Margaret Tuccori, Christopher Jones and Martin Vasey in turn each took an aspect of these themes. Here are some brief reminders of the topics offered for discussion.
The European Project is set in the context of the three major faultlines; first the Catholic/Orthodox schism, second the Christian/Muslim split with the crusades, and thirdly the Protestant/Catholic divide from the 16thC. With the Reformation the Protestant north moved ahead of the south, which stagnated. The EU has brought them back together. The Orthodox are still mainly outside, but with the arrival of Romania and Bulgaria more of them will be in. The Muslims do not seem to be welcome yet. In many ways the EU has reinforced the faultlines and reactivated old conflicts.
The 2004 enlargement saw eight countries from central and eastern Europe join the EU. One of the overwhelming feelings in these countries, after the collapse of communism, was that they were now able to reclaim their European cultural identity. Post WW2 the west had seen these countries as politically “east” and so have forgotten, or never knew, that they are culturally “west” – they always were European.
If the original vision of Jean Monnet et al was inspired by the overriding need to prevent another European war, today the EU’s primary challenge is to offer an economic model attractive and resilient enough to fill the vacuum left by the fall of communism and to cope with the challenge of globalisation.
Seemingly peaceful and prosperous, with high GDP growth rates. 2005 Latvia at 10.2% was highest in EU. However all are struggling with inflation and now not likely to join the Euro before 2008, Lithuania 2010
Neighbouring EU countries, Germany, Finland and Denmark have been heavily involved in their move to accession, calling on historical and linguistic ties. They are now confident in their own international roles in NATO, UN and EU and are developing economic and social ties across a wide range of non EU partners.
An interesting article by Alexander Stubb highlights the need for a Baltic Sea Strategy and a Northern dimension to intra-region transport.
Has gone ahead quietly and confidently, building on natural advantages of attractive scenery and well-developed tourism. Has followed a comprehensive reform programme for achieving the Lisbon Strategy goals, and will introduce the Euro in January 2007. At 73% in a recent EU wide poll they are the most avid supporters. Italian and Hungarian minorities are well integrated and represented.
Accession of Bulgaria and Romania
Conditions for entry in 2007 are tougher than for the 2004 entrants; particular areas of concern are organised crime, control of animal disease and need for proper procedures to handle farm aid.
Economies in both countries have grown, and both governments stress progress made in addressing social and economic problems (see report on West Kent Bulgarian dinner for detailed facts and figures on Bulgaria), but to the objective observer there are still gross inequalities and poverty. The presence of a virulent ultranationalist candidate in the recent presidential election in Bulgaria got little coverage in this country.
With accession almost 3 million more Roma citizens come into the EU, making them at 10 – 12 million, the biggest ethnic minority group. Both countries have a lamentable record of racism towards this minority. They have set up The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015 with the aim of developing policies of inclusion.
Impact of enlargement on the UK
EU benefits to the UK in the past have been largely intangible – cheaper flights, services, telecoms and given little publicity.
The tangible results of enlargement have been the number of migrants, greatly exceeding expectations. Fears of increased unemployment, schools and hospital services overwhelmed, unfair access to benefits have not been realised despite some strain; many jobless new immigrants are stranded homeless or exploited by slum landlords and unethical employers. In fact most who come are young, single and healthy, going to areas of where there are jobs. The Immigration Minister says they are filling skills and labour gaps and benefiting the economy. Brendan Barber writes that we must deal with exploitation, copy the Irish. Our best response in an increasingly globalised world is not Little England, but to fully embrace Europe with free movement of labour.
Impact of enlargement in France
The French No vote in the referendum on the new EU constitution highlights French current disenchantment with the European project.
The no vote was partly a franco/French affair, the result of discontent with the current government and the disarray of the Socialist party since the 2002 Presidential election. It also reflects the difficulty France has adapting to the challenge of globalisation, with their fear of loss of the French social model and dislike of anglo-american liberalism. Underlying this is France’s perceived loss of power and influence in the European project, in which, with Germany they were the major founding members and the driving force. At a membership of 15 the “moteur franco-allemand” was losing steam; 25 was definitely a step too far and brought the spectre of the possible membership of Turkey too close.
Is there a European culture?
A couple of rapid music illustrations aimed to provoke questions about values and diversity – Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture puts the listener on one side of a struggle between two totalitarian regimes, morally clarified only by one being the attacker, the other the defender. An 18thC Hungarian folksong had roots stretching back through Bulgaria to Turkey, in a medium largely disseminated by wandering Roma musicians. Cultural attitudes seem to be a subtle mixture – the comfort of familiarity and the spice of difference.
The Visegrad Four
Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia
This association of four central European countries was set up 15 years ago, named after the Hungarian town in which kings of the same four countries used to meet to discuss co-operation back in the fourteenth century.
Some clear common issues expressed recently:
|– Labour migration
– handling the troublesome neighbour Belarus within the ‘good neighbour’ policy, balancing sanctions with appropriate aid
– unfair delay in implementing the extension of the Schengen open borders area
– the alienation of the Roma people, due in 2007 to be the largest minority group in the EU.
Other issues are often common to the four countries:
Instability in government following democratic elections.
Adjusting to the ‘free market’:
|– the fight against corruption
– energy supplies and steeply rising costs
– Health Service reform
– increasing evidence of unhappiness and clinical depression
Living with the past:
|Czech President Vacláv Klaus, explained that one of the unifying interests of the V4 countries is “our common communist past, because of which we are similarly sensitive – at times even over-sensitive – to certain issues of today’s world and today’s Europe.”
The past also lurks in issues further back than that:
Czech – the post-WW2 Beneš decrees expelling Germans and Hungarians
Hungary – the ‘lost lands’ following the post-WW1 Trianon Treaty, which reduced Hungary to one-third of its original area and left ethnic Hungarians in at least 7 other countries adjacent to its present borders
Poland – similar post-WW2 expulsions of Germans
Slovakia – for 900 years part of Hungary, and one-fifth of the Slovak population is ethnically and linguistically Hungarian.
Impact on EU institutions
The origins of the EU and its enlargement
The Council of Europe (1949) brought together for the first time the democratic countries of western Europe.
The European Coal and Steel Community (1952) saw the emergence of an inner group of continental countries. France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux – the Six as they came to be called.
Britain reacted initially by the creation of the rival European Free Trade Area (1959) but the economic and political reasons for joining the EEC were so strong that in 1961 it applied to join the Community.
Although considered incapable of joining the EEC for economic reasons Greece (1961) and Turkey (1963) concluded association agreements. Spain and Portugal, because of their then undemocratic regimes, were given limited agreements.
Sweden, Austria and Finland had been held back mainly by their commitment to neutrality between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
There are three groups of countries which seek, or may seek to join the EU sometime in the future:
Turkey – existing member states’ difficulties with their Muslim minorities, makes Turkey a major challenge for the EU.
The Balkan countries – former Yugoslav states and Albania – where the EU has been playing an active diplomatic role, using the prospect of membership as an incentive.
Former states of the Soviet Union – Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – still considered by Russia as within its sphere of influence.
Two tables compared the population and number of members each country had in the Council of Ministers over the period 1958-2006, and the corresponding position from January 2007 onwards.