Second Class Ticket to the EU?
With entry talks for the East-Central European countries just around the corner, it is depressing to see that some EU politicians are trying to fudge the meaning of membership for the newcomers. The government of the Czech Republic needs to sit up and take notice.
On 25th February, German Ambassador to the EU Dietrich von Kyaw declared that it was "unthinkable" that the citizens of Poland would have access to West European labour markets immediately upon their country's entry into the EU. This would be in direct opposition to the Single European Act of 1987 which binds member states to accept the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour.
Von Kyaw's statement is one of the clearest signals yet that Brussels intends to keep Europe divided into first and second class members. In such an EU, it is not hard to predict that the Czech Republic would be in the second class and not a full member: in other words, at the back of the bus.
The reaction from Warsaw to this statement was swift and firm. The Polish Labour Ministry declared on the very next day that Poland will "demand the principle of the free movement of labour" upon joining the EU and that this view will be presented at entry talks with the union at the end of March. Von Kyaw's words were rejected completely.
Facing 12% unemployment at home, the German Ambassador to the EU certainly had a domestic audience in mind when he made his statement. But from other statements coming out of Brussels lately, it is clear that second class membership for the countries of East Central Europe is becoming more and more likely.
Recent notions on the future of the European Union have included the phrases "variable geometry", "multi-level Europe" and "multi-track Europe", but the idea boils down to one thing: different classes of membership. The various euphemisms for it should not obscure the fundamental issue.
The government of the Czech Republic ought to work in close partnership with the governments in Poland, Hungary and other potential members to defend the principle of one membership for all. They must insist that full membership is the only goal with any practical purpose. After all, there would be little use of joining a club if you only gained responsibilities and not rights. Together the aspiring countries need to make this clear to Brussels. The greatest challenge for the Czech Foreign Ministry is not simply to get the Czech Republic into the EU, but to make sure that the country joins the real EU and not some holding area of second class status.