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World: Analysis From Washington -- Integration Reveals Paradoxes

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 12 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The external borders of international economic and political unions are becoming increasingly important even and especially as the members of such unions move to reduce the significance of borders among them.

And that paradox of integration has had an impact on the members of such unions, on those who are not members, and also on those who want to become members. Examples of all three have been very much in evidence since the beginning of the year.

The impact of this paradox on members was most clearly visible in the reaction of Germany and several other European countries to Italy's willingness to take in Kurdish refugees fleeing from Turkey.

Acting out of humanitarian considerations, the Italian government indicated that it was willing to grant political asylum to Kurdish refugees. In addition to infuriating a Turkish government opposed to the implicit judgment such an action would have, it outraged Germany.

Citing an agreement which both Italy and Germany have signed and which calls for the opening of borders among its signatory states on condition that they maintain controls on their external borders, Bonn argued that Italy was violating the agreement and indicated that it would reinstitute certain border controls with Italy unless Rome changed its position on the Kurds.

Every member state of any particular union -- be it the European Union or any other -- naturally has the right to demand that other member states will live up to their commitments. Otherwise there is no real basis for a union at all. But in this case, this demand tends to make Europe into a closed club, rather than the open society its members often talk about.

The impact of the paradox of integration on countries that are not members of particular unions was visible in many places. It has obviously been felt in Turkey, whose Kurdish citizens found themselves excluded from the protections that the European countries have committed themselves to in other international undertakings.

This paradox of integration also has had an impact on the eight non-Russian countries that are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States but not of its inner four-member customs union. These eight countries, sometimes willingly and sometimes not, find themselves excluded from the full benefits enjoyed by the four.

And this paradox has had an impact on non-members of certain key international economic groups such as the World Trade Organization. Countries who are not members of this body increasingly find that they must live according to many of its provisions even though they cannot hope for membership anytime soon.

Not surprisingly, ever more governments and peoples in non-member countries are likely to develop negative feelings towards member states as borders of these unions increase in importance.

But perhaps the most important impact of the paradox of integration now is on those countries who are not yet members but who want to be. They have a very strong incentive to ensure that they control their own national borders just as much as the unions they want to join control theirs.

In the last two weeks, Poland has introduced a new border regime with the Russian Federation and Belarus. Ostensibly designed to limit the influx of organized crime from these countries, these rules are also clearly intended to show the European Union that Poland can control its borders just as well as any other European country.

The three Baltic states have also become increasingly concerned about the control of their borders, both with their eastern neighbors and with each other. And much of the discussion in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania about this has been almost solely in terms of how attractive the effective control of their borders would make them to the European Union.

On one level, of course, this paradox of integration is insoluble. Every union of states has to have some effective control of its external borders to be meaningful and effective. But on another, the impact of this paradox in which reducing border formalities among some countries can make those that remain with others still more important can be addressed and limited, both by reducing the significance of all borders to the free flow of ideas, people, and merchandise and by acknowledging rather than denying that the paradox exists.

In the last decade, the world has made some remarkable progress on the first of these paths. Unfortunately, as the events of the last few weeks show, it has made remarkably little progress on the second.