Saturday 2 May 2009

5 Years of European Reunification

Yes, it's late, but it would be strange if I didn't mention the 5 year anniversary of the Big Bang enlargement, since this is supposed to be a blog about Europe...

I remember the enlargement taking place, or at least the ceremony, which I watched live: Prime Ministers being received by the President and Taoiseach at a flag-raising ceremony in the gardens of Áras an Uachtaráin (the President's residence in Phoenix Park). The European Anthem was sung (high pitched and quite loud - possibly to obscure the lack of actual words) and a poem was composed and read out by Seamus Heaney. I was quite proud that Ireland was hosting the ceremony, and it did leave an impact on me (though obviously I was already quite an EU geek to be watching it in the first place...).

The symbolism of eastern and western Europe reuniting appealed to me: despite some of the countries arguably not being ready for accession, emotionally I felt that the enlargement was the right thing to do. And there were probably quite a few others that felt similarly.

The enlargement had a big impact on Ireland, where Poles quickly became the second largest immigrant group (after the British), and groups from other Eastern European countries found respectable places on the top ten too. As has been reflected on in the Irish Times, the immigration that came from enlargement has changed the face of small town Ireland, with Polish food shops, etc.* Now there seems that there could be some emigration the other way: when The Late Late Show (Ireland's longest running chat show) did a segment on the new wave of Irish emigration, Poland featured among the old favourites America, Canada and Australia as a destination.

There is a lot of focus on how enlargement is or isn't Europeanizing our countries, but I wonder how many of those who take advantage of the free movement rights become "Europeanized". It's not completely clear if many of the recent immigrants are returning home - though that would be the experience in my area - but there will undoubtedly be a number who stay. Will they vote in the European elections? How far should we go in making the political and cultural worlds open to new comers?

And what is the future of enlargement? With the economic crisis and paralysis on the question of reform, the prospect of further enlargements are being treated more coolly, and as the EU has enlarged to encompass a greater degree of Europe, increasing numbers of people do not feel the "rightness" at an emotional level for more enlargement. Turkey is the obvious example of the arguments that can arise over enlargement, and how they can spill over into arguments about what "Europe" is and ought to be.

But for me the reunification feeling is still there.

* Though as some have commented before, white, Catholic Poles don't exactly pose much of a culture shock.


  1. "paralysis on question of reform"

    Several legit reports have confirmed that enlargement hasnt affected the legislative progress infact it has been quite bold in the last few years, reach, Bolkestein, 20-20-20, f
    French Presidency, another enlargement, more countries joining, enlargement of Eurozone. And the states have morealess stated that they're glad to retain their commissioners.

    Small countries like Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia etc are being held hostage to the desire of the EU to increase the scope of its powers. Of course i agree with reform but it shouldnt be a major block to enlargement until say the Balkans and smaller countries are in.

    At that point facing Turkey, Ukraine, reform would be infinitely more appropriate, and with a cooling period from the continual rejection of unpopular institutional reform since 2005 a proper reform bill/a constitution could be put forward with legitimacy and honest, obvious reasons to support it.

  2. [Small point: Iceland hasn't decided to apply for membership yet, and Croatia is being held back by Solvenia's insistence to block the opening of some accession chapters until their border dispute has been sorted out.]

    Areas that have co-decision haven't been that badly affected by enlargement, but there are areas where the EP and QMV in the Council isn't the decision-making procedure. Intergovernmental areas are affected by enlargement, and the Lisbon Treaty seeks to extend co-decision to open up the decision making process. The reforms of the Lisbon Treaty, though a compromise, do extend the number of areas under co-decision (which will be re-named the ordinary legislative procedure), which should make legislating more democratic, and hopefully more efficent. At the same time Lisbon will leave in place national vetoes in the sensitive areas of foreign policy and coporate tax, etc.

    Institutional streamlining is also a good reason: why have the EU's foreign policy in the hands of at least 3 different people?

    While the legislative output argument may have been over-used, I think that there is a pressing need for reform, and that the Lisbon Treaty is better than the current Nice arrangement.

    At the same time, I'm a supporter of enlargement - I support Turkey's entry when it fulfills the entry criteria, and I dislike how some politicans are continuing to obstruct Turkey's progress when all EU member states have signed up to letting it in when it has reformed and adopted the acquis. Still, the fact is that France, Germany and others are increasingly linking enlargement with reform (the point I was making in the post was that the link is now generally made, though in this reply I am sketchily staking out my position).

    So do you think that we should refuse Turkey's entry even if they fulfill the requirements before reform, but let in Iceland, etc. even before there's been reform?

  3. Well if there are national vetoes in place on foreign policy, for the majority of matters, it would not matter if there were 3 people handling foreign policy or just one.

    While you may be right on the fact that extension of co-decision is a good thing, it is not so much an urgent thing that it should be an impediment to accession of states. The EU belongs to/is the right of every citizen living in Europe, memberstate or not. It is continually evolving and people will always say it needs reform before enlargement no matter what treaty we work under. Sarkozy showed that by being pragmatic and using all the tools in the box, most goals are attainable in the status quo.

    I'm also very pro-Turkey, but by the time their accesion comes we will probably have had another round of constitutional reform by then anyway, even with Lisbon. Something will have to be done about the ballooning commission for instance, even after Lisbon II. Iceland on the otherhand, should the new government make good on their intentions to join, is a country of 300k people. Turkey has/will have a population much greater than every other prospective member combined. Iceland could be ready to join in 2011, Turkey probably wont be ready for 15 years, if their patience will hold out that long.

    Continuing enlargement of the smaller states will have minimal effect on the running of the EU and I believe that the argument that we NEED reform before Turkey is baseless. Turkey is a distant prospect that should not come into the Lisbon/reform argument whatsoever. The Nice Treaty is fit for purpose until Turkey, but neither Nice or Lisbon are fit after.

    Enjoying the banter!

  4. Thanks for the comment (and sorry it's taken me a while to reply).

    I disagree that the expansion of co-decision isn't important: it increases the level of democratic control of Union policy and legislation. With more and newer member states this could be delayed further, as to extend the co-decision procedure is to transfer some power from the Council to the EP, which is integration. Since newer member states are more likely to be against these moves, it's importent to integrate and democratize the EU through reform before granting entry to countries who've shown little interest in joining in the past (this is more directed at Iceland) and are likely to want to concentrate power in the Council's hands rather than accept reform.

    Iceland may have a small population, but in intergovernmental systems this doesn't matter, since it's the number of governments, not people that matter. The EU is still largely an intergovernmental organisation. I agree with you that the EU belongs to those outside its borders to a certain extent, but countries like Iceland have steered clear of membership, and the first duty of the EU/its member states must be to its own citizens. While the Lisbon Treaty is quite flawed, it is a good attempt at giving more power to the EP and National Parliaments. There are more things that can and should be done to bring the EU closer to its citizens, but its a start. And the reservations of the member state governments when it comes to democratizing the EU are the biggest obsticle. Will newer members, with little experience of the EU, be just as willing to democratise it further?

    Personally, I think that streamlining the EU (particularly at the top) is a good move. Why have 3 foreign ministers? It creates a lack of continuity in the EU's policies, and there's little justification for the ensuing cost. As for the rotating presidency, the French did do a good job, but the Czechs haven't done too well. Now, I know that the qualities of leaders would vary even under the proposed Lisbon system, but the Lisbon reforms will make the leadership of the Council more reliable and continuous. Leadership of the Council, apart from rare periods where national leaders are secure at home and want to focus particularly on the presidency, is very haphazard. Policies and priorities and ability changes every 6 months! Even the trokia system doesn't make up for it.

    It's not only legislation (some of which has been good this parliamentary term), but the political coherence and credibility of the EU as well as coherence when it comes to the legislative agenda, that matters.

    Basically, I think that reform is important to make the EU more credibile and to bring it closer to its citizens (a big task that Lisbon doesn't completely deliver on), and that adding more member states will prolong reform.