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The first anniversary

Posted by Helen Tuesday, May 03, 2005

We did not miss the fact that May 1 was, among other things, the first anniversary of the EU’s largest and most contentious enlargement that took in eight former Communist countries in eastern Europe, Malta and the Greek part of Cyprus.

It is in our opinion a little too early to decide exactly what effect enlargement has had on the EU as a whole or the new members.

The Commission, needless to say has been crowing. None of the problems have materialized – there has been no mass migration, no great inflow of criminal activity into the West and everyone has benefited economically, especially in the new countries.

Much of that is bunkum. Nobody seriously expected a multi-million migration but the figures, what with complete inefficiency in Britain and serious mismanagement in Germany, are unknown.

They are high enough for west Europeans to feel more than a little uneasy about being undercut by East European workers. This fear has made any attempts at necessary economic and welfare reforms in France and Germany impossible. Even the Commission cannot pretend that the economic situation in those countries is rosy.

The great inflow of supposed liberal ideas has not materialized either, as can be seen quite clearly with the fiasco of the Services Directive. It takes more than a few East Europeans to destroy the protectionist mindset of the European Union.

Besides, just how hard are those East Europeans fighting for any kind of liberalization? Those who have appeared in Brussels are likely to have a very similar mindset, many of them being old Communist apparatchiks.

As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, they may protect their rights to lower taxation (and obviously, we, on this blog, think that is an excellent idea) but their liberal ideas all seem to evaporate when it becomes a question of a bigger EU budget and greater redistribution of funds.

It is true that the new members with the obvious exception of Malta are doing economically better than the old ones. But they were doing even better before they joined. It is the reforms they introduced as they emerged from Communism, many of which they have had to retract, that produced an economic upswing.

Cyprus benefits from its position, many of the big firms using Nicosia as a base for their dealings with the Middle East.

Nor must one forget the amount of aid that has already poured into these countries, all of which is added to the rosy economic figures. Its long-term benefit is unlikely to be all that great, as my colleague’s unfolding saga of structural funds and their use in Greece demonstrates.

The East Europeans wanted to be in the EU because they wanted to return to Europe and they had been told that the way back was through the so far not implemented acquis communautaire.

They also wanted security from the Big Bear in the east and that was to be provided by membership of NATO. However, at the first crisis, the Iraq war, membership of the two organizations added to the tension between West European and East European countries, most of the latter supporting the US and its allies.

That is merely the first sign of coming tensions over the common foreign and security policy. The East Europeans are not as anti-American or pro-Russian as the French and the Germans. President Chirac’s infamous outburst against these upstarts who, in his opinion, do not represent Europe (l'escroc is learning that he is not the only one with pretensions to that role) did not help matters.

So there we are. While the Commission crows, other analyses have been more cautious. The problems have remained, the tensions have grown and the positive developments would have happened anyway.

What, one wonders, are we going to say on the second anniversary?