A New Year, and the [tag]Eurozone[/tag] expands to 13 members (with [tag]Slovenia[/tag] joining), and the [tag]EU[/tag] itself to 27 (with [tag]Bulgaria[/tag] and [tag]Romania[/tag]). Over at Fistful Tobias has a quick overview, noting “that the countriesâ€™ accession has caused almost no public debate is probaly a consequence of the limited economic impact the two countries can possibly have“.
Personally, I reckon the lack of coverage and debate is thanks to a profound sense of embarrassment. It’s hard, after all, to feel much enthusiasm about the addition of those particular bastions of economic might, and it’s far too late now to pipe up with “erm.. hang on a minute, chaps – are you SURE we want to let those two in to the club?” (Hence the almost complete lack of coverage on here until now.)
After all, even the countries themselves admit that, well, they’re hardly an addition to the EU which is going to be particularly beneficial any time soon:
“[Romanian] Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu tried to lower expectations somewhat on Thursday, saying it could take up to 40 years for Romania to catch up — economically and politically — with the old members of the EU.”
Yay… Way to make it easy to defend the newest expansion, [tag]Eastern Europe[/tag]an dude…
At times like this, it’s important to remember that the EU is not just about economics – it’s not merely a trade organisation, nor has it ever been. It is an idea, an ideal, a vision of a Utopia (using that term in its true sense of a perfect society that does not – and probably can not – exist, but is worth aspiring to nonetheless).
For the existing members, the accession of Romania and Bulgaria will doubtless cause more problems than benefits – but that is beside the point. As the Evil European elegantly puts it,
“[tag]Europe[/tag] is process, not product; a journey, not a destination….people talk about the EU as a trade zone, as a fortress, as burden or benefit to people and business. Such views are in their own way true, but seen through the lens of human history, interactions and society, it is something entirely different.
“It might be hyperbole, brought on by the coming new year, but what happens in Europe, within the EU, has the potential to re-shape human society. We live in an ever more interconnected and interdependent world. Global challenges are upon us, and the only way though them will be to work together.”
For the people of Bulgaria and Romania, being able to join the EU has, for the first time pretty much ever, after centuries of repression by both communist and monarchical absolutism, given them the chance to really be free, to really meet their potential. The EU has given hope to a part of the world that, for so long, had none, and that – at least, as far as I’m concerned – is worth celebrating:
“Marian Gheorghescu, 33, who carried his 4 year-old son, Bogdan, on his shoulders, said he believed EU membership would secure a bright future for his children. ‘I hope in this country he will have a life a thousand times better than mine,’ he said.”
The EU is – like it or loathe it – bringing stability to a continent which has, over millennia, barely seen more than a few years of peace in a row. Even for the relatively young in Eastern Europe, such stability is an odd – yet very welcome – concept:
“‘We have already had so many currencies here in Slovenia,’ said Anja, a political science student who staffs the hotlines. ‘I am only 23 and have already been through four currencies so imagine how my grandmother feels.'”
Stability, peace, and hope – of which, the hope is most important. It is what mankind thrives on, and without it we are all doomed – it’s that simple.
That the EU has brought hope to the former communist states of Eastern Europe – states that were, but a decade and a half ago, shivering and failing behind the Iron Curtain – its greatest acheivement to date. And – long-term – it will surely bring the older member states their greatest reward as the newer members see their economies grow under the protective EU umbrella.
It may, as Romania’s Prime Minister fears, take decades. But sometimes – in fact, far more often than is usually the case in short-term, election-focussed democracies – such a long-term approach is by far the best one if necessary reforms are ever going to have any hope of coming to fruition.
Yes, the EU is currently not working as effectively as it could. Yes, some countries are currently paying in more than they are (at least, tangibly and recordably) getting back.
In the short-term, the lack of progress on the constitution, the lack of progress on deregulation, the ever-increasing piles of pointless directives, mountains of wasted produce, and continued disasters caused by the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies – all of these are problems, some more major than others.
But all of these problems are transient in the grand scheme of things. Even if they continue throughout my lifetime, if these initial birth-pangs of an organisation that will only reach its half-century this year are the worst that the EU can produce – after all the centuries of warfare that Europe has suffered to date – then I think we can survive them, if this is what it takes for our children and grandchildren to inherit a better world.
The first of January is always a day for looking to the future, not picking over the past. What’s done is done. The EU exists. It has the members it has. So why not try to make it as good as it can be?
(Here endeth the idealism…)