Romania v France
Let us in
Jan 19th 2011, 21:44 by T.N. and R.W-M. | LONDON AND BUCHAREST
BUCHAREST was once known as the "Paris of the east". But Parisians might be advised to steer clear of the Romanian capital, at least until the latest row between the French and Romanian governments blows over.
Relations between the two countries have largely been smooth since Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007. At least until last August, when Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the expulsion of Romanies illegally living in France, most of whom had Romanian citizenship. It wasn't long until accusations of opportunism and even racism came flying France's way.
But Romania was keen not to ruffle too many plumes. It knew it needed French support for its accession to the EU's passport-free Schengen area, due this March. Unfortunately, that appears to be exactly what it has lost. Despite apparently having passed a technical evaluation by Schengen officials last Friday, Romania's bid (as well as Bulgaria's) is being held up by France, as well as Germany, ostensibly over claims that it has failed to get to grips with organised crime and corruption.
The Romanians are, predictably, calling foul. Earlier this week Teodor Baconschi, the foreign minister, suggested that the EU was applying "double standards" to Romania and Bulgaria and risked stoking Euroscepticism among citizens of those countries. The March deadline appears to be a lost hope, but Mr Baconschi is still hoping for accession during Hungary's EU presidency, which ends in June.
News that France and Germany intended to delay Romania's Schengen bid first emergedjust before Christmas. But Romania's response did its cause little favours. First Mr Baconschi threatened to impose extra obligations on Croatia, the EU candidate country closest to accession. He then said that Romania could leave the "co-operation and verification mechanism", a set of rules on tackling corruption to which Romania and Bulgaria signed up when they joined the EU. Separately, a group of Romanian MPs said they would delay ratification of a Lisbon Treaty protocol that would add 18 MEPs to the European Parliament.
When it became clear that Romania was not in a position to make good on any of these threats, Traian Basescu, Romania's president, backed down, if not entirely gracefully. Mr Baconschi said that it was "a mistake" to have turned the Schengen issue into such a big deal. But the damage had been done.
The Schengen dispute will probably sort itself out in the end. A bigger fear is that the row will stoke concerns among the EU's poorer members on its eastern fringes that they are getting a raw deal. A planned squeeze on the EU budget will hit the poorer countries that receive a disproportionate amount of it. Yet this is at best a minor concern to Brussels policymakers consumed by the ongoing euro-zone crisis. Europe's two Parises have never been further apart.