Wednesday 1 January 2014

Yet More Widening and Deepening

2014 dawns and the EU continues to widen and deepen. Latvia is now part of the Eurozone, bringing the total to 18. What has Latvia got itself into, you might ask, until you realise that it has pushed itself through a harsh austerity regime just to get into the club. Trepidation might be the right word for Latvia's entry into the Euro; that troubled zone where predecessors have encountered price rises. But with the trial by fire that was the last few years of austerity and Eurozone entry, the country is likely to prize its membership and look unkindly on the periphery's pleas for (debt) forgiveness.

Another event to be marked is Mayotte's move into the category of Outermost Region of the EU. 5 years after it voted to become a department of France, it's been added to the "outermost" category (and being of the coast of Madagascar it is fairly outermost from Europe's perspective), which is an enlargement of sorts. As an outermost region, Mayotte will be in the Customs Union and have the Euro as its currency. It remains outside of the Schengen zone, however. And of course, the restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria have expired today, giving their citizens the full rights of European citizens.

This is after a year where Croatia joined the Union and Ukraine saw huge protests for closer relations with the EU (though it's important to remember that the EU is not promising membership and may not be willing to offer more than the agreement that was on the table). But 2014 will be remembered (in EU circles) as a moment of truth in the European elections. It's a challenge to offer a proper choice when citizens go to the polls, and, as always, it partly depends on citizens demanding that choice. The European Year of Citizens may be rolling on, but we'll not get much in terms of primaries, and for the candidates to make themselves known there'll need to be some key policies to catch the public's attention.

A tough call - but a vital challenge. The 2014 elections will shape the EU for the next 5 years to come. It's not just that the European Parliament is a co-legislator now (the Member States in the Council need its  agreement for most EU legislation), but the coherence and impact of the campaign will determine how the next Commission President will be elected and how European politics and the Eurocrisis will proceed. If there's a strong verdict delivered for a more social or less united Eurozone at the election that will influence the outcomes of the political wranglings for the next half a decade. Now we have a new year, can we make the most of it?

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