Widen Europe

Whether the single currency succeeds or fails, the European Union should speedily open its doors to the east

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EMU versus enlargement?

Tony Blair in Europe

LIKE an expectant mother in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, the European Union is understandably obsessed by worries about the birth of its single currency. But Europeans should remember that their family grows by adoption as well as reproduction. All the uncertainty about economic and monetary union (EMU) should not put a stop to the Union’s other business. It should not mean, in particular, that next week’s summit in Amsterdam fails to make the changes that are essential if the club is to bring in new members from the east. EMU and enlargement are two separate undertakings. They should be kept apart.

Not that next week’s summit would, at the best of times, be an easy affair. The arguments are still raging. But the EU’s 15 members are in sight of agreement to achieve three important objectives. The first is to make existing EU institutions more efficient. That means, among other things, giving large countries a bigger say by reweighting votes while still letting small countries have louder voices than they would merit by size.

The second objective is to bolster, albeit gently, the EU’s second and third “pillars”, which deal with foreign and security policy (the second pillar) and justice and home affairs (the third). That will mean bringing in at least parts of the Schengen agreement, which already allows (at least in theory) passport-free travel for citizens of seven EU countries, though Britain and Ireland look likely to win permission to opt out if the arrangement spreads Union-wide. Pillar-strengthening also means giving the EU a “face and a voice”, in the shape of someone who will personify the Union’s foreign policy, although agreement on all big foreign and security issues will have to remain a matter for unanimous voting. In addition, more EU decisions will, if agreement is reached in Amsterdam, have to be decided by majority voting—with the required size of the majority becoming a bit bigger as a result of the institutional changes. An enlarged Union of 25 could not, realistically, operate if all decisions had to be unanimous.

The third objective is to find a way for the countries that are keenest to integrate to go ahead without turning the others into second-class members. Hence “flexibility” (or, for some, “enhanced co-operation”). The British, with four or five countries now behind them, say that groups should be allowed to speed on in certain defined areas—but only once the entire membership has, in each instance, approved. The latest sign is that this view may prevail in Amsterdam.

Good. With these three broad aims achieved, the EU’s commission can soon suggest which applicants should be considered first, and negotiations could, with luck, start early next year. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, perhaps Slovenia, might be members in five or six years. Though the combined GDP of the 11 applicants is barely 4% of the Union’s present total, the benefits, both political and economic, of the democratic world’s foremost club are at last in prospect for millions of Central Europeans long stifled by communism.

Go Dutch

The worries about EMU, with France’s new government haggling over the “stability pact” agreed on last winter, and with Germany sweating over ways to reduce its budget deficit, may, however, infect Amsterdam. France is threatening not to sign the enlargement-paving deal unless it gets a review of the previous pact, designed to enforce fiscal rigour once a single currency is adopted. Germany will try to persuade the French to relent. If it fails, the hoped-for deal at Amsterdam may have to wait upon another meeting a few weeks later, when Luxembourg will have taken over the EU’s presidential chair. If that small delay is the price of France’s signature, so be it. But having so foolishly embarked on the 1991 Maastricht treaty while ignoring the momentous collapse of communism in the east, it would be doubly foolish of the West Europeans now to block the Union’s eastward expansion because of trouble with their Maastricht-inspired single currency.

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