Athens: redefining Europe's borders

Article published on April 14, 2003
community published
Article published on April 14, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Athens 16th - 17th April 2003: an informal but vital summit that will be marked by divisions within the European Union and questions about the future of the continent.

The Athens agora has a symbolism matched by few other places: it is a place to exchange good and ideas, a place of dialogue and home to the first democracy in history. This cradle of Western civilisation has been chosen as the place to celebrate the signing of the Accession Treaty on April 16th by 10 of the 13 candidate counties. It is not difficult to understand the symbolic nature of the backdrop for the ceremony: the 'limes', a Latin term meaning the border between the so-called civilised world and the Barbarians, is moving towards the East but not disappearing. De facto, the practical consequences of this Treaty will be revealed through the change in statute of the candidate country signatories who, during a transition period that will last until entry on May 1st 2004, will become 'observer countries'. As such, they will have the right to take part in meetings of the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and even the European Commission Working Groups.

But on April 17th Athens will welcome into this untarnished place the guests of the European Conference. It is a meeting without a precise agenda that will reunite the Union member states, candidates and other European states who will see with their own eyes the development of the existing relationship and the possibility of expansion of the Union. Together with the members of the 'civilised' area to the West of the limes, a series of countries excluded from this area for various reasons will meet in Athens.

Europe of the Future: the candidate countries

Two candidate countries that have now been negotiating their entry for many years (Romania and Bulgaria) and one that has not yet started (Turkey) will not change statute on April 16th. For the first two the conditions imposed by the Union are well known: assimilation of the community 'acquis' and development of a body of functionaries who will secure its strict application. More implicitly, the Union is demanding that these countries control the phenomenon of illegal immigration from the East and that they stabilise clear borders with their non-EC neighbours; that is to say, that they start to stabilise the new limes (1). For Turkey, the question is more complicated: application of the laws approved last summer regarding the Kurdish minority, human rights and limiting the power of the army. Without a doubt because of recent attempts to enter Northern Iraq, Turkey will be scolded and their journey towards entry will be very long.

Europe of the Future: the Balkans

Following the Kosovo war, Joschka Fischer proposed a 'stability pact for the South East of Europe' that forced the Balkan states into dialogue and was a necessary condition of future EU integration. Since then development has been globally positive. Despite the current crisis in Serbia, this region is considered as the natural area for the next enlargement. Obviously these are fragile and disorganised countries and the reconstruction will be long and arduous. But they should not remain excluded.

Barbaric Europe within range of Moscow

Belarus, the Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Moldavia are countries that currently mark the boundary of the limes. The first two are governed by autocratic regimes with no respect for human rights and freedom of expression. All three, geopolitically speaking, look to Moscow to compensate for the isolation they are condemned to by the Union. The Union seems ready to establish purely commercial relations with the three countries without considering possibly entry, except in exchange for stricter controls on their borders. On the other hand, Russia, responsible for a genocide on its own territory, also invited to Athens, appears to be both the EU's main rival in this influential area and its unavoidable ally.

If we add the case of the richer neutral countries in Western Europe (3), this informal summit will reveal which map of Europe will be drawn up during the next few years. In any case, it is evident that the Union has an active role to play in all spheres, in particular the possibility of further enlargements, but also through new methods of association with third countries. The most important is the European CFSP, whose main mission must be the extension of democracy and the defence of peace, stability and human rights. In this sense it would be desirable that the Southern Mediterranean, the Europe that isn't, is also considered a vital ally.

(1) On this question see 'La Moldovie repousée vers l'Est' by Guy-Pierre Chomette in Le Monde Diplomatique from Winter 2002 (see link).

(2) The Balkan countries that benefit from the help of the Stability Pact are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldavia, Romania and Serbia-Montenegro.

(3) Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein are members of the EFTA.