Eastward ho, they said warily
S T R A S B O U R G
The European Commissions huge new package of plansknown as Agenda 2000will shape the European Union well into the next decade. It covers not only enlargement but also the EU budget and farm policy reform
THE evolution of the European Union will depend largely on how it copes with two of its central ambitions. One is economic and monetary union (EMU), the other enlargement to the east. No one should assume that EMUwhether or not it occurswill be the more controversial of the two. For enlargement, which is virtually certain to happen, will increase the arguments over the EUs institutions (so unsatisfactorily dealt with at the recent Amsterdam summit), its finances and its core policies such as that for agriculture.
A flavour of the rows ahead emerged just before the commission published its formal opinions on the merits of the current batch of ten applications for membership. Some commissioners wanted to recommend that negotiations should begin next year with only three candidates: Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary (the Union has already promised to start talks with Cyprus). But Hans van den Broek, the commissioner in charge of enlargement, argued that, judged by objective criteria, Slovenia and Estonia should be added to the list. He won the argument, but only just.
Deciding which countries should join the club is not the only thorny question that has to be resolved. Agenda 2000, which the commission presented to the European Parliament on July 16th, also includes proposals for radical changes to the common agricultural policy (CAP) and to the regional and social funds (see next page). Such reforms are needed, the commission emphasises, irrespective of enlargement. But that will not make them any more palatable to governments.
The commissions opinions on the applicant countries are impressively frank. It says that none of them yet meets the entry criteria set by the EUs Copenhagen summit in 1993. Politically, these include guarantees of democracy, human rights and protection of minorities. Economically, they require a functioning market economy, the capacity to cope with the single market and acceptance of the goal of EMU.
Of the ten, the commission reckons that only Slovakia fails the political exam, though it gives a few warnings about the treatment of minorities in Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states. However, no country meets the economic tests fully. The commission has plumped for the five that are closest to passing, but says that even they need to do better. Prescribed homework includes extra laws to apply EU single-market rules; more deregulation to comply with its competition policies; and macroeconomic reforms to curb inflation and correct current-account imbalances.
Now that the commissions opinions are out in the open, it will be hard for governments to shorten the list of first-wave entrants. There is more likely to be pressure to add extra names. The Danish government is not the only one that wants negotiations to begin with all the applicants at the same time, regardless of the logistical difficulties. But even those who want such a broadly based start to enlargement acknowledge that there can be no presumption that everyone would gain admission at the same time.
The timetable for enlargement is certain to be tricky. Next Decembers Luxembourg summit is meant to approve the choice of the first wave of candidates, enabling talks to begin next year. The commission coyly refuses to offer any finishing date for completing the process. But its working assumption is that the five front-runners plus Cyprus might join in 2002, allowing four years for the negotiation and ratification of the necessary treaties. The laggards might then join five years later. However, given the complexity of the negotiations, and the scope for squabbles over the related matters of budgets and CAP reform, this timetable looks rather optimistic.
That is why workable arrangements for dealing with the laggards are so important. The commission favours the establishment of a standing conference of all would-be members. It also wants to draw up accession partnerships with applicantsagreements that would map out a precise route for their eventual membership and provide a framework for larger dollops of aid. The commission also promises to keep applicants on their best behaviour by making an annual review of whether they are yet ready for full membership.
The EU will find Turkey particularly difficult to handle. The commission suggests that Turkey should join the standing conference but that it should not be offered an accession partnership. That reflects the reluctance of some commissioners (and, undoubtedly, some governments) to consider Turkey as a serious candidate. Yet Turkey was recognised as a legitimate applicant in 1964 and has a longer experience of market economics and democracy than any other would-be member bar Cyprus. The Turks will be understandably furious to see themselves slip behind Bulgaria, a former possession, in the queue, and will see this as anti-Muslim bias.
Upsetting the Turks could harm Cypruss chances of membership. The commission hopes that the prospect of Cyprus joining the EU will stimulate the United Nations current attempt to resolve the quarrel between its Greek and Turkish communities. But, if no solution comes, the commission suggests that talks should start with only the officially recognised (Greek Cypriot) half of the islands pair of governments. Greece has hinted that it may veto other countries bids to join the EU if Cyprus is not included. Even so, it is hard to imagine the Union admitting a divided island with an unresolved border dispute.
Dont forget the institutions
As if this huge agenda were not difficult enough, the commission wants yet another inter-governmental conference convened soon after 2000, to settle the institutional questions unresolved in Amsterdam.
It is certainly the case that, if the EU is serious about enlargement, it should cut the number of commissioners to one per member or even fewer; reduce the under-weighting, relative to their populations, of the large countries (which risk being overwhelmed by small ones) in the Council of Ministers; and perhaps extend voting by qualified majority. Yet there is little reason to suppose that the governments will find it easier to settle these questions in 2000 than they did last month in Amsterdam. Unless these institutional knots can be untied, the EU may have to try to struggle on as a Union of 20 or 25 members, crippled by a constitution designed for six, or else delay enlargement.
And then there is money. The current 15 members will have to pay a price for enlargement, though the commission thinks it can finance at least the first wave without exceeding the Unions existing budgetary ceiling of 1.27% of GDP. The applicants are poor: their combined GDP is less than that of the Netherlands and their average GDP per head only 13% of the EU average. So they will expect substantial regional aid. And extending even a reformed CAP to countries such as Poland, where a quarter of the workforce is in farming, will be expensive.
As for the Unions other big project, EMU, Agenda 2000 hardly mentions it. In principle EMU should not affect enlargement. But if over the next year or so EMU is delayed or even derailed, the Union is likely to widen at an even slower pace. For the ensuing rancour, ructions and recriminations would make it that much harder for EU governments to cope with the huge challenges presented by enlargement.
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