Bigger and Badder?

in:

Michael Hindley looks at EU enlargement

 

With the Irish “yes” in the referendum to approve the Treaty of Nice, the way, theoretically is now clear for the European Union (EU) to undertake a considerable move eastwards, incorporation states which when the EU was founded in 1956 were defined as the “enemy”. The change around since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has been quite staggering, and has seen the assumptions, which underpinned the Yalta Agreement, which carved up Europe, turned on their head.

 

I well remember the feelings of 1989/1990 and the euphoria in the streets of Eastern Europe which was not matched in the council chambers of Western Europe. The EU had expanded cautiously and pragmatically and in bite size chunks, six, to nine, to ten, to twelve, but after 1989 the whole of geographical Europe was up for membership. The most alarmed nation was, and remains, France. With each enlargement France feels its powers slip and the actuality of the eastwards expansion of German influence frightens the French political elite, who have always skilfully manoeuvred inside the EU to keep a check on German power.

 

The EU’s aid packages for Eastern Europe were quite ruthless in their intent and execution. They were simply to dismantle the economically unsuccessful Soviet command economy and simultaneously pave the way for western European capital to take over. Any talk of a genuine “Third Way”, that is rescuing certain social economic features in the East, for example the widespread cooperative movements, was rudely brushed aside by a triumphalist West.

 

Nor was local capital to be fostered; the purpose was to use Western European taxpayers money to open up the East. In the early 1990s, Warsaw, Budapest and Prague, were swept up in a Klondike fever as thousands of Euro-yuppies invaded with offers of feasibility studies. Consultancy firms in the West fattened on the pickings. I remember talks in Polish marine engineering yards trying to get money for worker/management buy-outs – but no deal on offer, however cash galore for feasibility studies to privatise the local water industry. Eastern Europe experienced carpetbaggers for the first time in decades.

 

In many ways the existing EU members have already got what they want – open access for their producers to new markets, access to cheaper skilled labour and on the strategic level, key states like Poland have been drawn into the defence of the West through NATO membership.

 

And this is precisely why there is now considerable foot-dragging, particularly by current net beneficiaries of the agricultural subsidies (the CAP). Also western capitals reluctant to take on their own domestic xenophobes are worried about the promise of labour mobility. Indeed considerable opt out clauses have been imposed on the would be entrants. Though the entrants will have to absorb some 80,000 pages of existing law, many of which to foster the workings of the free market, the existing members have been careful not to extend too many concessions. For example, though populous Poland will have to wait a full seven years for free movement of labour. It has been calculated there are as many peasant farmers in Poland alone as in the rest of the EU, but for the first couple of years Poland will pay more into the CAP kitty than it takes out. Or in other words, CAP subsidies will wait until exposure to market forces has decimated Polish farms to more manageable proportions.

 

For the ruling elites in the East, entry into the EU will be a kind of retroactive vindication for the pain they have imposed through privatisation on their own people. They have sugared the bitter medicine of privatisation with the promise that the patient will then be well enough to enjoy the pleasures of membership.

 

Unfortunately as here, much opposition to entry comes with uncomfortable xenophobic noises. Having suffered oppression by a Stalinist Russian Empire, many feel they have had little opportunity exercise independence before being thrust under an altogether milder tutelage from Brussels.

 

That said, I think it is most likely that all the applicants will vote to join in their eventual accession referendums. However, when they are in, they will find they have little influence at all. Indeed amidst all the enthusiasm about enlargement in geographical terms, a concentration of powers in the hands of existing larger member states has been finessed through.

 

France, Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy will actually get more powers in the opaque Council of Ministers which is increasingly the driving force in the EU. Moreover the national veto will be abolished in a further 39 areas of policy making.

 

The peoples of Eastern Europe will soon find that the price of entrance to the club is sitting at the back and saying nothing and taking what you are given.

 

Michael Hindley is a former Euro-MP and a Lancashire County Councillor. This article first appeared in Labour Left Briefing, December 2002.