European Affairs

Prodi on Europe     Print Email
Romano Prodi

President of the European Commission We are entering an era of genuinely exciting change in Europe and, indeed, in the European Commission. It is a new Commission and it is being redesigned for the 21st century. Many challenges lie ahead, not least the imminent enlargement of the European Union. The EU is set to expand from 15 to 25 or even 30 Member States over the next two to three decades. To people outside Europe, the scale and significance of this challenge is not immediately apparent. To many minds, the EU is just another free trade area, like Mercosur, or an intergovernmental organization like the OECD. If a few more countries join it, so what? The answer is that we are NOT just a free trade area or an intergovernmental organization. We are a group of sovereign states molded into a Union which is sui generis, and every time another country accedes, it creates a new "State of the Union," with huge implications on both sides.


The origins of the EU can be compared, in some ways, to the birth of the United States in the 18th century. But there are important differences. For one thing, we have not become a federal state like the US. Although the EU 's founding fathers and other European politicians of their generation may have spoken, or at least thought, in terms of a "United States of Europe," this is not necessarily the way our Member States see their destiny today. Indeed, some of them are completely opposed to any idea of creating a "European superstate" and to any further erosion of national sovereignty, as they see it.

The difference between Europe and the United States is that we are putting together different states that have a long history of sovereignty. Each has its own legal, administrative, and economic system. Each has its own culture, of which it is justly proud, and, of course, a language which serves as a distinguishing and patriotic flag for many countries - and, indeed, for many regions of Europe. We now have 11 official languages, and we will soon have 20. I think we need to keep all of them, because these differences are real roots of Europe.

What is more, the nations of Europe have a long and bloody history of conflict. Considering the way we have treated each other throughout the centuries, our progress along the road to unity over the last 50 years is nothing short of staggering. We have created a Single Market, and a single currency, for the first time in history. We have common institutions and a common legal system, including a European Court of Justice, which overlays the national systems and takes precedence over them. We are now introducing closer cooperation on justice and home affairs. This includes a common approach to asylum seekers, cross-border measures to combat international crime and terrorism, and mutual recognition of each other's judicial decisions. And we are moving towards a common foreign and defense policy.

Now we are preparing the biggest expansion in history. Five former Eastern Bloc countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia) plus Cyprus are already negotiating to join the EU. Negotiations are due to begin this year with a further five (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia) plus Malta.

It is simple to say that. But it is as if the United States were being enlarged to include Mexico and Central America. We are now 374 million people and the number will rise to 500 million. We are talking about a 30 percent enlargement of our population and 33 percent of our territory, but only eight or nine percent of our income. We have to make a fantastic effort because this will be the most important achievement yet for peace, stability, and fulfilling the old dreams of uniting Europe. It has been tried through wars, but it has never succeeded through democracy.

All candidate countries, including, in the future, I hope, Turkey, must meet the political and economic criteria established by the European Heads of State and Government at their Copenhagen Summit in 1993 before negotiations can begin.

They must have stable institutions, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the protection of minorities. They must also, of course, meet the economic criteria, but the economy is not the first priority. Many think that this is some kind of economic union, but the economy comes after the other criteria. The applicant countries have made great efforts to move in this direction, and it is clearly in our interest and in theirs to keep up the momentum. Some of my happiest moments after taking up my duties last autumn came when I analyzed the staggering progress the candidate countries have made in areas such as protecting minorities and the plurality of languages, and installing new legal systems.

We are really rushing to achieve this goal. The benefits for Central and Eastern Europe are extraordinary. Just being committed to democracy is a great achievement. Of course we must be open, very open, because if these countries lost heart and abandoned their struggle, their economies would start to diverge and progress toward democracy would stop. So, we must encourage them - be open to cooperate, to help and to set up a flexible, multi-speed accession process. Inside this wider framework, negotiations will be paced according to each candidate's individual economic and political progress. Each country will be judged on its own merits, at its own speed. But we have to work with all of them to help them achieve these goals.

We have committed ourselves to be ready to conclude our examination in 2002 and then to decide when the first country will be ready for accession. I am confident that the first country or group will enter very soon - I hope before I finish my mandate at the end of 2004. The enlargement process also has specific implications for the Balkan countries, because there can be no definitive solution to the Balkan problem without giving the Balkan countries a hope of one day belonging to the EU. This is the only way to solve this problem after seven to eight centuries of war, hate and tragedy.

We have started to talk about some sort of "virtual membership" for the Balkan countries. That would indicate that we are open to offering these countries real EU membership when they are ready. First, they must recognize each other's borders and set up a regional cooperation organization, with which the Commission would be associated. Within this structure, they must create a free trade zone leading to a customs union, and progressively they need to become more and more merged with the EU. I think this is the only instrument that we have for them to settle their differences and to converge into a peaceful structure.

This will be a very, very long process and we must look at where it will ultimately lead us. That is why I have asked the European Parliament to open a debate on the borders of Europe. Enlargement raises broader geopolitical questions about our relationship with other neighbors - such as Russia and Ukraine - with whom we want very close and constructive relations. We want to create a wider European area of peace, stability and prosperity. The current moment is not the easiest either for Ukraine or Russia, which are facing difficult political challenges. We must, on the one hand, be very helpful to Russia to demonstrate that we share a preoccupation for stability in Chechnya and the surrounding region, and that we think we have to improve our relations. But we are also very worried about the events that have been taking place in the area.

In the meantime, of course, the EU must address the institutional reforms needed to prepare itself for the future. We cannot run a 15-, 25- or 30-country Europe with institutions designed for six members. Unanimity, which is difficult to achieve with 15 Member States, will be virtually impossible with 25 or 30 members. We also need to reform the working of the Commission, streamline it and make its procedures more understandable. This is vital for us and for the people who trust in Europe.

Soon after I assumed my responsibilities, I visited President Clinton in Washington to stress the importance of having a strong political friendship with the United States. We are the world's most important partners in trade and investment, and I think the EU-US relationship is the cornerstone for future peace and development. We must continue stepping up our joint global actions. Together we must tackle many global problems, ranging from climate change to drug trafficking. There is no hope of solving these problems without a strong agreement between the EU and the United States. Together, we can also do much to develop democracy around the world.

During the recent economic crisis in Asia, the EU and the United States helped to avoid a wider, global crisis. We must also continue to share our burdens in other policy areas in the 21st century. We, in Europe, will do so through NATO, but also through the new European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) that was launched at the Cologne European Summit, which is not incompatible with NATO. We have to fight against any idea that this means separation or a clash between the EU and NATO.

Europe is spending two-thirds of the American defense budget and European defense budget, but our capacity for defense is said to be less than ten percent that of the United States. I think it is in our common interest that we do something about that. For many years, the United States has rightly been asking Europe to take more responsibility for its own security and for regional and global security. This is what we are trying to do now. We are developing European defense capabilities and I think this is especially necessary on those occasions when the United States does not wish to become involved.

I had some experience with the small, but important European mission in Albania. It was a tragic moment. The country was collapsing; there was no institution to help and, of course, the United States was not directly involved. I toured Europe to organize a "coalition of the willing" and it went well, but I do not think this is the way we can run this type of crisis in the long run.

Europe's determination to play a more active role must not be seen by the United States as a threat but as an asset, because we share the same values and wish to share the same burdens. I am particularly worried about the rise of nationalism, even in Europe. I am very grateful for the contribution that many young Americans have made during this century to help Europe fight against nationalism. I hope that this special relationship will go on in spite of occasional disputes and disagreements that we have had in recent years. Let us try to do better at spotting trouble ahead and taking appropriate action.

We must continue to liberalize world trade in a way that offers benefits to all WTO members - not only to the wealthy nations - to project the idea that protectionism does not pay. We must offer the developing regions of the world easier access to our markets. We must send the message that globalization does not hurt poor countries, but benefits them. This is our moral obligation, because Europe and the United States together make up two-thirds of world trade.

We have to clarify problems that are obstacles to trade between us with goodwill. We need to put on the table the problems that are difficult to solve now, in order to prepare a way they can be solved in the future. On the European side, for instance, sensitivities are very deep on the use of genetically modified organisms in food. We must give consumers guarantees that they will be protected, so as to open the way for new Transatlantic cooperation in the future. That is why I have promised to publish a policy paper on food safety and to establish an independent body, similar to the US Food and Drug Administration, so as to regain consumer confidence in the scientific foundations on which decisions are based.

In the end, I think that what we are doing to tackle our main problems will also benefit the United States. Enlargement will help a lot with the already strong relations the United States has with the Central and Eastern European countries. We both shall benefit from the stability of an enlarged Europe. I think that we will add a chapter to history if we are able to accomplish this enlargement, if we are able to build a unified and democratic Europe, founded on human rights and the rule of law. We have never had this before.

As we face this enormous challenge, we must not be afraid if we make some mistakes, if we sometimes stop, or take steps backward. I assure you that I am looking at this journey with real confidence, real optimism and also with a real personal interest. Since I started this new job, I have had a new problem every day. Most of these problems are completely unforeseen. You do not know where or when you will arrive, but you know that the direction of your path is good. We have the moral and political obligation to follow this new trend in history. I hope that we shall be forgiven if we are slow in getting there. But the challenge, although not easy, is truly worthwhile.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number I in the Winter of 2000.