Opinion: Standing by hard-won freedoms helps remind us what the EU is all about

European Commission President Barroso yesterday used uncharacteristically tough language to condemn the current political turmoil in Romania. Calling for “urgent action” by the country to win back the confidence of its EU partners, Barroso talked about the “exceptional events” which have been “a major source of concern to the EU” and “shaken our trust.” Barroso also announced that the EU was extending a special system of checks on Romania’s respect for the rule of law and judicial independence, instigated after the country joined the EU five years ago.

The unprecedented language from the EU follows a political crisis which has escalated over recent weeks and tested the country’s relatively young democracy to the limits. As Barroso said, “Challenging judicial decisions, undermining the constitutional court, overturning established procedures and removing key checks and balances” have called into question the government’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law itself. An ongoing spat between the Prime Minister and President, each from opposing parties, is also heading for a showdown, with the parliament promising to hold a referendum on impeaching the President on 29 July.

But while the crisis has undeniably shaken international faith in Romania and raised questions about the timeliness of the country’s admission to the EU in the first place, it also presents an opportunity for the EU. By sticking firmly to its democratic principles and insisting on the need for all its members to fully respect them, the EU is proving its often undersold credentials as a continent-wide guarantor of freedom.

The transformation of central and eastern Europe over the past two decades, aided and abetted at every stage by the EU’s magnetic power and insistence on political and economic reforms, remains to this day one of Europe’s singular biggest achievements. By taking a hard line in Romania, and before it, Hungary, the EU has shown that a commitment to democracy has to be permanent and unswerving if countries are to continue to benefit from membership of the club.

The question now is whether this tough stance on rights and values can help to lift the EU out of its recent euro-fatigue. By reminding us what the EU is really about – bringing democratic rights and economic opportunity to millions – it might just help.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • An excellent update, Giles; thanks. You are spot on about the positive impact that a desire to join the EU had on ensuring eastern European countries moved in the direction of freedom, democracy and the rule of law after their release from the grip of the Soviet Union. I am pleased to see that there is no weakening of requirements on that score even once countries are inside the EU.

  • Richard Dean 19th Jul '12 - 10:40pm

    Stuart says it all. Well done Barroso and the EU.

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