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EU: Brief News Items

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday was an important, event-filled day for the European Union.

In a much-awaited referendum, a clear -- if far from overwhelming-- majority of Danish voters ratified the European Union's Amsterdam Treaty. That document, signed a year ago in the Dutch capital, will provide the institutional basis for the EU's coming expansion to Central and Eastern Europe after all 15 current members ratify it -- most through parliamentary approval, three by referenda (Ireland and Portugal as well as Denmark).

At the same time, at the Union's headquarters in Brussels, interior ministers from all 10 Eastern candidate states met with their EU counterparts. The Eastern ministers agreed to work closely with the Union to combat cross-border organized crime originating in, or passing through, their countries --an increasingly important issue in the EU.

Finally, at the close of a NATO meeting in Luxembourg last night, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem of Turkey -- an Alliance member denied candidacy status by the EU in Amsterdam -- began to repair relations with Germany, the Union's most powerful member and the one with the most resident Turks (two million). But Cem also let France know directly that Ankara's relations with Paris were about to be damaged by today's passage by the French National Assembly of a controversial resolution. The French parliament officially recognized what Armenians say was a Turkish "genocide" of their people in the collapsing Ottoman Empire during World War One, an act that could inspire similar action elsewhere in the EU.

Here are brief accounts of all three events:

-- The Danes endorsed the Amsterdam Treaty by 55 to 45 percent, a result that evoked collective sighs of relief from worried officials in Brussels as well as from the ruling Social Democrat-led Government in Copenhagen. Of all EU members, Denmark -- along with Britain -- is perhaps most jealous of its sovereignty and national identity. Danes proved that seven years ago by refusing to ratify the Maastricht Treaty that created the Union out of the old European Community and put Western Europe on a federalist fast track, including eventually joint security and foreign policies.

Only after Brussels had allowed Copenhagen exemptions from submitting to EU-wide control of visa, asylum and other judicial matters, as well as from participating in coming single currency -- the "euro" -- did Danes reverse their Maastricht verdict in a second referendum a year later (1993). The EU has also granted island nations Britain and Ireland so-called opt-outs from Maastricht's judicial measures. Sweden, as well as Britain and Denmark, has been allowed not to join "euro-land" when it is created in seven months (Jan. 1, 1999).

These exemptions have led many to speak of an "a la carte Europe," where EU members can pick and choose from a federalist menu. But the EU 15 have decided that the 10 Eastern candidates will have to take the e-n-t-i-r-e menu when they attain full membership sometime in the next 10 to 20 years. That initial discriminatory act, which some analysts believe foreshadows others to come, has gone largely unnoticed in Central and Eastern Europe. One reason for the ignorance may be because governments there, anxious for the quickest possible EU entry, have made no public objection and held no public debate on the issue.

As for the 5.4 million Danes, who now enjoy one the EU's most flourishing economies, they decided they could remain distinctively Danish even with the Amsterdam Treaty. One big reason, perhaps, is that the opt-outs they won over Maastricht largely exempt them from Amsterdam's more federalist strictures. Another reason, as Brussels readily admits, is that this time -- unlike the first Danish Maastricht referendum -- EU officials stayed out of country during the campaigning. In 1992, after high EU officials tried to win support for the Union, they were seen as "cocky" and blamed by many for the negative result.

-- The accord signed yesterday by the EU 25 --15

Western members and 10 Eastern candidates -- is expressly aimed at keeping crime groups from the East out of the West. Home Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, the EU's current president, put it bluntly at the outset of the meeting, saying: "In many of these Central and Eastern European countries, there are many highly organized groups of professional gangsters that pose a threat." No less outspoken, German Deputy Interior Minister Kurt Schelter said that in his country 60 percent of all incidences of organized crime were attributable to what he called "foreign elements."

The agreement is intended to facilitate and coordinate efforts by West and East European authorities to stop the encroachment of Russian so-called Mafia groups and other Eastern crime syndicates into EU nations. It calls for the candidate nations to reinforce the independence of their judiciary -- without mentioning the need in some current EU members to do the same -- and commits them to bringing their legal systems into step with Union standards. It also provides for EU aid to upgrade border controls and police training in the East.

One high British crime-control official (John Warne, director of the Home Office's international and organized crime division) told the Eastern ministers that "It's not a one-way street." He added: "We're not saying, you can do better, but rather we're saying, we must help you to do better." Today, the 15 continued their deliberations on such patently "one-way" -- East to West -- matters as the finger-printing of asylum seekers.

-- Turkey, in the phrase of an on-scene analyst, "blew hot and cold with its European partners" at the NATO meeting in Luxembourg yesterday. Foreign Minister Cem made a point of arranging a photo session before a private meeting he had with his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel. Cem said both were "determined to have the best of all relations in the future." Kinkel said, "We must get out of these stormy waters."

After the EU summit in Luxembourg six months refused Muslim Turkey candidate status -- largely at German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's insistence -- Ankara froze all political dialogue with the EU and publicly attacked Germany. Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz even accused Bonn of seeking a larger Europe of Christian nations for the sake, he said, of "Lebensraum." The term "living space" was one of Hitler's favorites, and Yilmaz's remarks were seen in Germany as unduly offensive.

In any case, diplomats in Luxembourg said that, after their photo session, Cem and Kinkel made little progress in calming the waters. Kinkel was said to have made clear there was question of going back on the summit's decision. Cem was said to respond by saying there was no hope of improving EU-Turkey relations until the snub was redressed.

Neither before or after Cem's openly cool meeting with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine were any pictures taken of the two. Informed officials said Cem warned Vedrine that trade and political relations with Paris would suffer after the adoption of a resolution recognizing the responsibility of Turks for the massacre of Armenians in Anatolia from 1915 to 1917. He also suggested the French Government was capable of controlling its parliamentarians if it chose to do so.

Vedrine, said the officials, told Cem that the action was a purely parliamentary initiative and reminded Cem that France was a strong advocate for Turkey within the EU. He told reporters later that, in Vedrine's words, "the consequences (of the resolution) are up to Turkey to decide." Today, the resolution officially acknowledging Turkish responsibility for the killing of over a million ethnic Armenians more than 80 years ago was passed unanimously by the French National Assembly.