Dr Helen Szamuely
As the bandwagon trundles on into another Copenhagen Summit that promises to be even more cantankerous than the previous two, one thing remains certain: in some form or another the European Union will proceed with the greatest enlargement in its relatively short history. Inevitably, there are arguments about whether it is a good thing or a bad (actually, not many people think it is a bad thing but some feel it is premature) and, equally inevitably, there are some not very intelligent comments being made by politicians and so-called experts. As ever, it is Romano Prodi who has summarised the kind of attitude that makes it difficult to understand what is actually going on. Pompously he has pronounced: “The objective of enlargement is too important to be compromised by last-minute inflexibility or short-sighted political interests." Quite so. But what is the objective of enlargement? To put it another way: what is it that is being enlarged?
A great deal of nonsense has been spoken about reuniting Europe, doing away with the Cold War divisions and so on. In fact, Europe has never in its long history been united. Parts of it were at various times and not for very long. It is not natural for Europe to be united. Those European values that are proclaimed by the leaders of the European Union have more to do with small, competing, often warring, more often uneasily allied units. Its very disunity has produced all those that we value: liberal tolerance, democracy, freedom and prosperity. It is the large, centralised, cumbersome, protectionist Asian empires that failed to produce any of the above until they started adopting some of the European ideas and adapting them to their own conditions. Now, just as the rest of the world has moved in that direction, Europe is abandoning its own heritage to create its own large cumbersome empire. The dinosaur has been reinvented.
Nor is it true that the invitation to join this cumbersome empire is what will get rid of the Cold War divisions. Those divisions disappeared as countries became open geographically, economically and politically. Of course, the former Communist states are Europeans. That has never been denied. Their readmittance into European history happened over ten years ago when they threw off the shackles of Communism. They do not need the acquis communautaire to prove that. On the other hand, they have progressed towards liberal democracy and an open economy unevenly and there is no point in pretending that is not so. Instead, we should be helping those who have not moved as fast as the others to catch up.
Will entering the European Union help the new applicants? What are they trying to achieve? Freedom and prosperity. Well, the European Union is not doing too well in either. Its economy is becoming more and more bogged down in protectionism and over-regulation; its democratic deficit is growing and it is using the post-September 11 situation to tighten up control over individuals. The so-called anti-terrorist legislation is more interested in imposing rules on ordinary citizens and centralising legal and police activity than in catching terrorists.
Enlargement to the east could have been a good opportunity for the European Union to re-think its own very inadequate internal arrangements. That opportunity has been lost. All we have is an ever-growing dinosaur of a political entity that may, geographically speaking be in Europe but is not in any way, of Europe.