Summary: September 22, 2004: Remarks on EU Enlargement to the Panel on European Integration by John B Richardson, Head of Delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations (2001-05), at the Foreign Policy Association - World Leadership Forum 2004 (New York)
Two types of change have marked the EU’s history: the number of its members and the depth of its integration.
Since its beginnings in 1957 the EU has taken in new members five times:
The first enlargement from 6 to 9 took place in 1973 when the UK, Ireland and Denmark joined. This led to some digestion problems, combined with the economic and financial turbulence of the 1970s. This was not a great period for European integration.
Greece joined in 1981; the first member from the former Ottoman empire; not very long before, in the 1970s, it had been a dictatorship.
Spain and Portugal arrived in 1986; again, former dictatorships: the (then) EC served as an important vehicle for these countries to rejoin democratic Europe, as well as for these aspiring emerging market countries to grow and adapt their economies to the Common Market, and enter the developed world.
The EU also took on a decidedly more southerly, Mediterranean aspect.
Finland, Sweden and Austria joined in 1995; this was the first time EU standards were raised to the level of the accession countries - in the area of the environment - rather than vice versa. This added a Northern Dimension to the Union and, more importantly, gave it a more liberal economic bent, with more emphasis on open government.
Each time expansion was accompanied in parallel by significantly deeper integration.
In a nutshell –
Coinciding with Spain and Portugal’s accession we agreed the Single European Act: This introduced QMV for internal market measures (1986), a much more powerful decision-making procedure than consensus. This really signaled to the European and international business community that the EC was serious about cutting red tape and eliminating trade barriers. The “1992 program” to achieve the single market became big news.
Out of the success of the single market, and the political impetus from the fall of the Wall and German reunification, came the landmark 1991 Maastricht Treaty, which introduced the European Union, EMU, leading to the Euro, EU Citizenship rights and the famous 3 “Pillars”.
After the Northern enlargement, in 1997, the Amsterdam Treaty followed with an increased role for the EP, which was given co-decision powers in many areas, together with the Council. It further expanded and refined the CFSP, including the establishment of a High Representative for the CFSP.
Amsterdam omitted, however, institutional questions raised by enlargement. The prospect of another ten or more members made this glaringly obvious.
This led to yet another IGC, and the Treaty of Nice.
It was seen largely as a failure. It did spell out voting weights for QMV in an enlarged Europe, but in a very complicated system (and it is the current basis on which the EU 25 Council operates). It also further extended EP powers, but accomplished little else.
Now, after a Convention on the Future of Europe, we have reached agreement on a constitutional treaty, in order to take the next step forward, and this now needs to be ratified by our member States, either by referenda or by Parliamentary vote.
It is easy to get lost in the legal thickets of treaties and forget the essentials.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it this way when he visited the European Parliament earlier this year:
“In its long history, Europe has seen more than its fair share of war, tyranny, and terrible suffering. But Europeans have replaced that with a future of hope. You have pursued the path of peace through multilateralism. And today, the European Union is a shining light of tolerance, human rights, and international cooperation.
After 1 May this year, that light will shine even brighter. When you enlarge to 25 members, you will cross a divide between East and West that once seemed unbridgeable. Enlargement is the greatest force for peace on the European continent.”
This z one of peace and prosperity is almost complete.
There are some gaps:
Bulgaria and Romania are currently negotiating to join. A decision on opening negotiations with Turkey will be taken this year.
Croatia has applied for membership and the other Balkan countries are following the same path.
The door will remain open for Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein.
The historic success I have described has not been achieved without surmounting crisis after crisis.
The empty chair policy of General de Gaulle in 1965 over QMV paralysed the work of the Council of Ministers, leading to the so-called Luxembourg Compromise, which allowed the invoking of “vital national interests” to force unanimous decisions. It has since disappeared without trace.
There followed the oil shocks and monetary upheavals of the 1970s, and the entertaining spectacle of Mrs. Thatcher waving her handbag and wanting her money back, which led to the budget crisis of 1983-84, the resolution of which helped pave the way for the SEA.
Eurosclerosis was diagnosed as the European disease in the early 80s and gave birth to the 1992 program.
EMU and the EMS crises of the early 1990s gave rise to a plethora of dire predictions, particularly in the US about Europe’s ability to forge a single currency. They were wrong, they underestimated our political will to succeed.
So is there now an enlargement crisis? What are the problems of having ten new members?
First is the fact that the implementation of the acquis, the sum of all our laws and regulations, means not just legislating but changing the habits of a whole society. This does not happen overnight.
Second is the need for our new members to learn and adapt to the way the EU institutions work. I have been surprised how quickly and successfully this is happening.
The effect is likely to be that enlargement will take time to digest and its benefits will initially be masked by some problems.
What about the level of economic development in the new countries and the disparities with the old?
All 10 have a GDP/head well below the EU average.
But Slovenia and Cyprus are richer than Portugal and Greece.
The three Baltic States and Poland are poorest at around 35-40% of the EU average. So there will be a substantial need for our cohesion funds.
Yet Ireland joined the Union with a GDP/head at 75% of the average. For many years it received transfers of around 4% of its GDP per year. It is now at 125% of the average. It can be done. And it will be done for our new members.
The costs are manageable. The Commission has calculated that there is no need to spend a larger proportion of GDP than we were ready to do in the past.
And what about the cost of our famous CAP? Will that not break the bank with double the number of farmers?
No. because this danger is forcing the radical reform of our policy towards one based on world market prices. You might even say that this is one of the first great benefits of enlargement.
The second benefit is, of course, an enlarged market.
The third benefit we expect is a rejuvenation of competition between our companies and between our member states over the environment they provide for business. We are already seeing this happen.
There has already been a wave of investment making Central Europe in the automobile sector the Detroit of Europe, but a little less rusty.
So what conclusions do I draw? At last an enlargement without problems, no crisis on the horizon?
I think there will be a need for a digestive pause in the development of the EU. This will take time.
Internal decision-making with 25 and more also risks running into problems under the arrangements decided under the unfortunate Treaty of Nice.
Our new constitutional Treaty replaces its cumbersome QMV provisions by a simple double majority system - 55% of member States in the Council, representing a 65% of our population.
Two questions remain. First, will our member States ratify?
The latest Eurobarometer poll of attitudes in our member States still shows 42% with a positive view of the EU, exactly twice as many as those who hold a negative view. But will electors in referenda treat them as polls for or against their incumbent governments rather than as polls about Europe? No one knows. The risk is there. One or more negative votes could tip us into crisis.
My own view is that an even more serious question that has been posed by the discussion on voting rules within the Council. It was conducted more in terms of what rules would allow how many countries to build an alliance to block decisions, rather than in terms of how few it would take to forge a consensus to move ahead. If we are now falling back into the paradigm of alliance-building between individual Member States we are back in the 19th century and have forgotten all that the process of building the EU has taught us. And that would be a crisis.
Even so, my prediction would be that this too would pass and that the EU would surmount even such a crisis, as it has surmounted so many in the past.