Judges taking bribes from organized crime, high-level figures investigated for corruption but never tried. Any of this sound familiar? Par for the course in the third world you might hurl back in a fit of spasticated petulance only to be found gracing the comment boxes below my copy. But according to the European Commission this is actually the reality of two late entry European countries that joined the troubled project, otherwise know as the European Union.
But let’s go back to those happy days of 2005 when the euro was in reasonable shape and the Brussels EU executive was enjoying all the press coverage of the EU expanding from 15 to 25 countries, with the lion’s share of the EU-embedded thousand or so journalists in Brussels who were happy to ejaculate the good news in their copy. In those early days of Jose Manuel Barosso’s term as new EU Commission president, things were looking quite neat. Oh yes they were. Just read the back-wipe Economist-bailed-out “European Voice” if you don’t believe me. Those were the days where the former Portuguese premier could actually mention the words “Euro” and “EU expansion” as though they were bleedin’ accolades. Gimme me a break.
So why didn’t Romania and Bulgaria get covered in all this feel-good froth? Why didn’t the Brussels executives swallow up Romania and Bulgaria at the time in one easy bite when the torrent of custard was hitting copy-hungry hacks who made their way to the midday press briefings like obedient lambs each lunchtime, as requested? At the time, it was all about yet another Catch-22 situation the EU always seems to be getting itself into. If it took on Romania and Bulgaria with its [then] apocalyptic levels of corruption worthy of a remake of The Godfather, then it would harm the credibility of the project. But then if it didn’t take these two backward wastelands into its fold, then they would be “adopted” by New Russia. The thought of Moscow taking them was simply abhorrent; it had Barosso and his cronies in Brussels choking on their waffles. So, two years after the first wave of ten Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004, Romania was to join – followed by Bulgaria a year later, a country so backward that Eurocrats in Brussels often confided to me horror story scenarios about this heart of darkness scrubland which, believe it or not, included fake yoghurts and cheeses creating wide-scale food poisoning in France and Germany.
But that’s another blog for another day.
In 2005, I traveled the length of Romania and Bulgaria working on a TV documentary about these two former communist bloc countries who, in theory, should never have been given the green light to join the European Union due to their fabulous near-out-of-control corruption – the kind of stuff which would make FIFA’s ejected Mohamed Bin Hammam look like an amateur dabbling at the fine art.
But Romania was allowed full membership in 2006 and a year later Bulgaria followed with Euroskeptics blasting Bulgaria in particular for its lack of control over its judiciary – a thoroughly misplaced comment as any third-rate hack would have noted that the mafia in Bulgaria do a splendid job on “case management” in the judiciary system. It all works very efficiently. So efficiently in fact that any journalist who writes the contrary will soon be propping up the concrete pillars of our latest motorway, which we are building with EU structural funds under Objective Two EU funding. Shut up Martin Jay.
Romania is huge. It was, at one point the largest agricultural exporter in Europe. But these days it has a new export which a respected journalist, who I shall call The Bear, tells me should be bottled or branded. Anti-corruption agencies. There are so many now in Romania that the locals are confused about which group is supposed to nail which generation of corrupt politicians; which ones were set up just to keep Brussels happy and which ones are in with the ruling elite. Are any of them real? Turning up with a film crew and gate crashing the main one – set up in 2007 – was fun at least. The former embassy of mad dog Qaddafi’s Libya provided the gentrified setting of this sham agency which was supposed to arrange the entrance examination of its new head – but even made that an entirely bent arrangement whereby the standing head cruised through and made chief. You couldn’t make it up.
Wherever you went as a foreign hack in Romania you were met with incredulity. This was mainly from educated journalists who told you harrowing stories of how corruption was endemic in Romania – as though this was a reason to block Romania’s entry into the EU. I found myself comforting them as they explained to me the latest scam which they were certain would shock EU officials if they knew of it in Brussels. The local administrators of EU funding projects – who had received training in Brussels earlier – would return to Romania and, after being armed with this new knowledge about how, for example, local farmers could apply for massive EU subsidies would then agree a 15 percent kickback on all money they managed to secure from Brussels. Shocking! I tried in vain explaining that the European Union is probably the most corrupt organization in the world whose own record on internal corruption was so bad that it felt the need to instruct the Belgian police to arrest Hans Martin-Tillack, a respected German investigative journalist, on completely trumped up charges…for reporting on EU institutional corruption. That the European Union’s own book-keeping of how it spends around 100 billion Euro has not been cleared by its own auditors for over a decade; that it regularly fires and destroys the lives of whistle-blowers (a knack that its previous Vice President, Neil Kinnock seemed to revel in); that most of its top jobs are secured internally through a Masonic network; that its own anti-fraud agency is hilariously bent, so much so that its German head (yes, the same one who ordered the arrest of the German hack in a raid on his home) secured his recent five-year term extended through threatening the heads if the main political groups with exposing their own X Files….
I could go on. But the Romanian journalists didn’t believe how like taxes, death and farting in the bath that the only certainty in Brussels is graft. Corruption.
But now breaking news from Brussels. Apparently its higher echelons are disturbed by corruption in Bulgaria and Romania. Is this the same concern the interminably boring, personality-bereft Finish enlargement commissioner Olly Rein had in 2005? Has much changed Olly? Only that you no longer are in the same job but have left the dossier to another failed European politician.
And speaking of failed European politicians milking the EU gravy train (how’s that for a mixed metaphor Mohamed Bin Hammam?), let’s meet Pat Cox. A good orator who was something once in Oirish politics and TV who became the president of the European parliament – an institution known more for the hemlines of its sex kitten assistants and expenses scams than its contribution to furthering the European economy, or dare I say protecting jobs or –
What of this Cox chap? Well, he’s a liberal – which is surely enough to get him skewered by a broken broom handle at twenty yards in my book. But he’s just pulled off the quintessential scam in Brussels. Got himself a fatcat job with those nice people at the political consultancy APCO and now wants to crank up the billable hours by being a consultant at the same time to a European Commissioner. Yes, humble reader, you read correctly. This would be like Adolph Hitler being given a job as an advisor on the Middle East peace process (which some of my nationalist, empty-headed Moroccan fans would no doubt welcome) or in fact Tony Blair being given the same job -- oh sorry, that did happen, didn’t it?
But is this Europe, right? Can this kind of preposterous corruption exist? In Brussels, yes. Possible conflict with Cox’s lobbying work for Microsoft, Michelin, Pfizer, lobby consultancy, APCO as well as his own lobby firm “European Integration Solutions” (EIS). Naaaagghhhh. It’s Corruption Unlimited. Romanians and Bulgarians and FIFA have a lot to learn from Brussels.
(Martin Jay is a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for most major international TV networks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for insults, general comments and racist bed-wetting from those who don’t have the intellectual bandwidth to even understand what an ‘opinion’ or ‘blog’ article is supposed to be)