A united Europe – Quixotean chimera?

As the European Union starts discussion of enlargement to the east, it becomes clear that its house is as deeply divided as ever, with all countries understandably putting their national interests first. The cost of expansion to the east makes it difficult for the 15 member-states to take a firm position. However, commercial negotiations started between the 15 Foreign Ministers last weekend in Nykoping, Sweden. The full debate on enlargement is to take place in 2002. The fact that it has not taken place earlier proves how weak is the will of the 15 to take the matter seriously. The first discussion will cover European Union solidarity mechanisms, like the Common Agricultural Policy and the Regional Development Fund and the implementation of pre-adhesion strategies (Phara Programme and EBRD Funds). Negotiations for full entry must cover the areas of adaptation of legislation to Community Law, the adaptation of judicial and police systems, of economic systems to the Single Currency and of commercial policy to stand in line with EU directives on competition and market strategy. That is the theory, but it is in practice where matters become more difficult to resolve. The Nordic countries, for example, want to dismantle the CAP and set up a more flexible system of agricultural subsidies, revised annually. The southern countries do not. Madrid is worried about losing structured funds and threatens to veto any decision to siphon off funds destined for the poorer regions of Spain to be used in eastern Europe. The Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark and Finland) are against this position. Sweden, in its turn, is the most enthusiastic member state regarding expansion to the east. Currently hosting the EU presidency, Stockholm intends to conclude negotiations on the entry of new members by the end of 2004. Austria and Spain want the circulation of people from the new members limited for at least 5, possibly 7, years. Germany states that Spain’s policy of double blocking is wrong – structured funds cost money and the circulation of people does not. Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, stated “There are contradictions between the positions of the member states on common policies, budgetary resources and applications from new members”. Joschka Fischer of Germany leads the Federalist group and defends a reinforcement of the European Parliament, the creation of a second Chamber, which will eventually absorb the functions performed at present by the Council of Ministers. Other countries are against a European Federation, the main opponent being the United Kingdom. While it is a fact that the majority of EU policy-making decisions are made behind the backs of its citizens, public opinion, when gauged in opinion polls, is clear. For example, a recent poll on EU expansion eastwards conducted in all 15 member states, showed that only 44% of the population in the EU favours such an expansion. This expansion would increase the number of consumers from 370 to 480 million. A first wave would include Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. A second wave, some years later, would be composed by Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta. Turkey, which had the lowest “in favour” vote by EU citizens, is left outside both groups, somewhere in the middle. It should be said that no firm dates have yet been fixed. While these countries queue up for EU funds, they would do well to consider the possibility of there not being a European Union by the time they are ready to enter. The bickering within the EU does nothing to create a credible external image of a united continent, a reality which ended with the break-up of the Roman Empire. A united European continent seems at this moment as realistic as the fantasies lived by Miguel de Cervantes’ mysterious figure, Don Quixote.

TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.RU LISBON