Blog AnalysisNeighborhood enlargement

Five years later. Enlargement towards the East: the real wealth for the EU?

(BRUXELLES2 / Ouest-france.fr) Ignored by some, feared by others, the enlargement to the countries of Central Europe, ex-communists, was not the announced apocalypse. On the contrary…

Certainly in these countries, the standards of living are still different. And the risks of a certain fiscal or social “dumping” exist. But the economic evolution is rapid. And the catch-up effect is visible. In five years, the gap between the standards of living in the West and the East tends to decrease. The number of relocations from West to East has been limited. And the immigration movement is subject to a pendulum swing. Polish “plumbers” and Slovak “doctors” returned home, following the same process as their Spanish or Portuguese counterparts twenty years earlier. To say that these countries threaten the balance of the Community is therefore an exaggeration.

Certainly the question of number and translation remains a permanent puzzle. Going from 11 to 23 official languages ​​is no easy feat. Likewise, holding meetings of 27 people loses a lot of conviviality. At a rate of a few minutes per person, a simple round of the table takes an hour and a half! But politically, Europe has not slowed down its pace of integration. The time limit for adopting a European text has not increased. On the contrary, as the number implies greater discipline, experts have noted that the number of agreements in “first reading” has increased. In short, Europe is not functioning any worse…

At the political level, the ten new Member States have blended into the landscape. Little by little, they discovered the intricacies and mysteries of the community game. And, like all other, older states, they know that to defend their interests, you need to have allies, preferably “big ones”. There is thus no longer such a compact block of the “New” against the “Old”.

But positions that obey a geographical position and an economic situation. Slovenia is very close to Austria in its environmental concerns; Poland and Romania defend the common agricultural policy like France; the Czechs show themselves to be ardent liberalizers of the market, like the British, while the Hungarians are close to a social democratic model. And almost all of them are fighting so that we don't touch European funding, like the Spaniards or the Greeks.

On certain subjects, enlargement has even been an element of strengthening Europe. Thus, vis-a-vis Russia, the ex-communist States bring a real added value because they know better than anyone the Russian double game. And without their presence, there is no doubt that Europe could not have found such a firm position. In addition, their insistence on securing energy supplies has been a driving force behind the “climate package”. Even in military matters, their presence is becoming essential. Without the participation of the Poles, in Chad,
the European Defense operation of the refugee camps would not have been possible. To tell the truth, given the numerous reluctance of the British, the Dutch or even... the Germans to European construction, it is safer to count on the “new” Member States to create a Europe of Defense, than on the “old” ones. ”.

To say that Europe functions less well because of enlargement is therefore more of a political postulate than of reality. If Europe seems to be at a standstill today, it is not the fault of the ten new ones but rather of the old ones who bicker and no longer manage to take the necessary steps and concessions. The sources of blockages are to be found more in Berlin, The Hague, London… or Paris than in Warsaw or Bucharest.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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