Enlargement / Candidate countries

Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as the date of accession approaches ever nearer, all the more often am I – as probably are also my fellow MEPs – asked whether we were not too hasty, and whether this accession, this enlargement, is not perhaps premature. Of course, the date is premature if you believe that every problem has to be sorted out before accession to the European Union, but then probably none of us would be able to belong to it.I think the date is the right one, though, if you believe that now, and from now on, is the right time to join with these countries in a common union in order to resolve these difficulties. Whatever justified criticism may have been levelled at them, the fact is that these countries have, over recent years, worked very hard at their own modernisation and at the evolution of their societies.All the same, I do believe that there are certain problems to which we have to pay particular attention: corruption has already been mentioned, as has crime. One problem that I would like to stress here is the social problem, and social issues. I do believe that what matters is not just price stability, zero deficits, and tax cuts, but that what matters most of all is that growth is achieved and new jobs created – more stable ones, too – and the need for social stability in these countries to be supported and encouraged. Recent weeks and months have shown us the problems that there are in this area – with the Roma and Sinti in Slovakia, for example. You can trace something of a logical progression linking these disturbances with cuts in taxes, cuts in expenditure, and cuts in social spending. I do not want to say that this single problem is the only example, and the same is true, of course, in other countries.Bearing in mind that the total number of Roma and Sinti in Europe adds up to some 6 or 8 million, I believe that fact very much justifies the widespread desire – which I share – for a Commissioner whose area of competence would include the integration of Europe´s minorities, especially of the Roma and Sinti. In any case, I would ask the Commission, both before and after 1 May, to give a great deal of attention to issues of social integration, especially that of the Roma and Sinti. I know that Commissioner Verheugen is very well aware of how important this issue is, and I believe that the whole Commission, in the coming weeks, months and indeed years, should address it together.