This blogs position on migration within the European Union is for open borders among all members states and to let people work and settle where they want. Although the numbers were larger than expected, and there have been some negatives, I believe the influx of Central and Eastern Europeans to Britain in the last two or three years has been a net benefit. Last year I welcomed the Polish plumber, and other posts have been similarly positive. Other members states have recognised the benefits too and are opening their borders to Eastern European workers: eight states so far, from an initial three.
But I recognise that there are potential downsides, and that the proposed accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU from January 2007 pose some thorny problems. No wonder some UK ministers are getting cold feet - and not just the Home Secretary. So in the interests of balance, I publish below a comment posted today on this weblog by Sam Took. I don't know who he/she is, but the post is worthy of a wider audience. Comments welcome.
WHY BULGARIA'S ACCESSION BRINGS SHAME ON US ALL
Recent comments about the accession of Eastern European states and the preoccupation with low paid jobs shows an astonishing naivety what Bulgaria is really about.
It is now widely recognised that what were seen as the last minute obstacles to Bulgaria's accession to the European Union are concerns about its ability to deal with crime and corruption. What politicians will not admit is that the problems could not possibly have been solved within the time allowed for accession . In many respects Bulgaria has to walk miles and yet it will be admitted to full membership after having taken, what amounts to only a first faltering step. I cringe when I hear politicians praising Bulgaria's efforts to put its house in order. Those of us who have lived and worked in Bulgaria know that there is a deep malaise here. The fact is that the Government in Sofia ( and its predecessor ) has lied continuously to Brussels, made promises and given undertakings which it has neither the wit nor the will to keep. Consider these things:-
1. Corruption is endemic. Prosecutions are very rare and convictions much rarer. There are only a couple of instances in which officials have received a prison sentence. In most cases even when caught redhanded, the perpetrators do not even lose their jobs. Many of the most serious culprits are post-holders and cannot therefore be dismissed. In recent times the Government has set up an information campaign inviting the public to inform on corrupt officials by channeling complaints through a confidential hotline. Under the legal system it appears impossible for any Bulgarian official to be convicted on the strength of such a tipoff. Bulgaria has a distinguished history of paying lip service to anti-corruption measures; they have attended every international conference, adopted every protocol and signed up to every initiative but the problem is as deeply-rooted as ever. The current 'anti-corruption campaign' will be as successful as its predecessors and appears to be just a PR stunt for the benefit of the European Commission.
2. Every bit of institutional foreign funding, including the pre-accession funding, which has ever reached Bulgaria has been plundered by corrupt politicians and officials. Sofia has promised that there will be "full transparency and accountability" of all future European funding. Such promises have been made in the past and have always been broken.
3. Organised crime in Bulgaria really is 'organised'.The Government in Sofia admits the existence of powerful overlords ( they were prepared to call it an oligarchy ) who have prospered since the fall of communism in what the Commission itself called "a climate of impunity ". They exercise a huge amount of influence over public figures and own large parts of the domestic economy. They are so deeply entrenched that they are de facto the Establishment and needless to say their position is unaffected by changes in the Administration. Bulgaria has a 100 percent record of failure in prosecuting organised crime and there is no possibility that this will change any time soon. Sofia will offer instead disingenuous apologies and say that it should not be judged on the outcome of any one particular case as one prosecution after another falls over, entirely predictably, like dominoes.
4. A real war on crime would need a free press and this it does not truly have in Bulgaria. It is not free of political interference and it is certainly not free of the oligarchs. Investigative journalists ( and there have been a few ) have been assassinated and their offices broken into and filing cabinets stolen. Also corrupt figures in public life have been protected by having news agencies prosecuted for making express or implied accusations about them, without of course any regard to whether the allegations are true or not. This is possible because the law of defamation is a criminal matter in Bulgaria and not just a civil one as it is in the UK.
5. Bulgaria is a marshalling yard for crimes which are aimed at Western Europe. These include the trafficking of children and young women, enforced labour, enforced prostitution, drug and tobacco smuggling, the forging of Euro notes, bank and credit card fraud and the theft of high-end luxury cars. The proceeds of crime are easily laundered in Bulgaria and the proceeds invested on an industrial scale, typically these days in tourism, building and all kinds of new property.
6. The system for the administration of criminal justice is stultified by corruption and incompetence. The new criminal justice code makes the police responsible for handling prosecutions ( rather than the Prosecutor's Office ). The police have not had this responsibility in the past and are ill-prepared to undertake it now. So there is no change to report there: the new system, having been in operation for about one year, like the old system has a 100 perent record of failure in prosecuting organised crime. Prosecutions are occasionally brought but when the case comes to trial witnesses are keen to withdraw their testimonies and crucial evidence has either been lost or compromised.
7. Victims of crime and witnesses are as chaff in the wind in a system which does nothing to protect them. Sofia, to its eternal shame, has told Brussels that it has a 'witness protection programme'. It has no such thing; on the contrary witnesses are routinely betrayed and misrepresented by corrupt investigators and prosecutors furthering a criminals defence in return for a few pieces of silver.
8. Modern Bulgaria is a disaster area in terms of civil rights, not simply because of its so-called legal system. It is an uncaring and heartless place. Its young people are disaffected and want to leave in large numbers. Its record on women's rights and Roma rights, care of its orphans and its mentally ill, are as evil as you can find anywhere.
But hold on a minute.... surely it's all over! The fact is that the decision to admit Bulgaria on 1st January has almost certainly already been taken no matter what horrors have to be glossed over to achieve it. Roman Herzog, senior statesman, recently described the circumstances of Bulgaria's entry as "disgraceful". He was entirely right!
It is all over bar the shouting and the euphoria which will follow in Bulgaria when its accession to the European Union on 1st January 2007 is announced as we believe it will be in mid-September. The expansionists appear to be the majority and will have their way but not without a good deal of hypocrisy in the telling. Sofia will be praised for its sterling efforts in fighting crime and corruption ( sic ). The European Billions will be be poured into this particular black hole never to be seen again. They will slap themselves on the back with the image of jolly backward peasants hurtling merrily towards the 21st Century with huge benefits all round.
In considering all the above you may well ask who is going to benefit from Bulgaria's entry? Is it you? Is it ordinary Bulgarians or will it be their own fellow-countrymen who most notoriously abuse them?
Having billions of Euros poured into this place's infrastructure is not the answer. It is Bulgaria's moral ecomomy which is bankrupt. Bulgaria certainly needs help but, much more than gold it needs expertise in law enforcement, constitutional and civil rights reform and direction in the improvement of care for those who can least fend for themselves.
Above all Bulgaria needs time! Given assistance and with the political will to make things happen Bulgaria really could become a worthy partner rather than a pariah. Then there really would be something to celebrate and I would be the first to acknowledge it. But that time is not now.