News / Europe

Eastern EU States Under Pressure Amid Social Unrest

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against the government at the University Square in central Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 2012.
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against the government at the University Square in central Bucharest, Romania, January 23, 2012.
Stefan Bos

Eastern members of the European Union are facing social and political turmoil due to the EU's austerity measures imposed on them. The EU and other institutions have insisted that member states enact sharp budgetary restrictions and carry out other policy changes in return for the many billions of dollars of financial assistance that have been committed to shore up eurozone finances.

The resulting political tensions have revived a debate over how much sovereignty eastern EU members should give up, more than two decades after freeing themselves from the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

Impoverished Romania, one of several European Union states that shed communist control more than 20 years ago, is under pressure again these days.

Rough demonstrations

Scores of people have been injured during two weeks of sometimes violent protests against austerity measures and perceived widespread corruption in the capital, Bucharest, and other Romanian cities.

Angry crowds of protesters from all parts of Romanian society - from students disillusioned by an education system they say leads to nowhere, to pensioners and nurses who have no financial resources - have been demanding the resignation of the government and president.

Prime Minister Emil Boc says he understands their frustration. On Monday he dismissed his foreign minister for calling the demonstrators "inept and violent slum dwellers."

Romania's worst social unrest in years has been linked to reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank, in exchange for more than $27 billion in financial assistance.

Discussion about EU

Boc’s center-right administration was forced to reduce public wages by 25 percent while increasing taxes. He also slashed benefits, and cut health care and education costs. Romania's experiences have fueled an ongoing debate in Eastern Europe about putting limits on how much influence the EU and other Western institutions should have over member states' internal affairs.

Prime Minister Boc nonetheless says he still favors a more centralized Europe.

"We should not be afraid to talk about a United States of Europe. Maybe not today, [or] not tomorrow. But I think we should... start to talk about that internally in our countries and, after that, at the European level," said Boc. "Because a United States of Europe does not mean that the states will lose their [character], their assets. But [it will] improve the ultimate way [we] act together in order to be able to succeed in a global competitiveness, which is not easy. We should start to talk about that."

In neighboring Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban says harsh austerity and political demands by the international community are a threat to his nation's sovereignty. He has been criticized by the EU and the United States for broadening government controls over previously independent institutions - the central bank, news media and the judiciary. His government also has limited churches and religious groups recognized by the state.

EC exerts pressure

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has threatened legal action if Hungary does not relax government control of the central bank and the courts, and over the protection of private data.

Orban, who was meeting Tuesday with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said recently it is very difficult to strike a balance between the EU's demands and his electorate's needs.

"As a politician, it is difficult to imagine that I have to have to stand up in the Hungarian parliament and I have to say to the people who are elected representatives, members of the parliament elected by the people, that, 'OK, we have an idea. We would like to go [in] that direction but because of the European Union Commission ... we have to go [elsewhere].' So, I think I would not survive even for a minute [with] that kind of discussion. So therefore, politically, it's a very difficult question," said Orban.

Prime Minister Orban later said he is prepared to change some of Hungary's laws to suit the EU, but no quick agreement is expected.

Hungary's predicament is not unique. Slovakia faces early elections in March, after the government collapsed in a vote about increasing the size of the eurozone nations' rescue fund.

And in the Czech Republic, there is domestic political haggling over a new treaty on EU budget rules.

The financially troubled EU is due to expand to 28 nations next year, when Croatia joins. Meanwhile, there is mounting pressure on the former communist member states to adjust their policies and help the union look more united.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid