Central Europe Review Balkan Information Exchange
Vol 2, No 34
9 October 2000
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Bridging EuropeNot a Shot
in the Dark

The European Parliament
debates on enlargement

Gusztáv Kosztolányi

Enlargement was the focus of last week's plenary debates in the European Parliament, with a total of 12 country reports presented by various rapporteurs, an overall assessment of progress made by Elmar Brok (EPP-ED, European People’s Party, Europe of Democracy Group), statements by Romano Prodi (President of the Commission), Pierre Moscovici (President in Office of the Council) and a special conference entitled "Reuniting Europe" organised by the Liberal Group with prominent guests from the candidate countries in attendance.

The choice of date, Tuesday 3 October, Day of German Unity, was no mere coincidence either, providing a symbolic context in which to praise the virtues of reunifying a once divided continent. From this vantage point, the work of enlargement took on the appearance of clearing away the last rubble from the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Not the customary rhetoric

Mr Prodi's speech on the preparations for and the agenda of the Biarritz summit was a more stirring contribution than his usualrather dryrhetoric, touching upon issues of direct concern to the ordinary citizen in the existing member states:

Many look to our original "union of minorities" as the only instrument capable of reconciling the demands of globalisation with the reassertion of the rights of the citizen.

he stated, a phrase that was to reappear in his fireside chat-style address to the Liberals.

As if tailor-made to counteract the scepticism and despair concerning the eternal postponement of a specific date, he wrapped the Commission's customary stance in more attractive packaging:

We have embarked on an enlargement process whose ambitious and inspiring goal is to forge the unity of the whole continent of Europe.

This is a process the Commission intends to pursue right through to its conclusion, exactly as it was mandated to do, conducting the negotiations objectively and rigorously, country by country.

Rigour and objectivity are essential if we are to secure the public support that is indispensable both in the candidate countries and in those countries that are already members of the Union.

The time has therefore come for some extra impetus over and above the efforts of the negotiators: we must now explain and persuade.

There is an acute need in the member states of the Union for a debate to explain the full significance of this extraordinary passage we are writing in the history books by rebuilding a united Europe. And, at the same time, to convey the potential benefits to be gained from the creation of a market of 500 million consumers.

The new democracies, for their part, are making enormous, profound and unprecedented efforts to adapt their political and economic systems to the Community situation.

Yet, there are equally clear signs in the candidate countries of growing concern about the lack of a clear and binding timetable for accession. We must respond to their efforts and their worries.

Before enlargement can go ahead, we must implement the necessary reform of the Community institutions...

If a Treaty of Nice... were adopted in December, allowing time for national ratification procedures, the Union could be ready for enlargement at the beginning of 2003.

This was clearly intended for consumption amongst the candidate countries (those of us in the Diplomatic Gallery scribbling away with the same eagerness as the journalists in their salle de travail) and was met with enthusiastic applause.

Less than inspiring

Mr Moscovici's contribution was drab and uninspiring, largely reiterating the timetable for negotiations and emphasising the ineluctable necessity of reform in order to ensure the continued smooth operation of the EU following enlargement.

Introducing his report, Mr Brok echoed these sentiments by emphasising the link between institutional reform and a date for enlargement, whilst keeping up momentum in accession negotiations. Throughout, he was at pains to highlight the moral obligation incumbent upon the current member states to set aside the last vestiges of an artificial division that had taken such a toll on the continent.

Full compliance with the Copenhagen criteria was, however, a prerequisite for acceding to the EU:

There may not be any political discount for any country. It has to be clear that these conditions all have to be fulfilled. Furthermore, it must also be clear that democracy and the rule of law are actually the preconditions for negotiation, and that other criteria also have to be fulfilled in the course of negotiations, whereby it is naturally clear to us that we have to agree on transitional periods in a number of areas, in the interests of the candidate countries as well as those of the EU, as we have always done in conjunction with accessions. This does not represent a form of discrimination against anyone.

I also feel, however, that if we talk about the Copenhagen criteria, each country must be evaluated according to the progress it has made. For this reason, we ought to bid an official farewell to thinking in groups...

According to the regatta principle, each country has a chance to become a Member State of the EU very quickly, provided it fulfils the criteria for membership.

The goal was for the EU to be ready by 2003, allowing the candidate countries to take part in the EP elections in 2004. For his part, Mr Brok was firmly convinced that certain countries will be in a position to prepare sufficiently within this time frame:

If I recall that we are already in the 11th year after the revolution in Central and Eastern Europe, we must also give these people some kind of horizon concerning the positive impact of the process of transformation ensuing at some stage. We have to take our word about "Europe being open to you once you have cast off the yoke of dictatorship" seriously ourselves and not keep on finding new reasons, obstacles and difficulties, which postpone enlargement.

He then went on to list the beneficial effects of enlargement on Europe as a whole in terms of economic, political and security stability, a message that would have to be put across more effectively to the doubting Thomases. The best strategy would be to tell it like it is, rather than attempting to play on fears.

Mr Moscovici again failed to inspire, confining himself to a series of hollow phrases on the importance of the enlargement process in a historical perspective, that each candidate would be taken on its own merits (going over old ground again), listing the number of chapters opened and claiming that the time was now ripe for substantive negotiations; that a new phase of negotiation had been embarked upon.

Optimistic about Europe's great project

It was Commissioner Verheugen's speech, which proved to be most interesting. Striking a much more optimistic note than is his wont, he seemed positively enthusiastic, certainly more upbeat then usual. Perhaps this speech provides the best evidence of the salutary effect the rap over the knuckles he received over his gaffe on referendums.

Repeating the argument about the vital requirement to agree on institutional reforms (thereby providing the umpteenth avowal that reform is not a fobbing-off exercise or fig leaf to conceal unwillingness on the part of the current member states to take the step towards embracing new countries into the ranks of the privileged few), he drew the obvious comparisons with German reunification as a prelude to the even greater project facing Europe now:

Enlargement is the only adequate response to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Communist camp. I would not know how to say to those peoples in Europe, who have only attained freedom and self-determination in the course of the last decade that the advantages of European integration should be confined exclusively to those, who after 1945 found themselves on the "right" side of the Iron Curtain.

We will not allow a new division of Europe to take place. We do not wish to see a situation in which the old ideological dividing lines are replaced by equally impermeable frontier, where the prosperous are separated from the poor. The stakes are, in reality, even higher: peace and security have to be extended across all of Europe. But not just any old stability. The Soviet empire appeared stable for decades, both at home and in the eyes of the outside world, but in truth it was crumbling and rotten since its stability was not founded on democracy, the rule of law, and on human and minority rights...

Enlargement cannot be likened to buying up futures and seeing whether the investment will pay dividends. The benefits already exist and they are benefits for everyone. I am firmly convinced that without the prospect of European integration the countries of Central and Eastern Europe would not have been in a position to pursue the process of transformation so rapidly or successfully...

The move towards enlargement has led to a partial resolution of conflicts dating back over hundreds of years, border problems have been cleared up and minority issues defused.

Mr Verheugen then went on to reiterate the list of principles applied by the Commission in managing enlargement, namely that full and equal membership would be the order of the day with no Europe a la carte or first and second class membership, that each country is taken on its own merits, grouped neither geographically nor politically, that differentiation is utilised in gauging progress in negotiations on individual chapters and that countries have a fair chance of catching up with others even if they only began negotiating at a far later stage.

A taste of what is to come

He gave a sneak preview of the contents of the country reports to be published along with a strategy paper on 8 November, describing a number of basic trends:

We are seeing progress across the board as regards the political criteria. In none of the countries do I see the danger of a slide into authoritarian structures. Good neighbourly relations are developing well and quickly. Basic democratic values and rules are firmly anchored. Obviously, we continue to monitor potential risks and unresolved issues, which is why we keep a vigilant eye on the situation of national minorities and why we are making efforts towards taking specific measures in order to overcome social discrimination against the Roma minorities in particular in a series of countries.

Clear progress had been made on the economic front, though there was still a lot left to do in terms of implementing and transposing the acquis communautaire. Deficiencies were at their most severe in the independence of judiciaries and public administration, though Mr Verheugen was careful not to single out any one country for special criticism. Legal certainty had to be achieved in order to match the standards of the community, all of which would take up time. Aware of the abuses of past regimes, Mr Verheugen left no doubt as to the fact that this entailed more than mere formalities rubber-stamped by compliant Parliaments: "We have to be sure that we not only share the acquis on paper, but that they are also fully implemented in practice."

The rifeness of corruption was also mentioned. Mr Verheugen rejected it unequivocally:

Of course, I am aware of the particular socio-economic causes of corruption. But we also see it in places where it cannot be easily explained away by desperately low income levels. I do not look upon corruption as some kind of quaint tradition or part of the cultural heritage. Corruption is a cancerous growth in modern societies and economies, a disease spreading through the organism, eating away at what was once healthy as it goes.

As if that were not enough, his stern warning veered towards appealing to the self-interest of the countries concerned: corruption acted as a deterrent to foreign investors in considering where to set up shop, in turn preventing the type of accelerated growth needed to catch up with the EU.

Anxious to correct a common misconception, the Commissioner went on to point out that the number of chapters open should not be confused with the speed of negotiation. Substance was what mattered and the French Presidency would witness discussions on transitional periods and the other sticking points. The 8 November would also bring clarification from the Commission on the handling of such issues. Negotiations were set to intensify, of that there could be no doubt.

How to sell enlargement

Drawing towards his peroration, Verheugen then touched upon the vexed question of how to sell the project to the reluctant populations of Europe, a statement redolent with irony in the light of the furore he so recently caused by his own tactlessness and ineptitude:

I would also like to say a few words about a topic close to my own heart (sic), that of the presentation of the enlargement project in the member states and the candidate countries. There is no doubt that we have a problem in putting the message across even if no clear picture emerges from the results of opinion polls. The Commission has proposed an information campaign to improve communication. The legal and financial framework for this has been established. We are now fleshing out the content. In essence the campaign will be decentralised, adapted to the specific needs and circumstances of the member states and candidate countries concerned.

This initiative would rely largely on opinion multipliers and leaders due to budgetary strictures and there would be little scope for commercial advertising campaigns. Involving civil society and individuals would allow for a democratisation of the exercise (we would label this making a virtue out of a necessity, but at least civic participation rather than spoon feeding propaganda is worth welcoming).

The real concerns of ordinary people would have to be addressed, otherwise the information campaign would be doomed to failure before getting off the ground. Immigration, the impact on jobs, competition and frontier regions would, predictably enough, be its meat and potatoes. Verheugen was also quick to anticipate the response that would be given, attempting to allay fears immediately on these key fronts before moving on to an eloquent summary:

Enlargement affords us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course of European history, to guarantee peace and security for the peoples of Europe and to offer new opportunities for all. enlargement is not a shot in the dark. It is being prepared for as thoroughly as is humanly possible. It would, however, be an act of foolhardiness to abandon the project or to postpone it indefinitely.

We have a window of opportunity open at the moment. It will not be open forever. There are risks. Noone can avoid them, but those risks should not detract from our spirit of resolution. It would be far more dangerous to avoid doing what has now to be done.

Reuniting Europe

The Liberal Group conference Reuniting Europe (3 and 4 October) featured an impressive guest list of leading figures from the candidate countries, which in itself reinforced the inclusive nature of the enlargement process.

Mr Pat Cox, Chairman of the Liberal Group, jumped on to the symbolic bandwagon in his opening address by reminding his appreciative audience of the anniversary of German Reunification. He quoted figures from the recent Eurobarometer survey to demonstrate that enlargement cannot be taken for granted: 60 per cent of respondents overall had not ascribed high priority to enlargement, though there were major variations depending on the individual member state concerned. Populists and demagogues tended to play on people's fears and, although the views they propounded were caricatures of reality, it was worth dissecting the stereotypes in order to come up with a measured response.

The first keynote speaker was Mr Leszek Balcerowicz, President of the Union of Freedom, former Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister of Poland. He stressed that we are living in exceptional times with an unprecedented opportunity to respect the fundamental principles of liberty, dignity, private property and the rule of law. enlargement was a matter of mutual benefit for both sides, with the trade surpluses created leading to the creation of thousands of new jobs. The exaggerations thrown into the arena by opponents of enlargement would have to be countered more effectively and political will in favour of the project strengthened.

In the candidate countries, reforms would have to be completed, economies further strengthened and the quality and execution of legislation ameliorated since it was in the interests of the EU to have dynamic and stable neighbours at this stage and reliable partners in future. A credible prospect of a date for entry would act as a powerful motivating device and a finite link existed between creating such a prospect and the success of reforms within the countries waiting in the wings.

At the same time, the EU should not be criticised or blamed in any way for pursuing internal reforms itself prior to enlargement, as such reforms had preceded enlargements in the past and would hopefully pave the way towards a smooth accession in the near future.

Mr Eduard Kukan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic, was next to take the floor. Slovakia had dropped out of the enlargement process for four years, but was now making up for lost time. From a Slovak vantage point, the EU was not going through the happiest phase of its existence with tensions rippling across to the candidate countries on crucial issues such as the CAP, all of which threatened to put enlargement on a back burner.

The historical opportunity afforded by the fall of the Berlin Wall should not be missed, but it had been encouraging to observe that the question of whether Europe should be reunited had never occurred to the EU. Instead, the question as to the best means of reuniting had been the focus of attention.

The forthcoming round of enlargement was unparalleled, representing a journey into the unknown, yet it would be a fatal error to over-dramatise it. There were pragmatic as well as idealistic motives for enlargement these days, and Mr Kukan expressed his conviction that the EU's role in terms of promoting stability was irreplaceable. Slovakia would do its utmost to pursue the objectives set out in its government programme to implement the changes required.

Flushed with the success of joining the OECD last week, Slovakia had clearly broken with the misguided policies of the recent past and a high level-working group had been convened to remove all obstacles in the path towards accession.

Transitional periods would be requested for two of the eight chapters dealt with under the French Presidency. It was vital to Slovakia, however, that technical problems within the Commission should not lead to delays creeping in to the negotiation process. Demotivation, frustration and destabilisation would be the fruits of undue procrastination.

Although Mr Kukan felt it was biting off more than Slovakia could chew to catch up with the so-called Visegrád Four, he emphasised that there was more to his country's efforts than a self-imposed exercise to please the EU: it was in the interests of all Slovaks to modernise the legal and economic systems and would have had to be done anyway, although the absence of a reward would have meant it taking far longer.

The long-term advantages of enlargement should not be overshadowed by its short-term costs. Schengen and the introduction of uniform asylum procedures would, for example, benefit all. All of the reports and statistics bandied about often made it hard to see the forest for the trees: Europe also has a spiritual dimension, it is a community of values and the role of its politicians was to behave as visionary pragmatists making full use of the opportunities available decisions for tomorrow.

The ball is in the EU's court

Mátyás Eörsi, on behalf of the Hungarian delegation (comprising of himself, István Szent-Iványi and Bálint Magyar), struck a distinctly parochial note by comparison, castigating Fidesz for leaving the Liberal family for bogus foreign policy reasons, justifying their move to the EPP-ED faction by claiming that the conservatives would be in a better position to help out in joining the EU swiftly.

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Eörsi voiced his dissatisfaction with Verheugen, labelling him as an astute politician who neglected to present the whole truth in conjunction with enlargement. It was not the case, as Verheugen maintained, that the ball was in the candidate countries' court when it came to negotiations coming to an end. The Commission had thus far preferred to engage in formal discussions, avoiding all the real matters of substance. In the meantime, public support, once overwhelmingly in favour of the EU and NATO, was on the wane.

Mr Cox agreed with this criticism, describing what the Commission had been doing as "shadow boxing."

Szent-Iványi dubbed reunification a Liberal enterprise. The time for launching into substantive negotiations was long overdue for the countries that had been at the table for two years already (ironically, this approach is absolutely identical to the tougher line adopted by Fidesz!).

The problems had been pinpointed and a final package should be submitted by the end of the French Presidency. Renewed efforts had to be made to win public support for enlargement, particularly if more time was wasted. A timetable had to be announced at the next summit to admit at least the most advanced countries in the next few years.

The union of minorities

Mr Prodi confined himself largely to repeating what he had said in the Plenary Chamber earlier in the day, admitting that he had borrowed the phrase "a union of minorities" from a Romanian politician, who had described himself as a "non-Hungarian minority Member of the Parliament". Everyone always belonged to a minority, and no country formed a majority in Europe. The enlargement process was irreversible. If it were to grind to a halt, so would Europe itself and that would mean a slippery slope with an uncertain destination.

Musing on "what if" scenarios of gloom was unhelpful, and so the positive aspects of the project should be given greater prominence: Europe would soon have a market of 500 million, there would be no frontiers and life could be given to a dream of peace and progress once regarded as unattainable. Nor should the costs of enlargement be blown up out of all proportion.

It would only prove expensive of rushed through rather than allowed to follow its natural pace, German reunification being a case in point with salaries being harmonised rather than re-adjusted. Nobody believed that Spain and Portugal joining would work, but sceptics were proven wrong. The next round too would be a win-win situation for both sides. Tried and tested methods would be used in conducting negotiations and a timetable for accession could hopefully be announced soon.

The Danish referendum result had shown that certain sensitive issues had to be dealt with carefully and that attitudes towards Europe were clearly complex. Where trends emerged in opinion amongst the candidate countries, appropriate responses were called for to avoid artificial barriers being created. At the same time, cultural difference had to be respected.

Mr Prodi set a good example in this respect by deliberately speaking Italian, sending delegates scrambling for their headphones to listen to the interpretation (up to that point they had been speaking international Blandlish with varying degrees of success instead of availing themselves of the unique opportunity given in the form of full facilities for speaking their mother tongues).

Europe could take the lead again in a globalised world, with fertile cross-pollenation of ideas stimulated by an enlargement, which would take place swiftly yet properly.

In concluding, I must agree with Mr Prodi that we are the heirs of a new Europe, the custodians of the future. We simply cannot afford to fudge this round of enlargement, on which our common destiny depends.

Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 6 October 2000

Moving on:


Catherine Lovatt
Resurrecting 1989

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Not a Shot
in the Dark

Pat FitzPatrick
The Last Domino?

Jan Čulík
A Hard Cell

Sam Vaknin
Losing an Ally

Artur Nura

Emilia Stere
Eminescu's Love Letters

Magali Perrault
Beyond the Velvet Revolution

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Oliver Craske
Comparing Revolutions

Andrea Mrozek
Violent Anniversary


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