Tuesday, April 27, 2004

EU is 'chaotic and leaderless'

Matthew Davis
BBC News Online

It is quite remarkable that the BBC should publish this story - it is quite damning about the "project". Look at the comment in the last paragraph. It goes a long way to explaining why the enlargement countries have joined the EU.

Diplomats and leading experts are warning that the "chaotic" European Union is ill-equipped to cope with the biggest expansion in its history.

Finnish ambassador to the UK Pertti Salolainen, who said he was speaking in a personal capacity, said: "The EU is chaotic, it has no vision, no leadership and it seems it will have no constitution." Mr Salolainen - who helped negotiate Finland's entry to the EU - says the union urgently needed a period of calm to "digest" its latest changes.

The EU becomes the world's largest trading bloc on 1 May, but there are concerns over potential paralysis in decision-making, the wealth gap between old and new members and the lack of a single vision of where Europe is heading. Some authorities are warning that the integration of the 10 new states will be "a very bumpy ride" for months and years ahead.

Quentin Peel, world affairs editor of the Financial Times, said: "Some fear - or hope - that it is the end of the EU as we know it." The EU's dramatic shift eastwards takes in new members like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states.

Mr Peel added: "Clearly the wealth difference is perhaps the most fundamental thing. Catch-up is going to take a very long time. "[Another key difference is] the sheer newness of the democracies coming in. "The challenge of EU rules and regulations is taking up a tremendous proportion of new member states' bureaucratic and judicial capacity."

Supporters of enlargement say this is a historic opportunity to unite Europe peacefully after generations of division and conflict. They say it will extend the stability and prosperity of current member states to a wider group of countries, making Europe a safer place.

Mr Salolainen, speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, echoed these sentiments, calling the EU "the best peace movement in Europe". But the diplomat said his key, personal concern was "the lack of vision for Europe". "We are left with the old tools to deal with a new, expanded European Union," he later told BBC News Online.

Dr Aleksander Szczerbiak, a lecturer in contemporary European affairs at Sussex University, said the new members would bring new uncertainty to decision making. "Debates are going to be difficult, processes unpredictable," he said.

But he warned against what he said were misconceptions of what the priorities of the new members would be. "There is an assumption that they will be in favour of a large EU budget. "But the ability to benefit means states must find matching funding themselves, and good projects to fund." He added: "It is wrong to see the new members as a united bloc of 'New Europe'. "They are much more of a mixed group."

But for the new states these are "abstract concerns" compared to the historic importance of simply being members, Dr Szczerbiak said.

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