European Commission: The three next big things
22 September 2009
The re-election of José Manuel Barroso represents an opportunity to “complete” Europe over the next five years and make it a real global player. According to political analyst José Ignacio Torreblanca, the president's focus should be on three major issues: internal cohesion, enlargement and the European Neighbour Policy.
Originally blue, green over time and red according to the occasion, José Manuel Barroso, as canny as he is chameleon-like, has won another term as president of the European Commission – and with a treaty-proof majority. The slogan "My party is Europe" perfectly sums up the catch-all philosophy that led him to victory. To turn Neil Armstrong’s famous moonwalk line on its head, this is a giant leap for Barroso, but now how can we make sure it will not be just a small step for Europe?
In a nutshell: the next five years could go down in history as Europe’s last chance to make its mark in the world. The economic crisis has shown that, both outwardly and inwardly, Europe has yet to be completed. Of course Europe is an open-ended realm of freedom, so it will always be an unfinished project, and well it should be. But that does not prevent us from spotting rifts and rips in present-day Europe, projects left in suspended animation, and major risks – as well as opportunities.
The 21st century will be multipolar
Some of the tasks ahead lie beyond our present means, such as measuring up to China and Russia or becoming a real global player, but it is equally clear that other challenges are entirely within our reach. In other words, if the European Union cannot even take care of Europe, where its political and economic capacities are more than sufficient to provide decisive leadership, what credentials can it produce when it comes time to claim its share of global leadership?
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, we already know that the 21st century will be multipolar; what we do not know is whether there will be a European pole. As this week’s G-20 summit in Pittsburgh goes to show, there are plenty of Europeans in global institutions, but precious little Europe. How long will that remain the case?
Merging old and new Europe
"Completing" Europe does not mean coming up with new treaties or moving towards a federal union: it means taking our own principles and commitments (including enlargement) seriously, finding a way to put an end to our internal divisions, and restoring our leadership, at least in the European sphere. It would involve action in three areas.
First of all, the EU still has first- and second-class members, which is a source of internal divisions and external weakness. So it is imperative to design a strategy to ensure the stability and prosperity of new members and achieve real convergence between old and new members. This would include shortening residual transition periods as far as possible, looking at ways to extend the monetary union and its benefits to new members, and taking advantage of the next community budget review to maximise the impact of structural policies.
Taking enlargement seriously
Secondly, Europe is all too plainly incomplete in the western Balkans, where the European Union, in spite of having committed to accession, is constantly dragging its feet. The resulting vicious circle is very hard to break out of: absent credible accession prospects and reform efforts flagging in candidate countries makes the EU increasingly reluctant to proceed with enlargement. The original plan, which consisted in admitting Croatia, counting on Turkey to throw in the towel and then pulling up the drawbridge to Europe, could backfire and seriously damage the EU’s image, especially if Iceland ends up cutting the queue and joining the EU on the fast track. So it is not so much a matter of artificially accelerating the accession processes, since many countries are not ready yet anyway, as of ceasing to secretly hope everything will go very slowly in the region so as not to have to deliver on the accession promises. We need to put aside the bureaucratic harmonisation and, instead, fully support reforms in these countries and restore Europe’s credibility by holding out serious accession prospects.
Love thy neighbour...
Thirdly, in the “European Neighbourhood” that extends from Belarus to the Caucasus (I am deliberately leaving out the Mediterranean here), the EU model, despite its innumerable problems, still holds tremendous attraction, even though many people doubt that our levels of prosperity, freedom and security are really within their reach. In practice, the point would not be to bring them to Europe, but to find an effective way of bringing Europe to them and into their aspirations. But this strategic view that investing there means investing in our own security and prosperity (as well as in the reaffirmation of our democratic values) is far from being widespread in the EU, nor does it adequately inform our European Neighbourhood policies.
President Barroso, if your party is Europe, see it through!