Maxi-expansion, mini-Europe

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s scathing remarks over the new British proposals to end the EU’s 2007-2013 budget, calling them «unacceptable» and «a budget for a mini-Europe,» were totally justified. Blair’s package effectively promotes the economic interests of a narrow rich club while eating into the social cohesion programs of smaller nations, particularly eastern newcomers, trimming their subsidies by 10 percent. But Barroso cannot or does not want to dig to the heart of the matter: Mini-Europe is not the outgrowth of Britain’s national egotism but of a «maxi-enlargement» strategy. Eastward expansion has from the very start served a very specific political philosophy about Europe’s future. It has allowed big western firms to transfer their activities to countries with highly specialized yet relatively cheap labor as well as slacker environmental standards. At the same time, the traditionally anti-German and anti-Russian so-called «new Europe» has strengthened the Atlanticist hand within the EU while undermining the integration forces – a trend manifested during the Iraq crisis. The constitutional debacles in France and the Netherlands echoed popular disappointment with a Europe that is «maxi» in geographical terms but «mini» in social and political ones. Blair’s proposals were a cold shower for the post-communist regimes that expected to reap the rewards of their alignment with a neo-liberal and Atlanticist agenda. The rich club rather sees them as a European Latin America, which risks fueling euroskepticism and nationalism in their societies. The question, of course, is why Europe, already strained by the latest wave of enlargement, is now bracing to take in Bulgaria, Romania and, most crucially, Turkey? In any case, after the constitutional rejection and budget row, the question of EU «deepening» has gained new intensity.