OPINION

Challenges ahead

On May 1, the European Union opened its doors to 10 new members from central Europe, the Baltic and the Mediterranean, embarking on its fifth and biggest enlargement in the history of the bloc. The newcomers – most of them small, poor states that were formerly satellites of the Soviet Union – represent, in terms of geography and population, the most ambitious wave of expansion. With 25 countries on board, the dream of a Europe stretching from Gibraltar to the Urals and from the northern Arctic Circle to the African coast is becoming a reality, setting an example for many regions across the globe. This is the world’s biggest unification experiment and a great challenge. A group of countries that were once torn by relentless strife and bloody wars are now treading on the same path. This is of great importance to Greece not only because Cyprus is joining the Union, but also because the latest wave of expansion foreshadows the next one, which is set to include the countries of the Balkans and reinforce Turkey’s European orientation. Such an enlargement will establish the conditions for peaceful coexistence across our region of interest, encouraging all these states to live next to each other in peace, and giving Athens an opportunity to get in the front seat. However, on top of these obvious challenges, there is also a string of others that we must meet. Complacency is our worst foe. The economies of the newcomers are weak, but their momentum is strong. As a result of their long repression, these societies are now thirsty for progress and prosperity. Many of them possess a skilled and disciplined population that has been influenced and enjoys longstanding ties with Europe. These people will have no problem joining the competitive environment in a Europe of 25 members. They will soon be able to reveal strengths and qualities that will render them competitive – in fact our own share in the bloc is under threat. Greece cannot afford to relax any longer. It must mobilize and escape the languid, oriental pace at which it proceeds. Greece must win the wager of development and competitiveness and must preserve the advantage it won due to its early accession (achieved thanks to the efforts of the late conservative statesman Constantine Karamanlis) to the EEC and of its subsequent membership of the eurozone. The shortcomings of the previous administration, a result of our resting on the EMU laurels, must be remedied as soon as possible. Greece must do everything to maintain its advantage, at least in the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean.