Monday, February 12, 2007

Do they know something the British population does not?

This lunchtime I listened to Gia Jandieri, the Vice-President of the Georgian free-market think-tank, the New Economic School. He was addressing a good-sized audience (for a lunch-time discussion) at the International Policy Network (IPN).

The talk and most of the discussion afterwards was about Georgia’s internal developments, the reforms and the need to find alternative sources of energy and alternative markets to Russia. More of that in another posting.

Towards the end somebody asked Mr Jandieri when he thought Georgia would join the European Union, something I had not realized was on the cards, anyway. His reply was instructive.

Quite cynically, he said, I hope never. The government wants it, in his view, but a free-market think-tank like his does not. They have been watching the palaver with other applicant countries and want none of it.

What they would like is free trading agreements with the EU and its member states and ability to travel easily back and forth. As somebody in the audience pointed out, they want the good bits but not the bad ones. Mr Jandieri cheerfully agreed and nobody faulted him.

This is not the first time I heard similar sentiments from people that come from supposedly aspirant countries. Joel Anand Samy and Natasha Srdoc of the Croatian Adriatic Institute for Public Policy were similarly sceptical about the EU and its possible good influence.

They, too, had noticed that the European Union is not precisely the free-market, liberal entity they would like their countries to become. Furthermore, the EU refuses to live up to its own supposed principles and does not support those who advocate real reforms in the former Communist states.

According to Oleg Manaev of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic & Political Studies in Belarus, whom I actually interviewed on behalf of EUReferendum (still to be written up), expressed the view that about a third of his country’s population was supportive of western-style democracy and free market reforms. These people, in his opinion, were disenchanted with the European Union and its members for all sorts of reasons, not least their lukewarm attitude to the war on terror and were looking more and more to the United States as the real leader of the West.

In practical terms that means very little at the moment. But one cannot help asking a question: do these people know something large proportions of the British public and establishment do not?

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