Saturday

21st Sep 2019

Opinion

The elephant on the European doorstep

  • Kiev - closer to Brussels than Athens (Photo: EUUBC)

Politically, it has been a propitious time for those named Boris. Not only do we now have a Boris as Mayor of London, but, in the Balkans, the parties that support Serbian President Boris Tadic, and seek a European future for Serbia, defeated those that affected an isolationist persuasion. Whether Mr Tadic will now be able to form a pro-European government remains to be seen.

The European Union's position at least is settled. The Western Balkans - seven countries with a population of approximately 27 million - have been offered a European future, subject only to satisfying the normal criteria. This process will take time but few doubt the result. We are on course therefore for an EU of 34.

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This will make the government of the EU more complex. If there are 15 possible bilateral relationships in a community of six, there are 351 in a community of 27. Adding a further seven states increases the complexity by a whopping 210. Apart from this complexity there will be other consequences, including for financing, for decision-making, for the distribution of MEPs and Commissioners. None of this seems to be being discussed. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that the Western Balkans should accede to the Union in due course. Public opinion is broadly favourable.

The same cannot be said for Turkey, to which Queen Elizabeth II of Britain paid a state visit this week. At the formal banquet she praised the advances made by the government and rehearsed Britain's credentials as a champion of Turkish entry. Although Turkey is formally a candidate for accession, the end of that process seems as far away as ever. Britain, and her allies among the newer member states, may champion Turkish entry for sound geo-political and geo-economic reasons, but France and Germany most certainly do not. Moreover, European public opinion is divided.

The reasons are partly geographical. I remember a former President of the European Commission, the late Roy Jenkins, saying that the then Turkish President had acquired a piece of paper from some prestigious geographical institute certifying Turkey's Europeaness. His response was that any country that needed a piece of paper..... probably wasn't European.

In this he was no doubt correct, though in the absence of a recognised border with Asia, who can say? But there are other more important arguments - financing of the poor but populous Turkish state is one, the internal coherence of the Union is another. Which is why France and Germany have been trying to divert Turkey down the route of a ‘privileged partnership,' instead of full accession, through which the EU's commitment might be modified if necessary. Turkey, of course, is having none of that. Meanwhile the accession negotiations drag on.

Out of 35 chapters only six have been opened and eight are frozen by the Cypriot stand-off. France, which assumes the rotating Union Presidency on 1st July, has said it will continue the negotiations in good faith. This is a semi quid pro quo for Turkey agreeing to sup from the poisoned chalice of France's ‘Mediterranean Union' scheme (now formally adopted by the EU) designed to provide a political forum for the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours.

Turkey has been told specifically that belonging to the Mediterranean Union will not affect its EU candidacy. But as the French rather hope that the Turks may be persuaded to accept some leadership role in this body - so taking its mind off EU membership - it would be prudent for them to take this assurance with a grain of salt.

What is certain is that the Union would not be the same if Turkey joins with its 80 million population. It would not necessarily be a worse Union, or a better Union, but it would be a different Union. For quite apart from the effect that Turkey itself will have on the existing member states, its accession would change the dynamics of other nations looking for a European future. Chief of these is the Ukraine whose Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was again this week announcing her intention to bang on Mr Sarkozy's door come July.

In fact, when it comes to European credentials the Ukraine has rather better claims than Turkey. It's capital, Kiev, is closer to Brussels, for instance, than Athens. Moreover, as anyone reading Heinrich Boell's - great anti-war novel ‘Der Zug war Punktlich,' can appreciate, Germany, Poland and the Ukraine are but stations on a journey into Europe's deep hinterland. The railway line is no doubt still there.

It is true to say that with its 55 million people the Ukraine is therefore the elephant on our European doorstep. Still, the policy is to resist giving any hint of promise of future membership. True, the country has much to reform before it could become a credible candidate. Nevertheless, it has as much right to lay claim to its place in the European firmament as anyone else. The banging on the door will become louder and more insistent. There will be other bangings, too; Georgia is already demanding to be heard. Belarus, Moldova, the other Caucasian nations may well follow suit.

No one can believe the Union can remain the same should these accessions take place. Again, they are not necessarily to be resisted. It may be in our interest that we should go ahead. But we should not sleepwalk toward a decision, finding out too late that we have no room left for manoeuvre.

For despite the frequency of the phrase, ‘Future of Europe,' and constant enjoinders to discuss it, a conspiracy of silence surrounds anything more remote than the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Only the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has raised the difficult questions about where the future borders of Europe should lie and what sort of Europe, in terms of its integration, competencies and governance, we are seeking. And short shrift he has got for his pains.

This is unfortunate, for the Future of Europe is the future of the next thirty or forty years.

I do not see how we can continue to espouse Turkey's candidacy and not that of the Ukraine. But this has consequences. If we are to have a grand Europe, a Europe of 42 states and 700 millions of people, it is not too early to start debating the prospect now.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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