16 January 2007

The EU Enlargement: Reframing the Issue

I believe that all European nations have an undeniable right to become a part of a united European state ultimately. West Germany did have a moral obligation to unite with East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell. The German re-unification has not brought the West Germany economic gain, yet noone would argue that the re-unification should not have taken place. The West Germans felt solidary with their brothers in the East, as a result of having a common identity. There was no way that arguments about the difficulties arising from the transformation of the East German economy and society would prevent the Wiedervereinigung from happening.

There are however signicant differences between the European Union enlargement process and the German re-unification. Firstly, mutual identification between East and West Germans was much higher than there is among Europeans. Secondly, the German re-unification was a one-off act, whereas the European Union has been enlarging ever since it was created.

Therefore, it is not possible to “unite Europe” immediately, because there would be little popular support for it. In my opinion, the middle-aged people, unlike their parents, have a little appreciation for Europe in general because they no longer see the Union as something which guarantees peace in the Continent. In addition, the “Generation Erasmus” still needs time to fully assert itself.

Moreover, it would be highly impractical to perform the enlargement at once. The transition of East Germany has showed us that a hasty enlargement can cause more harm than good. The relations between the “Ossis” and the “Wessis” are tense; with the Westerners wary of subsidising the East and the Easterners fed up with being treated as second-class citizens. Politics of fear is being employed as we speak to scare the ordinary people by the imaginary hordes of Polish plumbers; Lithuanians are alienated by not being allowed into the Eurozone on a technicality, Czechs are angry at being refused an early entry to Schengen. As a result, we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Europeans.

We must learn from our mistakes in the past in order to conduct a better enlargement process in the future. One of the main problems with the enlargment is the very word itself. Indeed it triggers a feeling that we are “adding something extra” to what already was a fully functioning body, complete with all its parts. Every enlargement is therefore seen as an unnecessary step likely to worsen the current state of affairs, rather than as an opportunity for everyone. I therefore suggest that the term “enlargement” is replaced by the word “unification”: we are not enlarging Europe, we are unifying it! This will consequently make the accession process viewed much more positively, with the uderlying assumption that it is in fact necessary for Europe to be unified.

Reframing the issue would bring real world advantages for Europe. First of all, Europe would be no longer able to avoid defining its own borders. No more time would be wasted by endless talks on whether a country X should be ever allowed to start the accession negotiations. All European countries would be given a clear signal that if they work hard, they will make it one day. Needless to say, this approach would make the European “carrot” much more effective. Nowadays it does not function too well in countries like Serbia or Ukraine, where the prospect of the EU membership appears to be too illusive. Even bolder would be to integrate all the European countries, both the EU members and candidates, into a common, visa-free body of sorts. However, for the time being, that remains a utopia.

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