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The Limits Of Europe

You can't come in. Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom
You can't come in. Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom
Here's one for those pondering why the EU doesn't do more in the world -- when it so evidently could (or so it seems).

The European Commission, as "guardian of the Treaties" (an EU expression), yesterday issued a "reasoned opinion" on a case before the European Court of Justice in which Hungary claims Slovakia was in breach of its obligation to ensure free movement of persons within the EU when it denied entry on August 21, 2009, to the Hungarian president.

I'm quoting: "The conclusion of the Commission's analysis is that the provisions of the [EU's basic] treaty and of secondary legislation do not apply to visits by the head of one Member State to the territory of another. ....[T]he infringement allegation is therefore unfounded... . [F]ree movement of persons applies only to people as "private" citizens...and not to Heads of State of a Member State."

The Hungarian government had, rather imaginatively, tried to give a European twist to its long-running feud with neighboring Slovakia over the status and rights of its sizable minority there.

As a rule, infringement proceedings are a humdrum affair, aimed at governments slow or unwilling to implement internal market rules, environmental regulations, or suchlike. For example, the Greek government was yesterday warned not to block its hospitals from buying EU-quality-marked surgical gloves and other medical supplies. Failure to comply could lead to the imposition of a hefty fine (an irony in itself, considering the Greek fiscal woes).

The Hungarian-Slovak spat serves to highlight the jarring incongruity between the form and content of the EU, as it actually exists and functions. While form is doing well, content has (seemingly) lost all hope of catching up.

Official Brussels, meanwhile, is all about keeping up appearances, even if the results should border on the absurd. (Commission spokesman Mark Gray, who read out the "reasoned opinion," could not, although repeatedly prompted, bring himself to utter the obvious logical conclusion -- that Slovakia had broken no EU law when it temporarily declared the head of a neighboring member state a persona non grata on its territory.)

-- Ahto Lobjakas

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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