A European Union of 25 members

It was in a fine spirit of international solidarity that the European Union welcomed ten new members on the first of May 2004. The opinion polls have shown the western populations rather welcoming to their new neighbours, the event being seen as the logical consequence of the fall of the Berlin wall 15 year ago. Professor Christian Philip, deputy for Rhone to the European Union representing the Popular Movement Union (UMP).

Geographically Europe, I was going to say, is finally itself, it is reunified. This enlargement, these are not simply ten extra states, it is eight states which were behind what we used to call the iron curtain. For half a century now, people have tried to find a way so that Europe is not cut in two, the entry to the European Union for these states is first of all and above all what we have been hoping for and which has come about.

In June the Europeans are going to vote for their first parliament of 25 nations. The electoral campaign has already started. Nicole Guilhaudin set her sights on her first term as a European Deputy convinced that it is on this stage that she can best satisfy her political calling:

Well, listen, I have taken on board for quite some time as have most politicians, that it is absolutely necessary to set to work today on environmental damage particularly, that there are politics which can only be dealt with in the right place, at a good scale, and the good scale today is Europe. Climatic effects, global warming, that is not managed by regional politics or by national politics, that is managed by politicians of several countries between them having a significant effect. I think for example concerning global warming where road transport is the cause with the level of 40% of the green house gases. The politics of transport will not be effective if it is not led at the European level.

On everyday things, the countries of the European Union are not always as unanimous as we have may have hoped. And at this time, we can settle things. What a dreadful task to have, to tell proud national governments that their budgets do not respect the rules that their laws do not conform… Who cannot feel a little sympathy for the powers in Brussels who get the blame from all corners of the continent? But for Patrick Louis of the Party for the Movement for France (MFP), the problems come from the very nature of the European Union:

All the federal structures which weld people with very great ancient histories whether that be Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia – have shown that when the cultures are historically old and very different, either you must have a very strong central power to unify, else on the contrary, this power must become much more liberal, what we want, that is to say more free, more respecting of identities and in that case you have after the centripetal forces, you have the centrifugal forces and everything explodes. So we think that the best way of being on friendly terms and of making fruitful exchanges is that each can really live according to its culture and its history. The more that the identity of people is implicated, the more the perception of the other becomes suspect. On the contrary you must establish the identities so that exchanges may be even more fruitful.

This winter, the European Commission must decide if Turkey can eventually be accepted as a member of the European Union. This has become a test question to establish the nature of the Europe which we are looking to build. Jean-Luc Bannahmias, green candidate, believes that an absolute refusal would link too closely the continent to its religious heritage:

What European identity? The Judeo-Christian identity? Or the democratic identity? Republican, French style, Belgian style or of some other country? Personally I am talking about a democratic identity. The religions are quite another thing by comparison to that. The areas of religious matters or cultural matters are absolutely another thing. You must recognise that. But I do not see by what reason a number of the countries which are joining the European Union today in the enlargement, and a number which are going to join the European Union, I am thinking of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania who will join one day, I do not see by what reason we would refuse Turkey for religious reasons, membership of the European Union. It is not about a geographical location, as if it were about a geographical location, how could Guadeloupe, Martinique, the island of Reunion, Guyana be made part of the European Union? Even, how about the island of Malta, how about the island of Cyprus? We are in the area of union which for the greens is an area of democratic union, political, diplomatic and for defence for which balances the hegemony of the American government. We are truly dealing with this matter, not some other. So that European culture, we must create that, European citizenship…

But Frank Biancheri of the think tank Europe 2020 argues against the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union:

Our member states are playing with fire with the question of Turkey. We see everywhere in Europe the rise of the xenophobes such as Haider, Le Pen, a bit in the Netherlands with Pim Fortuyn [1], in Denmark, in Italy, these forces are growing in Europe. They are inevitable when we do not reinforce the side of those who are going towards them, and I believe that the question of Turkey is really a question which is going to be extremely important because it risks swinging quite a pile of citizens in all of the countries of the Union who do not understand this decision if it is positive in October or in December or at the next European summit and who are going to suddenly become people very sensitive to the hypotheses of the european extreme right which is both racist and xenophobic.

I believe that today the European Union, finally in the years ahead, will not be able to control the democratic forces in Europe that they be positive, democratic, open to the world or that they be negative, xenophobic, racist or whatever, for one simple reason that is that the European Union is a structure which is essentially technocratic, so which does not have the status capable of moving the citizens in one direction or another. We think in Europe 2020, our think tank, that if the answer to the question of the entry of Turkey is yes, at the end of this year that is going to be the biggest boost supporting the xenophobic forces in Europe as public opinion has not been prepared, no one knows why we should take Turkey tomorrow, our politicians have no explanation, not Tony Blair, nor Jacques Chirac, nor Schroeder, nor anyone else, has opposed the campaign for ten years, to explain to the citizens whey Turkey was important or not to the European Union, so today the people do not understand, and so if the European Union tries to force this outcome then a large majority of Europeans today, whatever their country, not understanding why Turkey ought to come back into the European Union, we are going to have a phenomenon which is going to reinforce the tendency to reject, the rejection of others, of xenophobia, of racism etc. So the European Union can only control these forces if it organises the relationships with its neighbours on stable grounds. That is to say that it will specify with Turkey, with Russia, with North Africa, partnership forms well defined but which are not an entrance into the European Union.

The lack of democracy in the institutions of the European Union is at the heart of the analysis of Karim Helal of the communist party:

Well it seems to me that the big thing missing from the building of the European Union is the people, that is to say the citizens. For years and years we have had a european construction made from on high and in which we do not involve the citizens, with a long line of examples which are not examples of elected representatives, notably the European Commission which has enormous power, and also the Central European Bank which is independent, so we today, right now when we see well what is ahead of us concerning these very important choices for the future of the European Union, it seems to us in effect that there must be more European Union but a European Union which builds itself starting from the expectations of the citizens. And so we invert completely the type of measures which have been able to prevail today in its construction.

Another big test for the European construction would be the willingness of the citizens of the west to accept the competition of the new members from the east where the price of labour is very much lower. Christian Philip wants to be reassuring without playing down the stakes however:

Jobs moving to the east have already happened, those which ought to have happened; it is not after the 1st May that the car manufacturers have moved to the countries of the east, to Poland, to Slovaka or elsewhere, that has already happened. So that, that relieves the myth a bit. I believe that we cannnot have a balanced Europe if it is not industrialised somewhere and it will not industrialise if there are not investments on our part in these countries. So job movement in itself, I believe, is not the problem, the problem is our capacity in the west to imagine other forms of industrialisation, being able to innovate, of investing in research for developing new… new jobs in more advanced technological areas so it is an element which I hope will draw Europe more towards growth. For me we must not see it as a danger but as something which in any case… even if these countries had not entered into the European Union, we must say it, there would have been these job losses. So, it is a problem, but it is not a problem which is linked to the entry into the European Union.

It is a point of view shared by Yves Cochet of the greens:

Oh, we have already seen this debate at the time for example of the entry of Spain or Portugal, some twenty odd years ago. We already had some people including some farmers from the south of France who used to say “that is going to be competition for our products, with out citrus fruits, with our early fruit and vegetables, or that is going to be terrible, they have wages less than ours”. Well we made social standardization from the top. We had European structural funds for Portugal and for Spain which enabled them at that time to have better conditions of production and especially better remuneration conditions for their agricultural workers. And now there are fewer problems than there were twenty years ago. And so that will be of course difficult, the structural funds, the intra Europe solidarity and standardization from the top, will make… I hope that it will turn out fine with our countries from the east of Europe as it turned out well with Spain and Portugal.

And Nicole Guilhaudin reminds us of other perspectives on economic questions:

And whilst this is going to cost us, I would say that, that already, that is going to bring us peace, and how much would a war cost us?

[1] Pim Fortyn – Dutch radical politician murdered in 2002

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