The EU’s going to be having a hard time once again in 2007 – but will it be enough to finally kick off the radical reforms that are needed?
Although the Economist notes that “in 2006 the large continental economies had one of their best years for a decade, briefly outstripping America in terms of growth. Since politics often reacts to economic change with a lag, 2006â€™s improvement in economic growth will have its impact in 2007”, and January 1st will see the Eurozone expand further (and this month saw the Euro overtake the US dollar in terms of the value of notes in circulation), all is very far from well with the EU. Little has been achieved, and external problems (notably Russian-EU relations) are likely to divert the union’s attention from its manifold internal problems over the coming months.
Public opinion in France has turned against the Euro, with both leading candidates for April’s presidential election publicly criticising the European Central Bank for damaging the French economy, and we look to be on the brink of another continent-wide gas supply crisis which could do even more damage.
Meanwhile, the accession of Romania and Bulgaria – also on January 1st – is seen by many as yet another bad move (especially considering that the failure of the EU constitution means that there are still inadequate systems in place to deal with a union of such a wide and economically varied extent), as despite recent economic booms sparked by impending membership, both countries still lag well behind the EU average in terms of economic performance – and, indeed, are doing rather worse than Turkey. Their membership will also will raise yet more questions about what it means to be a citizen of the EU, following the numerous concerns about the “Polish plumber” over the last couple of years.
Are all member states really equal, can they ever be, and should they ever be? These questions need answering, and they need answering sharpish. As the EU hits the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome in March, is anyone (at least, anyone with any actual power and influence) going to finally have the guts to suggest a proper re-think, or are we simply going to be stuck with yet more ill-considered attempts to revive the constitution?
Considering the complete lack of progress over the last few years, there’s little reason to expect any in 2007 either. The most likely outcome, despite all the potential new problems, is not anything significant, but rather yet more pottering along and making do. The end result? Yet more inefficiency, yet more discontent, and yet more people turned off the very idea of the EU. When I find myself largely agreeing with UKIP leader Nigel Farage over the two new EU member states, despite disagreeing with the very basis of his party and being largely pro-EU, how much longer can the Union continue to keep its loose supporters on board with all this prevarication, shoddy decision-making and incompetence?
There’s only so long you can hold on to hope in the face of so much mounting evidence of ever-worsening illness, after all – and no matter how much you may love your dear dog, at some point the realisation has to dawn that it’s so poorly, so incapable of looking after itself, and so unlikely to recover that the kindest thing is simply to have the poor mite put down and go get yourself a new one.
Hopefully 2007 will not be the year that the point of no return is reached – but they haven’t got long to come up with that miracle cure and, from all that’s been said so far, there’s not much sign of a breakthrough just yet. If anything, the arrival of two more member states – and so two more potential vetoes – means that the likelihood of a solution is about to get even more remote…