Enlargement, the EU’s greatest challenge

For Greece’s European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, the enlargement of the European Union is its greatest institutional challenge. In this interview with Kathimerini, Diamantopoulou said it is, in fact, the greatest challenge in the EU’s history, with the addition of 10 new countries and 75 million people. The commissioner draws attention to the fact that these new members will be poorer, with a prosperity level of just 45 percent of the EU average. Their entry into the EU will of necessity bring about great changes in the Common Agricultural Policy and the functioning of the structural funds. She says that EU resources will be transferred to these new countries but hopes that even after 2006, Greece will be able to ask for funds for its poorer regions. Also important, in her opinion, is the language problem; she suggests that the Greek government adopt English as its second official language. Diamantopoulou recognizes the importance of the EU’s involvement in the Cyprus question and believes Turkey will have to answer to Europe if it carries out its threat to annex the northern sector of the island. The EU, she believes, does not have the flexibility to respond decisively to economic and political crises because its organs do not have the necessary political legitimacy. Therefore she is in favor of a federation and would like to see a wider debate, at EU and at national level. Because of the war in Afghanistan, recent decisions for the enlargement of the European Union have not received much attention. How do you evaluate that? This is the biggest enlargement in the history of the European Union. In Greece, we have limited our interest to the accession of Cyprus and the no to Turkey, but the event has greater implications than simply those of obvious Greek interest. First of all, it is not simply that another 10 countries are joining, but 75 million people with eight new languages – advantages such as a larger market, but also many problems. We should not ignore the fact that most of these countries have a growth rate that is just 45 percent of the average EU rate. Before we get into the specifics of this enlargement, has it been decided that it will begin in 2003? A long, busy period of preparation for enlargement is beginning which will culminate in a marathon of negotiations during the Greek presidency in 2003, and the ratification of enlargement by the member states’ parliaments. This will not be a simple process but involves challenges and perhaps several surprises. The list of candidate countries consists of Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Bulgaria and Romania satisfy the political criteria but are still way behind on other counts. Turkey has also been judged as not satisfying the acquis communautaire. As I said, this will not be an easy process. Ireland, for example, has not ratified the enlargement and will have to re-examine the issue. I think that in 2004 we will know just which countries will enter the EU and which will participate in the European Parliament elections that year. There is the impression that Cyprus is the biggest obstacle in the enlargement process. Do you agree? This is a mistaken impression. I think that the accession of Poland is the biggest problem and not Cyprus, as the Germans have made no secret of their interest and can block the entire enlargement process if Poland’s accession is not a priority. Poland is the largest candidate country with a population of 40 million, with 2 million farmers. Therefore, it raises the question of reviewing the Common Agricultural Policy and the structural funds. Poland is the country which makes changes to EU farming policy more urgent. Recent decisions at the meeting in Doha, Qatar, on world trade and the status of EU farm subsidies also touch on these issues. That is true, but Poland brings these closer and with greater urgency. The accession of Poland will bring many changes and we have a lot to negotiate. Some people say that Greece will have the chance to absorb considerable EU resources even after 2006, although this is not in line with enlargement policy or with meeting the needs of many of the new member states. Can Greece hope for a fourth Community Support Framework? First of all, we have to clarify that EU resources will not increase along with enlargement. Obviously, they will be weighted in favor of the new countries which, as we said before, are poorer and have greater needs. In order for there to be a balance between old and new member states, we in the European Commission are examining a mechanism for distributing resources on a regional basis. Regions that have not achieved convergence with the EU average will continue to apply for resources even after enlargement. For example, if we consider Epirus to be the poorest Greek region, it will be able to apply for resources after 2006, though Attica will not. So, Greece will be able to look forward to additional funds even after 2006? Under certain conditions, yes, but only for poor regions and perhaps for specific activities, such as transport or human resources development. Naturally we are talking about less money than before. At this stage, nevertheless, Europe is dealing with an economic slowdown. Don’t you feel that the response to pressing economic problems is too slow? Forecasts are no doubt dim. Estimates soon to be released are not pleasant and everyone is expecting a decline in economic activity and an increase in unemployment in Europe. In 2002, the estimate is for 2 million jobs to be lost. In general, I believe that the European economy, apart from a recession, is also dealing with structural weaknesses which will continue even during the upward swing in the economic cycle. First of all, it is behind the USA with regard to technology. It is losing a great deal from the low level of investment in new technology. It is also behind the USA in the financial sector and all European countries are carrying social security bombs in their baggage. What you have referred to comprises Europe’s so-called structural weakness but you have not answered the question. For example, the standstill on the question of airlines. The USA responded rapidly, by choosing to provide state support without thinking twice. Europe is still talking about it, if not to say that it has refused to offer support as it does not accept the substance of the problem. You are quite right. We are behind on dealing with this question. We already know that 30,000 people have lost their jobs in European airlines, we see the problem, but there is no adaptation to the new conditions. The European Union has done nothing about the problem, it has not used the tool of state support, perhaps it was not able to, as the tools don’t exist in the form of legal organs that can take such decisions. Is it merely a question of organs or is it just dogma? The European Union is often dogmatic and appears to be stuck in its own neo-liberal gospel, when the homeland of neo-liberalism is displaying great flexibility. But I maintain that in Europe there are no mechanisms with a strong authority to impose such decisions. Perhaps Greece, which will hold the rotating EU presidency for an entire year, will be able to propose new tools. I think that you are touching on the broader issue of the EU’s political structure. European federation is the greatest challenge, but it is moving very slowly. At the summit in Laaken, in Belgium, it is precisely the future of Europe that will be discussed, along with the framework for it. The first thing that I think has to be overcome is precisely that elitist approach to a federal Europe. The question is only of interest today to a narrow elite and if it remains within those limits it will never happen. If Europeans do not recognize the need for a federation, it will not go ahead. Because what is needed is a broad debate, a general dialogue within political parties and society in general. I imagine that most people are unwilling to discuss it, since a federation means giving up national authorities and obviously such discussions are not easy. Of course a federation cannot exist without an institutional framework. We are talking about very specific things. In the market and the economy, major steps have been taken and the coming of the euro will be an even greater one. In these sectors, we have been able to find ways to achieve the goals. Because of recent events, significant steps are being taken regarding the question of security, law and legislation, but there has been absolutely no progress in foreign policy and defense, sectors where you cannot take decisions based only on political will. The development of Europe into a federation cannot occur unless it is given legitimacy by its peoples. That is why I believe that first and foremost there should be a debate at a national level. As you describe it, I feel you imagine a European government elected by all Europeans, with pan-European federal elections, as in the USA. Is that what you have in mind? If so, do you believe that this could be achieved in Europe? What you are saying is extremely premature. I can tell you in all confidence that a federation cannot exist without institutions and organizations with political legitimacy that express people’s sovereignty. I can say, however, that we are moving in the direction of such a formation. That is why I insist on a national debate on this. English as a second official language You referred to the problem of multiple languages. Europe is already described as a modern Tower of Babel. How much worse will the problem become with enlargement? It’s hard to say exactly, but it is a major problem. After enlargement takes place we will be talking over 20 different languages. It is hard to imagine simultaneous translation into 20-22 languages. The question is likely to come up soon and everyone is avoiding it. I have to say that Greece should get in early and make English its second official language. I say that without taking into account all those who will immediately fear the loss of our cultural heritage and ethnic identity. I don’t think that Greeks have anything to lose by learning to speak English as well as Greek. Cyprus ‘will join as a whole’ Will Cyprus join the EU? Cyprus is at the top of the list on all criteria and I can say that for the first time the political question will not play a role, although we hope that accession to the EU will solve that problem. On December 6 and 7, I will be in Cyprus and the European Commission has organized a meeting on the Green Line of all women’s organizations, both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot, and from EU member states, to discuss joint funding mechanisms and programs. We hope to have a broad representation and we are waiting to see whether (Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf) Denktash will allow them to come. Europe might truly be able to deal with Cyprus’s accession as a single, united country, but Ankara is making outright threats. What does the Commission make of these threats? Cyprus will join as a whole. Ankara, of course, is threatening to annex the occupied sector, precisely in order to obstruct the accession process. The European Union has make it clear to Turkey that these threats are unacceptable. In effect, Turkey is threatening the EU. If it carries out its threat, any discussion between the EU and Turkey will stop. The landscape has changed and I can say that the long-term strategy on the Cyprus issue is bearing fruit.

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