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As EU Expands East Immediate Challenge Is Economic - 2004-02-19


The biggest enlargement of the European Union is about to take place on May first. Ten new countries are joining current members, transforming the organization into a 25-nation club. To achieve a more efficient system of governing the complex structure, a committee was selected to create a new set of rules by which the expanded European system will operate. VOA’s Lilica Kitanovska reports a discussion of this constitution in the works and the outlook for the E.U. with its new members.

This spring Europe will celebrate again. The organization that started as a small customs union in the 1950’s is poised to open its doors to most of the former Eastern Bloc states. This will be the largest expansion in the history of the European Union and Martin Walker, chief international correspondent of United Press International, says he is delighted with the development. He was speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“After all, we now have at this moment a European Union of 15 countries, 375 million people, a GDP of about $10 trillion a year, about the same as the United States,” he says. “On May first we are about to expand. We are about to do the decent thing, finally bringing in the orphans of the Cold War, those wretched victims of Stalin’s Soviet Empire: the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, the Hungarians plus Cyprus and Malta.” The newcomers to the E.U. prompted existing members to work on the legal framework that will accommodate the expanded European family. Radek Sikorski, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says only one thing is missing.

“I think Europe should have a constitution,” he says. “I am of the view that Europe is almost a completed federal state. If something has a flag, an anthem, a bureaucracy, an external border, a trade policy, a diplomatic service, a budget, a fisheries policy, a customs policy and very soon a common foreign and defense policy, a currency of course – if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”

However, the E.U. ideal of promoting unity while preserving diversity has proved difficult to achieve. The text of the constitution, already a subject of two years’ intense negotiations, is still raising questions, mostly over its ability to provide a fair distribution of power among members. Mr. Sikorski says he was hoping for a document that would delineate the powers member states should delegate to the federal level. He also looked forward to a constitution that would introduce greater democratic accountability.

“And last but not least,” he says, “I was hoping that we would get a text that is not just a good European Articles of Association, but something that is concise and dare I say beautiful, something that European children would learn at school and something that would foster a sense of attachment, perhaps one day even patriotism. And the question is – do we have it in the document we produced?”

He is not so sure. He believes the document has got out of control, the product of too many hands and interests that have collided in prose.

“First of all, I have a problem with the size: 75,000 words by comparison with America’s seven and a half thousand words,” he says. “I think that only the Indian constitution is longer. But as it is, you actually need a Ph.D to understand it. And I have other problems with it. There are, for example, no powers reserved for the member states. On the other hand, there is in many places in this text a weasly language, which will allow bureaucrats and the activist judges in the future to interpret the rules in a most centralist way.”

Radek Sikorski notes many problems in the constitution. It offers very few protections for business against heavy taxation and over regulation. In fact, he concludes, this is not so much a constitution as a manifesto. It aims to settle certain things that should be left to the political process, matters of social and economic policy that, according to Mr. Sikorski, properly belong to the political sphere.

Some analysts believe the expanded E.U. will succeed through economic integration. Martin Walker counts on the new countries to bring fresh blood to reinvigorate the stale economy of the euro-zone. He warns that economic improvement will not come over night.

“We will bring 10 new countries on May the first,” he says. “At that point the population of the European Union will increase by almost 20%. However, the GDP of the new European Union will increase by a lot less than 5%. We are bringing in some countries, which are on the whole considerably poorer.”

The last few years were already hard on once powerful European economies. The German economy has become a sick man of Europe, says Mr. Walker and the French economy is in similar shape. Italy also rivals Germany for lack of growth.

An immediate challenge facing the E.U. is to secure the long-term success of the euro, the European single currency. The new member states will eventually adopt the euro, but for at least couple of years they will have to strive to meet E.U. criteria such as controlling their budget deficits and inflation. Mr. Walker says bridging the gap between the poorer and the richer states will not be easy for either.

“I think what it shows is that Europe is going to be facing at the least a developmental challenge,” he says. “On the same scale as if the United States were to absorb Mexico, as the 51st, 52nd, 53rd, 54th and 55th states with the Mexicans having absolute free rights of travel and transport, labor and so on.”

Martin Walker believes that despite the difficulties facing the enlarged union, the benefits are worth it.

“On the other hand,” he says, “what I think we are getting out of this enlargement first of all is the righting of a historic injustice, the division of Europe by World War Two and Stalin. That was a wicked thing. And secondly, we are getting a chance of finally injecting some dynamism, some potential for growth, a locomotive to get Europe moving again. And heaven knows, the current European economies, particularly in the euro zone, desperately need it. They are sluggish and flat.”

Analysts say the European Union has not been able to speak with one voice or to have a unified position on numerous issues. Polls show European citizens do not have a strong bond of identity across national borders, nor a feel for a common future. However, critics agree on one thing: the E.U. is here to stay. Now it must define itself and decide what it wants to achieve.

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