BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania believes moves toward a “multi-speed” European Union could cause divisions in the bloc, and does not favor the creation of new mechanisms to address rule-of-law issues in Hungary or Poland, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.
The idea of closer integration has been gaining ground among the EU’s richer western states since Britain decided last year to quit the bloc, but newer, ex-communist members in the east such as Poland and Hungary have made clear they fear being sidelined.
Teodor Melescanu told Reuters that Romania also rejected “a multi-speed approach or concentric circles”, and preferred the current framework, allowing deeper ad hoc cooperation in certain areas.
“It (multispeed) means fragmentation and contradicts the goals and values promoted by the Union since its beginnings,” he said at Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit.
He also said the EU did not need to design new mechanisms to tackle questions over the rule of law in Poland or Hungary.
The European Parliament has alleged a “serious deterioration” in the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, at the start of a process that could theoretically lead to Hungary being stripped of its EU voting rights.
However, Poland’s right-wing government, which is itself under an EU rule of law monitoring procedure, is likely to veto any action against Hungary.
“From our point of view, the EU approach should be equal for all member states,” Melescanu said. “I repeat, there are instruments for monitoring.”
Romania has itself been under special monitoring of its justice system, along with Bulgaria, since they joined the bloc in 2007, because of deep-rooted corruption.
However, Bucharest has in recent years mounted a broad crackdown on high-level graft, and Melescanu said he expected it to be released from special monitoring next year, in time to take over the presidency of the European Council for six months from January 2019 - in line with an assessment this month by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Melescanu said Bucharest was interested in forging closer ties with the Visegrad Group, comprising the four ex-communist EU members Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Areas of common interest included the EU’s Eastern Partnership with prospective membership candidates Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, as well as efforts to keep Britain “as close to the EU as possible” after it leaves the bloc.
Melescanu said a top priority would be the free movement of EU citizens to Britain and of Britons to the EU, and having Britain “function as a de-facto partner” in the bloc’s security and defense policy.
Romania is working with Italy to find ways to fill the hole that Brexit will leave in EU finances, Melescanu said, adding: “Firstly, among others, there’s a possibility to hike the VAT allotment quota to the EU’s budget.”
Bucharest also backs Serbia’s drive for EU membership, and Melescanu urged the bloc not to give up on Turkey, whose decades-old candidacy appears more stuck than ever as EU member states find fault with President Tayyip Erdogan’s concentration of power in his own hands, and his crackdown on dissent of all kinds.
Melescanu said Turkey had made a crucial contribution to security in the Black Sea, which Romania also adjoins.
“Turkey’s process to get closer to the EU must continue ... the process of holding talks and consulting will have a beneficial impact on the evolution of Turkey’s institutions,” Melescanu said, adding that he could see Turkey joining the bloc in ten to 15 years.
Editing by Kevin Liffey; Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits