Europe: Are some are more equal than others?
Some European citizens - many of whom endured decades of Communist misrule - are asking whether a similar motto to to George Orwell's parody of the hypocrisy of Communism, Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others", should not apply to them.According to George Orwell's damning parody of the hypocrisy of Communism, Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."
Sixty years on, some European citizens - many of whom endured decades of Communist misrule - are asking whether a similar motto should not apply to them in 2007.
"In any people, in any community, there are offenders, but the law must be applied in their case, without national hysteria emerging against an entire community," Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said in an emotional address in early November.
Tariceanu was reacting to a wave of attacks on Romanians in Italy - a wave impelled by the brutal murder of a woman in Rome, allegedly by a Romanian illegal immigrant.
The incident sparked a heated debate in Italy, with senior political figures saying that Romania's January accession to the EU had flooded Italy with beggars and criminals.
Those comments were fiercely resented by Romanians, who saw them as a blatant attempt to brand the whole nation as criminal.
But they fed into a growing debate within the EU as to which European countries - current, future and potential members - are safe, reliable and genuinely "European" states.
It comes as the EU's Schengen passport-free zone expands to take in nine of the Central and European states which joined the EU in 2004, together with Malta.
Despite the fact that those states have already been EU members for three and a half years, the move has triggered a wave of disquiet along the line of the former Iron Curtain.
"I don't trust them. They're much poorer than we are," a German woman in her 20s who identified herself as Kerstin said when asked about the impending opening of the Schengen borders.
She was speaking of the Poles, but citizens all along the soon-to-open borders have made similar comments about their neighbours.
And such comments have not been well received in the new states, who see themselves as rightful members of the European club.
"Joining the Schengen visa and legal zone must finally eliminate our feeling of being peripheral," Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a speech on October 4.
That debate, at least, is being held after the fact: all the Schengen novices, plus Romania and Bulgaria, are already EU members, and the question of whether they should belong or not is academic.
But it has fuelled a far hotter argument over which other countries are "European" enough to join the club.
Even the former Yugoslavia - unquestionably a part of the European continent - is a controversial topic. Croatia, widely tipped to join the EU in 2009, is presently at odds with Italy and Slovenia over the extent of its fishing grounds in the Adriatic.
And Serbia, which initialled a Stabilization and Association Agreement - the first step towards possible EU membership - with the EU in early November, is seen by many in Western Europe as being directly responsible for the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Serbs say that they were as much the victims of ethnic cleansing as were Bosnians and Kosovars, and that Belgrade is being unjustly singled out in an expression of deep-rooted European prejudice.
But even that row is nothing compared with the debate now rocking the EU over the issue of Turkey. With 95 per cent of its land mass outside the traditional bounds of Europe, an overwhelmingly Muslim population and a history of invading Western Europe, Turkey is seen by many in the EU as simply not belonging to Europe.
Before his election in May, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that there was no room for Turkey in the EU. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has made similar comments.
Turks across Europe have reacted with indignation, saying they are just as much part of European civilization as the French and Germans.
And with current EU members still struggling to deal with the results of the bloc's explosive expansion in 2004, the question of whether some Europeans are more equal - or more European - than others looks set to keep raising hackles as we move into 2008.
Reported by Ben Nimmo.