World

European Blues

Barry Came January 8 2001
World

European Blues

Barry Came January 8 2001

European Blues

World

Barry Came

Throughout his political career, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has displayed a penchant for richly symbolic gestures. So it was not an accident that he chose Weiden in der Oberpfalz in which to deliver a solemn pre-Christmas message. The small city with the large name sits on the banks of the Naab River in northern Bavaria, a scant 30 km from the border with the Czech Republic. The proximity of that border worries Weiden’s citizens, just as it does the inhabitants of all of the other towns and villages scattered along Germany’s eastern frontier. There are 170 million people beyond the border in Eastern Europe, living in the lands once dominated by the Soviet Union. And the fear is that many in that huge population

are now poised to move westward, undermining German prosperity. “We know your concerns,” Schröder reassured his Bavarian audience. “The German government will not abandon you.”

European Union enlargement lies at the root of German anxiety. There is widespread disquiet over the prospect that expansion will unleash an invasion of Eastern European migrants in search of better jobs and higher pay. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the issue has bedevilled public affairs. In the West, it spawned a host of political parties on the extreme right, exploiting public unease over an influx of eastern workers. In the East, the expansion issue has been the source of mounting frustration in the postcommunist countries, many of which have been patiently

Plans to expand to the less-affluent East worry EU members

awaiting membership in the EU. Czech President Václav Havel reflected the extent of that frustration when he was moved to remark recendy: “Only a fool who has learned nothing from millennia of European history can believe that tranquillity, peace and prosperity can flourish forever in one part of Europe without regard to what is happening in the other.” For those on both sides of Europe’s political divide, the argument may well be approaching a resolution. In December, the leaders of the EU’s 15 member states gathered in the French seaside resort of Nice for a bruising summit. After five gruelling days of near round-the-clock negotiations, the assembled presidents and prime ministers emerged, bleary-eyed in the predawn gloom, with the oudines of a new treaty. By any measure, it was a historic document, not least because it will finally reverse the bitter legacy bequeathed to Europe by the Second World War. If carried to a successful conclusion, the Nice Treaty will nearly double the EU’s membership. By the end of the current decade, there may be as many as 28 countries in the Union, encompassing a population of more than 500 million, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea to the margins of the Middle East. Most of the new member states will come from Eastern and Central Europe, thereby undoing all of the postwar settlements between Moscow and the Western powers that split the continent in two.

“This meeting,” declared French President Jacques Chirac, “will go down in history as a great summit.”

Few who actually participated in the marathon talks agreed with Chirac. “We simply cannot continue to do business this way,” complained British Prime Minister Tony Blair, clearly irked by the exhausting rounds of haggling in the small hours „ over minuscule details among leaders intent on | preserving sacrosanct national interests. Even J more downbeat was Romano Prodi, the former f Italian prime minister who is now president of the

EU Commission, the organization’s unelected ex^ ecutive. “I cannot hide from you a certain regret that we did not go further,” said Prodi, bemoaning the summit’s lack of progress on streamlining the EU’s already cumbersome procedures. If anything, the meetings in Nice complicated the way the EU operates, expanding the commission membership from 20 to 27, adding 114 seats to the 626-seat European Parliament and rebalancing voting to decisively shift real power away from smaller member states to the EU’s “Big Four”—Germany, France, Britain and Italy.

While the EU’s leaders may have failed on the details, they did manage to succeed on the larger issue of expansion eastward. “Our prospects of joining the EU have now become much more real,” said a delighted Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik lives. Among the 13 countries that are candidates for EU membership, Estonia is widely viewed as a front-runner, along with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Cyprus. Most of these countries are likely to join in 2003, perhaps 2004, once they have adapted na-

tional laws to comply with a formidable 38,000 pages of mandatory EU legislation. Further back wait Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Malta, Bulgaria and Romania. None of these states in the second tier is likely to be ready for membership until at least 2006. At the very end of the line sits Turkey, granted candidate status last December but yet to embark on the years of formal negotiations that precede membership.

Enormous hurdles remain before even those countries at the front of the queue gain coveted access to Western Europe’s wealthy club of nations. None is likely to prove more difficult than the free movement of labour, ostensibly a right for all of the EU’s fully accredited members. The issue is so politically sensitive that, until the German chancellor raised it before Christmas in Weiden, it has never been openly broached by any major EU leader. In Weiden, the chancellor unveiled a five-point program to address fears about the

effects of a massive move of cheap eastern labour towards the West. The centrepiece is a proposal that workers from Eastern Europe should not be free to immigrate west for up to seven years after eventually joining the EU. “We in Germany have a temporary transitional problem in the labour market,” he said. “The correct solution for a transitional problem can only be temporary regulations.”

No matter what the eventual solution, the EU is clearly now embarked on a plan that will, sooner or later, see the emergence of a new, more muscled Europe in world affairs, based upon the single largest market on the face of the planet. For trading nations like Canada, the implications are considerable. On the surface, Canada’s official position is to encourage the EU’s expansion. Behind the scenes, however, there are concerns, not least the possible marginalization of a Canada caught between two competing world powers. One already exists on Canada’s southern border. Another, even larger, is on the rise on other side of the Atlantic. ESI