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Lecture by Javier Solana

High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (1999-2009)




Enlargement of the European Union: Opportunity or Threat

It is a privilege for me to be invited to deliver this year’s Europe lecture. I am grateful to Dick Benschop for his kind words of introduction. And our congratulations go to the winners of the Euro essay. It is also a particular pleasure for me to be back in the Netherlands.

I have been invited to address the issue of whether EU enlarg¬ement is an opportunity or a threat. To this my answer is clear and unequivocal. I regard it as a profound opportunity both for the exist¬ing Member States, for the candidate countries, and for those who will find themselves as neighbours of an enlarged Union.

Let me be clear at the outset: for me a European Union that does not include the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will be less stable and less secure. This evening I should like to develop the theme of why I consider enlargement to be such an opportunity.

Of course it will bring challenges with it as well. Not least the challenge of how to address some of the concerns of ordinary people about its effects on their lives. These will have to be faced. And I intend to cover these too. But I will leave plenty of time for you to ask questions.

Why enlargement?

I will begin by going back to the beginning. The story is well known. The origins of the EU lie in the vision of far-sighted individuals who saw the need to create very concrete measures designed to ensure that war would never break out again. The experience of the two world wars had left its scars on Europe. There had to be a better way. The plans to pool sovereignty over coal and steel, the two main materials required at the time for fighting a war were as imaginative as they have been successful. There has never been a longer period of peace and stability in the history of Western Europe. We owe that to the founders of the Union.

But we have short memories. Often the political origins of the Union get lost in economics. In fact, the two are equally important. The creation of the Single Market has led to massive opportunities for economic growth. The citizens of the European Union now have a degree of prosperity which was unimaginable a few decades ago. Economic growth is not of course unique to the Union. But the framework of the Single Market has provided an impetus to growth, and the political stability provided by fifty years of peace has also created the confidence which is so necessary for wealth creation. They feed off each other. Stability leads to prosperity, which in itself helps underpin stability.

The history of integration into the European Union of my own country, Spain, is in many ways a good example. There is no doubt that the overwhelming motivation for Spain in joining the EEC (as it was then) was political. And for Spain the political origins of the Union remain important. Because the Union has provided Spain with the guarantees which it was seeking after years of dictatorship and civil strife. It may never occur to you to read the whole Treaty of European Union. No one could blame you for that. But there is at least one Article, Article 6, which I would encourage you to read. It is the most important article of all. It says: ‘The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.’ Perhaps for those Member States which have long-standing roots in democracy and open societies, the phrase might be taken for granted. I can assure I will never take it for grant¬ed. It is the most important guarantee which the signatories of the Treaty offer one another.

At the same time, Spain has reaped enormous economic benefits from the Union. And I am not simply talking about cohesion and other direct funding, though that has played a key role. It has gained from being fully integrated into the European Market. Its political stability has meant that there has been very considerable inward investment over the last 25 years. The prosperity which this has brought has added to the sense of stability which now underpins the country.

There are further reasons why I use the example of the country which I know best to underscore the importance of enlargement.

The countries which are now negotiating to join the Union are undergoing the same hopes and disappointments which we in Spain experienced before 1986. In terms of their economic and political background they are probably much closer to Spain and Portugal than to the three most recent Member States. I can identify with their situation. I know that it is not necessarily an easy one.

Looking back, it is easy to forget how much of our thinking after the end of the Cold War was influenced by the terrible dividing line which cut through the centre of Europe. The cultural and historical links between the two halves of Europe were artificially severed for nearly half a century. Travelling to Prague or Warsaw during this time was seen as more adventurous than holidaying in Thailand or trekking in the Himalayas.

That has all changed. The dividing lines have been brought down. And the process of fully reintegrating all these countries into the European Union is underway. It will mean in due course a European Union of nearly thirty countries, with a population of over 500 million, more than twice that of the United States. It will mean a redis-covery for many of us of the diversity of Europe, but also of what we have in common. It will mean that when we speak with one voice, we will have much more influence in the world. And yes it will shift the centre of gravity of the Union. That can and should be very positive.


The opportunities of enlargement

If we want an insight into a Europe without enlargement: a view of a hypothetical Europe which is inward looking and on the defensive, the experience of the Balkans provides a sobering example. The early years of the Balkans conflicts were a stark contrast to everything which the European Union stands for.

Ethnic hatred rather than reconciliation, nineteenth century style power politics rather than co-operation, war rather than peace.

Nor are we out of the woods yet. The experience of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in which I have been directly and deeply involved over the last few weeks, demonstrates how difficult it still can be to overcome nationalist and ethnic tensions and create a genuinely inclusive society. Yet we have made progress in the Balkans. Our policy is founded on a number of complementary instruments. The Stability Pact is a joint EU/US/Russia initiative with the aim of supporting economic and political development throughout the region, including the important element of promoting regional integration. Alongside it is the Union’s Stabilisation and Association Process which aims at drawing all the countries of the region as fully as possible into European structures. This process holds out the long-term prospect of accession to the Union, and as such acts as a powerful catalyst for economic and political reform.

A beacon of hope for possible candidate countries, and a powerful incentive for prospective new Member States, enlargement will bring opportunities and benefits. I should like to spend a few moments looking at what these are.

Firstly, an enlarged Union can only help strengthen the stability of the continent of Europe. A Europe which was founded on peace and reconciliation is seeking to expand to include many of the countries which were for so long regarded by many as potential adver¬saries. It achieves that by ensuring that our collective interests are so bound together that we would never have cause to settle our differ¬ences through anything other than peaceful means. We are part of mechanisms which are designed to allow us to reach compromises. We argue rather than fight. And at the end of the day we reach agreement.

Secondly, the Union’s founding principles which I have just outlined provide a sure guarantee against any undermining of democracy or basic freedoms. Article 7 of the Treaty provides for a form of collective oversight of Member States’ respect for these principles. The Treaty of Nice enhanced these provisions. The principles of course themselves contribute to stability and security for individuals and societies.

Thirdly, enlargement will provide huge economic opportunities for both existing and new Member States. The accession process places a huge burden on the accession countries. This is frequently not fully appreciated by those outside Europe who tend to see enlarge¬ment simply as a political decision. One should not underestimate the very substantial changes which have to be gone through in order to bring domestic legislation into line with the existing and very extensive body of Community legislation (or ‘acquis’, as it is known in the jargon). It is disrupting, but in the long term the benefits will be enormous. Accession opens up access to a Single Market with enormous economic potential and the largest group of consumers in the world.

Fourthly, an enlarged Union will be a stronger Union. We have moved beyond the old argument of widening versus deepening. Take for example our existing influence in the trade arena. It is an area where we use effectively our position as one of the most advanced trading blocs in the world, but also our close ties with developing countries. That can only be made more effective by enlargement. In the field of foreign policy, I am convinced that enlargement will also strengthen our position. Member States increasingly share common objectives in the vast majority of cases, and are therefore also more ready to reach agreement on common solutions. The candidate countries already frequently support the positions and the policies of the Union without difficulty. That is going to be even more the case upon enlargement. When we speak and act together, it will be all the more effective for representing an even wider Europe than it does at present.

At the weekend Europe’s Heads of Government gathered in Göteborg for their regular end of Presidency European Council meeting. They sent out a strong message that the current process of enlargement is irreversible. And they confirmed the objective of completing negotiations, for those candidate countries which are ready, by the end of 2002. This is a clear vote of support for enlargement.

The extent of the current enlargement process has opened up the topical, but in my view rather sterile discussion about where the European Union’s ultimate borders might lie. I would like to make two comments on this. Firstly consider the reaction one would have received if the founding fathers had been told that one day the frontier of the Community they were creating would lie on the Black Sea. Let’s not limit our own vision for what might be in the future. Sec¬ondly, I venture to suggest that ultimately it will be geography as much as politics which determine the future extent of the Union.


The challenges of enlargement

Of course, whilst I have no doubt of the imperative of enlargement, it brings with it its own challenges. I should like to look at four specific issues which I see as the main challenges of enlargement, and how these might be tackled.

The first challenge is how to ensure that an enlarged Union has an impact in the wider world, both in managing globalisation, and in particular in developing a more effective Common Foreign and Security Policy. Globalisation is increasing the interdependence of nation states and limits their individual margin for manoeuvre.

Already the Member States of the Union by working together have a greater impact than any one of them individually. That will increase as the Union enlarges, and as it extends the scope of its action. It means that it can have a major impact in helping redefine the structures of the post cold war international system and globalisation. And the Union will do so in its own way. As a group of countries based on values: democracy and the rule of law. As a group which wishes to preserve its own particular social and economic model. As a group which supports negotiation and the development of international standards, and which plays the role of moderator and partner for stability and development.

If the Union is to be effective in carrying out this role, it has to have access to a comprehensive range of instruments. That is why we have been concentrating over the last year or so on establishing a European Security and Defence Policy. Historically, the Union has concentrated on the provision of ‘soft’ diplomatic instruments. On economic and humanitarian assistance, on trade instruments and more recently through classic diplomatic engagement. The Union for example contributes about 60% of the world’s total Overseas Development Aid. It is something for which we, and the Dutch in particular, as one of the more generous providers, can be proud. That will not change. But we shall in future have a wider pool of capabilities on which we can draw, both civilian and military. These will enable us intervene in crisis management tasks. They are not intended to replace or act in competition with NATO. We are rather co-operating very closely with NATO. This is already happening in Southern Serbia, where both my colleagues and I have worked together with NATO to prevent the outbreak of further violence. In the longer term, the development of a European Security and Defence Policy will enable the Union to carry out military operations when NATO as a whole is not engaged.

The second challenge is how to address the new relationships which will result from redrawing the borders of Europe. I have no doubt that the Union’s foreign policy priorities will remain its immediate neighbours to the South and East. But we shall need to reassess these with the prospect of new neighbours. When all the current candidate countries have joined the Union, it will have new borders with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. As we enlarge we shall be moving the centre of gravity of the Union to new areas of potential instability which will require greater involvement. It is not the time here to predict what form exactly such involvement might take, but we shall need to be constantly reassessing our policy priorities as the Union enlarges. Of course this will not happen overnight. But we should not lose sight of where enlargement will eventually take us. Perhaps more important in the shorter term is our relationship with our most significant neighbour Russia.

We are already addressing with Russia some of its more specific and immediate concerns over enlargement. We are doing the same with Ukraine. I am convinced of the benefits of enlargement for these countries. They can only stand to gain from bordering on an area with which they can feel secure and which offers stability for the region as a whole. They will have to adjust to the Single Market on their doorstep, but it too will offer them tremendous opportunities to export, and to encourage inward investment. I am sincere when I speak of these benefits. But I am afraid that it is not always seen that way by the countries in question. Not least because we have perhaps not sufficiently recognised that at the same time enlargement for them raises real issues, real problems, which have to be addressed.

To take two examples: the future of Kaliningrad for Russia and the impact of Schengen border controls on Ukraine. We have now begun to take these two issues seriously. Our commitment to these two countries, and our sincerity about the advantages of enlargement for them will be judged in part on how we work with them to solve the specific problems which enlargement will bring. The decision by the Göteborg European Council to include Moldova and Ukraine in the European Conference is evidence that we take these issues seriously. Other neighbouring countries, such as those on the other side of the Mediterranean will be less directly affected by enlargement, but I am very conscious of the need to ensure that our relationship with these countries keeps pace with our Eastern neighbours.

The third challenge may seem rather more mundane, but is none¬theless important. We have to ensure that the Council of Ministers is able to operate in an enlarged Union. The Council is the Union’s primary legislative and political body. The smooth running of the European Union as a whole depends on it functioning properly. I am not referring here to changes which require the basic Treaty to be modified. But of more practical issues which can be solved without treaty change. I reported to Heads of Government at Göteborg at the weekend on this issue. My impression since I took on my current post is that the Council needs to do much more if it is to adapt to the needs of a much larger Union. As requested at Göteborg, I will be preparing specific recommendations on these and other issues for the Laeken European Council at the end of the Belgian Presidency.

Last but by no means least is the challenge of ensuring that we retain broad support for enlargement. The outcome of the referendum in Ireland demonstrates that we cannot take this for granted. Many here are concerned about their jobs, about the spread of illegal immigration, and about organised crime. I am convinced of the opportunities offered by enlargement. I believe that it will benefit both existing and new Member States, and that means the individuals who make up their populations. But equally we have to be sensitive to their concerns. We have to get away from the idea that enlargement is an intellectual and elitist project. Those who resort to violence are unlikely to listen. But they are a tiny minority. They have no credibility compared with the vast majority who either recognises the benefits of enlargement, or who are ready to be convinced. We have to devote all our efforts to demonstrating to everyone that we all stand to gain from an enlarged Union.



Let me end where I began, with my experience of enlargement from the other side. It is a long and sometimes difficult process.

I have seen at first hand, in particular during a recent visit to Prague, the mixture of hopes, fears and expectations which it arouses. As a politician in Spain twenty years ago, I well remember the initial euphoria as negotiations to join the EU began. It was a symbol and real guarantor of Spain’s transition to democracy. But the process itself was very long, and sometimes very difficult. Occasionally there was a real sense of frustration on both sides.

Attention has focussed recently on a number of difficulties and problems which have emerged. There appears to be some surprise that after a year or two of plain sailing, the negotiations are becoming tougher. That should not be unexpected. We are moving from the political stage of the process to the point where we are addressing issues which directly affect the interests of both existing Member States and the candidate countries. These interests do not always coincide; sometimes they are even conflicting. But it would be absurd to suggest that they call into question the whole process of enlargement. All the difficult issues will have to be argued through. Everyone’s interests not least those of the candidate countries, will have to be tak¬en into account. Eventually I have no doubt that compromises will be found. That has always been the way of the European Union. It will continue to be the way for the future.

In order to bring the current round of negotiations to a successful conclusion, the existing Member States will have to live up to their commitments, which will mean on occasions being ready to compromise on difficult issues. At the same time, the candidate countries are having to take on the enormous task of adjusting their economic systems, something which is frequently under-estimated by others. We all have the responsibility of ensuring that the difficult issues which are now coming onto the negotiating table are resolved as soon as possible.

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