirants too.
The principal report before the Parliament will be the overall view of enlargement, drafted by Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Elmar Brok - as amended during the committee's vote on March 19. Then, one by one, the Parliament will also vote on the individual candidates. But the echoes of the debate over Parliament's rights continue to ring round the discussion. Each of the committee reports on the candidates insists, in the same language, that Parliament "should be consulted on any substantial modifications" to the Accession Treaty, and that Parliament's Assent at this stage to enlargement "will not determine its position on the adjustment of the financial perspective to cater for enlargement".
The background explanatory memorandums to the reports on the individual countries give a flavour of how the Parliament views the candidates - although the vote on each of them will be restricted only to a straight "yes" or "no". For instance, on the Czech Republic, the committee's report stresses that accession "leaves unresolved questions which the European Parliament has been urging for years should be clarified". Although the committee vote in March found its way round this objection with a compromise based on a conciliatory statement from the new Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the anxieties are clearly spelled out. Notably they concern the surviving laws and decrees from 1945 and 1946, insofar as they concerned the expulsion of individual ethnic groups in the former Czechoslovakia, and particularly the law on exclusion from criminal sanctions (Law No 115 of 8 May 1946, granting blanket legitimacy to the most serious criminal acts and even post-war crimes), which has still not been repealed, and which has been branded "repugnant to human rights and all fundamental legal principles", as the committee pointed out.
Underlying the objection is the concern that the Czech Republic will also belong to the European community of values, and will have to share them, respect them and undertake to promote them. "Putting the principles of respect for human rights and the rule of law into practice is a continuing challenge which is one of the fundamental obligations of the Member States of the European Union", the committee said. And it also emphasised the need for enhanced protection of minorities. "Parliament will make sure that the stated fundamental values of the Czech Republic will not be undermined in future, i.e. after its accession, either".
On Estonia, the committee report noted that the European Parliament has consistently supported its membership bid. Now, it says, "problems which were earlier significant have been solved or reduced to a size which prevents them from becoming obstacles to Parliament's ability to give its Assent". More work will be needed on administrative capacity and the judiciary, and where heavy investments are required to meet the acquis, in particular in relation to the environment. But "as regards the fight against corruption and fraud - still major problems in most of the candidate countries - the situation in Estonia is much brighter", and for ethnic minorities, "a high degree of alignment with international standards has now been achieved" - even if "healing the last wounds of the Russification policy to which Estonia was subjected during the Soviet era and completing the construction of an inclusive and well-integrated society will require a little more time still". …