Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Friday, 27 January 2012

The Record: Europe

28 January edition
Ed Lowther

Despite the continuing sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone, Croatian voters have decided to join the EU and a string of other countries as far afield as Iceland and Turkey are vying to be next.

But can a trend which will see the bloc expand from 12 members to 28 in fewer than 20 years continue unabated?

In a panel discussion on the Record: Europe, German centre-right MEP Markus Ferber warns that the EU needs to "digest" problems with its recent entrants before expanding further.

He cited concerns about human rights in Bulgarian and Romania and recent changes to the Hungarian constitution as evidence that "we can't let them in and then try to get them ready".

Fellow panellist Geoffrey Van Orden, a British Conservative and vice-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the Parliament, countered: "There were very good reasons why Bulgaria should have joined when indeed she did."

Mr Van Orden was the author of a parliamentary report paving the way for Bulgarian accession, and he recalls that there were serious concerns expressed at the time about the extent to which Bulgaria subscribed to the EU's values.

Yet, he said: "The same concerns are expressed today about Croatia. There is rampant corruption, you do have a politically appointed judiciary... and there's organised crime, which the Croatians haven't yet dealt with."

Jelko Kacin, a Slovenian Liberal MEP who is bringing forward a report on Serbian accession to the EU, told the panel that Croatia is more ready than any of its predecessors.

And he concludes that continuing expansion is a sure-fire way to propel the bloc out of the economic doldrums: "Every enlargement, every new country joining the EU, is bringing great opportunities for growth in the whole of the EU."

Presidential debate

As recent developments in Hungary have shown, it is easier to influence policy in prospective member states than it is in current members.

But the new President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has been doing his best, using a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to lobby for a change of tack.

Critics of the incumbent Hungarian centre-right government, which holds a large majority in the nation's parliament, accuse it of eroding the independence of the central bank and the judiciary.

In an interview with the Record: Europe's Shirin Wheeler, Mr Schulz said the PM may be guilty of duplicity: coming to Brussels to placate EU politicians then returning to Budapest and publicly dismissing their demands.

The ratings game

Also on the programme, we examine proposed new laws aiming to curb the power of the dominant three credit ratings agencies.

Outcry ensued when Standard and Poor's downgraded the creditworthiness of nine eurozone members on 13 January.

But are politicians blaming the agencies for their own failings?

Two members of the Parliaments economic and monetary affairs committee, Derk Jan Eppink, a Dutchman who sits for the Belgian LDD party as part of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, and Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts weigh up the arguments.

The Record: Europe examines the key moments in the political week in Brussels and Strasbourg and focuses on the work of the European Parliament and European Commission.

It is broadcast on BBC Parliament on Saturdays at 2300 GMT, on BBC World on Saturdays and Sundays at 0630 CET and on the BBC News channel on Sundays at 0530 GMT and Mondays at 0330 GMT.

Follow the programme on Facebook.

You can also watch full coverage of the plenary sessions of the European Parliament and selected committee hearings at BBC Democracy Live.

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