Prague, 8 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A leading European social democrat has warned the European Union is failing to tackle some of the more basic issues involving its planned expansion to the east -- and is thereby risking a right-wing backlash against the process.
The stern message came from German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping -- the president of the Union-wide Party of European Socialists -- during a conference last Friday in Prague on EU enlargement.
Scharping singled out crime, social responsibility, youth opportunities and jobs as issues being paid scant attention by the EU. He warned that by ignoring such questions, the EU risked creating an atmosphere in which right-wing Euro-skeptical propaganda flourished. He said EU expansion should serve to strengthen the entire European continent:
"We want to make our continent economically, socially, culturally a coherent continent and the strongest one in the word."
Earlier, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Enrique Baron of Spain, said that enlargement is "a political, not just an economic process."
Scharping picked up on that idea and expanded it. Europe he said, must be viewed as a civilization and not merely as a market economy:
"That model of Thatcherism only based on individual egoism, social [ir]responsibility and saying that is the only way to strengthen the economic power in our nations -- that was wrong and is replaced by social democratic ideals in all the European countries as well as the Czech Republic."
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, the organizer of the conference, told participants that his country had made rapid improvements in its economic situation. But Zeman admitted that Czech privatization had been confounded by what he called "some new forms of economic crime," which he said were difficult to combat. Zeman said it was "like fighting a modern Al Capone, who is well equipped and surrounded by good lawyers and sometimes good journalists."
The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia -- together with Cyprus --constitute the "first wave" of countries hoping to join the EU.
In an article published earlier this week in the International Herald Tribune, Jan Marinus Wiersma -- vice president of the Party of European Socialists-- noted that crime and corruption are a growing problem in parts of the former Communist bloc. Wiersma said critics of EU expansion fear that allowing former Communist states into western Europe's border-free Schengen zone -- made up mostly of EU members -- will help organized crime. In addition to crime and corruption, Wiersma cited migration, discrimination, nuclear safety, agriculture and financial problems as pressing issues that need to be addressed in preparing the EU for enlargement.
Recent public opinion polls show that EU expansion to the east is supported by less than 50 percent of the population in most of the EU's 15 member-states. Many people in these countries said they feared a flood of immigration and crime.