Friday, 29 September 2006

A deal we must stick to: Bulgaria and Romania join the EU

by Edwin Hesselthwite

Moving swiftly on from this weeks turbulence, over the past week there has been something of a media furore over Romania and Bulgaria’s impending accession in to the European Union. As a bit of a pro-European (an unpopular position on this website) who too often sees The Union get a whipping in the media, this strikes me as an ideal time to do a piece on the history of EU expansion.

Europhiles talking of EU history speak in terms of The Treaty of Rome (The EU was founded by this treaty in 1957), Maastricht, the original 6 countries, De Gaulle saying "NON!" - a bureaucratic narrative, perfectly illustrated by the hideously boring wikipedia article and the BBC's recent series on the topic. This is a tough sell to Europeans who are known for their nationalism and hatred of bureaucrats. To me personally, the real and usually ignored story of the EU is of expansion, how a carrot dangled in front of countries staring into the political and financial abyss kept potential dictators at bay. I'm going to go over that story here.

First lets take a snapshot of the diplomatic situation in Europe in the early 50’s. In the words of Churchill: “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory.... From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Half of Europe was in communist hands, with bastards like Hoxha in Albania running countries into the ground. Portugal and Spain are ruled by the right wing fascistic dictators António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco who have been in power since the 30’s, Greece had just emerged from a vicious civil war in ’49. With The Marshall Plan in Western Europe this was not a stable place to live.

Snapshot mid '60's – the Iron Curtain has got even nastier, with the Berlin Wall, Soviet tanks storming into Hungary, the Prague spring... Romania has fallen under control of Ceasescu and Albania is firmly under Hoxha's dictatorship, there is a coup d'etat in Greece followed by military rule.

I hope this is beginning to make it clear that up until the 1970's, Europe and particularly the Mediterranean had fundamentally a similar situation to Latin America at the time - when change occurred it was all too easy for some would-be dictator to jump in with a putsch. I'm not trying to claim the EU was the only force building the continent you see today, I'm sure NATO, domestic politics and the UN played a role, but I do believe the EU was a major factor in changing that situation. From the 70's onwards it was standing next to its undemocratic neighbours saying "You can come in! Join the prosperity. Just sign this form, organise a liberal democracy, pay the French a few quid in farm subsidies and get rid of the death penalty". It's harder for the elite to sieze control in such circumstances.

By 1981, with less than 10 years since revolutions and upheavals in Spain, Greece and Portugal, we have 3 fully functioning liberal democracies that are members of The Union. Ireland joined at a similar time, saw massive growth - by the mid 90's, for some reason, Ulster decided it didn't want to fight anymore.

The biggest test of this model was, obviously, the fall of Communism. With one painful exception this was a success. One need only compare the current situation in the former communist states outside the EU influence with the countries offered accession to see what effect the carrot had. Moldova contains a breakaway state (Transdniester) hidden inside it, Belarus is a dictatorship, The Caucuses are a horrendous mess, and almost every country in Central Asia is a dictatorship. Belarus and Lithuania - close neighbours who have long had a fluctuating border - are now politically incomparable. The EU has stabilised a continent.

Does the EU make sense as a confederacy of nations? For me, personally, this fits into the question of what makes a nation, and must be seen in the context of how small European countries are. Due to it's tortuous history (and the action of The League Of Nations) Europe has more countries for its landmass than anywhere else in the world. India, a nation of a comparable size, number of languages, and variety of ethnic groups, is a single functional entity. It's an open question whether this can work, but with the example of London (de facto EU financial capital) showing how cosmopolitan a society the EU can be, it does look feasible. The Schengen Agreement has worked wonderfully, the Euro less so. Unity will depend on whether there is sufficient internal immigration and trade that internal EU activity is comparable to internal national activity.

It will depend entirely on exactly the sort of activity people are scared of with the prospect of Romanian and Bulgarian accession - internal immigration. We made a deal with them, the founding principle of the project has been "fix yourselves and you can join". We can expect a brief period of internal immigration (which our economy needs) and the resulting problems, but in all likelihood they will be up there with Greece and Ireland as EU successes in15 years. The same should absolutely apply to the former Yugoslavia. If we consider ourselves Europeans at all we should be saddened by the worst war the continent has seen since the '40's. I have many, many criticisms of the way the EU administrators have dealt with ex-Yugoslavian accession to The Union - I have even more criticisms with the way our, currently provisional, government works - but EU expansion is still an incredible narrative.

Just one thing - this link, clearly intended as PR for our supernational government - is just about the most ridiculous piece of propaganda I have ever seen. Grow up EU, we need better from you.

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