Wed, May 28, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Europe's secular mission

The EU's expansion is based on values that should resonate powerfully in a world riven by religious intolerance

By Michel Rocard

Economics and politics have been uneasy allies in the process of European unification. From the moment Europe's coal and steel industries were merged in an effort to prevent future wars on the continent, the "European project" has often relied on economic interests to propel itself forward. Now, however, new members mostly join for political and geo-strategic reasons. This change in motivation requires changes in how the union thinks about itself, changes that go beyond the ideas now circulating at the convention drawing up an EU Constitution.

Of course, the economic prosperity that European unification has delivered undoubtedly lures new members, but the EU's attraction extends far beyond pocketbook issues. For the union is also a huge area ruled by law, some concerning production and commercial exchange, but also others that establish and protect individual rights.

Because of this, the EU's neighbors have felt magnetically attracted to this area of peace and prosperity. The first enlargement, in 1973, brought in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, and was based mostly on economic considerations. But all successive waves of enlargement were motivated mostly, if not exclusively, by political factors.

Greece provides a good example. After the dictatorship of the colonels, Greece sought international rehabilitation through membership in the European Community, whose imprimatur in turn helped to consolidate the fragile new democratic regime. The modernizing transformation now taking place in Greece owes much to the country's EU membership.

Much the same is true for Spain and Portugal. Rejected while they were still fascist dictatorships, their candidacies were accepted when their regimes changed. As with Greece, democratic consolidation was at stake. Indeed, from the economic point of view, entry into Europe, and having to compete with the powerful economies of Germany or France, was risky, but it was a necessary condition for securing their democracies.

The inclusion of the next three next countries -- Sweden, Finland and Austria -- posed fewer economic problems. They sought membership mostly for geostrategic reasons: to consolidate their security. Neutrality prevented them from becoming candidates so long as the Soviet Union existed. Once the Soviet Union's demise made it possible, they joined.

The motivation of the candidates who will join next year is analogous. Only Malta is a case in which the major interest in membership -- access to the great common market -- is economic. For Cyprus, membership is, above all, a means to unblock the stalemate between the island's Turkish and Greek communities. As for the eight countries recently freed from Soviet domination, their priority is democratic consolidation. The three Baltic states and Slovenia also want to entrench their recently revived national identities.

To be sure, the EU's potential to induce economic dynamism, best seen in Ireland and Greece, attracts new members. But the Iraq crisis provided East European countries with an opportunity to confirm the absolute priority they place on strategic stability, which is why they put relations with the US ahead of worries about European political solidarity.

So the following question arises. Although it is logical that all Europeans want to give a strong institutional basis to Europe's definitive and everlasting peace, and that we pragmatically unite our markets, these imperatives are insufficient to energize a union with 25 members. A deeper shared purpose is needed.

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