|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||04/01/96, Volume 2, Number 01|
TWENTY years from now, the December summit in Madrid might well be remembered as the crucial meeting where Europe finally embarked on the biggest process of peaceful transformation the continent has ever witnessed.
By linking the start of Eastern membership talks to Cyprus and Malta's admission schedule, EU leaders broke a long-standing taboo: for the first time ever, they agreed to something closely resembling a firm date, a commitment which even the most tepid friends of enlargement will now find difficult to get rid off.
As a highly-satisfied German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pointed out, the momentum triggered in Madrid should ensure that within three years at most, the EU will be pushed to override its own anxieties and start to shift eastwards the centuries-old divide of the continent into a prosperous western and a struggling eastern half.
Yet the agreement was obtained at a price. In a typical compromise formula, the leaders postponed the divisive question of how best to proceed: whether accession negotiations should - formally at least - be started with all 12 designated Eastern candidates together, or only with those whose early membership would receive universal EU approval.
Pre-summit reports that Germany would be pressing for privileged treatment of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic triggered cries of protest from the Baltic countries' patrons in Scandinavia and strong resistance from a number of other governments.
But by asking the European Commission to come up with an individual assessment of each of the candidates, as well as a global enlargement report, EU governments effectively skirted the issue and bought some useful breathing space. They can now let the problem of whom to take in first (or at all) simmer on while getting busy with the Union's own internal reform.
But taking the heat out of the debate will not allow it to be left on the backburner for long. The agreement to launch at least the first Eastern membership talks roughly at the same time as the Malta and Cyprus negotiations means the EU has virtually committed itself to take a firm decision on how to start on its most difficult enlargement ever within the next 30 months.
One of the few leaders to have made clear what he wants is, as usual, Helmut Kohl. Poland and the Czech Republic, Germany's two Eastern neighbours, should see their negotiations well under way by the year 2000, says the chancellor.
The same goes for Hungary, a country Bonn feels a special obligation to: Hungary was the first soviet satellite that dared open the Iron Curtain in 1989 and was thus instrumental in bringing about reunification in Germany.
The other nine candidates, however, do not figure on the chancellor's present shopping-list. In the eyes of the Germans, Bulgarian and Rumanian accession to the EU has never been more than a distant possibility, formally acknowledged to satisfy French sensitivities (France sees itself as Latin-speaking Rumania's natural patron) and stabilise an especially volatile part of Eastern Europe.
The three Baltic republics, which are dear to northern Germans as part of their Hanseatic heritage, should, in Kohl's opinion, be denied shortlist status as long as their membership might raise a serious problem with an unstable Russia.
Once-favoured Slovakia is foolishly jeopardising its chances with its thuggish domestic politics, and as for Slovenia, Kohl argues for it to be taken in only once a solution for the Yugoslav mess as a whole has been found.
In the case of Slovenia, which has found a strong ally in Austria (and a weaker one in German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel) and in that of Estonia, with its advanced market economy and its strong Scandinavian backing, the EU might still find room for debate.
But the odds are very high that Kohl will get his way on enlargement as on most other big EU issues he has thrown his weight behind. For the German chancellor, driven by what Americans call strategic vision, has the force of argument behind him.
If the EU's central foreign policy aim is indeed, as often stated, to increase the stability and prosperity of the continent as a whole, then the early inclusion of Germany's (and Austria's) immediate neighbours is undoubtedly the most effective way to achieve it.
As luck, culture and geography would have it, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are amongst the former Soviet bloc countries to have made the swiftest progress towards a Western type of economy.
As opposed to the Baltic republics, their integration into the EU will almost certainly not raise bigger security problems than their continued exclusion might create. And the style of their politics should not jar too much with the fairly civilised standards of behaviour that have been the rule within the EU's present membership for the last few decades.
Hungary, it is true, seems to be needing more time to get rid of the last remnants of its goulash communism; but Poland and the Czech Republic have confounded the sceptics and have, by most accounts, made a remarkable success of the shock therapy a group of intrepid young economists pushed them into.
Against this background, the widespread fears that the prospect of enlargement still engender in the majority of EU members states do not stand much chance of congealing into an effective blockade of the German juggernaut.
France, of course, sentimental ties with Rumania and Poland notwithstanding, would love nothing more than for the whole issue to go away, if only to escape reform of the EU's agricultural policy. But the French government has reluctantly come to terms with the fact that the integration of Germany's Eastern neighbours, while (sadly) further boosting the influence of its overbearing German partner, is another necessary sacrifice to make to the preservation of order after the end of the Cold War.
Italy is politically too unfocused to significantly oppose enlargement, even if it should so wish (which, right now, it does not). And the UK, usually no friend of Germany's European ambition, is to be found amongst enlargement's strongest backers: London has sensed a unique opportunity to finally put to rest any threat of a Brussels-ruled, closely integrated European super-state.
That the admission of at least half a dozen new member states will, one way or the other, lead to a different EU has become a basic tenet of any informed discussion of the Union's future.
To assess exactly how the inclusion of the Eastern Europeans, with their radically-different recent history, will alter the EU's political agenda and the style of its politics, is a tall order indeed. Yet the change might be less dramatic than some people think.
The present EU itself is, after all, a heterogeneous group, with six of its existing members having - within living memory - experienced some form of home-grown dictatorship.
As Slovakia's changed ranking shows, the enlargement issue is in no way static. Like Nato, with its politically even more explosive expansion plans, the EU itself is still wondering how best to proceed, preferring to feel its way forward and take on board any political developments as they come.
Altered political circumstances, such as a major internal or external crisis, might still delay the Union's eastwards thrust until late into the next decade. Yet in selecting the 12 enlargement candidates, EU leaders have - as some historically-minded diplomats are already pointing out - perhaps only bowed to a call from the past.
Stand back and look: behind the cool political and economic rationale of whom to take in and whom to leave out arise, give or take a country or two, the ancient boundaries of pre-reformation Catholic Christendom.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Cyprus, Eastern Europe, Germany, Malta|