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15/06/2005 | In Europe, division among old and new

Judy Dempsey

When 10 new countries were admitted to the European Union on May 1 last year, there was a real sense that the divisions of Europe created by the big powers after 1945 had finally been overcome.


During that sunny afternoon in Dublin, few of the 25 leaders of the enlarged EU could have imagined that, 12 months later, the Union would plunge into one of its deepest crises for many years.
This turning point has been reached not just because of the rejection by France and the Netherlands of the proposed European constitution, or the increasingly bitter wrangling over the EU's budget that is unlikely to be resolved at this week's summit meeting in Brussels.
It is something much more fundamental. The new countries, most of them from formerly Communist Eastern Europe, are aiming for further rounds of enlargement in order to make all of Europe stronger, more prosperous and above all, secure. They are also intensely aware of the challenges coming from India and China.
In contrast, a large part of public opinion in the old member states has turned against Europe, equating it with too much economic liberalism, a loss of control over destiny and insecurity bred both of dissatisfaction with Brussels and the swift change of a world in the throes of technological revolution. Many West Europeans did not really absorb enlargement last year.
Now, they are keenly aware of it, and fear the EU may be aggravating the threats of globalization by opening borders to cheaper labor and cheaper products.
"New member countries want more integration and more enlargement," said Jacek Rostowski, an economics professor at the Central European University in Budapest.
"This means more competition, flexibility but also a stronger Europe to deal with the new challenges."
The new member states have found few allies among the old 15. If anything, in a bizarre twist to the history of the EU, the principles of enlargement and integration are being jettisoned by some of the founding members, particularly France and the Netherlands.
The big question is which direction Germany, the biggest of the 25 EU member states, will take. Much will depend on the outcome of the German national elections, which are expected in September. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has taken a much more positive view for example of bringing Turkey into the EU than his possible successor, Angela Merkel, leader of the conservative Christian Democrats.
"Germany is pivotal in influencing the future direction of Europe," said François Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Studies in Paris.
"Germany has traditionally supported enlargement and integration. But there are changes taking place inside Germany with people questioning not just further enlargement but the EU itself. As yet, Berlin has not fully decided which way to take the European Union."
Issues like unemployment, globalization, the belief that new member states are taking away jobs from the older ones and deep skepticism toward the economic changes necessary to create more flexibility and competitiveness have made public opinion across old Europe unsure about the merits of any future widening and deepening.
The smaller East European countries, in contrast, are battling to protect the principles that gave them stability.
They want to share their newly won security with their neighbors further east, including Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and one day perhaps even Russia.
"Integration and enlargement are very important for the new member states," said Pawel Swieboda, director of the European department at Poland's Foreign Ministry. "We also feel we can have more of a say on the community level. Poland and other new countries want to embrace an EU that tackles more issues on the community level instead of having more powers reside with the member states, particularly the bigger ones."
Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia hold the view that a stronger, more integrated and enlarged Europe would give the EU the authority to take on more of the burden in terms of peacekeeping but also set out a long term strategic agenda for China and India.
For a stronger Europe, they are willing to cede more of their cherished sovereignty to Brussels even though they had regained their independence only in 1989 after 50 years under the Soviet yoke.
Their allegiance to Europe is all the more heartfelt because they are not convinced about Russia's road to democracy.
"These countries are willing to cede some sovereignty to Brussels and have a stronger EU because over the next decade Russia will be perceived as their enemy," said Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council for Foreign Relations in Berlin.
Yet none of the new countries are certain if their agenda has any chance of succeeding.
"The mood among the member states is against them," said Rahr. "It is not certain that if Angela Merkel becomes the next German chancellor, she will take the lead in Europe and press ahead with more integration and enlargement."
Rostowski also had some doubts. He was not certain that the new member states had realized that future enlargement may be "off the table." Merkel, for example, has repeatedly warned against giving Turkey full EU membership. France and the Netherlands oppose Croatia joining.
And even if the East Europeans win the battle for further enlargement, Rostowski was not convinced this would lead to a deeper European Union. "You have two kinds of deepening – a true federal process, or a kind of deepening which involves a pecking order with the big states setting the agenda," he said.
This "pecking order" already made its appearance when France and Germany together tore up the EU's Stability Pact, which set strict limits on budget deficits and other economic factors. The move by Berlin in particular showed a radical shift in Germany's view on integration. "The point is that the kind of deepening the new member states are hoping for is not available," Rostowski said.
It is a pessimism shared by most analysts, including Heisbourg of France. "No matter which way you look at it, after the French and Dutch vote against the constitution, there is a big, deep political institutional crisis," he said. "Even though we should be looking outward, there is no way of escaping a period of introspection. It will take a few years before we start looking outwards."

International Herald Tribune (Francia)


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