10th Aug 2022

Van Rompuy: 'Winds of populism' threaten free movement

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has spoken out against the "winds of populism" threatening freedom of movement in the Union - a swipe at anti-immigrant discourse in French elections and on the Dutch political scene.

"It is the duty of each government to make sure that no-one - no member of any group or any minority - is treated as a second-class citizen. Regrettably, the winds of populism are affecting a key achievement of European integration: the free movement of persons within our borders," he said in a speech in the Romanian parliament on Wednesday (25 April).

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Keeping the EU's inner borders open was a "sign of civilisation," the EU official noted.

"In that space, there is no room for stigmatisation of foreigners, as happens in certain countries nowadays," he added.

Van Rompuy's remarks come as French President Nicolas Sarkozy the same day openly said that he plans to woo far-right voters in order to win the second round on 6 May.

"We need to speak to the 18 percent who voted for [far-right candidate] Marine Le Pen [in the first round]," Sarkozy told France Info radio.

"I don't regard this 18 percent as people with extreme-right ideas ... but I don't want ministers from [Le Pen's party] the National Front."

Observers expect Sarkozy to sharpen up his attacks on the EU passport-free Schengen travel zone in the coming days. He recently said France would quit the scheme unless its rules are made more tough. Last month he also said integration is not working because "there are too many foreigners" in France.

Dutch crisis

Van Rompuy in his Bucharest speech also referred to Romania's long-delayed Schengen entry bid, saying there is "progress" because EU ministers are to take a decision in September.

The Netherlands last year vetoed Romania and Bulgaria's entry citing corruption and crime.

But the Dutch government - currently in 'caretaking' mode after the coalition fell apart on budget issues - also wielded its veto to please the anti-immigrant Freedom Party in return for its support in parliament.

Snap Dutch elections are due on 12 September, with little prospect of a Dutch u-turn on Bulgaria and Romania before then.

Meanwhile, Van Rompuy encouraged his Romanian hosts to continue "confidence-enhancing initiatives" in border control and in police co-operation with Dutch authorities.

"This will ensure Romania becomes a safe entry point into the Schengen area. I am aware that border controls require investment and substantial means and that this is not always easy in difficult budgetary times. However, such choices are necessary to live up to the standards and to assume the responsibility of being a member of the Union," he said.

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