Friday, 10 November 2000

EU`s Hard Choices

The Malta Independent

EU`s Hard Choices

This week`s annual assessment issued by the EU Commission on the progress made by EU candidate countries lavishes praise on the preparations most countries, Malta included, have made for membership at the forthcoming enlargement.

It has also increased the gap between the rhetoric of the Commission that keeps pressing for early enlargement and the reality of the Council that continues to send negative signals regarding the possibility of fixing a date for the enlargement.

This represents the enlargement dilemma facing EU leaders. The political wish to extend the peace and stability of the 15 member states eastwards to the 10 applicant countries is undoubted. Malta and Cyprus are not real priority for enlargement though from the EU point of view they can get in with the rest to gain strategic footholds in the Mediterranean.` Turkey remains a distant possibility.

But the political objective to get the eastern countries under the EU wing is coming in direct clash with the economic realities of who is going to pay for the cost of enlargement. The Commission, unelected and unaccountable to any electorate, presses on the political argument. The Council, composed of Heads of States sensitive to their popularity among their home electorate to whom they owe their mandate, gets increasingly wary of taking decisions which will continue to detach them from their people.

Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia , Malta and Cyprus could theoretically be ready for membership by 2003 though Cyprus has the territorial issue yet to be resolved. But could there really be an enlargement without Poland, which embodies the main political scope for enlargement from Germany`s viewpoint` And if Poland is to be there who is going to pay for the massive demands Poland would make for funding the restructuring of its agricultural sector`

Popular support for enlargement is dwindling in all EU countries.` It is at its lowest in France at 26%. In Germany it is below the EU average at 34%. Can the leaders of the two main EU states continue to lead the IGC towards its conclusion at Nice in less than 4 weeks in a manner which puts them so much out of touch with the views of electorates in their home states`

The summer uttering of the French and German leaders for a more thorough review of the EU Treaties before enlargement beyond what is on the agenda at Nice cannot be disregarded.

It embodies a stark choice. Should enlargement continue to be driven by an ever more powerful Commission searching `an ever closer union`, despite the suspicion of the citizens who despise the power assumed by a Commission outside their electoral control` Or is enlargement going to be a enlargement of the people through their own elected representatives` An enlargement where the sovereignty of member states is fully respected by effective principles of subsidiarity beyond the lip-service currently given to such principle by the Commission.

As Nice approaches it is becoming increasingly clear that the EU has allowed the Commission to drive the enlargement process in a way which is not acceptable to most citizens of member states.` Heads of states can only disregard this at their peril not least because in many member states the treaties have to be approved by national referenda or by vote sensitive parliamentary assemblies.

The Commission will argue that it is now too late to stop the integrating forces of `an ever closer union`. But the Union must have its foundations built on the consent of its citizens otherwise its institutions built on shallow consent foundations risk toppling.

The EU needs to re-invent itself before it enlarges and this process is unlikely to be finished at Nice. For these reasons it is bad for Malta to uphold unconditional membership as much as it is bad to exclude it definitively before it is possible to judge how much sovereignty the member state will be allowed to preserve under a re-invented EU.

Alfred Mifsud

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