Greece’s challenges in the new Europe

Two years after the Berlin Wall fell, Samuel Huntington’s famous article in the magazine Foreign Affairs about a «clash of civilizations» drew an imaginary line from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean, with the rationalist West, democracy and free market on the one side and the mysterious East with its religious fundamentalism and ethnic conflicts on the other. Huntington saw Orthodox Greece as falling right on the borderline of the two supposedly incompatible worlds, divided, one might say, between its Byzantine past and its (Western) European future. The EU’s impressive «big bang» declared last week in Copenhagen sent Huntington’s political metaphysics once and for all into the museum of dead doctrines that have not stood the test of history. Not even the stiff bargaining over funding for the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe, nor the pressure brought to bear by the US over Turkey’s candidacy, or the pending Cyprus issue could halt the strong current which, despite the many obstacles, hesitations and backtracking, is carrying Europe toward further unification. The Western Europe of 15 member states has given way to the enlarged Europe of 27, pushing the EU’s border eastward from the Oder-Neisse to an arc linking St Petersburg with the Black Sea. As Greece’s takes over the EU presidency for the first half of 2003, it will ratify the Copenhagen agreement with the official signing of the enlargement pact next April, although the 10 new members will have to wait until May 1, 2004 (and Bulgaria and Romania until 2007) before becoming full members. Apart from the symbolism of the geographic enlargement, it will bring about major qualitative changes in the entire architecture of the EU, primarily at the economic level. It is true that in absolute terms, the 12 new members will be economically weaker than the 15 original members. The fact remains, however, that the members from the former socialist bloc represent a promising economic hinterland for Europe’s powerful economies, mainly because of a work force that is highly educated and yet much cheaper than that in Western Europe. The new El Dorado of the East will chiefly benefit Germany, which laid the foundations for an eastward expansion way back during Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. On another scale, Greece is expecting to benefit from the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, which will involve a tidying up of the post-Communist administrative chaos and an improvement in infrastructures. The enlargement means that for the first time, Greece will acquire a land border with the rest of the EU, something which is obviously of economic (but not only) importance for its northern provinces of Macedonia and Thrace. At the same time, after the Copenhagen agreement the agenda will move on to the next wave of enlargement, to include those arising from the former Yugoslavia, bringing closure to the issues left over from the various ethnic and NATO wars of the 1990s. Greece will act as a stepping stone for these countries moving toward Europe, strengthening its own ambitions of playing a leading role in the Balkans. Another issue of major interest to Greece is the unavoidable upgrading of the «Third Pillar» of European unification, concerning issues of justice, security, illegal immigration and the safeguarding of the EU’s external borders. These meant one thing when these borders separated Germany from Poland, but have a different meaning now that the EU reaches toward Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East. There is a real danger that xenophobic tendencies will create a «fortress Europe.» Nevertheless, the Greek presidency has obvious reasons to want to fortify the EU’s external borders – naturally within the bounds of international law – and to demand considerable economic support for implementing an EU policy against organized crime. The same applies, even to a greater degree, to the Republic of Cyprus. Climate of uncertainty On the other hand, as the French daily Le Monde pointed out recently, enlargement is ushering in a time of great uncertainty and serious dilemmas for the EU. The first uncertainty lies in the lengthy process of ratification of the Copenhagen agreement by the 27 member states, many of which are constitutionally obliged to hold referendums. The negative results in Denmark and Ireland are a reminder that this is not a formality, particularly since the candidate countries in Eastern Europe, above all Poland, have serious cause to object to the less than generous stance of the powerful members and the brutal way in which the Danish prime minister declared there was no more money, take it or leave it. For 2004-2006, the 15 current member states will be making only 0.1 percent of their GDP available for the candidate countries, the equivalent of 25 euros per inhabitant per year. So Eastern Europeans are justified in feeling like second-class European citizens. These countries suffered huge economic and social problems after the fall of the socialist regimes. Even in Slovenia, often set up as having made an exemplary transition to a free market, needed seven years to restore its GDP to the 1990 level. Even worse, the workers and farmers in these countries were subjected to harsh austerity measures for a decade in order to qualify for EU entry. This now seems as if it was a lot of effort for very little, at least from the purely economic point of view. At the political level, the major outstanding issue that will have to be dealt with is the EU’s institutional reform, now being discussed by Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s Convention on the Future of Europe. It is common knowledge that without a radical review of the decision-making process, which was designed for the original six-member European Economic Community, the new 27-member Union will not be able to make any decision, even on the most basic issues of administration, let alone crucial foreign policy and defence matters. How can the desire of the French and Germans to go beyond a purely common market toward a liberation from the US on political and later defense issues reconcile the very different views held by traditional Atlanticists (such as Britain and the Netherlands) and by the countries with a long tradition of neutrality (Finland, Sweden, Ireland)? The only realistic response to this appears to be for a multispeed Europe, giving «pioneering» countries the chance to move ahead toward a closer union, and the more hesitant the chance to restrict themselves to what is basically an economic cooperative. All these issues raise the problem of Europe’s future political course, that is its relations with the US. The crisis in Iraq will be the touchstone of Europe’s ability to play an autonomous role for peace and stability in the broader region of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, it is very likely that the EU’s Greek presidency will have to deal with the huge burden of representing a politically divided Europe in a second «Desert Storm,» this time with the US against Iraq, an onerous task it will be unable to avoid.