The Enlargement Of The European Union

Dr Caroline Jackson MEP, on 15 March 2002

Dr Jackson has been a MEP since 1984, and, since 1999 has represented the South West of England constituency. She is Chair of the EU Committee on the Environment and on Public Health.

The speaker reviewed the enlargement of the Union and then discussed three issues: the Constitution, the Common Agricultural Policy, and the Environment.

Enlargement

Ten countries have applied to join the existing fifteen in the European Union, three others from the Balkans are likely to do so at a later date, and it is possible applications will be made by the Ukraine and Moldava eventually. The growth of the Community and Union from the original six members (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Italy) occurred with the addition of the UK, Ireland and Denmark in 1973; Greece in 1982; Spain and Portugal in 1986, and Austria, Finland and Sweden in the 90s.

The ten current applicants (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia) are the largest batch to apply and also poor: they will add 23 % to the land area, 20% to the population and 4% to the Gross National Product. Turkey has applied but is not being considered at present and it is likely that Bulgaria and Romania will apply when their economies are stronger. The number applying at once surprised the existing members, who expected a gradual accession, and created problems; it is going to transform the Union and how it works. The present population has grown up with a Europe that was split in half, but pre-1939 it was an entity, and this enlargement will restore that.

The applicant countries have some doubts about joining. Many, mostly older, people in the east yearn for the certainties of the Soviet era; the younger mostly want western products and attitudes. The farmers in Poland are worried about the CAP; the Czechs about German property in the Sudetenland confiscated in 1945 being returned or bought back; and, in the west, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Greece are likely to lose some of the advantages they have gained over other members.

The Constitution

The Nice Summit produced a treaty that set out the procedures and organisation for the enlarged Union, but then it could not be ratified because the Irish rejected it in a referendum. It seems that some members would like to modify some of the items agreed at Nice and may take this opportunity to propose doing so, before another Irish referendum is held. The current meeting at Barcelona, now in progress, will have to decide whether to amend the Nice treaty and what to do if the Irish reject it again.

The Nice Treaty decided, amongst other details, that there would be only one Commissioner for each country (many now have two; if the UK only has one in future who selects him/her?) The number of MEPs (732 instead of 626, with the UK having 72 instead of 87) was decided. Qualified majority voting was re-weighted and a rule brought in that the majority must represent 62% of the population of Europe, to prevent small countries dominating decisions. At Nice the national veto was eliminated in 23 areas, e.g. of the EU President, and there are not many important areas left, but taxation is one, and the subject is sensitive.

The key question is `What should we do in common? Have we got it right now?' The Common Market and Environment are accepted but what else should be done in common? Foreign policy? (e.g. about Zimbabwe the EU acted where individual countries would not).

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Poland has one-fifth of its working population employed on the land, mostly on very small land holdings. Until 2006 the EU budget will be financed as in previous years (from VAT, agricultural levies and percentage of GDP), and there is no willingness to be generous to new members. Direct payment to producers will be a percentage of what is given to western farmers - 25% in 2004, 30% in 2005, 35% in 2006, 100% by 2013 if the next budget provides that amount. There will be area payments and quotas assigned, probably too small. Control on health regulations will be increased. Western farmers will also be greatly affected by changes; national policies are unlikely to replace Union-wide ones.

The Environment

There is much legislation on environmental subjects from the EU. The Water Framework directive amalgamates many on water quality; air pollution and waste management are major topics. The cost and difficulty of complying with them has been under-estimated in the west and the east has the same problems but less resources to deal with them and old industrial plant which has been abandoned. They have to have `derogations' allowing them to delay implementation.

Western companies are interested in investing in eastern countries to help them overcome these problems as they see them as future markets, and Germany is leading the way.

How will legislation be enforced in the enlarged Union? The Union has weak methods of enforcement. But if the Council of Ministers met publicly when they are adopting legislation the Ministers would be careful to agree to what they could get accepted in their countries.

The enlargement means the new members will have to improve by 30 years in ten. They will need a lot of help and investment, most of which at present is coming from Germany and France. Money will have to be provided from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development.

It is going to be a difficult enlargement but it is inevitable in spite of a lot of posturing. Have we seen the end of the first Act of the EU and will it develop differently in Act Two? It has an ageing population and the danger is it will become less and less competitive.

Discussion

The first question raised the position of fishing and farming in the S.W. after enlargement. The problem is chiefly the over-fishing of stocks; regional control in fishing areas may be the answer. The Polish fishing fleet is large and fishes world-wide. Farming will be more affected by changes in the CAP and the attitude of the UK Government than by enlargement.

Do the eastern states know what is going to hit them - VAT, German imports?; will they be given a choice? They will have referendums. The question is `where else could they go? They have been `frozen in aspic' since 1945 and will have to accept big changes like our coal miners, steelworkers and fishermen.

A farmer, who is below the poverty line on income now, wondered how he could cope with low price imports from the east. A Polish farm worker is paid £7 per week; an English one, £10 per hour. He suggested we leave the EU. The way in which the EU has developed has been determined by very few people at the top without asking anyone else. Leaving the EU will not happen; how did we get into this position? It is the institutional structure and our late membership. The CAP and the EU budget would not have been the same if we had been in from the beginning. Open meetings of the Council of Ministers and an understandable structure are required but are we trying to do too much, e.g. the Rapid Reaction Force, foreign policy. The parts that work are the Common Market and the Environment.

Why is enlargement a good idea? It may put additional strain on the governing system. The main argument in favour is that they want to join, and what is the alternative - remain individual states or join together, but they had Comecon and it didn't work.

There is a problem looming with pensions. The proposal by the Spanish may be a `kite-flying'.

Are the aspirant countries being told that the price is loss of sovereignty? Perhaps they are not interested in sovereignty, but they have a strong sense of their own nationality. They have not had any for 45 years; they want freedom and prosperity.

Free movement of people from the new member states will be restricted for 7 years.

Whether Turkey should join is very difficult. It is Islamic, the population is very young and large (greater than Germany and France together). It is a member of NATO and a European country. Turkey is a bridge to Muslim countries and could be an advantage.

Does the EU have a view on the General Agreement on Trade & Services? The Commission wants liberalisation but progress is slow and France makes difficulties.

Negotiations are in hand before referendums have been held. Should they have two referendums -before and after negotiations? All the political parties in the applicant states were in favour of negotiations.

How much is enlargement going to cost us? The EU budget is £70bn., half goes to the CAP, and the amount allocated for the applicants is limited. We get an extra market of 70 - 80 million people and UK exports to them are reasonable.

The Committee of the Regions (and the Social & Economic Committee) should be abolished and replaced by county-size units.

When will ageism be outlawed by EU? The retirement age will have to rise.

The eastern countries have a much better technical educational system and this provides competition for our students in engineering jobs in the UK.

The UK lost its sovereignty in 1944 when US white stars were put on British Army vehicles.

Donald Lovell