How to miss an opportunity....

Article published on Nov. 11, 2002
community published
Article published on Nov. 11, 2002

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

.....or rush an enlargement process which could have, with a better conceived agenda, contributed to the renovation of the European political project.

After the result of the Irish vote, must we heave a huge sigh of relief or regret that the European imbroglio delivered to the forceps at Nice did not implode under the force of its own contradictions? Since we do not know how the European construction, rather more manic-depressive than flamboyant phoenix, would have come to terms with a second Irish retraction, one would prefer, European pragmatism obliging, that it be like this. Not satisfied, but perplexed.

The method used to manage enlargement and the way in which the ratification of Nice was posed by the Irish as a double or quits in enlargement, in effect, leaves a sense of a lack of preparation looming, evoking an impression of disorder and confusion.

Enlargement, a moral imperative, the final stage in the storys end, a dream at last assuaged from a torn-apart continent, was quintessential, no one doubted it. But it has become an end in itself for European construction. The European leaders have focused upon a process which is nothing but an extension of the Union, not a radical change of its nature. In concentrating on the means, the aim has been forgotten: the European construction has as its goal an enlarged EU whose institutions function, which relies upon the citizens of the entire continent, and which has influence and not enlargement itself.

The Nice Treaty, which everyone agrees to judge as mediocre, results in this perverse logic. It does not aim to make the EU more functional, but capable of integrating 10 new members. An objective barely achieved. The calendar adopted to see Europe expand itself has failed moreover to take into account the need for reform of the EU itself...Enlargement must happen at all costs, no matter if the convention on the future of Europe must meanwhile present its conclusions and the European countries eventually ratify a constitution, probably after 2004 and the entry of the new members.

We are therefore getting ready to bring 10 new countries into a European Union that is insufficiently prepared to welcome them. After Nice and the Euro, the Union is no bearer of some great and true political project, capable of drawing together its peoples (at least, as long as the Convention does not realise its conclusions). It functions badly from an institutional point of view and will function even less well at 25. Its expertise are more or less limited to the establishment of the single market, which lay it open to criticism directed against a Europe of bankers...Finally, and this probably isnt the least of its troubles, its functioning does not rely upon an unquestionable democratic legitimacy, but still too much upon technocratic reflexes.

Who is going to pay the bill or the dressing of technocratic enlargement?

Instead of making the entry of the Eastern European countries into the Union a veritable historic moment and a common step towards a functional political system as well as a taste of the future for the entire continent, we have, for reasons good and bad, decided to limit ourselves to the mechanic integration of a technocratic acquisition, flanked by phases of transition which eurocrats are crazy about. This forced technical move is a missed opportunity and its consequences have already been felt, and could be more lethal for the European construction than for a non Irishman.

First of all, it has been said and repeated, the institutions which function badly at 15 will function even less well at 25. Sclerotic, the Union will thus become a bedridden invalid and the vague desires for reform may well be buried yet. And that goes without mentioning the PESC which will soon be nothing but a puppet.

Next, as the acrimonious discussions between Poland, the Commission, France and Germany about the CAP have explicitly demonstrated (before an agreement had been reached in extremis, much to the UKs great displeasure) enlargement is no longer some great free-for-all between hagglers where each one takes all the credit for himself. Where is the community interest? Where is the strength of the European project? Only national interest and reflexes of preservation dominate. The only big question is: who is going to foot the bill? Will the budgetary balance of European funds always be positive? Thats the price of enlargement as it is currently presented. It must be remembered that it cannot be positive for everyone....

Finally, this enlargement will, once more (once too often), be the result of a bureaucratic process led by the negotiators of the Commission and the member states, without those whom it most concerns being consulted. Must it be that Denmark, the Czech Republic, Ireland or even France, where 47% of the population would be opposed to enlargement (0n 1st May 2002), express their disapproval so that the entire process be shelved!? The Union needs its peoples to forge a destiny which goes beyond the simple economic interest such as it presents itself with the single market. There are those who will give enlargement its legitimacy and will point out its necessity because it responds to the aspiration of its peoples for a major political project and not to the petit economic arrangements between the deciding friends of the politico-economic sphere.

Europe is dead! Long live Europe!

So, let us go back a little and live a dream. The Irish, again, said no to the shoddy Nice Treaty. Crisis in Brussels, horror in the East. The whole of Europe is lamenting Enlargement. All? No, a small group is still resisting the euroscepticism: the convention on the future of Europe. It proposes a Constitution in Europe for the year 2004. Not only an ensemble of fundamental rules which fix the institutional architecture of the Union but, above all, a political project for the future, which its people can find their way around. Not an Intergovernmental Conference, not obscure nocturnal haggling sessions, not an exhaustive battle to adopt a text lacking substance on the quiet. No, what is needed is a big referendum, from the Atlantic to the Urals, from Trieste to Stettin, so that Europe of peoples may finally adopt its founding treaty.

From then on, enlargement would make complete sense. Eastern Europe is not entering Europe by the back-door. Its peoples are its equal founders with those other member states. And for all citizens, its an opportunity to see Europe as their thing, and not as a bureaucratic diktat which tramples them with its distance and with its regulations.

It isnt only a dream. Its also transient, it allows us to understand that enlargement is the EU`s aim, and so that the success be in the meeting of ways, rather a process of enlargement than an enlarged Union, it might be a mistake to allow more time for the Union to prepare itself, because it is the Union which is not ready and not the candidate countries. It also shows the importance of the implication of citizens in the process of European construction. The sectoral integration has functioned in its own time. Europe must now be constructed as a democracy, which will allow a great number of gaps in the present Union to be filled in.

But the European leaders have made the choice, in their usual way, to make promises to the Union. Those which they arent even prepared to keep. Their action risk the reconciliation of a continent meaning nothing but enlarging current problems, a salade nicoise a la Brussels, administered to the people by the great spoon of History and the knife of the referendum at its throat.