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The New Face of Europe

The New Face of Europe

An idea is about to be completed. The decisions made today will mould the Europe of tomorrow - courtesy of Deutschland Magazine

By Josef Janning

Europe is no longer a place of trivialities. It would be wrong to reduce the content of European integration to the oft-quoted pettiness of European regulations – e.g. prescribing the angle of curvature of cucumbers at the weekly market or the design of tractor seats and lawnmowers. Classic and elementary government services such as welfare and security can no longer be provided today without the European Union. In other words, integration policy, its procedures and institutions are part of the substance and not the ornamentation of politics in Europe. Every major topic affecting societies on this continent simultaneously brings up the subject of the EU’s contribution, since there are few issues that do not impact on other Europeans.

A history of integration

While the citizens of Europe have still been gradually coming to terms with this central role of Europe in political life, the European Union has already been moving on. Time seems to have been passing more quickly since the epoch change of 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of free-market democracies in central and eastern Europe. Great events and profound, radical changes are becoming part of history almost before their effects and consequences have been fully understood. Many of the spiritual fathers of the transformation to democracy and the market economy, who had themselves experienced the lack of freedom and privation of dictatorship for many years, have long since stepped down or been replaced, and some of them are almost forgotten today.

Only Vâclav Havel, poet, dissident and President of the Czech Republic, still forms a visible bridge of continuity between the winter of 1989/90 and the decisions of the present: the Prague NATO summit and the eastward expansion of the alliance, the Copenhagen summit and the conclusion of the accession negotiations leading up to the biggest enlargement of the European Union in the history of integration.

The European Union itself has also been experiencing history in quick motion. Ever since German unification, there has been one government conference after the other, and three major treaty reforms have been discussed, negotiated and ratified – the Maastricht Treaty focusing on monetary union, the Amsterdam Treaty which restructured foreign policy, and the Nice Treaty with its changes to decision-making systems and processes. Each of these treaties met with a mixed reception among European public opinion: some people felt the changes went decidedly too far, while many felt they did not go far enough. Certainly, few politicians or ordinary people regarded the reforms as integration’s final answer to the challenges of an undivided Europe. As a result, each of the treaty reforms had to point to the next stage in order to gain acceptance. The draft of a forward-looking, sustainable political order for the community of all European democracies that is both understandable and practicable, democratically drawn up and efficient, creating a uniform system of government while still retaining the autonomy of the European states, a superpower but not super state, as Tony Blair demanded – this future draft of an enlarged Europe is yet to be found.

As the political bazaar of the negotiations in Nice showed, the answer will not emerge from the diplomatic struggle between governments. This is the task of the European Convent in Brussels, where parliamentarians and representatives of the present and future members, under the chairmanship of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, will be working until mid-2003 on designing the future of an enlarged Europe.

Putting the finishing touches to Europe

The system of government that seems to be emerging in the deliberations bears the traits of classical statehood – albeit with clearly defined powers. The greater Europe will be based on a constitution that respects citizens’ fundamental rights and represents their interests, both as Europeans and as citizens of their country, in legislation through co-operation between the European Parliament and the Council. Parliament would elect a President of the European Commission to head the executive; the Council would elect a President of the European Council to chair this representative body of the member states; add to this the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and the system of governing Europe would have the faces that are so important for communicating and assigning political decisions. Majority decisions following clear rules would have to be added to make sure this larger European Union was able to make decisions.

Brussels, Prague and Copenhagen are the places that are opening the next chapter in the history of the continent’s unification. This chapter could be called “Putting the finishing touches to Europe,” because the decisions made in the three capitals have the hallmarks of finality in several respects. If they endure, they will stake out the virtual completion of the integration process; should they prove insufficient, however, they could end up in our memories as a synonym for pushing a great idea too far, causing its decline and fall. After all, the imminent enlargement of the European Union to include central and eastern Europe will more or less define its physical area.

It extends from the Atlantic to the Russian border. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland will then still be missing in the west, and the Balkan states in the southeast. If Turkey joins later, the next question will be the possible accession of Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus. Europe could not extend any further, unless Russia, the Europe-facing Maghreb states of North Africa, or Israel in the Middle East were to join. Once the Convent has completed drafting the constitution, the depth of integration will also be largely defined – in terms of both the powers at the European level and the political and institutional system of integration. As far as the classic areas of state jurisdiction is concerned, the only tasks that Europe would lack would be defence and social security. The European level already has an influence on both of these fields today.

However, the face of a greater Europe also bears other traits apart from those of a structure in a given phase of completion. This other Europe can be seen in the tasks of transformation policy that remain to be done in the new democracies, one of which is the social question in the market economies of central and eastern Europe.

Many of the future member countries have yet to strike the right balance between the national autonomy won in 1989 and the demands of co-operating in a supranational system of governments – this balance will have to be gradually developed and consolidated in the years of membership.

In its recent progress report the Commission certified ten of the thirteen candidates as being ready for entry. Yet the basic economic data are enough to show that the stabilization of democracy and the market economy will require additional exertion. For example, inflation is well above the European Union average in Slovakia and Slovenia; unemployment is also disturbingly high in some states, for example in Lithuania or Poland and Slovakia. The prosperity divide will remain considerable for the foreseeable future – Latvia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is only a third of the European Union average; Cyprus, by contrast, has already reached 80 per cent of the European Union level. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, however, which will not be in the coming round of enlargement, are in an even worse position.

With GDP at only 22 per cent of the European Union average and a current inflation rate of 57.6 per cent, Turkey brings up the rear in this group – a clear indication that it is not only deficits in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human and minority rights that are standing in the way of any imminent accession, but also the economic gulf between this country of 80 million people and the states of the European Union.

The process of stabilization

The EU’s convergence and enlargement process itself has had a considerable stabilizing effect. In none of the candidate countries have the ethnic tensions and conflicts that are common in the region escalated into the kind of war or attempts at genocide that have blighted development in the western Balkans over the last ten years. For the most part, border disputes and minority rights have been sorted out in a constructive way – even if it has often required massive external pressure from the European Union. Almost everywhere, the prospect of entry to the European Union has encouraged continuity in the politics of reform even where changes of government and the pendulum swings of disappointed voter expectations have led to constant political change. In the societies of central and eastern Europe, the high expectations as to the effects of entry into the European Union still seem exaggerated today. The fact is often overlooked that, for instance, the economic effects of entry on investment have already begun, and that trade has already been largely liberalized. The success stories of previous accession countries, such as Spain or Portugal, and above all the Irish economic miracle, boost the European Union’s appeal; yet the preconditions are largely unknown. Disappointed expectations could poison the political climate in the first years of membership – and this would surely have consequences for the European policy of the new members at the Brussels Council table.

The political climate in the European Union will also change with the entry of the ten new members in 2004 and the next wave a few years later. The Franco-German tensions, as well as the differences between Paris and London in the context of the latest EU summit in Brussels, have given an initial impression of things to come. Similarly, the haggling over the weighting of votes and majority decision-making during the negotiations on the Nice Treaty have not been forgotten. The circle of countries receiving transfer payments from Brussels will grow – demands from the southwest of the Union will have to be weighed against the needs of the new east; at the same time, wealthy beneficiaries of the agricultural policy such as France and rebate recipients like the United Kingdom intend to resolutely hold on to their vested rights. Germany, too, will want to stick to its special interests in economic policy, although Germany, like the European Union as a whole, will also draw economic benefit from the enlargement of markets and locations, as well as from the new members’ growth potential. Distribution conflicts, which already rank among the most difficult control issues in European politics today, will become increasingly fierce in the enlarged European Union – they make a genuine reform of the decision-making system all the more urgent. There is much evidence to suggest that the logic of previous decision-making packages – which offered something for everyone – will no longer work in a Europe of 25 nations.

The pressures of world politics

A thorough reform of policy will be needed after the present Convent has completed its structural reform. The deadline has already been fixed – 2006/07, when the European Union’s current financial framework has to be renegotiated. 25 governments will sit round the table and have to come to a unanimous agreement on EU income and expenditure, hopefully for the last time.

Although Europeans’ attention will be primarily directed inward during these years, an enlarged Europe will also be part of a changed international situation. A larger Europe will be even more vulnerable and exposed than today’s European Union. It will border directly on areas of instability and weak democracies. Belarus and Ukraine will become direct neighbours of the world’s largest single market, and the Caucasus will be very close by. An enlarged Europe will need an active Ostpolitik in order to process the political consequences of economic and social asymmetry along its external borders. At the same time Europe’s greater weight in the world economy and world trade will rouse new expectations on the Europeans’ role in world politics. Yet enthusiasm for European foreign policy in the world outside will increasingly wane if that policy remains paralysed by the need to square the positions of the various member countries. And Turkey’s entry would shift the European community’s external frontier to the borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. In a Europe with these neighbours, a policy of good neighbourliness will inevitably become an issue of world politics.

© Scoop Media

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