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Walker's World; Europe's Yoga Woes (16-01-2006)
By Martin Walker, UPI Editor

Washington, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- British schoolchildren have often been amazed to learn of the 18th century 'War of Jenkins's Ear,' when Britain launched hostilities against Spain on the pretext that one Captain Jenkins had been ill-treated and his ear severed by Spanish sailors. Future European pupils may be equally surprised to learn that the grand project of Europe's integration may be on the point of derailment over the curious case of a Romanian teacher of yoga.

Gregorian Bivolaru, 53, is a Romanian who lives and teaches yoga in Sweden, and was last week granted political asylum by a Swedish court on the grounds that he may face persecution in Romania because of his religious views, and that he is unlikely to get a fair trial in his home country. A year ago, the Swedish government cited similar argument in turning down a formal request from Romania for his extradition.

Bivolaru is the self-styled founder of the Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA). He faces trial in Romania on charges of rape, tax evasion and making anti-Semitic statements. As part of its 'evidence' to Sweden demanding Bivolaru's extradition, the Romanian Ministry of Justice forwarded a series of statements by members of Romania's National Assembly which described Bivolaru as a psychopath, a terrorist, and in one instance, as "Satan."

Perhaps understandably, the Swedish Supreme Court has said that Romania has not provided sufficient evidence under the usual European standards of evidence and due process, that might warrant extradition.

This carries of the demonized yoga teacher some ominous and weighty implications. The Swedish government has said that this case exemplifies the weaknesses in Romania's legal system, and its failing to reach the minimum standards required for membership of the European Union -- just one year before Romania is scheduled to join the EU.

This public display of contempt for the courts and judicial procedure of a would-be fellow member state of the EU is without precedent.

Romanian and Bulgaria, formerly members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, had their applications to join the EU delayed, when most other former Pact members, like Poland and Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics, have already been admitted as full EU members. Romanian and Bulgaria have had difficulty with allegations of widespread corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and lack of judicial independence. The latest incident of the yoga teacher will reinforce the arguments of those who claim that EU enlargement has gone too far and too fast and needs to be halted.

Among them is France's Minister of the Interior, and possibly the country's next President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week launched what appears to be his campaign for next year's presidential elections with a wide-ranging press conference in which Europe took pride of place. Sarko, as he is now known in France, said enlargement had gone too far and it should be frozen until such time as Europe's voters agreed on a new constitution.

The defeat of the EU's draft constitution in referendums last years in France and the Netherlands has left the 25-nation organization in limbo. The Dutch said last week that the constitution is dead. The Austrian government says no, it is simply going through a bumpy ratification process. France's President Jacques Chirac says perhaps one might proceed with the less unpopular bits, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it would be quite wrong to cherry-pick items in this way.

The British are very sensibly keeping quiet. But since there is almost no chance of British voters accepting this or any other constitution in a referendum, at least for the foreseeable future, the British government would like the entire issue to go away for many years, until some future government has to handle this very hot potato.

But true to the spirit of European solidarity, the British will not be allowed off the hook so easily. The European Parliament, a bastion of true believers in a federal European superstate, will this week debate a report that is aimed at salvaging the failed EU constitution. The report seeks to require a clear decision by the end of next year on how the constitutions central provisions for governing the enlarged EU should be ratified.

Moreover, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is urging that the 11 countries who use the euro common currency should form themselves into a core group and drive on the ever greater political integration with common tax and social systems. Frances Jacques Chirac is making supportive noises about "the vocation of the eurozone members."

Chancellor Merkel is against it, since she does not want Germany lured into inner club committed to building a federal European state, while excluding the British and Poles. She also understands that since so many EU voters tell pollsters that they are still against the constitution on the grounds that the EU is a project of European elites who never listen to ordinary people or pay attention to what the voters wants, it might be a bad idea to revive the constitution when it has proved so unpopular.

That unpopularity, confirmed by last month's Eurobarometer opinion poll which says fewer and fewer EU citizens think their countries benefit from membership, is the core problem of the EU. And incidents like the latest fuss over Romania's failed extradition of the yoga teacher simply reinforce the public complaints that in matters like EU enlargement, their leaders are rushing ahead on some ideological crusade that takes little account of whether new member states are sufficiently democratic, free, honest and well-government to join the club. After all, once Romania is a member, then its demands for extradition of any EU citizen (and not necessarily a Romanian national) should be automatically agreed -- a prospect that troubles more than just the yoga-teaching profession.

(Published on the United Press International news agency, World Peace Herald news and Monsters and Critics News sites)
Copyright: 2006 UPI

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