Sat, 03 Apr 2004

1st May 2004: EU enlargement and its future foreign policy.

Sabato Della Monica EU Ambassador to Indonesia Jakarta

On May 1, the European Union (EU) will take the most daring step in five decades of European integration, and embrace its long-lost east and south European neighbors. The process is set to continue until at least three more countries, now busy preparing themselves, will have joined. But what does enlargement already mean today?

Enlargement is the consummation and celebration of peaceful "regime-change" that seven countries dared more than a decade ago, from communism to liberal democracies, from centrally planned to market economies. Thousands of miles of now internal borders will disappear to create the world largest economic area, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Russia, from the polar circle to the simmering, cicada -- filled heat of Cyprus. Inevitably enlargement opens questions of how this new giant will behave, and shoulder its role in what is very much a multi-polar world order in the making.

Few are giving the EU and its peoples due credit for what they have jointly achieved in Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania; all countries of the former Soviet Block that together with Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta are due to join the EU on May 1. To restructure their economies and administrations, it has taken 14 years of hard work, some 20 billion euros worth in shared know-how, millions of expert-days of technical expertise, and the dedication, patience and hope of millions to persevere in the face of economic, political and social change, where not everybody is counted among the winners.

Regardless, the question on the minds of many in or outside the EU is: "The EU's economic weight makes it a world player, by default, but what about a common foreign policy to manage that weight. How are things going to play out after May 1, 2004?"

The EU will certainly be the world's largest trading bloc accounting for over a fifth of all world trade and with a population of some 450 million, more than the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The EU is already the largest provider of aid and technical expertise to developing nations. But it cannot be denied that in the popular view of the global pecking order, the EU plays only second fiddle at best. This makes the EU look like an odd type of superpower, with lots of "butter", but when push comes to shove, little "muscle".

The Treaty on a European Constitution of 2004 marks the other major, if less visible, milestone in the EU's development. Barely three weeks ago it seemed relegated to the back burner for months, if not years to come. Following the terrorist atrocities of Madrid it now is on track for adoption by June 2004. The European Constitution overhauls the complex set of European Institutions alright: After all, what was good for six founding members in the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and received already a "make-over" when the EU reached 15 in the 1990s, seemed like a recipe for gridlock as the Union reaches 25.

The EU Constitution sets precedents in international and constitutional law: For the first time in the EU's 54-year history, it endows rights and obligations to EU citizens as citizens of the European Union, over and above their rights as citizens of their individual nation states. The EU Constitution sets about to address, albeit gradually, what is often lamented as the democratic deficit within the EU. It takes decision making out of Brussels backrooms and sets transparent rules.

Under the Constitution more and more issues will be put to "double majority" voting, whereby the simple majority of countries is counter-balanced by weight of population. And the Constitution provides guarantees against the much dreaded European "super state", by enshrining the principle of subsidiarity, or more simply: Decisions are made at the level closest to those affected by such decision.

The Constitution merges the posts of the EU's current policy chief, Javier Solana, and that of External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten which will make it easier for Europe to talk with one voice. A central aspect of the EU's foreign policy is the approach summarized under the adage: "Ring of Friends".

Driven by the EU's "soft power" expertise of dialogue, patient negotiation, linking partners, competitors and sometimes adversaries through agreements, the "ring of friends" approach is already reality: In the Mediterranean "circle" North African nations are linked to the EU through association agreements that provides them access for their exports, lowered duties, and generally assist the integration of their economies. Third generation agreements are on the table with Syria and Iran.

The "circle" is about to open to the Caucasus and embraces most of the new independent, formerly soviet states, and also Russia, which whom the EU will share a common border as of 1st of May. The message, backed up by hard economic facts is: The new frontiers of an enlarged European Union are not the frontiers of a new empire, or "fortress Europe" as it is often called. The new frontiers are opportunities of osmosis between The EU and its friends.

While the "Ring of Friends" is a realistic assessment not only to the EU's geographical neighbors, but also to Southeast Asia. The formal relationship goes back to 1980 when ASEAN and the then European Community entered into a cooperation agreement. Economic relations have since blossomed and political interaction surged. The partnership helped Asia overcome the crippling crisis of 1997 when the EU kept its markets wide open, allowing the former tiger economies to export their way out of the crisis.

Last July the EU's executive body, European Commission, launched a "New Partnership" with the countries of Southeast Asia, on the back of the 2002 Asia strategy. This "New Partnership" includes a regional action plan on trade, the "Trans-Regional EU-ASEAN Trade Initiative" or TREATI, which opens the frontiers to closer cooperation on a wide range of issues, including trade-related regulatory matters and investment. It also encompasses cooperation on the global challenges such as environmental degradation, disease and terrorism,

Since 2002 until 2006 the EU's cooperation with Indonesia follows an agreed strategic guideline centered on the consolidation of democracy, good governance, sustainable development in the economy, the social spheres, including education, health and the environment.

The world political scenario may still offer a threatening set of scenarios. But a new player is emerging, the EU, which augurs well for stability, predictability, and balance, not just in Europe but also in relations with its neighbors and partners, may they be regions or individual countries. Seen in this perspective, May 1, 2004 is reason to pay tribute to achievements of a visionary political ideal more than fifty years in the making, its impact already felt much beyond its borders.