The EU's final frontiers

21 March 2007

Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Enlargement, said the future challenge was “to meet new frontiers, not retreat behind borders”.

If one looked ahead to 2057 (the EU’s 100th anniversary), the EU’s greatest achievement would be seen as its “enlargement from 1973 to 2033”, when it demonstrated its successful “soft power of transformation”, extending its “zone of peace, liberty and prosperity across Europe”.

Historians in 2057 would conclude that the EU had “turned out well”, as politicians had resisted the temptation to reject further enlargements. Had they done so, Europe would have “missed the opportunity” to play a role on the world stage.

The key to Europe’s success has been its economic revival, fuelled by successive enlargements and improved governance at the EU level, said the Commissioner. The EU will be judged on its use of soft power to advance peace and liberty in Europe and beyond, and praised for its contribution to global governance, the fight against climate change, enhanced energy security and creating a sustainable region.

Turning briefly to Europe’s “recent past”, the Commissioner contrasted the EU’s success at Maastricht in 1992 with its failure to take action to prevent the bloodshed in Yugoslavia in 1991.

The current challenge is to settle Kosovo’s status. This might seem a small test, but the EU needs short-term gains for long-term success.

Frontiers are not hurdles

Meglena Kuneva, European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, said that as someone who had recently been on the opposite side of the negotiating table to Commissioner Rehn, she agreed that frontiers need not be hurdles.

One of Europe’s great attractions was its “soft power” - although, as Bulgaria’s Chief Negotiator for EU accession, she discovered that the EU’s power was not always all that soft. But it did use it effectively to persuade countries to change their values and modus operandi.

Enlargement benefits everyone, not just the EU’s new members. During the build-up to the 2004 enlargement, EU-15 Member States had been concerned that the new members would paralyse the Union. However, “the Cassandras” who foretold these “doomsday scenarios” had been proved wrong.

Ms Kuneva questioned whether Europe’s borders should be unlimited, but said those who wanted to define clear-cut boundaries were “turning back the clock”.

European citizens cannot ignore globalisation, said Ms Kuneva, and Europe must play its part in responding to its challenges, with, for example, major initiatives on climate change, or by strengthening relationships with China and the United States.

Looking ahead, she wondered whether Europe should be a region that drew its own boundaries, or should be open to all those who shared its values and wanted to join. She finished by praising the outcome of the last European Council, which gave Member States a clear vision for achieving tangible results together.

Europe is a journey

Katalin Bogyay, Secretary of State for International Affairs, Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture, said Hungarians had always felt that they were Europeans, although until very recently they were outside the EU. For Ms Bogyay, a “European” was someone on a journey who understood the importance of sharing values and taking responsibility for humankind.

Europe contains many different, multilayered and diverse cultures, and its beauty lies in its diversity, which also gives it unity and inspiration. Learning about other cultures is part of the journey, she said: our development depends on our interest in our fellow citizens, on sharing values, cultures and inspiration, and on developing mutual understanding.

European culture should be more than just the sum of its parts, she insisted. It should be a dynamic force enriching its citizens’ lives and helping them to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

Graham Avery, Senior Policy Adviser, European Policy Centre and Secretary General of Trans European Policy Studies Association, said that 50 years ago, no one could have predicted the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall or EU enlargement on such a scale.

He stressed that enlargement was not an “imperialist” project - the EU had never sought new members, but rather had expanded in response to requests from its neighbours to join. Current enlargement fatigue was inevitable given the speed of recent expansion, but this would soon fade. Future enlargement would not be as rapid, giving Europeans space to reflect on where the Union was going.

Mr Avery argued that, at present, Europe should only contemplate negotiating potential accession with seven countries: Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, FYROM, Montenegro and Serbia. It would be an error to draw up a list of other possible candidates now, but he foresaw an eventual EU of up to 44 members.

He stressed that enlargement was not a foreign policy strategy, but about “taking new members into the club”. The EU also needed to allow time for the European Neighbourhood Policy to be developed further, so that the Union could achieve its ambition of creating a “ring of friends” as an alternative to offering them membership.

Europe’s borders after 50 years did not result from strategic choices, but from a mixture of events and wise political decisions.

Enlargement benefits all

André Sapir, Professor of Economics, ECARES, Université Libre de Bruxelles and Senior Fellow, BREUGEL, said EU enlargement had led to considerable economic and social diversity, but, sadly, economic disparities were greater in the new Union.

In the original EU, GDP per capita (measured at purchasing-power parity) had ranged from 80% (Italy) to 120% (the Netherlands), but today the range was from 35% (Bulgaria/Romania) to 135% (the Netherlands).

Nevertheless, even the poorest new Member States will benefit from an annual 5% increase in their economic growth thanks to open borders and trade, and increased movement of goods, services and people. This, coupled with sluggish growth in EU-15 countries, will help their economies to converge with those of the older Member States.

Enlargement is also helping the EU to play a stronger economic role on the global stage, maintaining its share of global wealth (21%). This increased economic might is necessary given the re-emergence of Asia as the major economic power after almost 200 years of decline, and the rising power of several Latin American and African countries.

However, some Europeans see enlargement and globalisation as a threat, with jobs going East and Asian competition pushing down wages. Mr Sapir said Europe’s politicians need to help allay their citizens’ fears and encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities that globalisation offers.