Politics

THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

The European Union resolved to expand, but it can’t seem to agree on much else

MICHEL ARSENEAULT May 19 2003
Politics

THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

The European Union resolved to expand, but it can’t seem to agree on much else

MICHEL ARSENEAULT May 19 2003

THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

The European Union resolved to expand, but it can’t seem to agree on much else

Politics

MICHEL ARSENEAULT

IT WAS AN EVENING when the banks of the nominally blue Danube resounded with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the official European anthem, rather than a stereotypical Strauss waltz. On April 12, a whopping 84 per cent of Hungarians had just voted in favour of joining the European Union, and thousands took to the streets of Budapest to celebrate. Officials waxed lyrical about Hungary “writing its name in history.” And the following day, a tabloid ran a bold headline: “Europe, Here We Come!”

That sentiment echoed elsewhere in Europe. After a decade of negotiations, 10 countries, including Hungary, put their names on the dotted line at the EU summit in Athens last month. The signing of the Accession Treaty was groundbreaking by any standard. When the expansion—the greatest in EU history—comes into effect

next May, the European confederation will have accomplished what Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler could only have dreamed of: uniting the continent under a single flag. For the former Soviet satellites, joining the EU means turning their backs on their communist past. The Slovakian daily newspaper Sme recently noted: “After integration [Slovakia] will no longer be the West of the East, but the East of the West.” The same could be said of the other former Soviet republics.

But the hopeful newcomers are moving into a deeply divided house. The Iraq crisis has highlighted differences in EU ranks. Countries that supported the Gulf war (Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark)

were at loggerheads with countries that criticized Washington (France, Germany, Greece, and the Benelux nations). “Europe is seriously ill,” foreign-affairs specialist AnneMarie Le Gloannec wrote in the French daily Le Figaro at the outset of the war. The Iraq issue was so controversial, in fact, that it was not even broached at a March summit of the EU in Brussels. “We all know that we haven’t been brilliant,” Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg conceded at the time. “Let’s not add the ridiculous to the dramatic.”

In Athens, the EU finally found common ground by demanding that the UN play a “central” role in post-war Iraq. But the split widened again in late April at a mini-summit called by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt on the creation of a European defence union. Belgium, France, Germany

and Luxembourg are for it. Britain, which originally supported the idea, is now reconsidering. Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that turning Europe into a rival of the U.S. would be a “dangerous and destabilizing” move.

Even the former Soviet states are of two minds. Some—like Poland—are gung-ho. “In central Europe, we have brand new members of NATO with the enthusiasm of neophytes,” says Hungarian political scientist Attila Fölsz. “Since they come from the anti-communist movement, they have to be seen as pro-U.S. on security issues.” Some even hope that American bases being closed down in Germany will reopen in their own backyards. Others, however, appear lukewarm. Hungarian Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy even suggested that he was forced to sign a Wall StreetJournal op-ed piece supporting the U.S. in its bid to oust Saddam Hussein. “If I hadn’t signed that famous letter, I would have been accused of negating transatlantic solidarity,” Medgyessy told Libération, a French daily.

More than foreign policy is at stake. The debate over Iraq overlaps the debate over the future of the EU. Countries that supported the Gulf war see the Union first and foremost as a free-trade zone designed to secure exports. But anti-war nations like Germany see it is a political scheme designed to ensure peace in Europe. To that end, the EU is already plying a quasi-federalist course with transfer payments from haveto havenot countries. Further steps in this direction, though, would likely meet strong re-

sistance. Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, for one, says, “Europe has never been and will never be a federation.”

There are also disagreements over efforts to draft a constitutional treaty, so much so that few people now believe a draft can be tabled by next month and signed by December as planned. The 105-member constitutional convention, led by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is tackling a host of prickly issues. Should the EU have an elected president? Should the pow-

THE EUROPEAN Union has been able to make some progress. But to draw upa constitution, you need a clear idea of what you want to do.’

ers of the European parliament be extended? Should the EU levy its own taxes? Current and future EU states have to decide who does what in the way the BNA Act spelled out federal and provincial jurisdictions. Osvaldo Croci, an international relations professor at Memorial University in St.John’s, Nfld., isn’t hopeful. “The EU has been able to make progress because everything is always vague,” he says. “But to draw up a constitution, you need a clear idea of what you want to do. And the only thing

that is clear so far is that no one agrees.”

All current members must ratify the expansion of the EU and any one of them can, in theory, block it. Some observers caution “old Europe” against welcoming more proU.S. countries to the club. “If [expanding the union] must lead us to kowtow before George W. Bush, why should we facilitate it?” asks influential French commentator Alain Duhamel. Others argue that a pro-Washington stance should not be interpreted as somehow less European. “I wonder why Paris and Berlin, who have distanced themselves from Bush, represent Europe, while those who do not share the same point of view are seen as saboteurs and enemies,” argues editorialist Ernesto Galli della Loggia in Milan’s Corriere della Sera.

Frankfurt-born Alfred Grosser, professor emeritus of political science at the Fondation nationale des sciences politiques in Paris, is a vocal critic of U.S. policy on Iraq. Yet he is a passionate advocate of EU expansion even if it means adding pro-Washington states. “It’s not in the name of the market but in the name of liberty that we were able to achieve German unification, which was the first expansion to the East,” Grosser says. “Refusing to accept those who have fought for their freedom would be tantamount to renouncing the foundations of Europe.”

The EU’s principles might seem lofty, but its policies are tough on newcomers. In fact, soon-to-be EU citizens might think they are being treated like second-class Europeans. At the outset, for instance, Poland will only receive 25 per cent of farm aid under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy; the percentage will gradually increase over 10 years. And by the time Warsaw is entitled to a full share of farm subsidies, the costly and widely criticized policy may well have been dismantled. Similarly, Poles will have an automatic right to work elsewhere in the EU only after seven years. No such time limit was imposed when Sweden, Austria and Finland joined in 1995.

The economic downturn isn’t making things easier. The cost of EU expansion, estimated at 40 billion euros ($64 billion), is raising eyebrows in cash-strapped Germany, one of the countries footing the bill. The German economy is teetering on the edge of recession, the unemployment rate is a staggering 11 per cent, and Berlin has exceeded the EU-imposed budget deficit ceiling of three per cent. Not surprisingly,

some 40 per cent of Germans are lukewarm about expansion, even though their country could benefit the most. “It’s us who need European partners,” says Ulrike Guérot, a political scientist with the German Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s us who need stable markets in the East. It’s us who need integration.”

Turkey’s desire to join the club will create further tension. Negotiations could start in 2005, but Ankara shouldn’t expect the redcarpet treatment. Given its population (67 million) and high birth rate, Turkey could quickly dominate the European Parliament, ahead of founding countries like France and Italy. And the cost of extending the Common Agricultural Policy to Turkey would be astronomical. Yet the U.S. has endorsed Ankara’s candidacy, which irks many in Europe. “I fail to see why this should be the business of the U.S.,” muses Grosser. “France did-

ARE THE U.S. and the EU, already trade rivals, set to be political rivals in a multi-polar world? The answer could depend on Britain.

n’t have to decide whether Canada and Mexico should be part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

Are the U.S. and the EU, already trade rivals, set to be political rivals in a multi-polar world? The answer depends on Britain, Europe’s greatest military power. Blair says no. But a recent poll conducted for Britain’s Spectator magazine found only 31 per cent of Britons saying they would be pleased if Britain worked more closely with the U.S. than with the rest of Europe.

A divided EU will be content at this stage to play the role, in the words of Michael Kreile, a Humboldt University professor in Berlin, of deputy to sheriff Bush. When NATO takes command of the international force in Afghanistan—with French and German backing—the organization will do more than just police Kabul. It will help patch up transatlantic relations. The EU has already thrown its support behind U.S. plans to divide Iraq in three regions, and it will help fund the reconstruction. Beyond that, the future is uncertain, both for European unity and for relations with Washington. IJI