Thursday, 24 July 2008

Romanian foreign minister: "Continue enlargement!"

The Berlin-based newspaper "Tagesspiegel" has published an interview with the Romanian foreign minister Lazar Comanescu (in office since April).

While the four first questions concern the recent discussion about the EU-Commission report on Romania (and Bulgaria), with answers that are not too much news compared with what you can read everywhere else, and the fifth question is dedicated to the Romanian schedule to the Schengen area (mid-2011) and Eurozone (around 2014), I would like to translate the last question & answer of the interview:
Interviewer: French president Sarkozy and [German] chancellor Merkel have threatened to stop the enlargement process after the Irish "No" to the EU Reform Treaty. What do you think about it?

Lazar: Why is the EU so interesting for numerous states all over the world? Because in the past it has proved its ability to keep its promises. The EU has to stand by its promises also in the future - and this includes the enlargement process.
While some of you might doubt whether the European Union has always proved that it keeps its promises, the answer of Lazar is a double reminder:

First, that for Centre-East and East European countries the enlargement process is much more important than it is for some older member states, not least for France and Germany. And second, that even if the European Union seems stuck in this not-so-unexpected Irish "No!"-vote there is a life inside and outside the EU that keeps on going on, and that a more and more self-referential European Union will become less credible to the outside world.

And in this sense Lazar is right: A certain kind of credibility has been the attraction of the EU and, beside its economic strength, part of its regional (and maybe global) power. Anti-enlargement statements might be institutionally understandable, but politically they put in question the vision of the original project that sometimes seems to be lost between power games and bureaucratic argy-bargy.

3 comments: said...

Agree. At least theoretically, the EU should keep future enlargement as an option. From it, Brussels derives tremendous "soft power," and ought to take care not to loose it.

Having said that, the "enlargement fatigue" cannot be ignored. Doing so now risks greater problems in the future - including a proportionately larger backlash.

Anonymous said...

I agree when you signal the dangers of an inward-looking, institutionnally obsessed Europe. Enlargement has probably been the EU's most effective foreign policy tool.
It has however been twisted somewhat by the way the 2004 enlargement got worked out as a "lump package" of 10+2 states. The idea of enlargement, still professed officially and still at work as Karadzic's arrest shows is: reform and become democracies first, join the club after.
But as the Commission report on Romania&Bulgaria shows, this logic has been jettissoned for the Council of Europe approach of "join when you're half ready, and inside the club peer-pressure will do the rest". I'm not sure once inside the pressure remains as high.
The Irish "no"(or the French and Dutch "noes") show that in fact, once inside, doing what you're told by "Brussels" doesn't seem that appealing.
I'm not saying that it should be, just that exerting strong "soft power" in actually easier before enlargement that after.

Julien Frisch said...

I agree with both of you. The post-2004 developments should not be ignored, and I suppose that everyone within the Union is aware of this fact.

However, the "enlargement fatigue" in Western Europe seems to become a very conservative (= status quo oriented) drive that also turns back to institutional issues:

If you say that the EU should enlarge, you do not really need to foster institutional reforms. Yet, the European Union needs institutional reforms in order to make it more accountable to the citizens, the member states and to itself.

And without the European vision, those reforms will not happen and without the reform there is not even a slightly realistic chance for enlargement, which will also slow down democratic and institutional reforms in those countries aspiring membership.

Besides, anonymous, since you mention the Council of Europe: From my point of view, the EU could use the Council of Europe much more than it does today. Within the Council of Europe, states from within the Union and from without are sitting together on a rather equal level and within this forum old, new, and possible future EU members could work on the problems that they face, especially concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Yet, Brussels would have to make full usage of the Strasbourg institution.