European Integration Needs to Expand Its Horizon
By Josef Janning
24.07.1999 · International Herald Tribune
Despite paying lip service to the contrary, many West European governments are reluctant to make the decisions needed to manage the enlargement process successfully. Deep-rooted, conflicting interests characterized the negotiations on Agenda 2000, the reform package designed to prepare the EU for enlargement, at the Berlin summit meeting in March. European politics seems incapable of accomplishing more than the most pressing steps toward political and economic reforms.
In their current shape, EU institutions and policies will not function effectively after enlargement. Agriculture still does not follow market rules. Structural funds are not focused on the neediest. The Council of Ministers will be blocked by unanimity requirements. The large member states are becoming marginalized in qualified majority voting. Without major changes, enlargement will turn the European Parliament into a Supreme Soviet - too large to remain effective.
The stability pact for the Balkans has added new candidates to the enlargement scenario. All of those countries are still far from negotiations for membership, although the pressure is growing.
To maintain a credible perspective for the Balkans, the EU and Central European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have to demonstrate the feasibility of enlargement. Both sides will have to tame their claims for transitional arrangements. The most difficult issues will be the single market and the Schengen accords, which allow visa-free travel across borders, as well as agriculture, state aid, the environment and structure funds.
It would make sense to start negotiation now at Schengen 2 agreement with all associated countries in Europe. Otherwise, the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to the EU would result in the creation of new borders with countries such as Slovakia, Romania or Lithuania - borders that would have to be dismantled again once the latter join the Union.
While some of the countries will benefit from EU membership and the ensuing economic dynamism, others will increasingly face problems in catching up with the front-runners of economic reform. This divide would in turn increase the stability and prosperity gap at the future eastern borders of the Union.
To date, the EU has only partially managed to save those countries that remain excluded from the first rounds of EU and NATO membership from the shock of "double rejection".
A preventive policy is necessary to support the applicant countries that are not yet in negotiations. Appropriate measures could range from opening up markets to currency cooperation and assistance in creating manufacturing locations, to setting an indicative time frame for the whole enlargement process.
Overall, a strengthened commitment from the EU will be needed. The cost may be high, but not necessarily more than what is euphemistically called "reactive crisis management," often another phrase for muddling through.
Above all, a shift in West European public opinion seems necessary. The Europeans need to begin to "think big" if their political invention is to become the ordering principle for the Continent.
Enlargement is not only a matter of costs ant the breakup of niches. It is also about opportunities - economic and political - and about stability and prosperity. And, as the events in former Yugoslavia have proven four times, it is about "war and peace."
For decades, the ideas and decisions in favor of European integration enjoyed widespread public support. Today, every small step is accompanied by the task of convincing skeptical public opinion.
The integration of Europe needs a renewed vision of its future, a "new frontier" that could attract the energies and ambitions of the Continent's leaders and a "new deal" to reaffirm solidarity among its nations and a sense of belonging among its people.